Battle of Fisher's Hill

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Battle of Fisher's Hill

Other Names: None

Location: Shenandoah County

Campaign: Sheridan's Shenandoah Valley Campaign (August-October 1864)

Date(s): September 21-22, 1864

Principal Commanders: Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan [US]; Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early [CS]

Forces Engaged: 38,944 total (US 29,444; CS 9,500);

Forces Engaged: [CS] Four infantry divisions (Wharton, Gordon, Pegram, Ramseur), one cavalry division (Lomax), approximately 9,500; [US] Three infantry corps (Wright, Emory, Crook), Averell's cavalry division, approximately 29,444.

Casualties: [CS] 1,235 (30k/210w/995m&c); [US] 528 (52k/457w/19m) 

Result(s): Union victory

Description: Early’s army, bloodied by its defeat at Opequon (Third Winchester) on September 19, took up a strong defensive position at Fisher’s Hill, south of Strasburg. On September 21, the Union army advanced, driving back the skirmishers and capturing important high ground. On the 22nd, Crook’s Corps moved along North Mountain to outflank Early and attacked about 4 pm. The Confederate cavalry offered little resistance, and the startled infantry were unable to face the attacking force. The Confederate defense collapsed from west to east as Sheridan’s other corps join in the assault. Early retreated to Rockfish Gap near Waynesboro, opening the Valley to a Union “scorched earth” invasion. Mills and barns from Staunton to Strasburg were burned in what became known as the “Burning” or “Red October.”

Battle of Fisher's Hill History
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Civil War Battle of Fisher's Hill, Virginia

Battle of Fisher's Hill Map
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Fisher's Hill Civil War Battlefield Map

Setting the Stage: Grant finally lost patience with Early, particularly his burning of Chambersburg, and knew that Washington remained vulnerable if Early was still on the loose. He found a new commander aggressive enough to defeat Early: Philip Sheridan, the cavalry commander of the Army of the Potomac, who was given command of all forces in the area, calling them the Army of the Shenandoah. Sheridan initially started slowly, primarily because the impending presidential election of 1864 demanded a cautious approach, avoiding any disaster that might lead to the defeat of Abraham Lincoln.
The Battle of Fisher's Hill was one of several battles fought during Sheridan's Valley Campaign (August – October 1864). Sheridan's Valley Campaign, part of the Shenandoah Valley Campaigns of 1864, was the last of three principal campaigns fought throughout the valley region.

Sheridan's Valley Campaign [August-October 1864] witnessed the following battles: Guard Hill – Summit Point Smithfield CrossingBerryville3rd Winchester – Fisher's Hill – Tom's Brook – Cedar Creek.

Battle of Fisher's Hill Map
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Civil War Battle of Fisher's Hill and Shenandoah Valley Campaign Map

Significance: Lt. Gen. Jubal Early was ``outgeneraled'' by Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan at Fisher's Hill. Although the casualty figures were not high, this battle was a masterpiece of maneuver and surprise. Sheridan's flanking attack brought Crook's corps to the left rear of Early's position on Fisher's Hill and threw the CS army into a panic. Confederate defeat at Fisher's Hill (on the heels of defeat at Opequon) opened the Shenandoah Valley to a US advance that reached beyond Staunton. When Sheridan withdrew during the first part of October, his army systematically burned mills, barns, crops, and forage, and ran off livestock. By implementing this strategy of ``total warfare,'' Sheridan felt that he accomplished the primary objective of his campaign--to deprive the Confederacy of the agricultural abundance of the Valley.

Description of the Battle

CS Dispositions (19-20 September): After its crushing defeat at Winchester on 19 September 1864, the CS army withdrew to Fisher's Hill. The US army pursued as far as Hupp's Hill on 20 September and massed near Strasburg. The Confederate position at Fisher's Hill was a strong one, particularly at the center and on the right flank. Wharton's division, on the Confederate right flank, entrenched along the high bluff overlooking Miller's bottom extended to the left to cover the Valley Pike (old alignment). Gordon's division deployed from the Valley Pike across Manassas Gap Railroad to near the Middle Road above the hamlet of Fisher's Hill. Pegram's division (formerly Ramseur's) was to Gordon's left, and Ramseur's division (formerly Rodes's) extended the line west to a high hill south of Tumbling Run South Fork (referred to a ``Ramseur's Hill'' in this report). The CS cavalry under Lomax extended the main line northwest to and beyond the Back Road. Lomax's position was held with little more than a skirmish line.

To mask these deployments, Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early placed a strong skirmish line on the hills north of Tumbling Run (Quarry Hill, Flint Hill, School House Hill). General Early had his headquarters at the Widow Funkhouser house on the Valley Pike. Confederate signal stations on Massanutten (Signal Knob) and Round Hill offered wide-ranging views of any Union moves against this line. Early's artillery commanded all approaches along the pike, the railroad, and the Middle Road. The advanced CS positions north of Tumbling Run were not supported by artillery. A brigade of CS cavalry and a battery of horse artillery were placed on Sandy Hook east of the North Fork Shenandoah.

US Advance (21 September): About noon, 21 September, Sheridan advanced his army south and west from Strasburg, massing the bulk of the VI Corps in a horseshoe opposite the CS right center on the plateau north of Flint Hill, its left at the Manassas Gap railroad. The XIX Corps, weakened from the battle of Opequon, was placed on the US left east of the railroad with a skirmish line extending back through Strasburg to cover the fords over the Shenandoah North Fork and the road to Front Royal. The line of these two corps was entrenched. Crook's corps (nominally the Army of West Virginia) was held in reserve and out of sight of Signal Knob ``in the timber near Strasburg.'' Wright (VI Corps) established his headquarters in the Amos Stickley House (near the intersection of rte. 757 and I- 81). Averell's cavalry division covered the Back Road. The rest of Sheridan's cavalry was sent via Buckton Ford and Front Royal to advance up the Luray (Page) Valley. Sheridan established headquarters at the George Hupp House just north of Strasburg.

Battle of Fisher's Hill Civil War Map
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Fisher's Hill Civil War Battlefield Map

Capture of Flint Hill (21 September): As US soldiers entrenched their new position, skirmishing heated up. Sheridan and Wright surveyed the land but could see little of the main CS line because of two intervening hills, called ``Flint Hill.'' These hills were defended by a reinforced skirmish line barricaded behind ``hog'' or ``bull pens'' (U-shaped barricades made of fence rails that sheltered three men). Sheridan ordered Wright to take the hills so that he would have an ``unobstructed view.'' Two regiments (126OH and 139PA) advanced but were thrown back. Reinforced by a third regiment, they tried again without success. The First Brigade/Second Division (five New York and Pennsylvania regiments) was brought into battle line and swept forward under command of Col. J. M. Warner (formerly commander of the Vermont brigade). The hills fell quickly. General Wright described this movement as ``of the greatest importance to the operations of the next day, as it gave us a view of the enemy's line and afforded excellent positions for artillery, of which we availed ourselves in the more important struggle of the 22nd.'' Warner's men threw up rifle pits and bivouacked on the hills within rifle-musket range of the main CS line south of Tumbling Run.

US Battle Line Advanced (21-22 September): During the night, Sheridan extended his line westward with Ricketts division on the far right, Getty next, and Wheaton connecting with the XIX Corps at the railroad. After sunrise, Crook's corps was brought forward, following ravines and staying in timber to be out of sight of the CS signal stations. Shortly before noon, Ricketts division (VI Corps) moved to possess the heights overlooking the North Fork of Tumbling Run, while Averell's cavalry division advanced on the Back Road to establish a connection with Ricketts's right flank. Keifer's brigade assaulted and carried the two hills south of the run (School House Ridge), driving CS skirmishers back on their main line. Union skirmishers were pushed to within range of the CS works and began laying down a steady fire. Ricketts formed his division behind the crest of the hills and awaited Crook's attack. In the meantime, about 1215 hours, Emory (XIX Corps) rushed Quarry Hill on the left with a brigade and seized the CS rifle- pits there. His men immediately reversed the entrenchments, giving the Union army an unbroken line of rifle pits, extending from Quarry Hill across Flint Hill, confronting the main CS line on Fisher's Hill at a range of about 500 yards; skirmishing erupted along the line. US batteries were brought up, and an artillery duel erupted in the vicinity of the village of Fisher's Hill. Skirmishing continued until about 1600 hours.

Civil War Fisher's Hill Battlefield Map
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Fisher's Hill Virginia Battle Map

(Map) Fisher's Hill Entrenchment Lines
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Line of Entrenchments at Fisher's Hill, August 13th to 17th, 1864, Map

Crook's Flank Attack (22 September): During the morning Gen. George Crook moved his two divisions (about 5,000 men) to the base of Little North Mountain beyond St. Stephens Church, unseen by the Confederate signal station on Massanutten Mountain. About 1400 hours, Sheridan directed him to commence a flanking movement along the shoulder of the mountain. Crook formed his corps in two parallel columns and marched south until more than half of the command was beyond the Confederate left flank, which was held by Lomax's cavalry division. Crook encountered only scattered fire from a few surprised pickets.

About 1600 hours, Crook ordered his columns to face left and to charge. The soldiers charged down the side of the mountain, shouting at the tops of their lungs. The CS cavalry took to their horses and scattered. In their rush down the hill, Crook's divisions lost all order; a mass of men funneled through the ravine of the Middle Fork of Tumbling Run past the Barbe House and closed on the Confederate infantry on ``Ramseur's Hill.'' A second mass funneled to the right along an old road that penetrated to the rear of the Confederate positions. Grimes's brigade of North Carolinians held out against Crook's onslaught until Ricketts ordered his division forward. Hearing, more than seeing, that they were flanked, CS defenders along the remainder of the line began abandoning their entrenchments. Battle's CS brigade was sent to the left to confront Crook but was misdirected into a ravine and missed the fighting altogether. Sheridan advanced his other divisions, the men attacking generally up the ravines. Early's army was soon in full flight, abandoning equipment and 14 artillery pieces that could not be extricated from the works.

Rear Guard Action at Prospect Hill (22 September): The CS army was a shambles but attempted to collect itself at the base of Round Hill on the Valley Pike. Generals Gordon, Ramseur, and Pegram and staff officers established a rear guard of artillery and infantry at Prospect Hill and held off the disorganized Union pursuit. During this action, Col. Alexander ``Sandie'' Pendleton, Stonewall Jackson's favorite staff officer, was wounded; he died the following day in Woodstock. The CS army retreated to Narrow Passage, and the wagon train went on to Mt. Jackson. Darkness and confusion among the Union victors prevented effective pursuit.

During the fighting at Fisher's Hill, a CS cavalry division turned back the Union cavalry at Milford (present day Overall) in the Luray Valley, preventing an attempt to gain Early's rear by crossing the gap to New Market. Sheridan remarked that if his cavalry had been successful, he could have captured Early's army.

Battle of Fisher's Hill Historical Marker
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Fisher's Hill Civil War Marker

Aftermath and Analysis: Completing his missions of neutralizing Early and suppressing the Valley's military-related economy, Sheridan returned to assist Grant at the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign. Most of the men of Early's corps rejoined Lee at Petersburg in December, while Early remained to command a skeleton force. His final action was defeat at the Battle of Waynesboro on March 2, 1865, after which Lee removed him from his command because the Confederate government and people had lost confidence in him. (Shenandoah Valley and the American Civil War and American Civil War in the Shenandoah Valley.)

Shenandoah County, Virginia, Map
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Battle of Fisher's Hill

The Battle of Fisher's Hill was fought September 21–22, 1864, as part of the Valley Campaigns of 1864 during the American Civil War. Fisher's Hill is located near Strasburg, Virginia.
Union Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan had almost 30,000 men in the Shenandoah Valley opposing Confederate Lt. Gen. Jubal Early, with just under 10,000. Early, following the Third Battle of Winchester took a strong position. His right rested on the North Branch of the Shenandoah River. The left flank of his infantry was on Fisher's Hill. Confederate cavalry was expected to hold the ground from there to Little North Mountain. Maj. Gen. George Crook advised Sheridan to flank this position. His command was assigned to move along the wooded slopes of the mountain to attack the cavalry. Crook's attack began about 4 p.m. on September 22, 1864. The infantry attack pushed the Confederate troopers out of their way. Maj. Gen. Stephen Dodson Ramseur tried refusing the left flank of his division. Crook and Brig. Gen. James B. Ricketts of Horatio G. Wright's division, VI Corps struck Ramseur's line, pushing it in. Wright's remaining divisions and XIX Corps broke the Southern line. The Confederates fell back to Waynesboro, Virginia. Brig. Gen. Alfred Torbert was sent into the Luray Valley with 6,000 cavalrymen to force his way through the 1,200 Confederate cavalrymen under Brigadier General Williams Wickham. Torbert was then supposed to move through the New Market and Luray Gap in Massanutten Mountain and come up behind Early and cut-off his retreat at Fisher's Hill. Torbert fell back after making a token effort against Wickham's force at Milford and Early escaped.
Shenandoah County, where the Battle of Fisher's Hill took place, was established in 1772, and it was originally named Dunmore County in honor of Virginia Governor Lord Dunmore. The county was renamed Shenandoah in 1778, named for the Senedos Indian tribe. During the Civil War the county also witnessed the Battle of New Market on May 15, 1864. Advance to Shenandoah Valley Campaigns: The Civil War Battles.

(Sources listed below.)

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Sources: National Park Service; Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies; Library of Congress; Civil War Trust; Gallagher, Gary W., ed. Struggle for the Shenandoah: Essays on the 1864 Valley Campaign. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1991. ISBN 0-87338-429-6; Patchan, Scott C. Shenandoah Summer: The 1864 Valley Campaign. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-8032-3754-4; Cooling, Benjamin Franklin. Jubal Early's Raid on Washington, 1864. Baltimore: Nautical & Aviation Publishing Company of America, 1989. ISBN 0-933852-86-X; Early, Jubal A., "General Jubal A. Early tells his story of his advance upon Washington, D.C.". Washington National Republican, 1864; Early, Jubal A. A Memoir of the Last Year of the War for Independence in the Confederate States of America. Edited by Gary W. Gallagher. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2001. ISBN 1-57003-450-8; Gallagher, Gary W., ed. The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864. Military Campaigns of the Civil War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006. ISBN 978-0-8078-3005-5; Lewis, Thomas A., and the Editors of Time-Life Books. The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1987. ISBN 0-8094-4784-3.

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