On October 11, 1864, the 5th Alabama Infantry was sent out on picket duty. That evening, orders were received to be ready to move out at sunrise the next day. According to orders, the troops began their march the next morning and continued on until about two o’clock in the afternoon, when they made camp near Woodstock. On October 13, 1864, the troops moved off once again at sunrise and marched to Fisher’s Hill. They rested there for a while and then, responding to cannon fire to the north, they marched up the Valley Pike beyond Strasburg to Cedar Creek. They formed a line of battle in support of Confederate General Kershaw’s Division. Kershaw’s men drove the Federals across Cedar Creek. The troops remained there until about dark and then were withdrawn to the entrenchments at Fisher’s Hill. The next day, the men were moved forward from Fisher’s Hill and formed a line of battle about a mile beyond the entrenchments and waited there all day. However, the Federals didn’t advance to attack, so the men returned to camp at dark. This movement and result was repeated the following day. Things remained quiet on October 16, 1864, but the following day the troops moved off at daybreak and formed a line of battle yet again. In the early afternoon they were recalled to camp with orders to cook two days rations. The men sensed that something was afoot and on October 18, 1864, they all expected to receive orders to move out, but all was quiet in the camp. Then, at about 5:00 P.M., the order came to be ready to move out in half an hour. Officers instructed the men to carry sixty rounds of ammunition and two days’ rations. The men were to leave their canteens behind and not speak above a whisper on the march. Everybody was eager to know what was going on. Precisely 5:30 P.M. the whole army marched off.
The troops moved from their camp on Fisher’s Hill and marched down the pike a short distance where they were halted for more than an hour. At about 8:00 P.M., the march was resumed, and after passing the stone bridge the men filed to the right leaving the road and moved across the bottomlands to the Shenandoah River, crossing it on a wooden footbridge. The brigades, under the command of General Gordon, marched in the following order: Battle’s, Cook’s, Cox’s, and then Grimes’. They soon struck the Strasburg and Front Royal Pike which they followed a short distance then took a blind path running over the spurs of the Massanuttan and along the banks of the North Fork Shenandoah River for several miles. The path was so narrow that the troops had to march in single file. Couriers from the Corps were stationed at every fork along the path, insuring that the troops turned in right direction. A bright moon, three days past full, lit the narrow trail. For General Gordon who had planned the attack, it was a march he never forgot; “with every man, from the commanders of the divisions to the brave privates under them, impressed with the gravity of the enterprise, speaking only when necessary and then in whispers, and striving to suppress every sound, the long gray line like a great serpent glided noiselessly along the dim pathway above the precipice.” By this circuitous route, they passed around the base of Fort Mountain. Upon reaching the Shenandoah River, where it is crossed by the Manassas Gap Railroad, the column was halted and massed for the rear to close up. As soon as this was done (about 1:00 A.M.) the men again moved forward, following the track of the railroad until near Buckton Station, they again halted for an hour and a half as the column closed up and they awaited the arrival of the cavalry. Ahead a blanket of fog hugged the river and the banks, but the Rebels could see mounted videttes from Union General Powell’s Division, guarding the shallows. When all the infantry had arrived, General Gordon ordered Colonel William Payne’s Cavalry forward. The Virginia horsemen plunged down the bank into the water; gunfire crackled in the stillness, and the stunned Federal pickets were overrun. Payne’s men then galloped away in the direction of Belle Grove Plantation. At about 4:00 A.M. the Infantry filed to the left to Bowman’s Ford on the river, where at about 4.30 A.M. the men commenced wading across the Shenandoah in two columns. The passage was affected with great rapidity and in good order. However, the men came out of the river “nearly frozen” and were anxious to be moving or even fighting in an effort to warm up. The 5th Alabama was ordered to attack a Yankee picket post on the bank of the river and were successful in capturing the pickets.
The 5th Alabama Infantry Regiment would enter the battle with the following officers in command:
Lieutenant Colonel: Edwin Lafayette Hobson
Major: Eugene Blackford
Sergeant Major: Shelby W. Chadwick
Regimental Color Sergeant: Basil M. Hanks
Company A Barbour Grays (1st Lieutenant George A. Thomas)
Company B Talladega Artillery (1st Sergeant Pinkney L. McCall)
Company C Monroe Guards (Captain Thomas C. Riley)
Company D Greensboro Guards (2nd Sergeant William Alexander McCall)
Company E Sumter Rifle Guard (2nd Lieutenant Thomas C. Flowers)
Company F Cahaba Rifles (Sergeant Thomas J. Ellis)
Company G Livingston Rifles (1st Sergeant Robert Hatton)
Company H Pickensville Blues (Captain Thaddeus Belsher)
Company I Grove Hill Guards (Sergeant Alfred Y. Bettis)
Company K Hayneville Guards (Captain Girard Cook)
Officers hurried their units forward as the men “trotted up” the road now known as Long Meadow Road. Battle’s Brigade passed Colonel Bowman’s red brick house and continued on for a mile and a half to the Cooley Mansion. The quick pace “was very agreeable after the cold water of the river,” said one man. At the Cooley Mansion, they were formed into line of battle about one mile from the Valley Turnpike By their movement through the night, the Confederates had gained the rear and left flank of the unsuspecting Union Army which was camped on both sides of the Valley Pike. It was just after daylight on October 19, 1864, Battles’ Brigade was formed facing northwest and moved forward in line of battle towards the area that is now the intersection of Interstate Highway 66 and 81. The other brigades that followed continued moving forward for about 300 yards, when they were faced to the left on the left flank of Battle’s Brigade and were also ordered forward. Battle’s Brigade now held the extreme right of the line, with the Brigades of Cook, Cox and Grimes to their left in that order. As soon as the troops had taken their position, General Gordon had ordered them forward towards the Valley Pike. The line had to pass over ground that was very rough, broken into ravines and hills, and covered with woods. Consequently, the unity of the line was not well maintained, so General Gordon halted the men for a few minutes to reform their jumbled ranks when about four hundred yards from the Federal camps. The men were then ordered to attack and charged out of the fog covered ravine. As the battle line neared the Union camps on a ridge, the soldiers started running and shrieking their fearsome “Rebel yell.” A Yankee once described it as “that hellish yell;” another compared it to “a wildcat screech.” It chilled the spines of many Federals. “You have to feel it,” wrote a Union veteran, “and if you say you did not feel it, and heard the yell, you have never been there.” As the Alabama Brigade had approached the Federals of VIII Corps, General Battle called out to his men, “Move steadily forward and sweep everything before you, Close in on the coons and then cut their fur.” The Alabamians had roared in approval. Battle’s Brigade surged ahead having traversed less rugged terrain and they soon swept through the Federal camp of VIII Corps on the east side of the Valley Turnpike.
The surprise was complete and had the desired effect. The Yankees were driven and routed out of their camp with many of their men killed or wounded in their bunks, not having had time to get up. The Yankees ran in great confusion, leaving everything in the way of baggage and camp equipment behind them. About 22 to 40 pieces of artillery were captured and turned on the enemy. Ambulances, wagons, forges, medical wagons and things too numerous to mention were captured and the enemy driven, losing a great many killed, wounded and made prisoners.
After sweeping through the camp, Battle’s Brigade became hotly engaged with a portion of Kitching’s 6,000 man Brigade, which was a part of the Union VIII Corps commanded by General George Crook, in the area which is now the intersection of Interstate Highway 66 and 81. Just before the Confederate attack hit their line, Union Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes, who was to become the 19th President of the United States later in life, but who was in command of the Federal line facing Battle’s Brigade at Cedar Creek, had rode over to his left to Colonel Kitching and asked, “Can you hold on here?” Kitching replied affirmatively, “I can hold here, if you can hold on down there.” Hayes took exception to Kitching’s comment and retorted, “You need not feel afraid of my line. I will guarantee that my line will stand there.” As Hayes turned around, he saw his line breaking under the onslaught of the Alabamians. His men did not wait around to see if Battle’s Brigade was going to do any skinning. Instead they fell back across the Valley Pike in great disorder before Union General Crook, the Corps commander, could rally them in front of Belle Grove, the Corps headquarters. The men of Battle’s Brigade had rapidly driving through the Federal camp and beyond the pike. By sun up, the Confederates had possession of the entire Federal camp.
After successfully driving off the Yankee line, Battle’s Brigade was halted and formed across the pike and perpendicular to it, to secure it. They were posted about where the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation Headquarters is located currently (2014). Just before the brigade reached this point its gallant commander, General Battle, received a wound while nobly charging the enemy and was borne from the field. Due to Colonel Forsyth of the 3rd Alabama being reported sick and absent, General Ramseur placed the next senior officer, Lieutenant Colonel Edwin L. Hobson of the 5th Alabama Infantry, in command of the brigade and ordered him to hold it there until he could bring up the rest of the division. Captain Thomas C. Riley took command of the 5th Alabama Infantry Regiment. While there on the pike, the brigade was exposed to a withering and accurate shelling from a battery of the enemy which was oblique to the left, from a distant of about three hundred yards. The men behaved with unequalled calmness while those shells were rapidly thinning their ranks, none of them exhibiting any disposition to abandon their places but quietly waiting the order to advance. Grimes’ Brigade was recalled from the left and moved by the right flank through the abandoned camp of the Union VIII Corps, which had been completely routed, faced to the front and advanced to the pike, connecting with Battle’s right. This projection was perfected at about sunrise, the enemy being then in position on a small creek (Meadow Brook) to the left of the pike, with their artillery on a high ridge in the rear, and firing into this line of battle. General Ramseur had skirmishers thrown to the front and to the right, driving the sharpshooters of the enemy from Middletown.
After seeing the Federal line at Belle Grove disintegrate, Union General Wright had pulled his First and Third Divisions back across Meadow Brook and redeployed them on the crest of Red Hill. Captain Greenleaf Steven’s Battery “E”, 5th Maine Light Artillery, and the 1st Battery, New York Light Artillery, had unlimbered on higher ground to the left and rear of the First Division. It was these batteries that continued to pound the men of Battle’s Brigade on the Valley Pike. General Ramseur soon returned and ordered Lieutenant Colonel Hobson to move the brigade forward about two hundred yards and halt there. After waiting there about a half hour the brigade moved forward changing direction to the left, thereby flanking the battery that had been shelling them. At the command to charge, the men bounded forward with a yell crossing Meadow Brook and in a few moments, they were in the midst of the artillery calling upon the Yankees to surrender. The enemy defended this battery manfully and yielded possession of it only after the 5th Alabama and a portion of the 6th Alabama Regiment were amongst the guns. Captain Thaddeus C. Belsher of Company H, killed one man and cut down another with his sword while they were attempting to carry off three of the guns. Other Yankees were shot down by the men in the ranks. The men soon captured six guns of the 5th Maine Artillery. Besides capturing the six guns, the brigade captured one stand of colors, some prisoners, and several caissons and horses as well. Battle’s Brigade would capture a total of eighteen Union cannon before the day was over! Immediately after getting possession of this battery, Lieutenant Colonel Hobson discovered a square formed by the enemy to their left and numbering, he supposed, about three times as many men as were in Battles’ brigade. In this square was a white flag with a red star in the centre which Lieutenant Colonel Hobson conjectured to belong to some General. Immediately, the men vigorously attacked and drove back the square three or four hundred yards and scattered it in every direction killing and capturing many who were in the square. This was the 1st Division of the Union VIII Corps commanded by Colonel Joseph Thoburn, who was mortally wounded while trying to rally his men.
However, the Confederate troops on their right, General Wharton’s Division, had failed to push back the enemy on his front as rapidly as they had done. This compelled Lieutenant Colonel Hobson to stop the brigade from the pursuit of the enemy they were then contending with. He moved the men back by the right flank two or three hundred yards to the woods in which the enemy were so suddenly opposing General Wharton’s Division. They were struggling with the Union Division of General George Getty who had moved his troops forward and had taken a position centred on the Middletown Cemetery. So, after overrunning the Federal Battery behind Meadow Brook and putting Union General Wheaton’s men to flight, Lieutenant Colonel Hobson now halted his men, faced them to the front and ordered a charge. They promptly and boldly moved forward up the hill and into the woods on Getty’s right flank. They poured fire into the flank and rear of Union Colonel James Warner’s Brigade and in less than ten minutes routed the Federals as completely as troops ever were. The enemy gave way and rapidly in great confusion, withdrew from the woods. The men advanced some four or five hundred yards pursuing them across the field on the opposite side of the woods and then halted to reform their lines. However, while in this location, the men became exposed to the shells from one of their own batteries, which killed and wounded several of the men before Lieutenant Colonel Hobson could have its direction of fire changed. While halted General Ramseur dashed up to Hobson and in a loud voice said “Colonel Hobson, old fellow, you are still at the front” and then pulling off his hat said “hurrah for you.” General Early soon rode up to the same place and expressed himself to General Ramseur as very much delighted with what he had done. General Ramseur turned to Battle’s brigade and pointing to them said “General, these are the men who have done all this.”
By this time, the whole Union Army had been driven back in confusion to a point about a mile and a half north of Middletown, a very large portion of the infantry not even preserving a company organization. General Ramseur again formed the division into line of battle. After remaining there an hour or more, the division was moved forward about half a mile when it was again halted. Here the brigade was exposed to shells from the enemy’s battery some distance in its front. Resting here an hour, the brigade was again moved forward and stationed behind a fence enclosing Mr. Miller’s house and yard. During their inactivity there, the Yankees began to mass their shattered forces on the far left flank of the Confederate line. Later in the afternoon, the enemy made a general advance along the entire Confederate front. They moved up in front of Battle’s Brigade with both infantry and cavalry, at the same time shelling them furiously. The brave and undaunted men, true to themselves and knowing they could drive back any force brought against them, received this attack and hurled it back as they had done every other throughout the entire day. Soon however, the troops on the extreme left of the line gave way and fled, thereby permitting the enemy to advance, exposing Battle’s Brigade to an enfilading fire. Standing firmly, and showing no inclination to retreat from this point without seeing the enemy, which was still pushing back the Confederate troops and boring in on the left and rear of Battle’s Brigade, General Ramseur rode up and ordered Lieutenant Colonel Hobson to retire with the brigade to the brow of the hill immediately in their rear. This they did and again faced to the front, but still the troops on the left continued to fall back and the enemy advanced. General Ramseur then ordered Lieutenant Colonel Hobson to retire still farther. He then moved the brigade back to a hill three hundred yards in their rear and made a stand. There, they pushed back a broken enemy line which had been brought against them. While in this position on the field at about four o’clock in the afternoon , General Ramseur was mortally wounded. Lieutenant Colonel Hobson was near him, fifty or a hundred yards in front of him. The men on the left continued to give way and soon thousands of men poured through the ranks of Battle’s Brigade disorganizing a brigade that up to that time maintained its organization almost perfectly. Finally forced to retire with the rest of the Confederate Army, the brigade was scattered and did not get back together until that night when they reached Fisher hill. Some of the men however, continued to fight while retiring as they recrossed Cedar Creek. Here a few men of the 5th Alabama Infantry Regiment rallied around their colors on the hills overlooking the creek. General Ramseur, who had been struck through both lungs and fell, was captured by Union soldiers. He died the following day. General Bryan Grimes took over command of the Division.
Between Strasburg and the stone bridge, the Yankee cavalry attacked the retreating Confederates and cut a number of wagons off of their train. They recaptured many of the wagons, ambulances and artillery the Rebels had captured in the morning as well as capturing some additional Confederate artillery. General Early, in spite of all he could do with the assistance of other officers, could not rally the men. They came on, passed through Strasburg and made for Fisher’s Hill. General Early was there again to rally them, but it was of no avail, the men were routed and nothing in the world could stop them. A great many of the Confederates dispersed to the mountains. The army kept on the retreat all night, with Yankee cavalry following them. They reached Mount Jackson about daybreak. After having gained one of the most signal victories ever recorded in the morning, defeat and disaster was their lot in the evening. General Battle never sufficiently recovered from his wounds to enable him to return to the field, and Lieutenant Colonel Hobson remained in command of the brigade until December 10, 1864, but would have command again before the surrender at Appomattox. Captain Thomas M. Riley remained in command of the 5th Alabama Infantry Regiment for the time that Colonel Hobson was Brigade commander.
The Battle of Cedar Creek ended in a resounding Federal victory. However, the victory was not without costs. Federal losses were 644 killed, 3430 wounded, and 1300 captured. The Confederates had lost at least 1860 killed and wounded, and 1260 captured. This was about twenty per cent of General Early’s army. Of these losses, Battle/Hobson’s Brigade suffered 186 casualties. The 5th Alabama Infantry Regiment is known to have had 10 men killed or mortally wounded, 19 men wounded, and 19 men missing or captured*.
*This number includes some of the wounded.