American Civil War: Battle of Cedar Mountain

Major General Samuel Crawford. Photograph Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Battle of Cedar Mountain - Conflict & Date:

The Battle of Cedar Mountain was fought August 9, 1862, during the American Civil War (1861-1865).

Armies & Commanders



Battle of Cedar Mountain - Background:

In late June 1862, Major General John Pope was appointed to command the newly formed Army of Virginia. Consisting of three corps, this formation was tasked with driving into central Virginia and relieving pressure on Major General George B. McClellan's beleaguered Army of the Potomac which was engaged with Confederate forces on the Peninsula. Deploying in an arc, Pope placed Major General Franz Sigel's I Corps along the Blue Ridge Mountains at Sperryville, while Major General Nathaniel Banks' II Corps occupied Little Washington. An advance force from Banks' command, led by Brigadier General Samuel W. Crawford, was posted to the soth at Culpeper Court House. In the east, Major General Irvin McDowell's III Corps held Falmouth.

With the defeat of McClellan and the Union withdrawal to the James River after the Battle of Malvern Hill, Confederate General Robert E. Lee turned his attention to Pope. On July 13, he dispatched Major General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson north with 14,000 men. This was followed by an additional 10,000 men led by Major General A.P. Hill two weeks later. Taking the initiative, Pope began driving south towards the key rail junction of Gordonsville on August 6. Assessing the Union movements, Jackson elected to advance with the goal of crushing Banks and then defeating Sigel and McDowell in turn. Pushing towards Culpeper on August 7, Jackson's cavalry swept aside their Union counterparts. Alerted to Jackson's actions, Pope ordered Sigel to reinforce Banks at Culpeper.

Battle of Cedar Mountain - Opposing Positions:

While waiting for Sigel's arrival, Banks received orders to maintain a defensive position on the high ground above Cedar Run, approximately seven miles south of Culpeper. Favorable ground, Banks deployed his men with Brigadier General Christopher Auger's division on the left. This was composed of Brigadier Generals Henry Prince and John W. Geary's brigades which were placed on the left and right respectively. While Geary's right flank was anchored on the Culpeper-Orange Turnpike, Brigadier General George S. Greene's under-strength brigade was held in reserve. Crawford formed to the north across the turnpike, while Brigadier General George H. Gordon's brigade arrived to anchor the Union right.

Pushing across the Rapidan River on the morning of August 9, Jackson advanced with three divisions led by Major General Richard Ewell, Brigadier General Charles S. Winder, and Hill. Around noon, Ewell's lead brigade, led by Brigadier General Jubal Early, encountered the Union line. As the remainder of Ewell's men arrived, they extended the Confederate line south towards Cedar Mountain. As Winder's division came up, his brigades, led by Brigadier General William Taliaferro and Colonel Thomas Garnett, deployed on Early's left. While Winder's artillery rolled into position between the two brigades, Colonel Charles Ronald's Stonewall Brigade was held back as a reserve. The last to arrive, Hill's men were also retained as a reserve behind the Confederate left (Map).

Battle of Cedar Mountain - Banks on the Attack:

As the Confederates deployed, an artillery duel ensued between Banks' and Early's guns. As the firing began taper around 5:00 PM, Winder was mortally wounded by a shell fragment and command of his division passed to Taliaferro. This proved problematic as he was ill-informed as to Jackson's plans for the impending battle and was still in the process forming his men. In addition, Garnett's brigade was separated from the main Confederate line and Ronald's troops had yet to come up in support. As Taliaferro struggled to take control, Banks began an assault on the Confederate lines. Badly beaten by Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley earlier in the year, he was eager to obtain retribution despite being outnumbered.

Surging forward, Geary and Prince slammed into the Confederate right prompting Early to return from Cedar Mountain to take personal command of the situation. To the north, Crawford attacked Winder's disorganized division. Striking Garnett's brigade in the front and flank, his men shattered the 1st Virginia before rolling up 42nd Virginia. Advancing into the Confederate rear, the increasingly disorganized Union forces were able to push back the lead elements of Ronald's brigade. Arriving on the scene, Jackson attempted to rally his former command by drawing his sword. Finding that it had rusted in the scabbard from lack of use, he instead waved both.

Battle of Cedar Mountain - Jackson Strikes Back:

Successful in his efforts, Jackson sent the Stonewall Brigade forward. Counterattacking, they were able to drive back Crawford's men. Pursuing the retreating Union soldiers, the Stonewall Brigade became overextended and was forced to retreat as Crawford's men regained some cohesion. Despite this, their efforts permitted Jackson to restore order to the entire Confederate line and bought time for Hill's men to arrive. With his full force on hand, Jackson ordered his troops to advance. Pushing forward, Hill's division was able to overwhelm Crawford and Gordon. While Auger's division mounted a tenacious defense, they were forced to retreat following Crawford's withdrawal and an attack on their left by Brigadier General Isaac Trimble's brigade.

Battle of Cedar Mountain - Aftermath:

Though Banks attempted to use Greene's men to stabilize his line, the effort failed. In a last gasp attempt to rescue the situation, he directed part of his cavalry to charge the advancing Confederates. This attack was repulsed with heavy losses. With darkness falling, Jackson elected not to conduct a long pursuit of Banks' retreating men. The fighting at Cedar Mountain saw Union forces sustain 314 killed, 1,445 wounded, and 594 missing, while Jackson lost 231 killed and 1,107 wounded. Believing that Pope would attack him in force, Jackson remained near Cedar Mountain for two days. Finally learning that the Union general had concentrated at Culpeper, he elected to withdraw back to Gordonsville.

Concerned about Jackson's presence, Union general-in-chief Major General Henry Halleck directed Pope to assume a defensive posture in northern Virginia. As a result, Lee was able to take the initiative after containing McClellan. Coming north with the remainder of his army, he inflicted decisive defeat on Pope later that month at the Second Battle of Manassas.

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Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "American Civil War: Battle of Cedar Mountain." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Hickman, Kennedy. (2020, August 26). American Civil War: Battle of Cedar Mountain. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "American Civil War: Battle of Cedar Mountain." ThoughtCo. (accessed April 1, 2023).