Battle of Moorefield
The Battle of Moorefield was a cavalry battle in the American Civil War, which took place on August 7, 1864. The fighting occurred along the South Branch of the Potomac River, north of Moorefield, West Virginia, in Hardy County. Historians group this battle with Early's Washington Raid and operations against the B&O Railroad, and it was the last major battle in the region before General Philip Sheridan took command of Union troops in the Shenandoah Valley. This Union triumph was the third of three major victories (Battle of Droop Mountain, Battle of Rutherford's Farm, and the Battle of Moorefield) for Brigadier General William W. Averell, who had successes when operating on his own, but did not work well under direct supervision.
On July 30, Confederate cavalry commanded by Brigadier General John McCausland burned most of the town of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and fled west. McCausland was pursued by cavalry led by General Averell. McCausland's troops, with fresh horses, were able to escape the Union cavalry and threaten more towns. After re-crossing the Potomac, they camped between the West Virginia towns of Moorefield and Romney—closer to Moorefield. Their camps were along both sides of the South Branch of the Potomac River, in an area better suited for horse grazing than defense. Johnson's Brigade was on the north side of the river, while McCausland's Brigade was on the south side. As they settled to rest their horses, Averell's force was still 60 miles (97 km) miles away in Hancock. Averell had been forced to rest his horses, but was ordered to continue the pursuit a few days later.
Using an advance guard disguised as Confederate soldiers, Averell's cavalry caught up with McCausland during the night of August 6. On the early morning of August 7, Averell attacked the sleeping Confederates. Over 400 men were either killed or captured (some escaped), while the Union force lost less than 50. Averell's victory inflicted permanent damage on the Confederate cavalry, and it was never again the dominant force it once was in the Shenandoah Valley.
On July 24, General Jubal A. Early won a resounding Confederate victory near Winchester, Virginia, at the Second Battle of Kernstown. Union troops, in some cases panic stricken, retreated to the north side of the Potomac River. Early, who had threatened the federal capital Washington, D.C. during the first half of July, followed his Kernstown victory with an attack on northern territory. He dispatched two brigades of cavalry under General John McCausland and General Bradley Johnson to conduct raids in Pennsylvania.[Note 1] McCausland was the force's commander and led the first brigade, while Johnson led the second brigade. Their purpose was to burn northern towns unless they received a ransom. Their first two targets were Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and Cumberland, Maryland.
On July 29, McCausland's cavalry force crossed the Potomac River west of Williamsport, Maryland with the assistance of diversionary crossings at other locations. Panic spread throughout the region as McCausland moved toward Chambersburg. The Union troops nearest to McCausland belonged to General William W. Averell, who was stationed in Hagerstown, Maryland, and had troops guarding nearby fords along the river. Averell had only 1,260 men and two pieces of artillery in his command.[Note 2] Averell's communications were cut around noon.
After Early's excursion north of Washington a few weeks earlier, Averell was under pressure to make sure that Washington and Baltimore were not attacked. Averell's spies discovered Confederates moving east on the Baltimore Pike, and Averell mistakenly assumed they planned to attack Baltimore. He cautiously positioned his force, which was about half the size of McCausland's, to protect Baltimore instead of moving directly to Chambersburg. The Confederate troops were merely a patrol that eventually retreated back to Chambersburg. This delayed Averell's arrival at Chambersburg, and allowed the Confederates to raid and burn Chambersburg virtually unopposed on July 30. After burning Chambersburg, McCausland moved west and rested his horses. Later that day, Averell arrived in Chambersburg, and then continued to pursue McCausland. His actions may have prevented the burning of Hancock in Maryland, and McConnellsburg, and Bedford in Pennsylvania. In Hancock, Averell's men skirmished with McCausland's rear guard. McCausland had been able to secure fresh horses, and escaped. Averell's horses were exhausted, and he was forced to pause in his pursuit of McCausland in Hancock. He could not secure fresh horses, since any fresh horses in the area had been taken by McCausland. Averell rested his troops until August 3, when he received an order to pursue McCausland and attack "wherever found.
By the time Averell received his order to renew the pursuit of McCausland, the rebels had already threatened Cumberland. McCausland was held off by artillery led by General Benjamin Franklin Kelley. With considerable difficulty, McCausland crossed the Potomac River and made camp near Springfield, West Virginia on the South Branch River. On the next day, they moved toward Romney, and rested until August 4. On August 4, the Confederate cavalry continued with their second objective, which was disrupting traffic on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. They attempted to raid New Creek (present day Keyser, West Virginia). The raid proved to be unsuccessful as the small Union garrison used topography to its advantage, emplacing fortified artillery atop the mountains that surrounded the New Creek Valley. After aborting the raid, the Confederates retreated south towards Moorefield and made camp. McCausland knew that Averell was still in Hancock, and believed he was in no imminent danger. He selected camp sites based on grazing for horses instead of defense. Johnson's Brigade occupied the north side South Branch Potomac River, while McCausland's Brigade camped on the south side. The camps were north of Moorefield and south of Romney, closer to Moorefield.
While the Confederates attempted to raid New Creek, Averell's force crossed the Potomac at Hancock, Maryland, and headed for Springfield, West Virginia. Upon arriving on August 6, they learned of the Confederate raid and subsequent withdrawal to Moorefield. Averell determined not to let the Confederates escape him a second time and departed for Romney the following day, sending his scouts ahead to reconnoiter the Confederate position. By 6 pm that night his scouts met up with Averell at Mill Creek halfway between Romney and Moorefield. Because he was outnumbered nearly 2 to 1, Averell planned a surprise attack on the Confederates by launching a night raid. The Federals marched from Mill Creek at 1 am on August 7.
At around 3 am the Union vanguard led by Captain Thomas Kerr encountered and captured the first Confederate pickets north of Moorefield. After the pickets were sent to the rear, Averell rode up and prepared for his attack, placing Major Thomas Gibson in the center along the Moorefield road. In a surprise attack at dawn on August 6, 1864, Averell captured over 400 Confederates. Two columns under Col. William Powell formed on the flanks of Gibson. Kerr again led the vanguard. With his line formed Averell ordered the attack. Gibson's column immediately smashed into the Bradley Johnson camp. Most of Johnson's men were asleep and woke up only in time to be taken prisoner or rush off in full retreat. The commotion of Johnson's retreating men was enough to awake the men in McCausland's camp on the other side of the river who were able to form a line and meet Gibson's advance at the river. Averell had anticipated meeting resistance at the river and thus sent his two flanking columns to cross up and down stream respectively of Gibson's crossing. The right and left columns crossed and poured into the flanks of the hastily formed Confederate line causing it to break into retreat. The pursuing Federals encountered Brigadier. General William Jackson's cavalry on the Winchester Pike east of Moorefield. Jackson tried to bring his guns up to fire on the Federals, but because the routed Confederates were so interspersed among them he could not get a shot off before they were overrun and captured. This action, maintaining surprise and momentum, reflects tactics learned by Union commanders from encounters with Confederate Major General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson's forces.
This battle was the last of a group of seven battles in campaign called Early's Raid and Operations Against the B&O Railroad. The official reports show that Averell captured 38 officers and 377 enlisted men in addition to killing at least 13 and wounding 60. The Confederate losses to capture might have been higher, but due to the speed of the advance many Confederates initially captured were able to escape as they were sent to the rear. The victory cost Averell 11 killed, including 2 officers, 18 wounded, and 13 captured. Those captured were likely stragglers rounded up by John Hanson McNeill's partisan command, which was operating in the area. The devastating loss crippled the Confederate cavalry in the Valley. For the duration of the war in the Valley they would no longer have the dominance they previously enjoyed throughout the war.
- McCausland was an alumnus of the Virginia Military Institute, which had been burned by Union General David Hunter during June 1864. Johnson and many of his soldiers were from Maryland.
- Averell's cavalry included the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd West Virginia Cavalry regiments. On August 4, 500 additional men from the 1st New York "Lincoln" Cavalry and the 22nd Pennsylvania Cavalrywere detached from Brigadier General Alfred N. Duffié's command to assist Averell. This increased his force to 1,760 men.
- United States 1891, p. 324
- "Hunter's Raid - General David Hunter and the Burning of VMI, June 1864". Virginia Military Institute. Retrieved 2017-02-26.
- Patchan 2007, p. 275
- Pond 1912, p. 100
- Pond 1912, p. 101
- Patchan 2007, p. 290
- Pond 1912, p. 102
- Patchan 2007, p. 280
- Pond 1912, p. 104
- Sutton 2002, p. 148
- Ainsworth & Kirkley 1902, p. 493
- Patchan 2007, pp. 285–286
- Patchan 2007, pp. 289
- Patchan 2007, pp. 292
- Patchan 2007, p. 307
- Patchan 2007, p. 299
- "Civil War Battle Summaries by Campaign". National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. Retrieved 2017-03-26.
- "Battle Detail - Moorefield". National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior. Retrieved 2017-01-28.
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- Pond, George E. (1912). The Shenandoah Valley in 1864. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. OCLC 13500039.
- Sutton, Joseph J. (2001) . History of the Second Regiment, West Virginia Cavalry Volunteers, During the War of the Rebellion. Huntington, WV: Blue Acorn Press. ISBN 978-0-9628866-5-2. OCLC 263148491.
- United States (1891). Reports of Committees of the House of Representatives for the Second Session of the Fifty-First Congress, 1890-'91. Washington: Government Printing Office. OCLC 3888071.