Skip to content

The Rifles at Cedar Creek

By Dr. Walter G. Howell

While the siege of Petersburg continued through the later summer and fall of 1864, General Grant sent General Philip Sheridan into the Shenandoah to destroy crops in the Confederate breadbasket. Lee countered by sending General Jubal Early with a makeshift Confederate army of 20,000 that included what was left of the Mississippi College Rifles. It was the last fighting the Rifles did as a company.
Jubal Early attacked Sheridan’s Union army at Fisher’s Hill on September 22, but he had to withdraw with heavy casualties. After the fighting, Sheridan was called to Washington City and left not knowing that Early was preparing a second attack on Sheridan’s army at Cedar Creek on October 19.
Early’s forces launched an attack at dawn, while many Union soldiers were eating breakfast around their campfires. Caught by surprise, they fled their camp, leaving behind supply wagons and a large number of artillery pieces. Confederates were able to fire Union cannons on the fleeing Yankees. Rebel soldiers then broke into the supply wagons and feasted on their contents.
Sheridan returned that afternoon and found his soldiers in disarray and confused as to what to do. He rallied his troops and launched a counter attack against the Confederates. As they advanced, Sheridan’s soldiers found “hundreds of Confederates, dazed by too much whiskey and nauseated by an over-consumption of rich food.” Many were captured lying on the ground. Early had to retreat, giving up his earlier gains and losing twenty of his own cannon.
Confederate losses at Cedar Creek were 2,500 killed or wounded. Sheridan lost 5,764, but won the battle, keeping control of the Shenandoah. Andrew McAllister of Clinton was killed at Cedar Creek, and Captain William Lewis was wounded for possibly the fourth time and sent to a hospital in Meridian. Lewis’ war came to an end, as did that of Moses Thigpen and Robert McKinley, who were captured and held prisoner until the surrender.
While the Rifles were fighting at Cold Harbor, the town of Clinton was the site of a military encounter. On July 2, 1864, two Union generals stayed in Clinton overnight on their way to Jackson. On that same night, the Confederate Captain W. A. Montgomery and a company of about one hundred men were spending the night on the lawn of Hamilton Sivley in Raymond. The Confederates usually kept their distance from Union soldiers, but when Montgomery learned of the general’s presence in Clinton, he decided to attack.
The Rebels reached Clinton around daybreak; and, as they started up College Street towards the college campus, they met federal pickets, who retreated to the Chapel and began firing from the second floor. Montgomery and his Rebel force turned northward to the Female Institute, where they “liberated” two horses from Walter Hillman’s college. According to Montgomery’s later report, two Rebels were wounded, and several Yankees were killed.
This skirmish was later celebrated as “the battle of Clinton.” These kinds of military activities continued to the end of the war.


Editor’s note: 2011 marked the beginning of the sesquicentennial observation of the American Civil War. This is the twenty-third in a series of pieces by Dr. Walter Howell, the City Historian, that will follow the movements of the Mississippi College Rifles, the fate of Clintonians involved in the fighting and other events on the home front.

Leave a Comment