150 Years Ago This Week: The Battle of Berryville

September 1864

At about 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 3, Union troops commanded by Brig. Gen. George Crook under Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan were moving south from Charles Town, W. Va., into Clarke County, Va., to slow or stop the advance of Confederate troops.

Lt. Gen. Richard Anderson’s divisions, returning from the Valley on Gen. Robert E. Lee’s request to Petersburg, were moving east from Winchester, Va., to the gap in the Blue Ridge. Just west of Berryville, Va., the two forces collided unexpectedly and by complete surprise.

The fighting was bloody and intense, featuring hand-to-hand combat in many cases. During a charge at about 7 p.m. by Brig. Gen. Benjamin Humphreys’ Mississippi Brigade on the grounds of Rosemont plantation, Gen. Humphreys took a bullet in the chest; this wound effectively ended the war for him.

He returned to Mississippi to recover, and later was the first governor of Mississippi in late 1865 when the war ended, until he was physically removed from his office in 1868 by Union troops administering the Fourth Military District under command of Maj. Gen. Adelbert Ames, in the days of Reconstruction. The battle at Berryville ended in a heavy rainstorm as darkness fell.

At Greeneville, Tenn., on Sept. 4, Union troops commanded by Maj. Gen. Alvan C. Gillem surrounded the Confederate cavalry raider Brig. Gen. John Hunt Morgan and his command encamped in the town. When Gen. Morgan attempted to escape the trap, he was shot and killed. The famed Confederate raider was dead, one of some 100 Confederates killed and 75 captured as prisoners. His exploits would live long in the annals of poems, songs, stories and in the military records of honor.

In Atlanta, Maj. Gen. William Sherman ordered his three armies to regroup and rest while Gen. Sherman argued with the civil authorities of Atlanta on how the city was to be administered. Not too far away, still at Lovejoy’s Station, Confederate Gen. John B. Hood gathered his tattered Army of Tennessee. The third major artillery bombardment of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, S.C., ended after 60 days, with 81 casualties and 14,666 rounds fired at the crumbling but defiant fortress.

There were some skirmishes in and around Winchester on Sept. 5-6 as the armies of Gen. Sheridan and Lt. Gen. Jubal Early continued to probe and try to catch the other off balance. Another bombardment of Fort Sumter began on Sept. 6 and lasted nine days. An additional 573 rounds were fired against the fort during this time.

The same day, Confederate Lt. Gen. Richard Taylor assumed command of the Department of Alabama, Mississippi and East Louisiana. The next day, Sept. 7, Gen. Sherman wrote to Gen. Hood: “I have deemed it to the interest of the United States that the citizens now residing in Atlanta should remove, those who prefer it to go South, and the rest North.” The evacuation of Atlanta began.

Between Sept. 11-20, some 446 families (about 1,600 people) left Atlanta. The citizens were not only forced to leave their homes; most had to abandon nearly all their possessions. There was outrage, indignation and protests, but to no avail.

Gen. Sherman’s feeling was that he had enough trouble feeding his armies. “If the people raise a howl against my barbarity and cruelty,” he wrote to Gen. Hood, “I will answer that war is war and not popularity-seeking.” Gen. Hood was furious and there were a lot of heated letters and dispatches between the two commanders.

On Sept. 8, in Orange, N.J., Maj. Gen. George McClellan formally accepted the Democratic nomination for president of the United States. He disavowed the so-called peace plank in the Democratic platform, which stated that “immediate efforts should be made for a cessation of hostilities, looking for a convention or other such means of restoring the Union.” Gen. McClellan’s opinion was that “the Union is the one condition of peace.” He emphasized that cessation of hostilities should hinge on the restoration of the Union.

Arthur Candenquist
About Arthur Candenquist 193 Articles

A long-time historian, researcher, lecturer and author, Arthur Candenquist serves as secretary-treasurer of the Rappahannock County Sesquicentennial Committee. He can be reached at AC9725@cs.com.