Retreat and Attack: The Ninth Connecticut at Cedar Creek

In the early morning of the 19th October 1864, Captain John G. Healy of the Ninth Connecticut Infantry had his men stand to arms at their breastworks on the east bank of Cedar Creek. ‘The Irish Regiment’ was part of the Union XIX Corps of Major-General Phil Sheridan’s Army of the Shenandoah. Now reduced to battalion strength, Healy and his small band of men had been alerted by the sound of firing from their left flank, where the VIII Corps positions were. As the commotion intensified, it became apparent that Confederate troops of Lieutenant-General Jubal Early’s Army of the Valley had flanked the Federal positions, routing the VIII Corps in the process. The situation of the XIX Corps and Healy’s Connecticut Irishmen was now extremely perilous.

As the XIX Corps began to feel the full force of the Confederate assault, the Ninth had no option but to retreat. Captain Garry T. Scott of the Regiment described how they were ‘driven out of our fortifications’ being forced to fall back ‘several miles’. Moving along their line of works, they withdrew from one position to the next as the Rebel wave came on. As they attempted to form with a portion of their Brigade, Healy could see that the retreat was fast becoming a rout, with ‘men of other regiments…running by us, going in all directions to the rear’. However, as the Confederate attack ran out of steam, it was a case of cometh the hour, cometh the man. The Ninth’s army commander Phil Sheridan was not about to let his army disintegrate.

Officers of the Ninth Connecticut: James Graham back row left, John Healy front row centre, Garry Scott front row second right

Sheridan had actually been away at Winchester when Early’s troops struck. Hearing the firing, he rode hard for the front where he saw his men flooding to the rear. Private John McKenna of the Ninth recalled how he was ‘twice taken prisoner at Cedar Creek, but got away from them in time to be in line when Sheridan rode up’. Sheridan succeeded in rallying the XIX Corps for a counter-attack, in which the Ninth Connecticut participated. Captain Healy describes the scene: ‘we advanced through the woods, the enemy pouring shot and shell into us, but with very little effect. We now received orders to charge. My men went at it with a will, the colors of my battalion being always in the advance. The officers of the Ninth rallied their men, and they pressed forward after the retreating enemy. The chase was kept up until dark. The enemy being driven from the field we were now ordered to occupy our old camp.’

Sheridan's ride from Winchester rallying his troops

Captain Scott recalled that The Irish Regiment colors were ‘the first planted on the recaptured works and were the first to advance in the charge’. Captain Healy himself carried the state colors for the first part of the charge, until he found that it restricted his ability to issue orders. Captain James Graham of the Ninth would look back on the battle years later as one of the Regiment’s finest achievements, and as a place where the unit had ‘greatly distinguished itself’ with the ‘colors of the battalion in the van of all other flags on that field‘. He remembered the private who carried the national flag (John T. Morrow), as well as the corporal and two officers who were with him at the forefront of the attack, as the ‘four daring spirits who led the Federal army in the victorious charge that finally overthrew Early and ended the valley campaign’.

The Battle of Cedar Creek was indeed the decisive battle of the Valley Campaign of 1864; the threat to Washington D.C. dissipated and Early’s troops would eventually return to the Army of Northern Virginia. The Ninth Connecticut lost two men killed, fifteen men wounded, and eight men missing during the engagement. Today, the battlefield of Cedar Creek is on the Civil War Preservation Trust’s most endangered battlefields list and needs your help to preserve the site for future generations.

References & Further Reading

Murray, Thomas Hamilton 1903. History of the Ninth Regiment, Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, “The Irish Regiment”, in the War of Rebellion, 1861-65. The Record of a Gallant Command on the March, in Battle and in Bivouac

Official Records 43. Report of Captain John G. Healy, Ninth Connecticut Infantry, of Operations October 19.

Civil War Preservation Trust Cedar Creek Animated Map

Cedar Creek & Belle Grove National Historical Park, Virginia

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Categories: 9th Connecticut, Battle of Cedar Creek, Connecticut, Virginia

Author:Damian Shiels

I am an archaeologist based in Ireland, specialising in conflict archaeology.

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6 Comments on “Retreat and Attack: The Ninth Connecticut at Cedar Creek”

  1. Joe Kelly
    November 5, 2010 at 2:44 am #

    Just curious are you researching the 9th? Ive been researching the 9th Connecticut for about 20 years , had a ancestor in it. In the photograph you have of the 9th officers is also John Bolger. He was a Sgt in the Confederate Army captured at Ft Jackson below New Orleans and joined the 9th and rose to 1st Lt. The 9th recruited about 200 men in New Orleans.

    • November 5, 2010 at 10:04 am #

      Hi Joe,

      That is absolutely fascinating! I wasn’t aware of that- were many of the New Orleans men they raised Irish?. I’m not researching the 9th at the moment (I am working on the 5th Confederate Infantry, mainly Irishmen from Memphis). They are a very interesting regiment though, I’m hoping they will feature in a few more posts over time!
      Kind Regards,

      Damian.

      • Joe Kelly
        November 5, 2010 at 9:38 pm #

        Yes the 9th took in about 200 men and 7 colored men to be cooks in New Orleans. Bolger was in the Regular Confederate Army. Not a state unit but one of only 2 regiments of regular Confederate Army. He was a Sgt and was on the gunboat Mississippi captured at the Forts and went over to the 9th. After the war about 5 ex 9th officers took jobs in New Orleans in the goverment and Bolger got a job in the New Orleans Police Dept under Lt Lawler who had been a Lt in the 9th Connecticut. The statue put up at Grants Canal in Vicksburg dedicated to the 9th Connecticut is one of the first statues put up there in many years take a look at it beautiful statue. There is also a 9th Connecticut website you may want to look at. We have the wreath laying of the 9th Statue in New Haven Connecticut this weekend.

  2. mhkane
    November 23, 2012 at 1:59 pm #

    The 9th Connecticut include d Lt. Lawrence O’Brien, on e o fthe few Americans who escaped captivity as a Fenian in Ireland in 1866.

  3. Joe Kelly
    November 24, 2012 at 7:06 am #

    One thing to remember. The 9th did not have their Irish flag at Cedar Creek. When the regiment demobed only enough men reuped to stay in so they were formed into a 4 company battalion. Lt Col Healy was Co and they had 4 companies under Capts Scott, Sheridan, Lee and Lt Graham. The 9ths old flags were turned in and they received new colors.The new 9th state flag was not of Irish Design it was the typical Connecticut State flag that all Connecticut regiments carried.

    • November 24, 2012 at 4:25 pm #

      Many thanks for that info Joe and for sharing it with us!

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