Graham T. Dozier on Letters from the Battle of Cedar Creek

dozier_gunner_PB Over on our Civil War blog, Graham T. Dozier, editor of A Gunner in Lee’s Army: The Civil War Letters of Thomas Henry Carter reveals the candid observations made by Thomas Henry Carter in a letter to his wife concerning the discipline and leadership within the Confederate and Union armies. Dozier begins:

Col. Thomas Henry Carter was an aggressive and disciplined officer in the South’s most successful army. For three years he had distinguished himself as an artillery commander in the Army of Northern Virginia. Now, in October of 1864, while serving as chief of artillery in the Army of the Valley, he was deeply concerned. In letters to his wife, Susan, he described in great detail the crushing Confederate defeat at the Battle of Cedar Creek. He also offered astute observations about the fighting qualities of the Southern army. Carter’s frank opinions not only reveal his frustration over the army’s conduct but also bring to light his views on military leadership.

The battle of October 19, 1864, in the Shenandoah Valley had started out as an almost-total rout of the Union army. The early morning surprise attack by Gen. Jubal Early’s Army of the Valley had overwhelmed two Yankee corps and pushed them to high ground north of the village of Middletown, and Tom Carter’s artillery had played an important role in the apparent Southern victory. Things changed, however, when Early’s force halted its attack for several hours. That gave the Union army the time needed to establish a defensive position and launch a counterattack. The subsequent Yankee assault turned a near-certain Rebel victory into a complete Northern one. Two days later, when Tom took the time to send Susan a letter, he was still stunned. “In the morning [the Confederates] were lions, in the evening lambs. Such facts are incredible to one who has not witnessed them but they are unfortunately too true.”

In the same letter, dated October 21, Carter offered a simple opinion as to why the battle had been lost. “The Yankee discipline,” he asserted, “is immeasurably superior to ours.” In a rare moment of frustration, he lashed out at the behavior of his army’s leaders. “Our Company officers & many field officers are utterly worthless exercising no authority whatever at any time & running as fast as the fastest in battle.” Carter explained what he believed was the key to the problem. According to the aggressive artillerist, the fundamental character of the Southern army was flawed. “Had we a system which could at once reduce these men to ranks,” he remarked, “something might be done. We are too democratic to have a good army.”

Read Dozier’s full post, “The Battle of Cedar Creek: The Best of Days, the Worst of Days,” at