Looking Back with Lloyd Mathews
The following is Part II in a series of articles written in 1993 and published in this “Looking Back with Lloyd Mathews” section of The Southwest Times. The series, entitled The Battle of Cloyd’s Farm and the Skirmish at New River Bridge, May Ninth and Tenth, 1864: A series of newspaper articles written about the only Civil War action taking place in Pulaski County, Virginia, will be re-published this winter to commemorate the anniversary of this important battle.
In this the 150th Anniversary year since the battle, the Pulaski Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee, the New River Rifles, and the 1st Stuart Artillery are honored to invite you to living history and reenactments on the actual battlefield, April 5th and 6th, 2014. For information: www.battleofcloydsmtn.org
Part II: The Battle of Cloyd’s Farm (originally published On May 9, 1993)
One hundred and twenty-nine years ago today many people around Dublin were awakened by the sound of cannon fire in the Cloyd’s Mountain area. On May 9, 1864, United States military leaders sent an army consisting of twelve regiments, numbering 9,000 men, and ten pieces of artillery across the summit of Cloyd’s Mountain. At the foot of the mountain in the rolling fields of the Joseph Cloyd Farm, three regiments and one battalion of Confederates numbering about 3,000 men, and two batteries of artillery waited behind hastily prepared breast-works made of rails.
It was an amazing feat that the Confederates were able to hold out for the better part of a day before having to retreat toward Dublin.
Commanding the Southern army was young Brigadier General Albert Jenkins. In the thick of the battle he was wounded to such an extent that he later in the day lost an arm to surgery; and later his life. He was replaced by Colonel John McCausland, who was second in command and a strong critic of Jenkins’ military strategy.
McCausland did well with what he had to work with, but the numbers of the enemy were so overwhelming that a military genius could not have turned the tide of that battle.
The commander of Northern troops was Brigadier General George Crook, who over-estimated the number of Confederate soldiers taking part in the battle, and understated his own troop numbers. In his report, Crook state, “A very intelligent captain of theirs, who was mortally wounded, stated our numbers very accurately, and declared that their force was greater than ours.’
Arriving by train hours late for the battle, Confederate Colonel D. Howard Smith and 400 of his men headed for the battlefield, only to meet up with the retreating Southerners. He was ordered to cover the retreat, which he did at the cost of 52 casualties.
General Crook, exaggerating again, estimated Smith’s forces as numbering between 500 and 1,000 men.
In his report of the battle, Colonel Smith wrote, “I regret to be compelled to mention Captain C.S. Cleburne (brother of Major General Patrick R. Cleburne of the Army of Tennessee), one of the most gallant and promising young officers in the Confederate Service. He fell while gallantly leading his men in a charge on the enemy, mortally wounded, from which he shortly afterward died.”
We are constantly reminded of Captain Cleburne because, by his own request, his grave is near where he fell. We know the spot as the Cleburne Memorial Wayside, and it is maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation, and suitably marked.
General Crook complained of the terrible condition of his cavalry with its many broken-down horses, stating, “Had I but 1,000 effective cavalry, none of the enemy could have escaped.”
On the other hand, Colonel McCausland reported, “In conclusion, I can only state that the movement was a great failure on the part of the enemy, and that they have accomplished nothing commensurate with their preparations.”
While both sides over-estimated the other’s casualties, the final and official numbers were what counted. Total casualties, not counting prisoners of war, were fairly even. The Federals had 628, and the Confederates had 538; quite a number of Americans to be spread out over such a small field of battle.
Major William E. Fife, commander of the Thirty-sixth Virginia Infantry, concluded his report of the Battle of Cloyd’s Farm with a paragraph that told the story of a worn out Confederate Army: “In bringing this report to a close I would call attention to the distance marched, the endurance and cheerfulness of the men, who were without blankets or clothing, some of them entirely barefooted…yet these men kept up and bore all without a murmur, showing a devotion worthy of the cause in which we are engaged.”