The Carnage was Fearful: The Battle of Cedar Mountain, August 9, 1862


In early August 1862, Confederate Maj Gen Stonewall Jackson took to the field with his Army of the Valley for one last fight - one that would also turn out to be his last independent command. Near the base of Cedar Mountain, in the midst of a blistering heat wave, outnumbered Federal infantry under Maj Gen Nathaniel Banks attacked Jackson’s army as it marched toward Culpeper Court House. A violent three-hour battle erupted, yielding more than 3,600 casualties. “The carnage was fearful,” one observer wrote. The unexpected Federal aggressiveness nearly won the day. Jackson, attempting to rally his men, drew his sword - only to find it so rusted, it would not come unsheathed. “Jackson is with you!” he cried, brandishing the sword still in its scabbard. The tide of battle turned - and the resulting victory added to Stonewall’s mystique.


Civil War history typically breezes by the battle of Cedar Mountain, moving quickly from the Seven Days’ Battles into the Second Bull Run Campaign, but the stand-alone battle at Cedar Mountain had major implications. It saw the emergence of the Federal cavalry as an effective intelligence collector and screening force. It also provided Confederate Maj Gen AP Hill’s first opportunity to save the day - and his first opportunity to raise Jackson’s ire. Within the Federal Army, the aftermath of the battle escalated the in-fighting among generals and led to recriminations and finger-pointing over why the battle was even fought. Some called it outright murder. Most importantly, the Federal defeat at Cedar Mountain halted an advance into central Virginia and provided the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, Gen Robert E Lee, an opportunity to take the fight away from Richmond and toward Washington.


For years, Michael Block has been deeply involved in developing interpretation for the Cedar Mountain battlefield. The Carnage was Fearful presents the battle with the full boots-on-the-ground insight Block has earned while walking the ground and bringing its story to life.


About the Author: A life-long student of the Civil War, Michael Block moved to Fauquier County, Virginia, in 2004 and developed a deep appreciation of the war’s impact on nearby Culpeper County. As a public historian, he gives battlefield tours and lectures focusing on the stirring wartime events in Culpeper, including those at Cedar Mountain. Retiring from the United States Air Force in 2001, he continued supporting the US Government as a consultant until 2020. Mike is the former vice president of the Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield and resides in Williamsburg, Virginia.