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10. COOL SPRING (18 July 1864)

County: Clarke, VA

General Location: Along Shenandoah River from above crossing of rte. 7 north to Parker Island on west bank (present monastery grounds) and east bank (Shenandoah Retreat and golf course).

Size of Study/Core Areas: 5,740/1,946 acres

GIS Integrity of Study/Core Areas: 97/97 percent; Good/Good

Field Assessment of Study Area Integrity: Fair

USGS Quadrants: Bluemont, Ashby Gap, Round Hill, Berryville

Select to view a summary of 1991 LAND USE / LAND COVER

Campaign: Early's Maryland Campaign

Principal Commanders: [c] Lt. Gen. Jubal Early, Maj. Gen. Robert E. Rodes [u] Maj. Gen. Horatio Wright, Brig. Gen. George Crook , Col. Joseph Thoburn.

Forces Engaged: [c] Three infantry divisions under Gordon, Wharton, and Rodes, about 8,000, and at least 3 batteries; [u] Three infantry brigades of Crook's Corps (about 3,250 men), supported by batteries and a division of the VI Corps, about 5,000 engaged.

Casualties: [c] 397 (80k/300w/17m); [u] 422 (65k/301w/56m).

Significance: In the first weeks of July 1864, Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early raided Maryland with an army of about 14,000 men, defeated a US force at the battle of Monocacy (9 July), and marched on Washington D.C. Confronted there on 12 July by US veterans diverted from the Army of the Potomac, Early retreated, crossing the Potomac River at White's Ferry and the Blue Ridge at Snickers Gap. Elements of three US corps (about 25,000 men) under overall command of Maj. Gen. Horatio Wright pursued and met Early's rear guard at the Shenandoah River crossing of Snickers Ferry near the farm of Cool Spring. Although brief in duration, the battle of Cool Spring was desperately fought, checking US pursuit for several days. The battle of Cool Spring (also known as Snickers Ferry or Parker's Ford) is representative of the division-sized engagements that occurred almost weekly throughout the remainder of the 1864 Valley Campaign, including Rutherford's Farm (20 July), Guard Hill (16 August), Abrams Creek (17 August), Cameron's Depot and Summit Point (21 August), Smithfield Crossing (29 August), and Berryville (3-4 September). These encounters led up to the decisive battle of Opequon (Third Winchester) on 19 September.


Description of the Battle

Phase One. Skirmishing at Snickers Ford (17 July): On the afternoon of 17 July 1864, the US cavalry division of Alfred Duffi‚ reached Snickers Ford and attempted to force a crossing of the Shenandoah River. Two regiments of CS infantry supported by two pieces of artillery positioned on North Hill overlooking the ford repulsed the attempt. US cavalry then tried to cross at Shepherd's Ford about two miles south but were repulsed by CS cavalry of Vaughn's brigade. During the night, Duffi‚ continued south along the river, leaving a smaller force to picket the fords. On the morning of 18 July, US cavalry pickets, supported by Mulligan's brigade of infantry (Crook's corps) again attempted a crossing at Snickers Ford but were repulsed.

Phase Two. Advance of US Infantry (18 July): Col. Thoburn's division of Crook's Corps, followed by the VI Corps arrived on the Berryville Pike (current rte. 7) from their bivouac near Purcellville. Union generals Wright, Emory, and Crook conferred on River Hill, where they established a signal station and brought up a battery of artillery. It was assumed that General Early's CS army was in retreat to Winchester and that the ford was defended only by cavalry. Because the attempted crossing at Snickers Ford in the morning had been unsuccessful, the US commanders decided to cross a division one mile downstream. The infantry diverged from the main road onto a rocky cart road that led to Judge Parker's house, mill, and ford. The intervening hills disguised the movement from the CS pickets on the west bank of the river.

Phase Three. River Crossing (18 July): About 1500 hours, Thoburn's 3,250 infantrymen forced CS skirmishers back from Parker's Ford and crossed the shallow river at a number of places across and between the islands. Once on the west bank, US skirmishers fanned out across the Cool Spring farm, while the main body deployed along a rise about 100 yards from the river in the midst of a large wheatfield. Commands regrouped after the crossing and prepared to move south to uncover Snickers Ford. Captured Confederates, however, revealed that the island fords had been defended by infantry and that Early's army was nearby. Thoburn alerted his superiors on River Hill (by signal flag and courier) and awaited further instructions. He was told that he would be supported by a division of the VI Corps, which had begun to arrive on the east bank near the Parker House.

Phase Four. CS Response (18 July): In response to Thoburn's crossing (or in anticipation of it) Maj. Gen. John B. Gordon's division advanced along the Berryville Pike from its bivouac at Webbtown. Gordon deployed along the river bluffs north and south of North Hill. Simultaneously, Brig. Gen. Gabriel Wharton's division moved toward Cool Spring from its bivouac near Wickliffe Church. Wharton deployed in line of battle and advanced on Cool Spring forcing back the US skirmishers to their main line near the river. Maj. Gen. Robert E. Rodes's division was farther north at Gaylord but was set in motion to come up on the left of Wharton. Skirmishing extended along Wharton's and Gordon's fronts.

Phase Five. Rodes's Flank Attack (18 July): Colonel Thoburn was now aware of his precarious position but hoped to hold out until reinforced or withdrawn after dark. Rodes's division arrived from Wickliffe Church, moving through ravines and behind the grove at Westwood which concealed the movement of the troops until they were within striking distance of Thoburn's contracted line. Rodes deployed to Wharton's left, his line bending in an arc almost at right angles to the river and the US right flank. About 1800 hours Rodes threw his division forward on a compact front, surprising and crushing the US right.

Thoburn sent the 116th Ohio to reinforce his right as both sides struggled for possession of a stone fence that bisected the wheatfield. A second CS attack drove US forces back to another stone fence along the river bank. There, they held out against a third desperate CS attack that came near to driving them into the river. Three batteries of Union artillery came into play from the heights on the east bank. A division of the VI Corps deployed on the east bank and engaged in sharpshooting, but it was not sent across the river. Three batteries of CS artillery supported Rodes's attack. Colonel Owens, commanding a CS brigade was mortally wounded. The bulk of the almost 850 casualties of the battle occurred at this time and littered the wheatfield.

Phase Six. US Withdrawal (18 July): The Union line held out until dark, then began to recross the river unmolested by CS infantry. An artillery duel broke out across the river. US and CS batteries fired at each others' positions, guided by the flashes of discharge and explosion. When US infantry was safely on the east bank, the artillery fire tapered off, ending about 2100 hours. Later CS skirmishers advanced to the river, finding the Union line abandoned. CS units spread out across the field to tend to the wounded of both sides. General Crook was angered that Thoburn's command had been left to their own devices without being reinforced by the VI Corps, which was at hand.


Current Condition of the Battlefield

The setting of Cool Spring battlefield at the base of the Blue Ridge and on both banks of the Shenandoah River is very scenic. The combination of rural condition and standing historic structures invokes a strong historic atmosphere. The core area of the battlefield (where infantry attacks occurred) is private property owned by Holy Cross Abbey. Buildings have been added on abbey grounds and Cool Spring mansion has been enlarged, but these additions, although visually intrusive, do not interfere with interpretation of the battle. The recently constructed Abbey Retreat House sits astride the CS battle line and overlooks the main battlefield. The wheatfield and river bank where the major infantry fighting occurred are in pristine condition. The abbey does accommodate visitors to the battlefield with prior arrangement.

US approach routes along rte. 7 from Snickers Gap have been altered but not so that the strategy of movement is lost. US staging and deployment areas on the east bank in the vicinity of the Parker House are private property owned by Golf Links, Inc. Approaches to the fords here were recontoured for a previous golf course, which has been out of business for some years. US artillery positions on the bluffs overlooking the river have been developed for a low-density housing project (Shenandoah Retreat). Access to this portion of the battlefield is restricted due to private ownership.

The general area contains many Civil War-era structures, including the Judge Parker House (judge who sentenced John Brown), North Hill, Riverside farm and tenant house, the old Snickers House, Waterloo, Cool Spring, and Wickliffe Church, besides other historic estates within a radius of several miles--Audley, Auburn, Clermont. These structures reveal the plantation-style settlement pattern characteristic of this part of the Shenandoah Valley. Remains of Westwood House near the Abbey can be located. Remnants of stone fences used in the battle remain or old alignments can be traced. Access roads to fords can be traced on the east and west banks.

The field surveyor rated this field fair, while GIS rated it good. The field surveyor made deductions for the fourlane highway bridge, the recontoured ground on the east bank, housing on battery heights, and the modern retreat house which dominates many views from inside the core.

Perception of Threats to Battlefield

The east bank of the battlefield is occupied by the Shenandoah Retreat development and a former golf course. These areas were used for US staging and deployment in preparation of crossing the river and for the Union artillery positions. The area was under fire from Confederate batteries. It is uncertain how the planned redevelopment of the golf course by Golf Links, Inc., would impact battlefield integrity. The east bank has already been substantially recontoured for the previous golf course upstream from the Parker House.

There has a long-standing controversy in the county among those who wish to redevelop the golf course and those who oppose further development in the area. Golf Links did receive zoning from the county to go ahead with redevelopment, but as yet major construction has not begun. A spokesman for the Holy Cross Abbey has suggested that the monastery might be forced to relocate to a more secluded place in response to the ``loss of privacy'' caused by encroaching development. Residents of Shenandoah Retreat, on the other hand, have complained in the past about loud, raucous drinking parties along the river when the golf course was closed. As a result, many residents support redevelopment of the golf course. (It should be noted that public access to the Shenandoah River in this area is very restricted.) A spokesman for Golf Links, Inc., said that the owners were interested in incorporating a display and a possible walking trail into the new golf course design to help interpret the battle of Cool Spring. The Judge Parker House (with existing additions) will serve as the club house for the golf course, if redevelopment proceeds.

At least two new housing tracts, featuring large houses on one- to three-acre lots have appeared along rte. 7 west of North Hill in the last several years. Although these tracts are not within the battlefield study area, they are representative of the type of development that is occurring in this area.

Identified Sites and Features Associated with the Battlefield

(unsurveyed*)


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Last Update 7/17/95 by VLC