July 23, 2019

Aaron Riker at Cedar Mountain

This excerpt from the Civil War journal of Aaron Denton Riker (1830-1914) of the 66th Ohio Volunteer Infantry describes his regiment's role in the Battle of Cedar Mountain in Virginia (edited for spelling, punctuation, and consistency).

At that time in 1862, the regiment had marched from the Shenandoah River Valley to become part of the newly constituted Army of Virginia,  commanded by Maj. Gen. John Pope. The regiment (Col. Charles Candy) was in the first brigade (Brig. Gen. John W. Geary) of the second division (Brig. Gen. Christopher C. Auger) of the second army corps (II Corps), led by Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks.

Cedar Mountain, Virginia, August 1862

We marched over a beautiful country from Warrenton to Culpeper, at which place we arrived in the night of the 8th of August. It was reported the enemy were preparing to dispute our further progress and were massing their forces some six miles south of Culpeper Court House.

Cedar Mountain served as the backdrop for the battle between Union and Confederate forces that occurred on August 9, 1862. Confederate artillery gunners were entrenched along the slope of Cedar Mountain and could fire down upon any units in the fields below.

On the morning of the 9th of August, the various regiments took up the line of march expecting a fight, in which they were not disappointed. The enemy were found strongly posted at Slaughter's or Cedar Mountain. Our men were formed in line of battle, and at 3 p.m. the fight commenced and continued with unabated fury until late at night.

At the start of the battle on a blisteringly hot afternoon, Confederate soldiers were deployed along a road passing parallel to a fenced cornfield, backed by woods, with Maj. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson in overall command.

Our brigade was exposed to galling fire during the whole fight, and the 66th lost 102 men in killed, wounded, and missing. Our division and brigade commanders were both wounded. When the command fell on Col. Candy of the 66th, darkness put an end to the slaughter.

Brig. Gen. Auger's division, which included the 66th Ohio Volunteer Infantry of the first brigade, attacked the Confederate line directly across a field of tall corn, enduring fire from Confederate infantry in front of them and the Cedar Mountain artillery behind them. Auger and Ohio brigade commander Geary were both wounded during the battle.

Both armies fell back during the night and formed their lines in the rear of the positions occupied during the fight. On Sunday morning after the fight, a flag of truce came in from the enemy asking permission to bury the dead, when both armies performed these sad rites to departed heroes.

Battlefield stone pillar marks the presence of the 66th Ohio Volunteer Infantry at the Battle of Cedar Mountain.

On Monday morning, it was ascertained the Rebels had fallen back. Our cavalry pursued them to Rapidan [River] taking some prisoners. Neither party seemed to have gained much advantage over the other in this fight, both losing heavily.

Our division now fell back to Culpeper, where we encamped, remaining there about 8 days. From spies and scouts sent out by our generals, it was ascertained the enemy were strongly reinforced, and with greatly superior numbers were coming to attack us.

Then commenced on our part what is known as Pope's Retreat. We left Culpeper on Sunday evening, Aug. 17th, and marched all night. We crossed the Rappahannock [River] at daybreak.

Thanks to the efforts of the American Battlefield Trust and Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield, significant parts of the land over which the Battle of Cedar Mountain was fought have been protected and restored. Unlike many other civil war battle sites, Cedar Mountain retains much of its period character, with an array of open fields and scrubby woods in an undulating landscape.

Much of the fighting during the Battle of Cedar Mountain took place in dense, scraggly woods next to roads and fields, where visibility was poor.

Nancy Henderson (great great granddaughter of Aaron Riker) and I wish to thank Bradley M. Forbush, our guide at the Cedar Mountain Battlefield, for his insights into the battle and the role played by the 66th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Forbush has a website devoted to the history of the 13th Massachusetts Volunteers.

Aaron Denton Riker (1830-1914) of Champaign County, Ohio, enlisted as a private in the 66th Ohio Volunteer Infantry on October 11, 1861. The regiment was mustered in for three years service on December 17, 1861, under the command of Colonel Charles Candy. In April 1862, while in Strasburg, Virginia, during the Shenandoah campaign, Riker was assigned to the commissary department, handling supplies for the troops. In October of that year, he found himself in charge of the regiment's commissary and subsequently attained the rank of sergeant while his regiment was stationed in Dumfries, Virginia.

Riker was mustered out of the regiment in 1865 as a first lieutenant.

Aaron D. Riker, Columbus, Ohio, July 27, 1865.

Riker kept a journal recounting his experiences during the Civil War. The journal is now housed at the George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections and Archives, Bowdoin College Library, Brunswick, Maine. JournalTranscript.

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