R.E. Lee Calls for Investigation into Tom’s Brook

By evening of October 9, 1864, Lt. Gen. Jubal Early knew for certain that his cavalry had been beaten badly that day. Early likely spoke personally with Gen. Lunsford Lomax, whose cavalry division had retreated to near Early’s headquarters at New Market. Even before hearing from his other cavalry commander, Gen. Thomas Rosser, Early dutifully reported the news to his superior, Gen. Robert E. Lee:

NEW MARKET, October 9, 1864.

GENERAL: Rosser, in command of his own brigade and the two brigades of Fitz Lee’s division, and Lomax, with two brigades of his own cavalry, were ordered to pursue the enemy, to harass him and ascertain his purposes, while I remained here, so as to be ready to move east of the Ridge if necessary, and I am sorry to inform you that the enemy, having concentrated his whole cavalry in his rear, attacked them and drove them back this morning from near Fisher’s Hill, capturing nine pieces of horse artillery and eight or ten wagons. Their loss in men is, I understand, slight. I have not heard definitely from Rosser, but he is, I understand, falling back in good order, having rallied his command, which is on what is called the Back road, which is west of the pike; but Lomax’s command, which was on the pike, came back to this place in confusion.

Rosser soon reported his defeat to Early via dispatch, but he did not elaborate on his losses or the events of the day. Early would have to wait until his commanders filed official reports before he could know the magnitude of the defeat.

Three days later, Lee replied to Early. As usual, Lee filled his letter with encouragement and practical suggestions. Lee addressed many problems, large and small, including the ineffectiveness of Early’s cavalry.

The last defeat of your cavalry (on the 9th) is much to be regretted. It may have proceeded from bad management, and I wish you to investigate it. I would not for the present send them too far from your main body, or allow them to hazard too much. Although the enemy’s cavalry may exceed ours in numbers, and I know it does in equipment, still we have always been able to cope with them to advantage, and can do so again by proper management. You have the greater proportion of the cavalry in Virginia and it must be made effective. The men are good and only require to be properly commanded. I wish you would bring every officer who misbehaves before a board of examiners, or a court-martial, as their cases require, and have their conduct investigated.

Early never found the time to fully investigate the defeat at Tom’s Brook. Events moved the armies swiftly onward to other crises, and just a week after Lee suggested an investigation Early’s entire army was badly beaten at the Battle of Cedar Creek. Because Rosser never filed a report, Early never learned the true extent of the losses at Tom’s Brook, and not until Decision at Tom’s Brook was published in 2016 was Lee’s request for an inquiry into possible “bad management” complied with. Rosser, the man responsible for the disaster, deflected responsibility onto subordinate officers, evaded censure, and instead was promoted to major general.

Sources: The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series 1, Volume 43, pt. 1, p. 579 and Volume 43, pt. 2, p. 893

 

 

 

 

 

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