October 20, 1864: The fallen Federal leaders at Cedar Creek – Bidwell, Thoburn, Lowell and Kitching

The Cedar Creek 150th program was a blast!  Perhaps what was most impressive, for a “young” park in the NPS system, the interpretation came across to the audience as polished and professional.  While some other battlefields, with more than 100 years of interpretive resources to fall back on, might boast more refinement, Cedar Creek’s program was just as potent and insightful.   If you missed those events, there are a few more related to the battle over the next few days.  One of which is the rededication of the Stephen D. Ramseur monument, today – Monday, October 20, at 10 am.

Ramseur’s death receives much deserved attention.  Mortally wounded in the later phases of the battle, perhaps the death of such a young and promising officer symbolized the turn of events to befall the Confederacy.  Likewise, his death among colleagues from West Point who had fought against him that day calls to the reconciliation of a nation. Maybe for those reasons we are drawn to his story.

But Ramseur was not the only leader to fall on the battlefield.  The Federals also suffered the loss of key leaders from the action at Cedar Creek.  Colonel Joseph Thoburn fell while trying to rally his division of the Army of West Virginia.  His commander, Brigadier-General George Crook, lauded his service in the official report of the battle.  A prominent doctor from Wheeling, West Virginia, Thoburn’s body returned home where he was buried in a well-attended public funeral.

Brigadier-General Daniel Bidwell, commanding a brigade in Brigadier-General George W. Getty’s division, 6th Corps, held a critical position in the Middletown Cemetery.  A stubborn defense there bought time for the Federals to reorganize.  But during the fight, Bidwell was struck dead.  For his funeral in Buffalo, New York, Karl A. Goehle wrote “General Bidwell’s Funeral March.”

Better known, perhaps only behind Ramseur in recognition, is Colonel Charles Russell Lowell.  Commanding the Reserve Brigade of Brigadier-General Wesley Merritt’s First Cavalry Division (queue here for Don Caughey), Lowell fell while leading his men in the afternoon counter attack.  Like Ramseur, Lowell’s death is recognized by a memorial on the battlefield, though in Middletown:


And just as Ramseur, Lowell died early on October 20.  For his service, Lowell received a posthumous promotion to Brigadier-General.

Another officer who fell that day was also promoted for his service and actions that day.  Colonel J. Howard Kitching commanded a provisional division, which included his own 6th New York Heavy Artillery, in Crook’s corps.  While rallying the troops prior to Major-General Phil Sheridan’s arrival, a bullet struck Kitching in the foot.  He was able to reassemble what was left of his command, but was unable to continue.  Escorted to the rear, he was eventually evacuated and sent home to Dobbs Ferry, New York.  Unfortunately, his wound did not heal.  On January 11, 1865, his doctor recognized the need for a minor operation to ease the pain.

He drew her closer for a moment with a lingering kiss, saying “It will be over in a few minute, darling, and we will have such a nice talk afterward!”

Chloroform was administered, and the operation performed almost instantaneously.  A shadow passed over his face, then a calm, bright smile.  Howard Kitching was “with the Lord.”

Like Lowell, Kitching’s wartime writings were later published.  And the words of these men speak to the conviction they had for ideas… ideas that motivated those men to arms and thence to war.  Far more than stone and metal memorials, those written words weigh upon me, as they should all students of the Civil War….

(Citation from Theodore Irving, “More than Conqueror’ or Memorials of Col. J. Howard Kitching, Sixth New York Artillery, Army of the Potomac, New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1873, pages 232-3.)

One thought on “October 20, 1864: The fallen Federal leaders at Cedar Creek – Bidwell, Thoburn, Lowell and Kitching

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