Though small in numbers, the Battle of Cool Spring was a hotly contested engagement and demonstrated the use of division-sized commands that would be a hallmark of later operations in the Shenandoah Valley.
- See History Today
In an effort to break the stalemate at Petersburg and Richmond, Gen. Robert E. Lee sent the II Corps, Army of Northern Virginia under Gen. Early on a raid through the Shenandoah Valley and Maryland to threaten Washington. The raid culminated on the very outskirts of Washington at Ft. Stevens. Believing he had accomplished his purpose, Early withdrew to the Shenandoah Valley, crossing the Potomac River at White’s Ferry, and the Blue Ridge Mountains at Snickers Gap. Early’s forces were closely pursued by a Federal force, consisting of the VI Corps and elements of the XIX Corps under Gen. Horatio Wright, who was joined by elements of Gen. George Crook’s VIII Corps. Hoping to catch the Confederates on the move, on July 17, Federal cavalry passed through Snickers Gap and attempted to cross the Shenandoah River at Snickers Ford or “Castleman’s Ferry.”
On the morning of July 18, the vanguard of the Union infantry moved through Snickers Gap. Col. Joseph Thoburn (of Crook’s command) led his division downstream to cross the river at Judge Richard Parker’s Ford. Early’s three nearby infantry divisions moved to defend the fords. In the afternoon, Rodes’s division attacked and shattered Thoburn’s right flank on the Cool Spring plantation. Thoburn made a stand behind a stone wall at the river’s edge and beat off three attacks until darkness enabled him to withdraw. Union pursuit of Early was delayed several days.
Visiting the Battlefield Today
Shenandoah University’s McCormick Civil War Institute has developed a battlefield walking tour for the University’s Shenandoah River Campus at Cool Spring Battlefield. For a downloadable PDF of the tour, click here and then click the link “Battle of Cool Spring Tour Guide.”