On March 2, 1865, Philip Sheridan’s Union troops under the command of George A. Custer defeated Jubal Early’s Confederate force at Waynesboro, Virginia, ending the last Confederate threat in the Shenandoah Valley. The following story recounts Captain Lycurgus D. Lusk's actions at the Battle of Waynesboro.
“Learning that General Early, General Long, and General Wharton, all well mounted, with several staff officers, had fled across the South River east of Waynesboro, and along the road leading to Rock Fish Gap, we pushed on with the Eighth New York and First Connecticut, dashed pell-mell into the South River, crossed it, and, immediately facing about, formed a line on the east bank, which effectually cut off the further escape of any portion of the Confederate troops in that direction.
Still we were not satisfied; General Early had not been captured, and, surmising that he would naturally take the road through Rock Fish Gap, as the one most available for escape, with Captain Lusk and half a dozen men from my own regiment, and as many more from the Eighth New York, we dashed along the stony road leading up to the gap. The roadway was filled by the transportation wagons of Early's command, the ordnance, commissary, and medical supplies having been hastily ordered to Greenwood Station, when Early discovered that Custer's attack was to be a serious one.
How hard we rode, and how hard we struggled, to capture our able and wily foe. We had fought him so often, and had chased him back and forth so many times, that it seemed but justice that the last crowning touches should be given to our victory by the capture of the rebel chieftain of the valley. Alas, that was not so to be. General Rosser, with a few of his horsemen, had escaped to the northward along the west bank of the South River, starting to escape before any of our men were near enough to intercept him. A few mounted men were seen on the road in advance of our small party, urging their horses to their utmost speed toward Rock Fish Gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
I was well mounted on a splendid Virginia horse of the old hunter stock, fleet as a deer and eager for the chase. Captain Lusk, also well mounted, was by my side, and was sure that he recognized General Early in one of the fleeing rebel horsemen. Our steeds needed no spurs, for they fairly flew over the ground. In five minutes Captain Lusk and I, with a sergeant of the Twenty-second New York Cavalry, were entirely separated from our comrades, and had overtaken and passed so many orderlies, and mounted men, that it suddenly occurred to me to look over my shoulder and see whether any of our men were near. At least fifty armed rebels were behind us, and not one of our command in sight. The road in front was still blockaded with wagons, and stragglers of Early's army were flying along the road. My revolver had been emptied in our charge upon the artillery; my hands were so benumbed with cold that it was impossible to reload it, and I had no resource but my saber, in case the numerous rebels around us should take in the situation, conclude to capture us, and take our horses for escape.
Communicating these facts to Captain Lusk, in an undertone, I suggested that there was but one course for us to adopt, which was to press on, as if we had five hundred men at our immediate back. He agreed with me, and being a stalwart officer, with a tremendous voice, he kept up a continual shouting, and ordered every man whom we overtook to dismount and go to the rear! This in an imperious tone which did not admit of dispute. Just before us I saw a towering form, which I believed to be General Early. We had a hot race and I did my best to overtake him. He was mounted on a beautiful gray, which was quite the equal of mine. I finally overtook him and got him out of the saddle, but he proved to be a staff officer and not the general.
Learning from this officer that General Early was not on the Rock Fish Road, we made this capture the occasion for a short halt, to enable some of our men to catch up with us; for it was not pleasant to be in command of so large a portion of the Confederate army without staff officers or orderlies to assist. We soon had a small detachment of our own men gathered about us, and immediately pushed on up the rocky road, making captures of men, horses, and material at every step.
The rain of sleet, which froze as it fell, h ad continued to fall since the early morning, and, as we h ad been without food since our hasty cup of coffee at 4 A. M., I found myself at the top of the gap in a physical condition where food was absolutely necessary. Halting for a moment by the side of one of the captured medical supply wagons, I secured a few necessary articles, and went into a neighboring house to get warm. I was delighted to find a large blazing log-fire. Ten minutes enjoyment of its general warmth metamorphosed me; I remounted my horse and pushed on with the column to Brookville, where our division was halted for the night.
Meantime, that portion of our division which had remained at Waynesboro had gathered the prisoners together, placed a strong guard about them, had secured such supplies as could be used, and destroyed the remainder, with a large portion of the captured arms. We found in our possession nearly one thousand eight hundred prisoners, eleven pieces of artillery, seventeen captured battle flags, a train of more than one hundred wagons and ambulances, including the headquarters wagon of General Early, with all his official books, papers, and records.
General Sheridan reached Waynesboro late in the evening after the battle, and directed that the prisoners should be sent back to Winchester, under a strong guard commanded by Colon el Thompson of the First New Hampshire Cavalry, while the battle flags were carried immediately in rear of General Custer's flag during the remainder of the great raid.
The capture of Rock Fish Gap was of immense advantage to us, as there was no way of flanking the position, and if Early's army had been advantageously posted in the most available position of the gap, he could have held it against a cavalry force indefinitely.”
Taken from pages 204-207 from THE BATTLE OF WAYNESBORO by Harlan Page Lloyd, Late Captain Twenty-second New York Cavalry; Brevet Major U.S. Volunteers; found in SKETCHES OF WAR HISTORY 1861-1865, Papers prepared for the Ohio Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, 1890-1896; Edited by W.H. Chamberlin, Late Major U.S.V., Recorder; Published by the Commandery, Volume IV, Cincinnati, The Robert Clarke Company, 1896, Broadfoot Publishing Company, Wilmington, North Carolina