Battle of Cool Spring
—Early's 1864 Attack on Washington —
In June 1864, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee detached Gen. Jubal A. Early's corps from the Richmond battlefields and dispatched it to the Shenandoah Valley to counter Union Gen. David Hunter's army. After driving Hunter into West Virginia, Early launched an incursion through Maryland against Washington, D.C., to draw Union troops from Richmond and to release Confederate prisoners held at Point Lookout. On July 9, Early detached Gen. Bradley T. Johnson's cavalry brigade, including Maj. Harry Gilmor and his cavalry to raid eastward toward Baltimore. Union Gen. Lew Wallace delayed Early at the Battle of Monocacy on July 9, as Federal reinforcements strengthened the capitals defenses. Early probed them briefly on July 11-12 and then withdrew to the Shenandoah Valley, where he stopped the Federal pursuit at Cool Spring on July 17-18. Despite failing to take Washington, Early's invasion succeeded in diverting Federal resources.
Here at Island (Parker's) Ford, at about 3:30 P.M. on July 18, 1864, Union Col. George D. Wells's brigade, the vanguard of Col. Joseph Thoburn's division, splashed across the Shenandoah River to the western side. They were in pursuit of Confederate Gen. Jubal A. Early's corps, which had retreated across the Shenandoah River the day before. Although part of
Confederate Maj. Jesse Richardson's 42nd Virginia Infantry attempted to contest the advance, their efforts proved no match for Wells's brigade. During the fight to secure the crossing, his men captured, twelve Virginians—one captain and eleven enlisted men.
When Thoburn's superior, Gen. George Crook, learned from the captured Confederates that Early's entire force was nearby, he pleaded with the overall Union commander, Gen. Horatio G. Wright, to withdraw Thoburn's regiments immediately. Wright refused and instead ordered Gen. James B. Ricketts's division to support Thoburn. Although Ricketts arrived around 6:00 P.M., he never crossed the river, as both he and Wright believed the battle lost. Ricketts's failure to support Thoburn became something that many of Thoburn's veterans could never forgive, even decades after the war's end.