Confederate Gen. Jubal A. Early attacked the defenses of Washington, D.C., in July 1864, then retreated to the Shenandoah Valley. Union Gen. Horatio G. Wright pursued him, and after a sharp fight and Confederate victory at Cool Spring on July 18, the two forces clashed again two days later here at John Rutherford's farm.
As Union Gen. William W. Averell's Union cavalry and infantry division advanced south from Martinsburg, W.Va., pursuing Early, the Confederate general ordered Gen. Stephen Dodson Ramseur's division to block the roads north of Winchester. About 4 P.M. on July 20, Ramseur heard fighting on the Martinsburg and Winchester Turnpike (now U.S. Route 11) and immediately marched his men here. Believing he outnumbered the Federals, Ramseur decided to attack, contrary to Early's orders. Ramseur posted Gen. William Lewis's brigade in front of you and Gen. Robert Johnston's brigade behind you and advanced north. The Federals launched a sudden attack across Susan P. Carter's farm, crumpling Lewis's line. A North Carolinian wrote, "This was the first time the Yankees saw my back, but it was run or die and of course we preferred the former." The Confederates raced past here to Winchester, losing 300 men and four artillery pieces captured. Ramseur wrote that he was "deeply mortified at the conduct of my troops" in the rout.
The Union victory here at Rutherford's Farm boosted Federal morale after a string of defeats. Early withdrew south of Winchester to Fisher's Hill near Strasburg, then launched a surprise attack against the Federals at Kernstown just four days after the fight here.
"The wounded men had been collected together at three houses in the field & most of ours, & some few of the Yankees, are at the Rutherfords. ? The Surgeons were waiting for chloroform, to perform operations. There was a pile of arms & legs & feet in one corner."
- Mary Greenhow Lee, diary, July 23, 1864
Pvt. John Shanes, Co. K, 14th West Virginia Infantry, received the Medal of Honor for his actions in the fight here. He charged "a Confederate fieldpiece in advance of his comrades and by his individual exertions silenced the piece."