A little more than a week after their costly fight at Berryville, Kershaw’s Division, including the 13th Regiment, was ordered back to Richmond where Gen. George G. Meade’s troops were threatening the capital city.
“On the night of [September] 15th,” General Phillip Sheridan reported, “I received reliable information that Kershaw’s Division was moving through Winchester and in the direction of Front Royal.”
The news excited Sheridan because he saw an opportunity to destroy Early’s suddenly under-strength army. Indeed, General Grant, visiting Sheridan’s headquarters near Harper’s Ferry that Friday night, later wrote in his memoirs that he found Sheridan “express[ing] such confidence of success, that I saw there were but two words of instruction necessary—Go in!”
The 13th Regiment and the rest of the Mississippi Brigade thus missed the major battle they were sent west to fight. Fate probably saved many a Mississippian, because Sheridan’s enthusiasm was fully warranted.
What was later dubbed Third Winchester by the Rebels (Opequon Creek by the Yankees) began at dawn on Tuesday, Sept. 19, and was “a most sanguinary and bloody battle,” Grant wrote in his post-war memoirs, “lasting until five o’clock in the evening defeat[ing Early] with heavy loss, carrying his entire position from Opequon Creek to Winchester, capturing several thousand prisoners and five pieces of artillery.”
Two Rebel generals were killed, including Robert Rodes who had been in every major battle since First Manassas, and four more were wounded. One Union general was killed and three were wounded. Some historians consider the fight the most important of the Valley campaign. Federal reports counted more than 5,000 Union casualties and just under 4,000 Confederates.
Kerhsaw’s Division, meanwhile, had got as far east as Gordonsville when news of Early’s defeat reached them. The pressure from Meade apparently relenting, Kershaw was immediately ordered back to the Valley to reinforce what was left of Early’s army.
His weary troops—including the increasingly ragged and barefoot 13th Regiment— turned about and headed back to Winchester.