Raid on New Creek Banner


Col. George R. Latham

Late in 1864, as Philip H. Sheridan's army slowly tightened the noose around the Shenandoah Valley, Confederate Major General Thomas L. Rosser, his men racked with hunger, decided to relieve his deperate situation with a raid on a Northern supply base. Characteristically, the brash Rosser chose as his target the formidable Fort Kelley, the Baltimore and Ohio guard post 22 miles west of Cumberland, Md., at the intersection of the New Creek and Potomac valleys. The fort was described at the time as "the finest in the department."

Proceeding with the 600 men of his Laurel Brigade along the narrow New Creek Valley on November 27, Rosser stumbled upon a small party of Union soldiers who were able to escape and raise the alarm. Not wishing to lose the element of surprise, the major general (he had been promoted from brigadier three weeks earlier) marched his men all night, arriving at Fort Kelley at midday, November 28.

Incredibly, even though they received warning, the garrison's commander, Col. George R. Latham, had not ordered an alert, and most of his 800 men were eating lunch. Rosser easily captured the two sentry outposts (partially by disguising 20 of his men as returning Union scouts), and then proceeded to overwhelm the base, torching buildings, seizing tons of supplies, and capturing 700 prisoners in the raid that lasted all of 30 minutes. Only five Confederates were killed or wounded.

As the Rebels fled with their prizes, many of their prisoners managed to escape, but the pursuing Union forces could never catch up with the Laurel Brigade, which returned safely to camp on December 2, 1865. Although rosser was criticized for not burning the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad bridge or destroying any trains, the looted supplies helped his men survive until Appomattox.

Col. George R. Latham was dishonorably discharged from the Union army after the New Creek debacle. By March 1865, just four months later, Latham was serving as a Congressman, having won the election barely two weeks before the raid. He managed to have his record changed to show an honorable release from federal service.