Bloody Autumn

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This is a book by Daniel T. Davis and Phillip S. Greenwalt covering the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign.  It’s part of Savas Beatie’s Emerging Civil War series.

This small book is really well done.  It has outstanding maps created by Hal Jespersen and is well illustrated with photos and drawings.  It does a great job providing an overview of the campaign from Third Winchester to Cedar Creek.

The Shenandoah Valley was a perfect invasion route for the confederates.  The Valley led directly toward the back door to Washington when traveling from south to north, or down the Valley.  It wasn’t an invasion route for the Federals, though.  When traveling up the Valley, or from north to south, it led away from Richmond and away from the important areas defended by the Army of Northern Virginia.  Confederate Major General Jubal Anderson Early, Commander of the II Corps, Army of Northern Virginia, once again demonstrated the usefulness of the Valley to the confederates in the summer of 1864 when he again used that invasion route to march to the outskirts of Washington itself before withdrawing back to Virginia.  “Unfortunately, after the Southern legions marched away from Washington, the Union response was anything but decisive.  One of the issues was the confusing problem of authority.  The Federals had departmentalized different regions.  Four military departments embracing Washington, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and the Shenandoah Valley needed to be merged into one.  These departments had different commanders, and coordination in an orderly manner was difficult to achieve–and so, after threatening Washington, Early slipped back to the Valley unopposed.  After the failed pursuit of the Confederates, Grant had to appoint a new commander who would have authority over all the departments and be responsible for destroying Early’s army.” [p. 4]  This new commander would by Philip Henry Sheridan.

This campaign is generally unappreciated in its importance.  “In 1864, the outcome would have an impact on the entire Union war effort itself.  With operations there taking place on the eve of the November elections, any adverse outcome in the Valley could influence the Northern populace as they went to the polls to cast their ballot for the next president of the United States.  Although Atlanta had fallen in early September, improving Lincoln’s chances for reelection, Virginia still remained a focal point.  With Grant and Meade bogged down in front of Richmond and Petersburg, all eyes were on the Valley.  A major Union defeat there could counterbalance the gains achieved by Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman in Georgia.” [p 6]

The battle descriptions are straightforward and clear, and I can’t say enough good things about the high quality maps provided by Hal Jespersen.  Another excellent feature of the book is the inclusion of four driving tours in the back of the book.  Again, these are well illustrated and clearly described.  Additionally, there are four appendices covering Winchester during the war, the Front Royal executions and the confrontation between Custer and Mosby, the Valley in memory, and preserving the Valley’s battlefields.  It ends with an order of battle for the two sides and suggestions for further reading.

This book is a really well done introduction to the 1864 Valley Campaign.  Anyone embarking on a study of that campaign would do well in starting with this book.  I can highly recommend it.

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2 comments

  1. Daniel Davis · · Reply

    On behalf of my co-author and myself, thank you for the kind words in the review. They are very much appreciated.

    1. You’re welcome, and thanks for the comment and for producing a very nice book.

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