Shenandoah Summer

Shenandoah Summer

This is Scott Patchan’s book detailing the actions in the Shenandoah Valley in July of 1864.  In this highly detailed account, Patchan takes us from Jubal Early’s retreat after his raid on Washington through the burning of Chambersburg and the Battle of Moorefield.  Most accounts of the actions in the Shenandoah Valley in 1864 tend to gloss over this time period, perhaps discussing the Battle of Kernstown or the Burning of Chambersburg, but rarely does any account get into this much detail about Cool Spring, Berry’s Ferry, Kabletown, Rutherford’s Farm, or Moorefield.  It thus fills a void most students of the war have in accounts about the Shenandoah Valley.  This is an important time period because “Confederate fortunes in the Shenandoah Valley reached their zenith on July 24, 1864, at the Second Battle of Kernstown, the last major Confederate victory in the Shenandoah Valley.” [p. 2]  It thus serves as a terrific introduction to Sheridan’s coming into the Valley and his operations in the late summer and fall of 1864.  As Patchan tells us, “While Southern armies subsequently achieved minor or temporary tactical successes in the valley, never again would a Confederate victory in the valley impact the larger direction of the war in Virginia.  The Second Battle of Kernstown opened the door for Confederate raiders to sack Martinsburg and its vital Baltimore and Ohio Railroad rail hub and dramatically burn the town of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, creating consternation and doubt in ultimate Union victory among the Northern populace.  The ink had barely dried on Northern newspapers heralding the series of smashing victories that Sherman had won in the campaign for Atlanta when fresh headlines relayed the fate of Chambersburg to a war-weary nation.  If the Union armies were edging ever closer to victory, why then could a Southern army across the Potomac River for a second time in the same month and burn a prosperous Pennsylvania town?  With presidential elections only a few months off, the Union’s military failures in the Shenandoah Valley might soon contribute to a political defeat for Lincoln and very possibly, a negotiated end to the war on terms favorable to the Confederacy.” [Ibid.]

Jubal Anderson Early was an aggressive, capable officer with a reputation for being profane and irascible.  Early did, according to Patchan, have “a true friend” in the Kentuckian John Cabell Breckinridge, former Vice President of the United States and a confederate general.  “Offhand remarks from Early that would have enraged [General John Brown] Gordon elicited laughter and smiles from the Kentuckian.  In Jubal Early, Breckinridge found ‘a true friend, one whose company was a joy.’  One day as the two men rode together in the valley, Breckinridge commented that Virginians were curious creatures.  ‘It seems to me,’ noted Breckinridge, ‘Everybody I hear talked of, I am told is a ‘First Family of Virginia’ ‘  The Kentuckian concluded that all Virginians must belong to the ‘First Families of Virginia,’ wondering ‘if there were ever any Second Families of Virginia and what became of them!’  ‘There is no trouble about that, General,’ remarked Early, ‘all the second families removed to Kentucky.’ ” [pp. 15-16]

Early’s opponents in the Valley were Horatio Gouverneur Wright and George Crook, who was Early’s victim at the Battle of Second Kernstown, where his forces were routed by Early’s.

Early’s actions at this point were highly successful.  “From a Confederate perspective, Jubal Early accomplished as much or more than Robert E. Lee could have expected through the victory at Kernstown and McCausland’s ensuing raid [on Chambersburg].  One of Lee’s basic tenets for Early’s presence in the Shenandoah was to force the detachment of Federal troops from Grant’s army.  Early’s late July successes ensured that Grant retained 24,000 infatnrymen (the Sixth and Nineteenth Corps) in the valley and reinforced them with 6,000 cavalrymen (two divisions) from the Richmond/Petersburg theater of operations.  Just as important, Grant lost the services of the aggressive and capable Phil Sheridan at Petersburg when the little Irishman went to the valley. Viewed another way, Lee’s detachment of 10,000 irreplaceable men (including both Early’s and Breckinridge’s commands) from the Army of Northern Virginia ultimately resulted in the withdrawal of 30,000 men from Lee’s front, a three-to-one ratio in the South’s favor.  It is not unreasonable to speculate that if Grant had had the detached troops available for operations in Petersburg, he very well may have overwhelmed Lee before the end of 1864.” [p. 316]

Early’s success in the Valley eventually led to his undoing, though, as he exposed the weaknesses in the Federal command network in the Valley and exposed the weaknesses of commanders that had been entrusted with operations in the Valley.  This led to the consolidation of different commands under Philip Henry Sheridan.  Additionally, “The Second Battle of Kernstown and the burning of Chambersburg also resulted in the detachment of two cavalry divisions from the Army of the Potomac, more than 6,000 well-armed veteran horse soldiers.  These troops could have been utilized in Grant’s ongoing efforts to sever Robert E. Lee’s supply lines at Petersburg, but the situation in the Shenandoah Valley prompted the Union commander to reallocate those resources to that volatile region to prevent a repeat of the embarrassing defeats the Federals had so recently endured there.  the detachment of these troops would prove critical in Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan’s forthcoming campaign against Early, as these horsemen would play a pivotal role in coming Union victories.  Their aggressiveness, mobility, and technological advantages would prove to be more than Early could handle.” [p. 314]

This is really an excellent book.  I highly recommend it.  The one shortcoming I saw was that on page 4 he identified Grant as  “Ulysses Simpson Grant.”  That was not Grant’s name.  If you’re a serious student of the American Civil War, you need to read this book.

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One comment

  1. I read it shortly after it first came out, and heartily second most of your comments. It’s a good book.

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