The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864

shenandoah-1864

This is another in the outstanding Military Campaigns of the Civil War series from UNC Press, edited by Gary Gallagher.  The book consists of essays from some of the top historians about various aspects of the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign.

The first essay is from Professor Gallagher and is a study of Philip H. Sheridan and Jubal A. Early in the Shenandoah Valley.  As a result of the campaign, Phil Sheridan’s reputation soared while Jubal Early’s reputation fell like a rock.  Early’s fall from grace is epitomized by a comment from a woman in Albemarle County, Virginia in a diary entry:  “Oh!  How are the mighty fallen!  Gen. Early came in town this evening with six men having been hid somewhere in the mountains.  He used to be a very great man.” [p. 3]  Professor Gallagher traces how each man  got to the point where they faced each other in the Valley and the status of their respective forces.  “Sheridan and Early not only brought contrasting military experience to the Valley, but once on the ground they also operated with vastly different bases of manpower and materiel.  Indeed, numbers played a crucial role in the events of September and October.  They also figured prominently in postwar writings of participants, nearly all of whom sought to address the question of odds in a manner favorable to their side.  Although numbers for the final phase of the Valley campaign cannot be pinned down with great precision, it is possible to offer good estimates.  At the outset of the campaign, the Army of the Shenandoah [Sheridan’s army] comprised approximately 35,000 infantry and artillery and 8,000 cavalry, for a total of 43,000.  Sheridan’s Middle Military Division also included 5,000 Federals at Harpers Ferry, 29,000 near Washington, and 8.,600 elsewhere.  Early’s Army of the Valley consisted of fewer than 9,000 infantrymen and artillerists and between 3,500 and 4,000 cavalrymen, for a total of not more than 13,000.  ‘As Sheridan prepared to move against his opponent,’ concluded Jeffry D. Wert in the best overall treatment of this campaign, ‘the Federal army enjoyed a superiority of at least three-to-one.’ The odds had not changed much by the time of Cedar Creek.  Theodore C. Mahr addressed the question in a meticulous appendix to his study of the battle.  He concluded that Sheridan’s army fielded 22,254 infantrymen, 7,500 cavalry troopers, and 1,856 artillerymen who served 90 guns on October 19, with another 4,000 infantry within easy marching range.  Early’s attacking Confederate infantry numbered between 9,200 and 9,800, with support from 3,000 cavalrymen and 1,091 artillerists serving 34 guns.  Totaling at most 14,000 men on October 19, the Army of the Valley confronted a foe two and one-half times its size.” [p. 9]  Each general had objectives to meet, and Professor Gallagher tells us about them.  “U.S. Grant wanted Sheridan to accomplish three major tasks:  first, to drive the Confederates from the Potomac River line and the lower Valley, pursuing them southward up the Shenandoah; second, to destroy the Valley’s capacity to send food and other logistical goods to Lee’s army; and third, to disrupt the Virginia Central Railroad, which crossed the Blue Ridge between Staunton and Charlottesville and connected with the Orange and Alexandria line in the Piedmont.” [p. 14]  Sheridan was able to meet two of the three objectives.  “Jubal Early also met his strategic goals for more than four months.  During the first phase of the Valley campaign, he saved Lynchburg, cleared the Valley of Federals, invaded the United States, menaced Washington, and compelled Grant to send thousands of soldiers from the Army of the Potomac to Washington and the Shenandoah.  Lee then instructed Early to remain in the Valley, hoping that his presence would protect the logistical production and open a true second front in Virginia that would siphon more troops from Grant’s army.” [p. 16]  Until Sheridan.  “Early lingered in the Shenandoah Valley for another four and one-half months after Cedar Creek, though Lee recalled most of his troops to the Army of Northern Virginia.  By March 1865, following a final humiliating defeat at Waynesboro, public opinion solidified against Old Jube.  ‘While my own confidence in your ability, zeal, and devotion to the cause is unimpaired,’ Lee wrote Early on March 30, ‘I have nevertheless felt that I could not oppose what seems to be the current of opinion, without injustice to your reputation and injury to the service.  I therefore felt constrained to endeavor to find a commander who would be more likely to develop the strength and resources of the country, and inspire the soldiers with confidence.’ ” [pp. 18-19]  Professor Gallagher also compared the two generals’ tactical performance.  “The short answer is that each man had good days and bad, but only Early achieved moments of imagination and risk-taking distinction.” [p. 19]  Early made a number of mistakes.  He underestimated Sheridan.  He had a poor placement of his troops at Fisher’s Hill.  He didn’t use his cavalry to best advantage.  He alienated his men.  But he also had positives.  “His marching, skirmishing, and feinting compared favorably to Stonewall Jackson’s storied maneuvering in May and June 1862.  Early also handled his infantry divisions very effectively at Third Winchester, utilizing the talents of John B. Gordon, Robert E. Rodes, and Dodson Ramseur to neutralize Sheridan’s infantry assaults for most of a long day’s action.  Old Jube’s high point came in planning a tactical masterpiece at Cedar Creek.  The war produced nothing to rival this audacious flanking maneuver, which called for a nighttime march that required two crossings of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River and the coordination of three columns in an assault at daybreak–all in the face of an enemy nearly three times Early’s strength.” [p. 21]  Sheridan had tactical lapses, but the firepower and manpower advantage he held allowed him to overcome those lapses.  This essay gives us a terrific view of both commanders, the good and the bad of each.

Professor Joseph Glatthaar’s essay, “U.S. Grant and the Union High Command During the 1864 Valley Campaign,” is next.  Professor Glatthaar tells us, “Early’s raid was one of the most critical events in Grant’s tenure as commanding general.  It took place at a time when his hard-earned reputation had begun to tarnish, and just months before the presidential election of 1864.  The threat compelled Grant to stretch beyond his military talents and judgment of personnel to test both his political savvy and the strength of his relationship with Lincoln.” [p. 35]  Grant at first “offered to return to Washington and take charge personally, if Lincoln wanted him to do so,” [p. 41] an offer Lincoln accepted if that’s what Grant wanted, but Grant changed his mind the next day.  “By coming to Washington, Grant worried that he would feed those in the northern public and the army who saw Early’s campaign as a crisis.  Instead, the lieutenant general elected to remain at his City Point headquarters.” [p. 41]  Grant, at the time, had confidence in the three commanders there, David Hunter, Edward O. C. Ord, and Horatio G. Wright.  Early then won the Battle of Monocacy and marched to the outskirts of Washington before retreating back to Virginia.  “Federals simply could not cut the rebels off.  Hunter had fled so far to the northwest that it took his command two weeks to reenter the area of operations.  And Horatio Wright took too long organizing and marched too slowly to block Early.” [pp. 41-42]  In the aftermath of Early’s raid, Grant at first suggested establishing schools to instruct new troops for the Washington area.  Halleck was against this because he said the new schools would take too long to put into operation, and he believed new troops would be almost worthless.  Grant wanted to bring Wright’s corps back to the Army of the Potomac, but Halleck was opposed to this as well.  Grant finally acceded to this and allowed Wright and his corps to stay.  The Federals then unified the four commands that held sway over the Shenandoah Valley into one command, solving a knotty problem of coordination that had plagued the Union effort in the Valley.  “The real struggle came over the choice of commander.  Wright had demonstrated little initiative, and his slowness earned him Lincoln’s ire.  He could serve in the department but could not head it.  Grant first proposed Maj. Gen. William B. Franklin.  A classmate of Grant’s at West Point who had ranked first in the class of 1843, Franklin had risen to corps command.  His close friendship with Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan ran him afoul of the Radical Republican-dominated Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, and its investigation blamed him for the Union disaster at Fredericksburg.  He was resurrected as a corps commander on Nathaniel P. Banks’ ill-fated Red River campaign, where Franklin suffered a wound.  By mid-July, he had recovered enough for duty, and he needed a new job.” [p. 46]  He was unacceptable to Lincoln, though.  Halleck suggested Maj. Gen. Christopher C. Augur, who was in charge of the Department of Washington.  Stanton, however, thought Augur was incompetent, a fact Assistant Secretary of War Henry Dana communicated to Grant’s Chief of Staff, John Rawlins.  Some people suggested George B. McClellan, but there was no way Lincoln was going to approve that.  Grant then suggested George Meade to command.  “Since the opening of the spring campaign, Meade had been embarrassed by Grant’s presence, as though he were incompetent to run an army without supervision.  Grant understood the awkwardness of the situation and tried to make it as tolerable as possible, but military and political concerns convinced the lieutenant general that he belonged with the Army of the Potomac.  As the campaign extended and Grant became more familiar with the officer corps, Meade’s value had declined.  Although Grant liked him and respected his talents, virtually no one else among the high-ranking officers in the Army of the Potomac did.  Meade had an irascible disposition.  His explosive temper convinced others that he had a ‘kill the messenger’ mentality.  Few could work with him, and Grant thought this transfer was an ideal solution.  Meade was an excellent administrator and a good army commander, especially on the defensive.  And Grant had a ready replacement in mind for commander of the Army of the Potomac, Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock.” [p. 47]  Lincoln didn’t approve of this, saying he had been pressured by Congress to replace Meade and this would look too much like caving in to those demands.  Finally, Grant settled on Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan.  Lincoln approved and Sheridan was on his way.  “For Grant, Early’s operations in the summer and autumn of 1864 tested his ability to formulate overall plans, to select competent personnel, and to oversee their execution.  The rebel invasion occurred at a time of failure in the Eastern Theater and limited success out west.  Opposition to Lincoln seemed to be gaining strength in and out of his party.  By exploiting a weak command system, one designed by Grant himself, Early nearly battled his way into Washington, which  would have been a political catastrophe for the administration.  Throughout the crisis, opposition mounted against Grant.  Halleck had voiced dissatisfaction, and while Secretary of War Stanton was more circumspect in his criticism, his conduct–especially his lack of support–indicated his displeasure with Grant as well as with numerous other subordinates.  Only Lincoln continued to endorse his lieutenant general, and this faith was born out by success. Early’s raid was one of the critical moments in Grant’s tenure as commanding general.  He learned the importance of an effective command structure and that he had to oversee his directives to ensure that the bureaucracy, both military and civilian, executed them fully and properly. … Wanting no further part of Halleck, who undercut him badly, Grant attempted to transfer him to the Pacific Coast for the remainder of the war.  Halleck’s collaborator Stanton balked at the change, and Grant dropped the proposal.  But most important, Grant came to grips with the political realities of job of commanding general.  During the course of the war, Grant had developed a healthy respect for the political aspects of military command.  Yet even he underestimated just how much the position of commanding general straddled both the military and the political worlds.” [p. 51]  In dealing with Early’s raid, then, Grant developed himself into a better commanding general, honing new skills he would need to use later as well.

The next essay, by Keith Bohannon, considers “The Fatal Halt Versus Bad Conduct:  John B. Gordon, Jubal A. Early, and the Battle of Cedar Creek.”  This refers to the post-battle blame game with Jubal Early and John Gordon.  Jubal Early blamed the bad conduct of his troops for the confederate defeat, whereas Gordon blamed Early for ordering a halt to the confederate advance.  He first considers Gordon’s side of the story.  “As Early rode northward along the Valley Pike, he encountered Gordon sometime between 7:00 and 7:30 A.M. atop a rise just east of the pike and across from the lane leading to Belle Grove.  Determining exactly what transpired in the ensuing meeting between Early and Gordon is impossible because the generals and their allies left irreconcilable accounts of the incident.  In a letter written two days after the battle, Lt. Thomas G. Jones of Gordon’s staff told his father, ‘Early in joyous extacy [sic], gave no orders, did nothing, allowed precious moments to slip thru his grasp.’  Several decades after the war, Gordon claimed that Early rode up ecstatic over the morning’s victory, declaring, ‘Just one month ago today General we were going the other way!’ and proclaimed, ‘Well Gordon, this is glory enough for one day!’  Gordon supposedly responded by pointing through the dense fog and smoke to the Union Sixth Corps forming to the north on Red Hill and said, ‘It is very well so far, general; but we have one more blow to strike and there will not be left an organized company of infantry in Sheridan’s army.’  Gordon then explained that he had planned to order a concentrated infantry attack against the Sixth Corps after bombarding it with several dozen pieces of artillery massed along the Valley Turnpike.  Early replied, ‘No use in that; they will all go directly.’  Thomas G. Jones claimed that Early said, ‘in substance,’ that the Sixth Corps would ‘go to the rear with the rest.  They are all trying to get away now.’  At this point, wrote Gordon in his Reminiscences, ‘My heart went into my boots.  Visions of the fatal halt on the first day of Gettysburg, and of the whole day’s hesitation to permit an assault on Grant’s exposed flank on the 6th of May [at the Wilderness] … rose before me.’ ” [p. 63-64]  Early and his staff officers denied this happened.  There was a lull in the fighting in the afternoon, from about 1:00 P.M. to about 4:00 P.M., but Early claimed the Federal cavalry made an attack hazardous due to the threat to the confederate flanks.  Early also blamed the halt on his soldiers, saying “the exhausted and famished conditions of the southern soldiers that afternoon resulted in many of them going to the rear to plunder the captured camps.” [p. 66]  Early wasn’t the only one, though.  “Several other Confederates suggested that widespread plundering influenced Early’s decision to stop the advance.  Jedediah Hotchkiss told his wife that, following the halt near Middletown, ‘so many of our troops had left the ranks to plunder the Yankee camps that it was a long time’ before another advance could be made.  Early’s chief of artillery, Col. Thomas H. Carter, recalled asking the army commander why he did not continue the advance.  Early responded that ‘he intended to pursue the enemy as soon as the line could be put in order.’  Many man in Gordon’s division and throughout Early’s army gathered battlefield spoils during the afternoon lull, their jaunts made easier by the scarcity of experienced commissioned and noncommissioned officers who could impose discipline.  Richard Waldrop of the 21st Virginia wrote on October 21 that, during the Confederate advance, ‘a large proportion, probably a majority of the men–fell back and, notwithstanding that the most positive orders had been issued against it, commenced plundering the captured camps. … The plundering was indulged in by officers as well as men. … Our army is little better than a band of thieves and marauders.’  George B. Hamilton, a soldier in the 8th Louisiana Infantry, wrote a friend that ‘in the afternoon about five oclock [sic] more than one half our men and officers were plundering and straggling to the rear.’ ‘Do not be surprised when I tell you,’ he continued, ‘that officers of high rank and some of them well known to you had from three to ten men detailed to carry off plunder.’ ” [p. 66-67]  Here we see a possible motive for Gordon to try to throw the blame onto Early.  “At least one wartime and several postwar accounts claim that General Gordon plundered by proxy.  Surg. Robert T. Myers of the 16th Georgia Infantry wrote in his diary of encountering a wagon in the enemy’s captured camps during the afternoon which he was told belonged to Gordon.  Myers claimed that an aide of the general ‘was loading it with eatables–camp fixtures & c.’  At least three other Confederates, two of them officers, remembered encountering a captured wagon appropriated for Gordon’s headquarters being escorted to the rear by men from his division.  A number of Confederates noted the inability of Gordon, his depleted officers corps, and the army’s provost marshal to halt the plundering.  General Evans confessed to his wife two days after Cedar Creek that ‘the immense amount of plunder on the battlefield caused a great deal of straggling and proper steps were not taken to prevent it.’ ” [p. 67]  Dr. Bohannon does an excellent job in exploring this controversy in great detail using the writings of the soldiers telling what they saw and said.

The fourth essay is by William Bergen, and it concerns “The Other Hero of Cedar Creek:  The ‘Not Specially Ambitious’ Horatio G. Wright.”  Horatio Wright is a figure about whom a lot has been written, but not much is really known.  For example, visitors to Arlington National Cemetery may have noticed “two massive monuments visible on the hillside just below Arlington House’s portico.  Both mark graves of Union generals who did much to defeat Lee and his army.  On one monument, one can easily read the word ‘SHERIDAN’ in metal letters embedded in the stone.  A bronze, flag-draped medallion displays Gen. Philip H. Sheridan’s likeness, familiar to students of the Civil War.  The monument opposite it, equal in size but of a different shape, is adorned only by a bas-relief portrait depicting a general even Civil War scholars would be hard-pressed to identify.  To find whose grave the monument marks, visitors must brush aside overgrown shrubbery to read the plaque on its back.  Only then does one learn that there lies Maj. Gen. Horatio Gouverneur Wright and that veterans of the Sixth Corps erected the monument to honor their former commander.” [p. 86]  Not many people know that Wright is one of the commanders responsible for Sheridan’s rise.  “While heading the Department of the Ohio, Wright, recognizing Sheridan’s worth, cosigned a September 12, 1862 telegram to the War Department that prompted Sheridan’s promotion to brigadier general.  ‘We have no good generals here and are badly in want of them,’ he wired.  ‘Sheridan is worth his weight in gold.  Will you not try and have him made a brigadier at once?  It will put us in good shape.’  Wright later served loyally under his former subordinate during the 1864 Shenandoah Valley campaign, at the battle of Sailor’s Creek, and in postwar Texas.  Both men would reach the top of their army branches, Wright retiring as chief of engineers the same year that Sheridan became commanding general of the army.” [p. 86]  As of the writing of this essay, “not a single biography, monograph, or article has focused on Wright.” [p. 86]  Wright served as an engineer, a recruiting officer, a commander of amphibious operations in the south, a department head in the Midwest, and as an infantry commander in the Army of the Potomac.  He commanded troops in the First Battle of Bull Run, played a role in the Battle of Perryville, commanded troops at the Battle of Gettysburg, and played a role at Appomattox.  Captured once, Wright was also wounded twice as a major general.  Wright was the man who invited Abraham Lincoln to view the action against the confederates at Fort Stevens, an invitation he immediately regretted as the chief executive was exposed to rebel fire.  The troops he commanded achieved breakthroughs at Rappahannock Station in 1863 and Petersburg in 1864.  He laid the groundwork for Sheridan’s victory at Cedar Creek.  Yet he remains an obscure figure.  “When Wright is mentioned in the literature, writers often muddle his career and identity.  In The Generalship of Ulysses S. Grant (1929), the distinguished British military historian J. F. C. Fuller confuses H. G. Wright with George Wright, a general who spent the Civil War in command of the Department of the Pacific.  The index of Clifford Dowdey’s widely read Lee’s Last Campaign, the Story of Lee and His Men Against Grant–1864 (1960) confuses Horatio Wright with Ambrose R. Wright, a Confederate general.  In James E. Taylor’s invaluable sketchbook chronicling the 1864 Valley campaign, the author mistakes Wright’s middle name as ‘Gates,’ an error repeated in John Henry Cramer’s Lincoln Under Enemy Fire (1948), a study of events at Fort Stevens.  Curious errors occurred even in Wright’s lifetime.  The authors of The Life of Gen. Philip H. Sheridan, Its Romance and Reality (1888), published shortly after Sheridan’s death, identify Wright variously as ‘Horatio J.’ and “Marcus D.’  Wright remains invisible even among leading Civil War figures born in Connecticut.  An 1869 book that celebrated Connecticut’s contributions to victory published sixty portraits of prominent civilian and military leaders, yet Wright’s visage was omitted in favor of those who achieved far less.  The authors praised Wright as a ‘brave, skillful, and effective fighter’ but jumbled the details of his career.  Time would not correct the omission; a centennial-era book on Connecticut’s favorite sons dwells on lesser generals.” [p. 88]  Bergen gives Wright his due, tracing his life and career.  It’s a balanced account where he identifies Wright’s mistakes as well as his triumphs.  He failed to picket the fords of Cedar Creek, which aided in his men being surprised by the confederate attack on October 19, 1864.  He retrieved his performance, though, rallying his men even though wounded and bleeding, forming them to stop the confederate advance and to eventually counterattack.  On Wright’s returning to the Army of the Potomac outside Petersburg Theodore Lyman of Meade’s staff wrote, “General Wright, though always pleasant is, I think rather low in spirits.”  Lyman continued, “He has had poor luck on numerous occasions, and it culminated at Cedar Creek, where he chanced to have command of the army when it was surprised.  He had rallied it, when Sheridan arrived on the field; but of course Sheridan had the credit of the victory, and indeed he deserved it.  All the officers say that Wright made prodigious exertions and rode along all parts of the line in the hottest fire.” [p. 113]  By the time of the final campaign, “Wright adopted much of Ulysses S. Grant’s steely determination to end the war quickly.  On February 25–well before any anticipated advance–Wright issued stern orders to the corps: ‘As any movement on the enemy’s part is at once to be followed up, the entire corps, without striking tents, will be held ready to move in pursuit at a moment’s warning.’  He described ‘the utmost vigilance on the part of the pickets, and readiness on the part of the whole command to move promptly, as of first importance, expressing ‘trust that the corps will not be behind others in the army in this particulars.’  One of Grant’s aides, Adam Badeau, recalled that Wright had been ‘full of confidence ever since the beginning of the movement.  He was ready to assault at any time, and inspired not only his subordinates but his superiors with his own belief in victory.’  Grant noticed.  On March 31, as Sheridan prepared to attack Confederate forces holding the strategic intersection at Five Forks, he asked Grant to reinforce him with the Sixth Corps.  The general in chief demurred, explaining that Wright’s troops were too far away.  But he added a significant sentence: ‘Wright thinks he can go through the line where he is and it is advisable to have troops and a commander there who feels so.’ Late the next day, as Wright’s troops crept into position for their assault on the enemy’s lines, Meade’s chief of staff, new to his job, sent a message to the Sixth Corps commander to ‘assault as you please.’  Wright did not care for the newcomer’s casual tone and sent a curt reply: ‘Everything will be ready.  The corps will go in solid, and I am sure will make the fur fly. … If the corps does half as well as I expect we will have broken through the rebel lines fifteen minutes from the word ‘go.’ ‘  This message prompted Grant to say, ‘I like the way Wright talks.’  In a well-planned and executed attack early on the morning of April 2, the Sixth Corps fulfilled Wright’s promise.  Led by Getty’s division arrayed in an unconventional wedge formation, the corps smashed through the formidable, albeit undermanned, rebel fortifications.  Wright’s success broke the stalemate and hastened Lee’s abandonment of Petersburg.” [pp. 113-114]  This essay is a needed corrective to the dearth of materials about Horatio G. Wright, and provides a great deal of information we wouldn’t have otherwise.  It’s an excellent contribution.

William J. Miller contributes “Never Has There Been a More Complete Victory:  The Cavalry Engagement at Tom’s Brook, October 9, 1864.”  This article covers a battle that really doesn’t get a lot of press.  The combat involved two small divisions of confederate cavalry, one under Maj. Gen. Lunsford Lindsay Lomax, “a former staff officer with little experience in the cavalry,” who led a division “which consisted of just six regiments, four partial regiments (battalions), and the attendant light artillery batteries, all organized into two brigades.  Despite the elaborate order of battle, Lomax commanded just 800 men in the field.” [p. 135]  The other division had been commanded by Maj. Gen. Fitzhugh Lee until his wounding at the Battle of Third Winchester.  Now it was commanded by Brig. Gen. Thomas Lafayette Rosser.  On the Union side, Brig. Gen. Wesley Merritt and Brig. Gen. George Armstrong Custer commanded the divisions opposing Lomax and Rosser.  Merritt and Custer were themselves under the command of Maj Gen. Philip H. Sheridan’s chief of cavalry, Brig. General Alfred Thomas Archimedes Torbert.  Miller gives us an excellent description of the Battle of Tom’s Brook, placing it in the context of the Burning and discussing how the two sides got to Tom’s Brook to have that battle.  The battle resulted in a rousing Union victory, and Miller then goes into a post-mortem:  “Captain French Harding, who fought at Tom’s Brook with the 20th Virginia Cavalry of Lomax’s division, declared in his memoirs that the battle ‘was wholly a cavalry fight between General Early’s half-starved and equipped few and General Sheridan’s over-fed and well equipped many.’  Given the Federal ascendancy in all arms in 1864, it is tempting to accept Harding’s argument that he and his comrades had had no hope at Tom’s Brook.  Yet granting all of the Confederates’ arguments as to the advantages enjoyed by the Federal cavalry, physical superiorities alone cannot explain the northern victory.  After all, Federal generals had for much of the war been proving that advantages in numbers, weaponry, and supply did not translate into victory if leadership was wanting.  Whatever their level of relative disadvantage in numbers and equipment, the southern cavalry had managed a vigorous harassment of the withdrawing Federals on October 6, 7, and 8.  And their commanders had chosen to stand and fight on October 9 against an enemy they knew to be more numerous and better armed.  Given an opening by virtue of their effective maneuvering and fighting as well as by their material and numerical edge, Sheridan’s horsemen had driven Lomax and Rosser and their men for two dozen miles, reaping every advantage along the way.  Tom’s Brook had been a clear victory with real consequences.  Jubal Early’s cavalry never again played an important role in the Shenandoah Valley, leaving Torbert’s brigades largely free to roam unchecked.  The engagement also held symbolic importance for Federal cavalrymen who had labored so long in the shadow of their opponents.  Indeed, there had never been an affair quite like Tom’s Brook.  Victories and routs there had been on both sides, but nothing had approached the one-sidedness of the thumping that the Federals had visited upon Rosser and Lomax.  In this respect, what was accomplished tactically at Tom’s Brook paled in comparison to what had been demonstrated in a larger sense.  Custer and Merritt had not only shown beyond dispute their troopers’ superiority to the southern cavalry on October 9 but also their parity, or more, with any cavalry in any theater of the conflict.” [p. 155]  Miller tells us that Sheridan’s troopers fought superbly both mounted and dismounted.  He said they “represented the highest state of development of this ‘hybrid cavalryman.’ ” [p. 156]  Lomax believed he faced infantry on October 7, 8, and 9.  He didn’t.  He faced Merritt’s dismounted troopers.  “From the date of Tom’s Brook,” Miller writes, “it was the Union horsemen who would bear the standard of the finest American cavalry, and twenty years later when the armies of Europe revamped their mounted arms, they did so upon the model of the Federal cavalry of 1864-65.” [p. 156]

Robert E. L. Krick’s essay is titled, “A Stampeede [sic] of Stampeeds [sic]:  The Confederate Disaster at Fisher’s Hill.”  Fisher’s Hill, of course, was the battle Jubal Early and his confederate Army of the Valley fought after their defeat at the Third Battle of Winchester.  “The ground Jubal Early chose to defend on September 20 was a series of low knobs more than a hill.  A gentle country stream, aptly named Tumbling Run, flowed at the base of the ridge and protected approaches from the north.  To the west, the imposing bulk of Little North Mountain represented the left end of Early’s line of defense.  His eastern flank rested in great security on the North Fork of the Shenandoah River, which there abuts an army of Massanutten Mountain sometimes called Three Top Mountain.  This entire position was denominated Fisher’s Hill and spanned 3.9 miles from the base of the mountain to the edge of the river.  General Early indisputably understood the dimensions of this line.  His army had spent several days there in mid-August building the very entrenchments it now manned on September 20.  Even with the larger force he had then, the same strengths and flaws of the position must have been apparent.  The collection of hills and plateaus that formed the heart of this stronghold abruptly ended less than a mile east of Little North Mountain.  The final thousand yards to the base of the mountain was mostly flat.  That ground’s featureless appearance stood in direct contrast to the wrinkly set of hills that shielded the bulk of Early’s force.  He hardly could view a front of four miles, with the last stretch virtually barren of naturally defensible ground, as a secure spot.” [pp. 161-162]  This was, however, the only spot Early could put his army that he could use to even think of making a stand against the Federals.  Early used this time to repair some damage from Third Winchester.  Maj. Gen. Robert Rodes had been killed.  Rodes was his best division commander, and Early needed to replace him.  He chose Maj. Gen. Stephen Dodson Ramseur, who in turn was replaced by Brig. Gen. John Pegram, who in turn had to be replaced at the head of his former brigade.  Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge was transferred to southwest Virginia on September 21, meaning the two divisions he commanded, under Maj. Gen. John B. Gordon and Brig. Gen. Gabriel C. Wharton, reported directly to Early.  Thus within a couple days, Early had lost his two best subordinates and had three key commanders new to their positions.  Krick goes into great detail on the confederate alignment at Fisher’s Hill.  He tells us about their morale and their approximate strength.  He also considers the position of the confederate cavalry under Lunsford Lomax, placed in the most vulnerable spot of the line.  “Lunsford Lomax could count open terrain to his front and the presence of a few batteries of horse artillery among his assets, but he had ample cause for pessimism otherwise.  The army blamed the cavalry for every setback these days, usually with cause, and confidence within the mounted army waned.  Outnumbered and outgunned soldiers, riding emaciated horses, left Lomax with a sadly ineffective and unreliable force.  To their credit, his regiments had been laboring hard since the twentieth to improve their vulnerable position.  Fresh breastworks of logs and stacked rails stood four feet high and were chinked with dirt and rocks.  These had sprung up in the low ground near the base of the mountain in the previous forty-eight hours.  Some artillery crews constructed their own redoubts, while other cavalrymen continued to work on the thin line of rifle pits in the woods part way up the side of Little North Mountain.  These were wise moves and showed that the army’s cavalry retained some energy.” [p. 170]  A Federal force under George Crook was able to get on the left flank of Lomax’s cavalrymen, achieving surprise and leading to a smashing victory for the Union.  The victory was overwhelming, and Krick gives us great detail about how it came about.  “The three brigades under General Pegram’s leadership shared a common result.  They all left he field without offering anything more than a token resistance and with very light casualties.” [p. 180]  It was, in the words of one confederate, J. F. Coghill of Johnston’s brigade, “a stampeede [sic] of stampeeds [sic].  In his assessment of the battle, Krick judiciously assigns responsibility where it belongs.  Early surely deserves some, but so does Lomax for not making the shortcomings of his equipage known to Early, and Ramseur for poor generalship until too late to be effective.  “There are several ways to view the results of Fisher’s Hill.  Early’s little army hardly could afford to lose any significant portion of its dwindling strength, especially without inflicting any defeat on Sheridan.  The Confederate army incurred between 600 and 1,000 casualties, and the loss of at least a dozen cannon proved damaging to its artillery branch as well.  Worst of all, the army’s retreat from Fisher’s Hill exposed the majority of the Shenandoah Valley to the rapacious Federal cavalry.  The ensuring ‘Burning’ injured the Confederate war effort, discouraged and harmed the civilian population in the Valley, and reduced the conduct of the war to a lower, more unseemly level.  Most important of all, the wretched afternoon at Fisher’s Hill mortally wounded the Army of the Valley.  For the first time, the men of the famous Second Corps felt twinges of self-doubt.  Morale dipped to an alarmingly low level.” [p. 189]  He sums it up by telling us, “Fisher’s Hill had confirmed the unhappy results of Third Winchester and set the tone for Cedar Creek.  It proved to be a crucial bridge between the two great battles of the 1864 Valley Campaign.”  This was another terrific essay that provides us great detail on this important battle.

The next essay is by Andre Fleche and is called, “Uncivilized War:  The Shenandoah Valley Campaign, the Northern Democratic Press, and the Election of 1864.”  This essay uses the Valley Campaign as the backdrop for the Democratic Party’s attempt to recapture the White House in 1864.  Fleche tells us, “The prewar relationship between the Democratic Party and southerners provided one of the biggest obstacles to a Democratic comeback.” [p. 204]  The party had gotten significant support in the antebellum years from the South, but secession and Civil War turned what had been seen as a positive for the Democrats into a distinct negative.  “If anything, Democratic loyalty came into question because of prewar association with southerners.  Democrats scrambled to retain their image as a national, patriotic party in the midst of a conflict fought under the direction of the self-consciously sectional Republicans.” [p. 204]  Democrats had to balance appearing loyal with criticizing Republican policy and being an opposition party.  Democrats generally favored a conciliatory approach to the war rather than a hard war.  Democratic newspaper editors led the charge, and “blamed the escalating violence [in the wake of the burning of Chambersburg] on Republican willingness to prosecute a harsh war.” [p. 209]  While they applauded battlefield victories, Democratic editors fiercely criticized hard war tactics such as The Burning.  “Grant’s orders to Sheridan to make the Valley a ‘barren waste’ received particular condemnation.” [p. 210]  Fleche provides several quotes from various northern Democratic papers to bring home these points.  Destruction of barns and crops was not the only action to be criticized.  “The abolition of slavery in the Shenandoah Valley and elsewhere proved the most controversial wartime policy in the eyes of Democrats.  Federal troops began enforcing the Emancipation Proclamation as they entered and occupied Confederate territory.  Democratic Party editors attacked this war measure and appealed to property rights, constitutional principles, and sheer racism in support of their preferred candidates in 1864.” [p. 213]  Sheridan’s battlefield victories, though, provided a big problem for Democrats who staked their electoral strategy on the claim that the war was a failure.  “Most northerners greeted the string of successes in the Valley with hope and renewed enthusiasm.  The newfound prospect of peace boosted Lincoln’s chances for reelection.” [p. 215]  Democratic editors reacted variously, claiming it was all premature, or claiming the administration was fabricating claims of success.  The Democrats continued to criticize war policies throughout the fall of 1864, but to no avail, as Lincoln was victorious and the hard war policy continued, but as Fleche points out, “Yet the election of 1864 was closer than it appeared.  Democrats won 45% of the vote nationwide.  Furthermore, according to one historian of the election, the ‘party’s candidates ran surprisingly close races in states generally counted as Republican strongholds.’ The overwhelmingly Republican soldier vote may have pushed Lincoln over the edge in key states such as New York, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Illinois.” [p. 218]  This fascinating article gave us a picture of the political struggle in the North we don’t always get to see when we read histories of this time.  It reminds us of the political campaign that was going on contemporaneously with the military campaign.

William J. Miller gives us our next essay, titled, “Nothing Ought to Astonish Us:  Confederate Civilians in the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign.”  He begins by telling us about the diarist Nancy Emerson of Staunton, Virginia.  “Emerson was raised in Massachusetts and moved south with her brother, a Lutheran minister, in the late 1850s.  They became Confederates, transplanting themselves and driving deep roots into the new soil around them.  Emerson intended her diary to be read by her ‘northern friends, should any of them have the curiosity to read [it].’ ” [p. 222]  He gets the title of his essay from an entry in her diary:  ” ‘Such strange things happen these days,’ she concluded, ‘that nothing ought to astonish us.’ ” [p. 222]  Miller tells us that what the Federals did in the late summer and fall of 1864 did astonish the civilians of the Shenandoah Valley–over and over again.  “The war changed from something largely distant and contained to something unpredictable and invasive.  Union armies in the Valley were better led, more determined, and more hardened than before.  Confederate armies in the Valley were less well led, less determined, and at times less courageous than in the past.  Confederate civilians found themselves less sure of their security, their army, and their prospects.” [pp. 222-223]  The Valley contained 17% of Virginia’s slave-owning households and 10% of the state’s slave owners.  The Valley, over the years, was increasingly being tied to the institution of slavery.  Most accounts of the experiences of civilians in the Valley dwell solely on the experiences of white civilians.  Miller doesn’t confine his essay to that experience.  “Not surprisingly, many black residents of the Valley did not see U.S. forces as menacing invaders.  In Augusta County, for example, Nancy Jenkins Jefferson had lived before the war as a free black woman who made her living as a housekeeper.  She had two children in her household and owned real estate and some property.  Some time after the war she married a freedman named Thomas Jefferson. She claimed her sympathies ‘were all the time with the Union.’  Nancy’s brother, presumably a slave, was ‘in the Confederate Army’ and ‘was forced to wait on an officer.’  ‘Our Loyalty is indisputable,’ Nancy and Thomas claimed in 1877, ‘because we are colored persons.’  In September 1864, Nancy harbored a Federal officer wounded in a nearby skirmish.  ‘He was wounded at our door, and the Confederates would have stripped and murdered him after he was shot down, had he not been care for by us,’ they claimed.  The claim investigator looked into the matter and concluded that Nancy acted ‘at considerable risk to herself and property [and] kept him [the officer] concealed from the rebel troops until he could be removed to a place of safety.’ ” [p. 242]  Unionists, both black and white, had interactions with both confederates and Federal soldiers.  “In Winchester, Mordecai Purcell faced potential violence when a Confederate enlisted man promised to ‘shoot him if he did not give him a horse that he had and prove his loyalty to the Confederacy.’ Purcell watched helplessly as the soldier took the animal.  Confederate soldiers camped at the farm of Christian Landis, a Dunker in Augusta County, for four days in the fall of 1864.  Landis’s son had been conscripted into the Confederate army in 1862, as Landis put it matter-of-factly, ‘against my will’ and ‘by armed men from my house and was killed in the Wilderness.’  When Federal troops came into Augusta at ‘the time of the burning,’ they took his corn, and when Landis objected ‘threatened to burn my barn down.’  The beleaguered Dunker gave them ‘hay, oats, bacon, and provisions,’ and his wife ‘cooked for them all day.’  Although the Federal troops spared Landis’s barn, they took his horses.” [p. 242]  Many Unionists sent their sons and daughters north or west, where they would be “out of the reach of Confederate conscription agents.” [p. 243]  Many Unionists were imprisoned by confederates, who even shot at Unionists who ran from them.  As Federal troops moved through the Valley, in addition to burning barns they freed imprisoned Unionists and liberated enslaved people.  Many of these freed African-Americans joined the Union Army.  This was another terrific essay about a facet of the campaign that a strictly military history doesn’t explore.

In “Success Is So Blended with Defeat:  Virginia Soldiers in the Shenandoah Valley,” Aaron Sheehan-Dean uses a study of Virginia soldiers in the 1864 campaign to talk about the larger issue of confederate defeat.  Quoting from the diaries and letters of Virginia soldiers, Professor Sheehan-Dean allows us to compare how these men felt early in the campaign, with the success against Sigel and Hunter, and later in the campaign, against Sheridan.  “The bitterness began to infiltrate the sensibilities of many of the diarists and letter writers living and fighting in the Valley in late 1864, but … few showed an interest in abandoning the Confederacy.  Soldiers who participated in the fighting conveyed news of their defeat to relatives and friends with shame, but did not foresee more losses in the future.” [p. 279]  During The Burning, many soldiers whose homes were also in the Valley were concerned about their loved ones.  “Concern over loved ones in Sheridan’s way and despair over the destruction often turned into anger against the North.” [p. 280]  By October, the soldiers found it harder to get food.  With the continuous marching and fighting, they got increasingly tired.  While some soldiers deserted, many more stayed with the army; however, there was “a substantial deterioration of the Army of the Valley.” [p. 284]  Capt. Rufus Woolwine of the 51st Virginia Infantry recorded, “Dec. 6th 45th Va. Regt. Refused to Drill 51st went to arrest those that refused to drill.  My Co. took possession of their arms.  7th I took command of the 45th.” [p. 284]  Professor Sheehan-Dean tells us, “The breakdown in Confederate authority lasted less than two weeks, but it reveals that at least some of the soldiers in the Valley, who had begun the year expecting victory, had begun to harbor doubts about the likelihood of eventual success.” [p. 284]  From the standpoint of the impact of Sheridan’s campaign on morale, Professor Sheehan-Dean tells us, “The losses of the fall severely shook the confidence of Valley Confederates, but by intensifying their dislike for the North,, Sheridan’s campaign of destruction had the unintentional effect of bolstering Valley citizens’ endorsement of Confederate war aims.” [p. 287]  This was a very interesting study of the campaign’s impact on the fighting spirit of both Virginia soldiers and Valley residents.

The penultimate essay is by Professor Joan Waugh, and is titled, “New England Cavalier:  Charles Russell Lowell and the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864.”  She starts by telling us, “Union cavalry officer Charles Russell Lowell epitomized New England’s ideal soldier in the Civil War.  ‘I do not think there was a quality,’ declared an admiring Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan, ‘which I would have added to Lowell.  He was the perfection of a man and a soldier.’ ” [p. 299]  Professor Waugh traces Lowell’s career as a soldier in the Civil War and assesses his performance.  Commissioned as a captain in the 3rd  US Cavalry, later renamed the 6th US Cavalry, Lowell began the war as a recruiting officer before he and the 6th Cavalry joined Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan’s campaign on the Virginia Peninsula.  Lowell proved to be a brave and aggressive fighter.  He was recommended for a brevet promotion to major, which was not approved, and was selected to be on General McClellan’s staff.  Originally a great admirer of McClellan, Lowell’s assessment of the Young Napoleon at the end of the Peninsula Campaign was, “He prepares very well, … and then doesn’t do the best thing–strike hard.” [p. 308]  A courier at the Battle of Antietam, Lowell “encountered part of Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick’s Second Corps division retreating under severe fire just north of Sharpsburg.  Lowell rallied the men and led them back into the fighting.  After watching him in action, an officer remarked, ‘I shall never forget the effect of his appearance.  He seemed a part of his horse, an instinct with a perfect animal life.  At the same time his eyes glistened and his face literally shone with the spirit and intelligence of which he was the embodiment.  He was the ideal of the preux chevalier.’ ” [p. 308]  McClellan selected Lowell to carry the thirty-nine battle flags captured at Antietam to President Lincoln.  Lowell was then appointed by Massachusetts Governor John Andrew to command the newly formed 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry.  This, of course, meant a promotion to colonel.  In August of 1863, Lowell was assigned to battle Major John S. Mosby and his 43rd Battalion, Virginia Cavalry.  Lowell was given command of a cavalry brigade of 1200 troopers for this task.  Unsuccessful at bringing Mosby to bay, Lowell and the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry were assigned to the Third Brigade, which Lowell commanded, in Wesley Merritt’s division of the cavalry in the Shenandoah Valley.  Lowell and his brigade engaged in nearly constant action through to Cedar Creek, where Lowell was shot during a charge, his spinal cord severed.  Lowell died at dawn the next day.  “Charles Russell Lowell–citizen and soldier–was mourned as one of the Union’s best and brightest.  His peers believed he embodied the virtues of the officer-gentleman: honorable, brave, and fair.  Many soldiers aspired to these virtues, but few came as close as Lowell to manifesting them in the hard reality of war.  His heroic actions in the battles of the Shenandoah Valley campaign, and especially at Cedar Creek, demonstrated a magnificent fulfillment of his military experience and his leadership potential.” [p. 333]  This was really a terrific essay giving us a peak at an officer who really doesn’t get the attention he deserves.

The final essay is by Robert K. Krick, writing on “The Confederate Pattons.”  These are the forebears of World War II General George S. Patton.  There were a number of Patton brothers in the Civil War:  John Mercer Patton, Jr., Hugh Mercer Patton, George Smith Patton [General Patton’s grandfather], Waller Tazewll Patton, James French Patton, Isaac Williams Patton, and William Macfarland Patton.  Taz Patton was seriously wounded in Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg and would die 21 days later.  Hugh Mercer Patton was wounded in the shoulder at Second Manassas and after his recovery was a lieutenant and aide-de-camp to Brig. gen. John Rogers Cooke, serving through Appomattox.  William Patton was one of the VMI cadets who fought at New Market.  He graduated in 1865.  The high point of his career, I’m sure, came after the war when he served as a professor of engineering at Virginia Tech.  😉  James Patton was wounded several times during the war, most seriously in the abdomen at Cold Harbor, which he survived.  Isaac Patton rose to the rank of colonel fighting in the west.  Wounded at Vickburg, he was paroled after Vicksburg surrendered and later served at Mobile Bay and Spanish Fort.  Colonel John Mercer Patton, Jr. served under Stonewall Jackson in the Valley, but had to resign due to health concerns.  Colonel George S. Patton served in the Shenandoah Valley in 1864.  He was critically wounded at the Battle of Third Winchester and died on September 25.  This was an interesting essay giving us insight into the family heritage of the most famous Patton of all.

I highly recommend this excellent book.  It is a font of information, covering a number of topics that we don’t normally cover.

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2 comments

  1. D***it, Al! Another book I’m going to need to spend money on! 🙂

    1. Well worth it, Jim.

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