The Middle Military Division

August 7, 1864 – Major General Philip H. Sheridan took command of the new Federal Middle Military Division. Sheridan’s objective was to protect Washington while clearing Confederates out of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley once and for all.

After the Federal defeat at Kernstown on July 24, General George Crook’s Federal army retreated across the Potomac River into Maryland. General Jubal Early, commanding the Confederate Army of the Valley, dispatched two brigades to pursue Crook and wreak havoc in Maryland and Pennsylvania.[1]

The day after Confederates burned Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, President Abraham Lincoln met with General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant for a five-hour conference at Fort Monroe, Virginia. Lincoln faced increasing criticism from northerners horrified by heavy casualties without major victories and frustrated that Jubal Early roamed freely throughout the Shenandoah Valley and invaded the North at will.[2]

Maj. Gen. P.H. Sheridan | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Maj. Gen. P.H. Sheridan | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Grant had earlier proposed consolidating the many military departments around Washington into a unified military division. Grant first suggested William Franklin as this new division’s commander, but the administration distrusted Franklin’s ties to former army commander George B. McClellan. Grant also considered Army of the Potomac commander George G. Meade (elevating Winfield S. Hancock to replace Meade), and then David Hunter. Grant finally settled on his cavalry commander, Philip H. Sheridan.[3]

Grant told Lincoln at Fort Monroe, “All I ask is that one general officer, in whom I and yourself have confidence, should command the whole.” He proposed that Sheridan “follow (Early) to the death. Wherever the enemy goes let our troops go also.” Lincoln replied, “This, I think, is exactly right.”[4]

After Lincoln returned to Washington, Grant telegraphed Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck, “I want Sheridan put in command of all the troops in the field, with instruction to put himself south of the enemy and follow him to the death.” Lincoln wired his approval on August 3 but also warned, “Please look over the despatches you may have rece(i)ved from here… and discover, if you can, that there is any idea in the head of any one here, of ‘putting our army South of the enemy’ or of (‘)following him to the death’ in any direction… I repeat to you, it will neither be done nor attempted unless you watch it every day, and hour, and force it.”[5]

Two days later, Grant arrived at the headquarters of Major General David Hunter at Monocacy Junction and informed him of the command change. He offered Hunter an administrative position in the new department, but Hunter, confused by Jubal Early’s attacks and the complexity of all the different commands in the area, declined and resigned.[6]

Sheridan met briefly with Grant at Monocacy Junction on August 6, where Sheridan was directed to “drive Early out of the Valley and to receive orders from no live man but (Grant) himself.” Grant wrote out further instructions:

“In pushing up the Shenandoah Valley, as it is expected you will have to do first or last, it is desirable that nothing should be left to invite the enemy to return. Take all provisions, forage, and stock wanted for the use of your command. Such as cannot be consumed, destroy… Bear in mind, the object is to drive the enemy south, and to do this you want to keep him always in sight. Be guided in your course by the course he takes.”[7]

Sheridan’s new Middle Military Division included all four Federal military departments around Washington, West Virginia, and the Shenandoah. Sheridan’s army of some 37,000 men would be called the Army of the Shenandoah. He wasted no time in moving his troops toward Winchester, just as Early’s Confederates withdrew southward up the Valley toward Cedar Creek. The struggle between Sheridan and Early over control of the Shenandoah had begun.[8]

—–

[1] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11299-319; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 91-93; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 545-46, 548-49; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 315

[2] Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 100; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 549

[3] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11341-61; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 100-01

[4] Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 646; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 100

[5] Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11066; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11351-71; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 100-01; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 550-51

[6] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11361-82; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 100-01

[7] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11372-92 ; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 101

[8] Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 537; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 101 ; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 553

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