Tag Archives: Shenandoah Valley

The Shenandoah Valley: Sheridan Plans an Offensive

September 16, 1864 – Major General Philip Sheridan unveiled a plan to drive Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Confederates out of the Shenandoah Valley once and for all.

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

As September began, Sheridan’s Federal Army of the Shenandoah began coming out of its defenses and moving down the Valley Turnpike toward Winchester. Early’s Army of the Valley blocked Sheridan at Bunker Hill, north of Winchester. The Confederates were reinforced by elements of Lieutenant General Richard H. Anderson’s corps from General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

Both sides maneuvered and skirmished, with Early’s main force setting up at Stephenson’s Depot and Sheridan’s moving east of Winchester, between Berryville and Clifton. No major confrontation seemed imminent, so Anderson’s Confederates began heading east toward Snicker’s Gap; from there they were to move through the Blue Ridge and return to Lee’s army at Petersburg.

Anderson’s lead division under Major General Joseph B. Kershaw advanced toward Berryville, unaware that Sheridan had stationed Brigadier General George Crook’s VIII Corps there. The two forces collided near sunset on the 3rd. The Federals fell back but then regrouped and counterattacked. Kershaw disengaged for the night, and Early came up with three reinforcing divisions the next day. But as Early wrote after the war:

“I at first thought that I had reached his (Sheridan’s) right flank, and was about making arrangements to attack it, when casting my eye to my left, I discovered, as far as the eye could reach with the aid of field glasses, a line extending toward Summit Point. The position the enemy occupied was a strong one, and he was busily engaged fortifying it, having already made considerable progress. It was not until I had this view that I realized the size of the enemy’s force, and as I discovered that his line was too long for me to get around his flank, and the position was too strong to attack in front, I returned and informed General Anderson of the condition of things.”

The Confederates fell back west toward Winchester and took positions on high ground east of the Valley Turnpike. The Federal army doubled the size of Early’s, but Sheridan did not pursue the Confederates. This was mainly because Sheridan had to detach units to guard his supply lines, prevent raids into Maryland or Pennsylvania, and protect both the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal. Also, with the presidential election coming in two months, Sheridan did not want to risk jeopardizing Abraham Lincoln’s reelection with a defeat.

The two armies probed each other’s defenses for the next two weeks, looking for exploitable weaknesses but finding none. Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, encouraged Sheridan on the 9th:

“I would not have you make an attack with the advantage against you, but would prefer just the course you seem to be pursuing–that is, pressing closely upon the enemy, and when he moves, follow him up, being ready at all time to pounce upon him if he detaches any considerable force.”

This strategy would prevent Early’s Confederates from reinforcing Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. But it would also allow Early to control the Valley, where his men could ensure the continued transfer of the rich harvests to Lee’s besieged forces at Petersburg.

Another three days of sparring prompted President Lincoln to write Grant: “Sheridan and Early are facing each other at a deadlock. Could we not pick up a regiment here and there, to the number of say 10,000 men, and quietly but suddenly concentrate them at Sheridan’s camp and enable him to make a strike? This is but a suggestion.” Grant replied that he intended “to see Sheridan and arrange what was necessary to enable him to start Early out of the Valley. It seems to me it can successfully be done.”

Meanwhile, Early held strong positions along Opequon Creek, and after delays, Anderson’s Confederates began leaving the Valley on the 14th to rejoin Lee, who desperately needed them on the Petersburg siege lines. That same day, Grant left Petersburg to confer with Sheridan at Charles Town.

Rumors quickly spread among Sheridan’s army that Anderson was leaving, but Sheridan informed Grant, “I have nothing new to report for yesterday or today. There is as yet no indication of Early’s detaching.” Sheridan asked his cavalry commanders to determine whether Early’s army had been weakened by Anderson’s departure. When they were slow in gathering information, Sheridan enlisted troops to serve as scouts and asked Crook if he knew of any civilians at Winchester who would be willing to provide intelligence.

Crook recommended Rebecca Wright, a Quaker teacher and known Unionist. Sheridan wrote her a letter of introduction, which was smuggled to her by a black messenger who wrapped it in tinfoil and carried it under his tongue. Wright read the message and answered: Anderson’s men and three batteries had returned to Petersburg, and Early’s reduced army was scattered around Winchester and highly vulnerable to attack.

This meant that Sheridan’s chance of defeat was greatly reduced. And news of William T. Sherman’s capture of Atlanta meant that even if Sheridan was defeated, Lincoln’s reelection bid was already gaining momentum. Sheridan therefore resolved to take the offensive, but to increase his chance of success even further, he would wait until Anderson’s Confederates were far enough away so they could not hurry back to help Early.

As Sheridan plotted his moves, Grant arrived in Charles Town and met with him at the Rutherford House. Grant had a specific plan in mind for Sheridan to drive Early out of the Valley and destroy Lee’s supply line. Worried that administration officials might reject this plan, Grant had bypassed Washington and traveled straight to Sheridan’s headquarters.

But before Grant could share his plan, Sheridan revealed one of his own. Most of his Federals would seize the Valley Turnpike at Newtown, below Winchester, while his cavalry would confront the small Confederate force in Winchester. The Federals would cut off Early’s supply lines and escape route, forcing him to fight on ground of Sheridan’s choosing.

According to Sheridan, Grant “neither discussed nor disclosed his plans, my knowledge of the situation striking him as being so much more accurate than his own.” Instead, Grant simply told Sheridan, “Go in.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 452-54, 458-60; 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 11585-616; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 492-95, 497; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 108-09; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 564-65, 569-70; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 776; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 677-79

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The Shenandoah Valley: Sheridan Falls Back

August 16, 1864 – Elements of Major General Philip Sheridan’s Federal Army of the Shenandoah scored an impressive victory, but Sheridan came under heavy criticism for withdrawing nonetheless.

Federal Major General Philip Sheridan | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Sheridan decided to fall back toward Winchester upon learning that a Confederate force under Lieutenant General Richard H. Anderson had arrived at Front Royal to reinforce Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Army of the Valley. Sheridan dispatched cavalry under Brigadier General Wesley Merritt to hold Anderson’s men at bay while the rest of the Federal army retreated.

Confederates led by Brigadier General William C. Wickham drove the Federal pickets back before coming upon one of Merritt’s dismounted brigades under Brigadier General Thomas C. Devin at Cedarville. A saber duel ensued until the Confederates fell back across the Shenandoah River.

Meanwhile, Brigadier General William T. Wofford’s Confederate brigade on Guard Hill was assaulted by Federal horsemen led by Brigadier General George A. Custer. The Federals used their Spencer repeating rifles to drive the Confederates off in retreat. Merritt reported:

“The enemy advanced boldly, wading the river, and were allowed to approach within short carbine range, when a murderous volley was poured into their solid ranks, while the whole command charged. The enemy were thrown into the wildest confusion.”

This decisive Federal victory resulted in the capture of two battle flags and hundreds of prisoners. It also revealed that Confederates were at Front Royal in force, thus validating Sheridan’s decision to withdraw. Merritt’s Federals served as the rear guard and fell back with the main army. Northerners starving for a decisive victory heaped enormous criticism upon Sheridan for withdrawing.

As Sheridan fell back, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, reiterated his orders to destroy anything in his path that might be useful to the Confederates. Grant also instructed Sheridan to arrest citizens of Loudoun County known to support Colonel John S. Mosby’s Confederate partisans. Sheridan issued orders to his cavalry:

“In compliance with instructions of the lieutenant-general commanding, you will make the necessary arrangements and give the necessary orders for the destruction of the wheat and hay south of a line from Millwood to Winchester and Petticoat Gap. You will seize all mules, horses, and cattle that may be useful to our army. Loyal citizens can bring in their claims against the Government for this necessary destruction. No houses will be burned, and officers in charge of this delicate, but necessary, duty must inform the people that the object is to make this Valley untenable for the raiding parties of the rebel army.”

The Confederates under Early and Anderson joined forces to pursue the Federals, with skirmishing around Winchester, Opequon Creek, and Berryville. Anderson clashed inconclusively with Federal cavalry at Summit Point on the 21st. Early tried moving into the Federal rear, resulting in heavy skirmishing. Sheridan later wrote, “A sharp and obstinate skirmish with a heavy picket-line of the Sixth Corps grew out of this manoeuvre, and resulted very much in our favor, but the quick withdrawal of the Confederates left no opportunity for a general engagement.”

Sheridan then notified Washington on the 22nd, “My position at best being a very bad one, and, as there is much depending on this army, I fell back and took a new position in front of Halltown, without loss or opposition.” The two forces fought at Smithfield Crossing over a four-day period from the 25th to the 29th, as Sheridan fell back to Halltown under the protection of Federal guns at Harpers Ferry and Maryland Heights.

The Federals formed a strong defensive line that Sheridan hoped Early would attack. An observer for Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton reported, “The line runs along a commanding ridge which overlooks a broad valley beyond, and is a position of great natural strength. The intervals to the left and right, connecting the rivers, say a mile each, are not so strong, but the enemy could hardly succeed in a flank movement.”

The Confederates initially pushed back VI Corps in heavy fighting, but the Federal line was quickly restored and Early found no weaknesses in the Federal position. Although Early could not break the Federal line, the Federals had once again left the Valley.

Believing Sheridan to be just as timid as his predecessors, Early decided to cross the Potomac River once more. He left a small force in the Federals’ front and moved another into Maryland at Williamsport. General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia at Petersburg, noted Early’s success in pushing Sheridan back, but added, “It will have little or no effect upon Grant’s operations, or prevent re-enforcements being sent to him.”

Based on Early’s estimate that Sheridan’s army numbered about 30,000 men, Lee wrote that “if Sheridan’s force is as large as you suppose, I do not know that you could operate to advantage north of the Potomac.” Lee also stated that he was “in great need of his troops, and if they can be spared from the Valley, or cannot operate to advantage there,” he would take back Anderson’s force. Early therefore abandoned plans to reenter Maryland and instead fell back to Bunker Hill.

Meanwhile, Grant estimated that he had inflicted 10,000 casualties on Lee’s army over the past two weeks and informed Sheridan, “I now think it likely that all troops will be ordered back from the valley except what they believe to be the minimum number to detain you. My reason for supposing this is based upon the fact that yielding up the Weldon road seems to be a blow to the enemy he cannot stand.”

Sheridan interpreted Early’s withdrawal as a validation of Grant’s message, and he told one of his commanders, “The indications are that they will fall back perhaps out of the Valley… their projected campaign is a failure.” Merritt’s cavalry pursued the Confederates on the 28th, pushing them back to Smithville before Major General Fitzhugh Lee’s forces held them off. Skirmishing continued as Sheridan began realizing that Early had no intentions of leaving the Valley.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 447-51; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 486-91; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 104-08; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 558-59, 561; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 293, 677-79

The Moorefield Engagement

August 7, 1864 – Federal cavalry attacked a Confederate detachment that had just finished raiding through Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Confederate Gen. Jubal Early | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

As August began, elements of Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Confederate Army of the Valley continued operating north of the Potomac River. These included cavalrymen under Brigadier Generals John McCausland and Bradley T. Johnson. They had burned Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, in late July, and now they rode for Cumberland in western Maryland to wreck track on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.

The Confederates exchanged cannon fire with a small Federal force under Brigadier General Benjamin F. Kelley before disengaging and riding southeast to Old Town on the Potomac. The next day, they captured a Federal detachment contesting their crossing and moved on to Springfield, West Virginia. Meanwhile, Federal Brigadier General William W. Averell received orders to move “by the most expeditious route” to destroy the Confederate force.

McCausland and Johnson intended to destroy part of the B&O at New Creek, but Kelley deployed Federal troops there and forced the Confederates to withdraw southward. The troopers stopped near Moorefield, south of Romney, where they rested and fed their mounts. McCausland did not know that Averell was pursuing him. Averell’s cavalry reached Springfield on the night of the 5th.

Brig Gen W.W. Averell | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The next day, Averell rode on to Romney. Troops in his vanguard captured a Confederate messenger bearing a dispatch stating that McCausland’s command was near Moorefield. Averell directed his men to mobilize at 1 a.m. so they could attack the Confederates by daybreak. Averell was outnumbered nearly two-to-one, but he relied on the element of surprise to offset this disadvantage.

After capturing the Confederate pickets, Averell’s lead brigade under Major Thomas Gibson rode through Johnson’s camp and scattered his panicked troopers. The Confederates fled across the river as Averell’s second brigade under Colonel William H. Powell slammed into McCausland’s men. These Confederates were routed as well, and Averell scored a spectacular victory.

Averell reported capturing three battle flags, four cannon, 420 men, and 400 horses while losing just 41 troopers (nine killed and 32 wounded). The Federals also recovered a large amount of loot taken from Chambersburg and other towns in Pennsylvania and Maryland.

This defeat deepened the rift between McCausland and Johnson that had been growing since McCausland threatened to burn several Maryland towns (as a Marylander, Johnson took offense). McCausland later reported, “The affair at Moorefield was caused by the surprise of Johnson’s brigade.” Johnson accused McCausland of not being on the scene when the fight began. Early recalled that this battle had “a very damaging effect upon my cavalry for the rest of the campaign.”

On the same day that the Confederates were decimated at Moorefield, Major General Philip Sheridan took command of the new Federal Army of the Shenandoah at Halltown, Virginia. Sheridan organized and consolidated his new force to “make the first move for the possession of the Shenandoah Valley” and destroy Early’s Army of the Valley. According to Sheridan:

“I desired that Early might remain at some point well to the north till I was fully prepared to throw my army on his right and rear and force a battle, and hence I abstained from disturbing him by premature activity, for I thought that if I could beat him at Winchester, or north of it, there would be far greater chances of weighty results. I therefore determined to bring my troops, if it were at all possible to do so, into such a position near that town as to oblige Early to fight.”

Early fell back from Martinsburg to Bunker Hill, where he planned to move north into Maryland and Pennsylvania once more. However, he received word that Sheridan’s forces were approaching on his right (east) flank and would soon threaten his rear. Early therefore ordered a withdrawal to Winchester, where he could guard all approaches on Opequon Creek with the formidable Fisher’s Hill behind him.

Skirmishing occurred along Cedar Creek as Early pulled back to Fisher’s Hill, south of Strasburg, on the 11th. Early reported to General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia at Petersburg, that “the enemy was advancing in much heavier force than I had yet encountered.” Lee responded by sending infantry and cavalry under Lieutenant General Richard H. Anderson from Culpeper to reinforce Early.

Anderson’s Confederates arrived at Front Royal, at the north end of the Luray Valley, on the 14th. If they moved toward Winchester, they could threaten Sheridan’s left, rear, and supply lines. Also, having detached elements of his army to guard various posts, Sheridan feared that he could now be outnumbered. And Confederate raiders under Colonel John S. Mosby had destroyed a large Federal wagon train near Berryville.

As Brigadier General Wesley Merritt’s Federal cavalry reconnoitered Anderson’s forces and guarded the army’s rear, Sheridan ordered his men to retreat. Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, had advised Sheridan to proceed with caution and avoid a defeat that might hurt President Abraham Lincoln’s chances for reelection in the fall.

The Federals fell back to Halltown, 45 miles northeast. Sheridan later wrote, “Subsequent experience convinced me that there was no other really defensive line in the Shenandoah Valley, for at almost any other point the open country and its peculiar topography invites rather than forbids flanking operations.” Early saw Sheridan’s withdrawal as a sign of timidity and set out to pursue him.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 442-44, 446-47; 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 11424-34; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 479-80, 482-86; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 91, 101, 104; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 549-50, 555-56; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 293, 508-09, 677-79, 812-13

The Army of the Shenandoah: Sheridan Takes Command

August 6, 1864 – Major General Philip Sheridan received command of a new Federal military department designed to drive the Confederates out of the Shenandoah Valley for good.

Maj Gen David Hunter | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

After putting Sheridan in this new command, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, went to notify Major General David Hunter, commanding the Department of West Virginia, of the change. Sheridan’s new Army of the Shenandoah was to absorb Hunter’s department. Arriving at Hunter’s headquarters on the Monocacy River in Maryland, Grant recalled:

“I found General Hunter’s army… scattered over the fields along the banks of the Monocacy, with many hundreds of cars and locomotives, belonging to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, which he had taken the precaution to bring back and collect at that point. I asked the general where the enemy was. He replied that he did not know. He said the fact was, that he was so embarrassed with orders from Washington moving him first to the right and then to the left that he had lost all trace of the enemy.”

Under Grant’s plan, Sheridan was to command the Federals in the field while Hunter took over administrative duties within the new military department. In the meantime, Hunter was to lead his troops to Harpers Ferry, where they would confront Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Confederate Army of the Valley wherever they found it.

Grant said it was “desirable that nothing should be left to invite the enemy to return” to Maryland or Pennsylvania. “Take all provisions, forage, and stock wanted for the use of your command; such as cannot be consumed, destroy.” He urged Hunter not to destroy public buildings; “they should rather be protected.”

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

Hunter began moving his Federals out, arriving at Halltown, Virginia, on the 5th. But being dissatisfied with his new role in the department, Hunter “expressed a willingness to be relieved from command.” Grant accepted. Sheridan arrived on the scene on the 6th and received orders from Grant that were almost identical to Hunter’s:

“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.”

Sheridan’s command would include the Departments of Washington, West Virginia, the Susquehanna, and the Middle. His army would consist of:

  • Hunter’s Army of West Virginia, now under Brigadier General George Crook
  • Major General Horatio G. Wright’s VI Corps from the Army of the Potomac
  • Two divisions of Brigadier General William Emory’s XIX Corps from the Army of the Gulf
  • Two divisions of Sheridan’s old Cavalry Corps from the Army of the Potomac, now under Brigadier General Alfred T.A. Torbert
  • A cavalry division under Brigadier General William W. Averell

By the night of the 6th, Sheridan wrote Grant, “I find affairs somewhat confused, but will soon straighten them out.” Grant notified him the next day:

“The Departments of Washington, the Middle, the Susquehanna, and of Western Virginia, have been formed into a military division called the Middle Division, and you have been assigned to the temporary command. You can assume command without any further authority.”

President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton expressed reservations about giving Sheridan such a large responsibility, but Grant insisted that he trusted Sheridan for the job.

Sheridan received word that Early’s Confederates were around Winchester, and thus directed his new army to go there. But most of Early’s forces were actually in Maryland, harvesting wheat at Sharpsburg and Hagerstown. Early fell back southward across the Potomac River to Bunker Hill on the 7th, but he would soon receive reinforcements.

General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia at Petersburg, went to Richmond to discuss strategy with Lieutenant General Richard H. Anderson and President Jefferson Davis. It was agreed to send Major General Joseph B. Kershaw’s division of Anderson’s corps to Culpeper, along with a cavalry division under Major General Fitzhugh Lee, with Anderson in overall command. From there, Anderson could return to Petersburg in case of emergency or threaten Sheridan’s flank if he moved any deeper into the Shenandoah.

The struggle between Sheridan and Early over control of the Shenandoah had begun.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 537; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 445; 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 11361-92, 11320-30; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 482; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 7869; Keefer, Kimberly A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 376; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 91, 100-01, 104; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 553; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 491; Pritchard, Russ A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 675-76; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 293, 491-92, 677-79, 817

The Second Battle of Kernstown

July 24, 1864 – Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Confederates defeated Federal forces under Brigadier General George Crook and drove them out of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

Confederate Gen. Jubal Early | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Crook had led his Army of West Virginia (or VIII Corps) south from Winchester to clear Confederates out of the Valley. When Early learned that a large Federal force had stopped pursuing him, he led his Confederates out of Strasburg to confront Crook to the north. Early’s Army of the Valley numbered about 14,000 men, while Crook had about 8,500. Crook believed that Early’s infantry had returned to the Army of Northern Virginia at Petersburg and therefore expected to only encounter cavalry, which he was confident he could disperse.

The armies met at Kernstown, site of a battle during “Stonewall” Jackson’s Valley campaign of 1862. As the opposing cavalries skirmished to open the fight, Crook formed his infantry in a line facing south that consisted of Colonel (and future U.S. president) Rutherford B. Hayes’s brigade on the left (east), Colonel James Mulligan’s division holding Pritchard’s Hill in the center, and Colonel Joseph Thoburn’s division holding Sandy Ridge on the right.

The commanders saw the Confederates approach and quickly realized that they were not just cavalry as Crook supposed. They expressed reluctance to attack, but Crook insisted and the Federals advanced to meet the enemy around 12 p.m. Mulligan held firm under Major General John B. Gordon’s initial assault, but Major General John C. Breckinridge’s Confederates moved around Hayes’s flank while hidden in a deep ravine and, when they suddenly emerged and fired, Hayes’s Federals broke and ran.

Thoburn did not advance with the rest of the army, thus opening a gap between his division and Mulligan’s. Gordon’s Confederates exploited the gap, and Mulligan found himself surrounded on three sides. He tried rallying his troops to prevent a rout but was mortally wounded. The panicked, demoralized Federals fled north toward Winchester. Colonel Thomas Harris, who succeeded Mulligan as division commander, later wrote:

“I gave the order to fall back, and used all the efforts in my power to preserve my line in doing so, but as we were very closely pursued by the enemy, before whose destructive fire we had to ascend a rather steep hill for 200 yards, my line was at once broken and the men became scattered and pressed quickly from under the control of their officers. Having become separated from my horse in our last advance, I was unable to keep pace with the larger portion of my command or to make myself heard by them, and it was not until after we had retreated more than a mile that I was able to rally a couple of hundred men around the flag of the Tenth (West Virginia).”

Meanwhile, Brigadier General William W. Averell’s Federal cavalry had been assigned to try moving around the Confederate right flank. Averell’s troopers were unexpectedly blocked by Confederate horsemen guarding the Front Royal Pike. The Federals were easily repulsed, and they withdrew to Martinsburg.

The Federal infantry raced through Winchester, abandoning or burning 72 wagons and 12 caissons. They continued north through Bunker Hill, eventually reaching Harpers Ferry and crossing the Potomac River to safety. Early now had complete control of the entire Valley.

This was yet another humiliating defeat for the Federals in the Shenandoah, as the Confederates routed the force assigned to destroy them. The Federals sustained 1,185 casualties, including 479 captured, while the Confederates lost about half the Federals’ total. This easy victory emboldened Early to launch another northern invasion, this time into Pennsylvania.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20439-49; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 439; 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 11299-309; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 474; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 91; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 545; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 415-16, 677-79

 

Early Prepares Another Offensive

July 23, 1864 – Lieutenant General Jubal Early and his Confederate army looked to follow up their raid on Washington with another advance northward “down” the Shenandoah Valley.

Confederate Gen. Jubal Early | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Following the engagement at Cool Spring on the 18th, Early withdrew his Army of the Valley from Berryville to the more secure town of Strasburg. The Confederates returned to the Shenandoah Valley during one of its best harvests in recent times. During the movement, Early assigned Major General Stephen D. Ramseur’s division to transfer the Confederate supply base from Winchester to Strasburg.

Major General David Hunter, commanding the Federal Department of West Virginia from Harpers Ferry, received word that Confederates at Winchester were preparing to raid the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Hunter dispatched cavalry under Brigadier General William W. Averell to stop the raid. Averell’s Federals rode from Martinsburg and halted at Bunker Hill, north of Winchester, on the night of the 19th.

The Federals resumed their southward advance up the Valley Pike the next morning and approached Confederate cavalry guarding Stephenson’s Depot. Both sides brought up their artillery and traded fire. Ramseur disregarded Early’s order to remain in Winchester and not provoke a general engagement by bringing his infantry up to support the cavalry.

Brig Gen W.W. Averell | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The Confederates initially held off the Federal advance, but Averell’s men began turning the Confederate left. The Federals eventually broke Ramseur’s line and sent his men back to Winchester in retreat. Averell did not pursue because he did not yet know where the rest of Early’s army was. The Confederates sustained 470 casualties (73 killed, 130 wounded, and 267 captured) in this defeat, but it did little to change Early’s plan for Ramseur to transfer supplies from Winchester to Strasburg.

Ramseur’s Confederates were gone by morning. Brigadier General George Crook, leading the Army of West Virginia in pursuit of Early’s Confederates, arrived at Winchester and joined forces with Averell. Their combined force numbered about 8,500 Federals.

Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, recalled the other Federal force pursuing Early, led by Major General Horatio G. Wright. Command of the Shenandoah Valley reverted to Hunter, with Crook leading Hunter’s army in the field.

Grant explained to Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck that Hunter’s mission was to pursue Early to Gordonsville and Charlottesville, and cut the railroads there. If Hunter could not do that, then “he should make all the Valley south of the Baltimore and Ohio (Rail)Road a desert as high up as possible. I do not mean that houses should be burned, but every particle of provisions and stock should be removed, and the people notified to move out.”

Hunter’s troops should “eat out Virginia clear and clean as far as they go, so that crows flying over it for the balance of the season will have to carry their provender with them.” Hunter was already called “Black Dave” by Shenandoah Valley residents for allowing his troops to burn and pillage the region. Mrs. Edmund Lee, a cousin of General Robert E. Lee and whose home had been destroyed by Hunter’s men, wrote him a scathing letter:

“Hyena-like you have torn my heart to pieces and demon-like you have done it without a pretext of revenge, for I never harmed you. Were it possible for human lips to raise your name heavenward, angels would thrust the foul thing back.”

In compliance with Grant’s instructions, Crook and Averell began moving southward from Winchester in search of Early’s army. President Abraham Lincoln, aware of Early’s tendency to preemptively attack, wired Hunter at Harpers Ferry: “Are you able to take care of the enemy when he turns back upon you, as he probably will on finding that Wright has left?”

Lincoln was right. Upon learning that Wright’s Federals had been recalled, Early immediately directed his forces to move northward from Strasburg and attack the Federals coming their way. Early had about 14,000 Confederates to face Crook’s smaller army. Averell’s cavalry clashed with Confederate troopers at Kernstown on the 23rd. Both sides fell back, but Early planned to attack in full force the next day.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20439; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 437-39; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 471-74; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 89-90; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 543-45; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 415-16, 677-79

The Washington Raid: Early Reaches Winchester

July 2, 1864 – Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Confederate Army of the Valley arrived at Winchester as it moved north “down” Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley toward Maryland.

Confederate Gen. Jubal Early | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Early’s mission was to clear the Valley of Federal forces and then cross the Potomac River to take the fight to the North. It was hoped that this would draw Federals away from Petersburg, where the Armies of the Potomac and the James were besieging General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

After Major General David Hunter withdrew his Federal army into West Virginia, Early had a clear path down the Valley from Lynchburg. Upon reaching Winchester, Early received orders from Lee to operate in the lower (northern) Valley “until everything was in readiness to cross the Potomac and destroy the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal as far as possible.”

Early dispatched cavalry to burn bridges on the B & O, and he sent one infantry corps under Major General John C. Breckinridge through Martinsburg. Early led the other corps to Harpers Ferry, where the rest of his army would rejoin him. About 5,000 Federals under Major General Franz Sigel were at Martinsburg, and a Federal force about half Sigel’s size under Brigadier General Max Weber was at Harpers Ferry.

As the Confederate cavalry met unexpected resistance near Leetown, Breckinridge entered Martinsburg behind Sigel’s retreating Federals. Early wrote, “It was too late, and these divisions were too much exhausted to go after the enemy.” The Confederates began stripping Martinsburg of anything useful to their army, but this soon degenerated into wholesale looting.

Meanwhile, B & O Railroad President John W. Garrett notified Major General Lew Wallace, commanding the Federal Middle Department which included the lower Shenandoah, that his railroad agents reported large numbers of Confederates approaching Harpers Ferry. Fearing another Confederate invasion, Wallace began gathering Baltimore militia to meet the threat.

Garrett sent boxcars to Martinsburg to help with the Federal evacuation, but they were intercepted by John S. Mosby’s Confederate partisans. Garrett then telegraphed Federal Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck, “Cannot General Hunter be ordered from the west to such points east of Cumberland as may be most judicious? Appearances at present indicate a general abandonment of the (rail)road.”

After confirming that the Confederates threatening the lower Valley were Early’s, Halleck tried contacting Hunter but received no response. He then wired Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, headquartered with the Army of the Potomac at Petersburg. He warned Grant that Sigel was no match for Early, and added, “You can therefore judge what probability there is of a good defense if the enemy should attack the line in force.”

Sigel transferred troops to strengthen the garrison at Harpers Ferry on the 3rd. Federal troops and guns commanded Bolivar Heights and Maryland Heights, overlooking the town. Early wrote Breckinridge, “I will move everything in that direction in the morning.” Panic spread among the citizenry north of the river, including Washington, as it was unclear whether another Confederate invasion would take place.

The next day, Halleck instructed Weber that “everything should be prepared for a defense of your works and the first man who proposes a surrender or retreat should be hung.” The Federals manned their defenses as Early’s Confederates approached. After scouting the defenses, Early decided that “it was not possible to occupy the town of Harpers Ferry, except with skirmishers, as it was thoroughly commanded by the guns on Maryland Heights.”

Sigel’s Federals began arriving and entrenching on Maryland Heights that night, after Early had decided to bypass Harpers Ferry. The Federals fired on the Confederates as they looted some of the warehouses in the town. A Confederate officer wrote, “A universal pillaging of United States Government property, especially commissary stores, was carried on all night.” Skirmishing occurred at Patterson’s Creek Bridge and South Branch Bridge, where Early planned to cross the Potomac the next day.

On the 5th, a Confederate detachment demonstrated in Harpers Ferry and feasted off the captured stores as the rest of Early’s army crossed the river at Shepherdstown to the northwest. Upon entering Maryland, the Confederates moved east and occupied Sharpsburg that night. The Confederate detachment withdrew as well, leaving the Federals confused as to where they would go next.

Federal officials at Washington became increasingly concerned as Early moved closer to the capital. However, conflicting reports slowed their response to the situation. The governors of New York and Pennsylvania were called upon to send 24,000 militia to defend Maryland.

At Baltimore, Wallace received an incorrect report that Confederate cavalry was moving through southern Pennsylvania. He stated, “In this situation, I felt it my duty to concentrate that portion of my scanty command available for field operations at some point on the Monocacy River, the western limit of the Middle Department.”

To best protect both Baltimore and Washington, Wallace selected the point on the Monocacy where the B & O crossed. Roads from this point led east to Baltimore and southeast to Washington. Although Wallace had acted on incorrect information, he placed his troops in a perfect position to block Early. However, Wallace had just 3,000 men to face 10,000 seasoned Confederate veterans.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 432-33; 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 9345-55; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 464-65; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 640-44; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 69, 71; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 531-34; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 233-34, 504