Bloody Autumn: The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864

Bloody Autumn: The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864


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Finalist, 2014, Army Historical Foundation Distinguished Book Award

Sweep the Shenandoah Valley “clean and clear,” Union General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant ordered in the late summer of 1864.

His man for the job: Maj. Gen. “Little Phil” Sheridan, the bandy-legged Irishman who’d proven himself just the kind of scrapper Grant loved. Grant turned Sheridan loose across Virginia’s most vital landscape, the breadbasket of the Confederacy.

In the spring of 1862, a string of Confederate victories in the Valley had foiled Union plans in the state and kept Confederate armies fed and supplied. In 1863, the Army of Northern Virginia used the Valley as its avenue of invasion, culminating in the battle of Gettysburg. The Valley continued to offer Confederates an alluring backdoor to Washington D.C.

But when Sheridan returned to the Valley in 1864, the stakes jumped dramatically. To lose the Valley would mean to lose the state, Stonewall Jackson had once said—and now that prediction would be put to the test as Sheridan fought with Confederate Lt. Gen. Jubal Early for possession.

For the North, the fragile momentum its war effort had gained by capturing Atlanta would quickly evaporate; for Abraham Lincoln, defeat in the Valley could very well mean defeat in the upcoming election. For the South, more than its breadbasket was at stake—its nascent nationhood lay on the line.

Historians Daniel Davis and Phillip Greenwalt, longtime students of the Civil War, have spent countless hours researching the Valley battles of ’64 and walking the ground where those battles unfolded. Bloody Autumn: The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864 shifts attention away from the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia to the campaign that ultimately determined the balance of power across the Eastern Theater.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781611211658
Publisher: Savas Beatie
Publication date: 01/19/2014
Series: Emerging Civil War Series
Pages: 168
Sales rank: 483,340
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.80(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

A former historian at Appomattox Court House National Historic Site and Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, Daniel T. Davis is a co-managing editor of Emerging Civil War ( He has co-authored six books in the Emerging Civil War Series and has also authored and co-authored articles in Blue & Gray, Civil War Times, and Hallowed Ground.

Phillip S. Greenwalt is co-founder of Emerging Revolutionary War and historical editor for the Emerging Revolutionary War Series. He is also a full-time contributor to Emerging Civil War. Phillip is the co-author of Bloody Autumn: The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864, Hurricane from the Heavens: The Battle of Cold Harbor, and Calamity in Carolina: The Battles of Averasboro and Bentonville (all three with Daniel Davis). Phillip graduated from George Mason University with a M.A. in American History and also has a B.A. in history from Wheeling Jesuit University. He is currently a Supervisory Park Ranger in Interpretation and Visitor Services for Everglades National Park. Prior to his currently position, Phillip spent seven years a historian with the National Park Service at George Washington Birthplace National Monument and Thomas Stone National Historic Site. He started with the National Park Service as a historical interpreter intern at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. He currently resides in the Southern Florida with his wife, Adel.

Read an Excerpt


The Back Door of Invasion

Summer 1864

Jubal Early was a day late.

Washington D.C. was laid out before him and his small army in the late-July sun. Early could even see the dome of the Capitol. It beckoned to him: attack!

But instead of lightly manned fortifications, the parapets around the city were, according to Early, "lined with troops." The fort to his immediate front, known as Fort Stevens, was bustling with Yankees. His army — which had conducted long marches, a pitched battle two days previously at Monocacy, and then another forced march to Washington — was exhausted.

Prudently, Early called off the assault.

Although unable to capture or seriously threaten the city, Early did take some solace from the attempt. "Major, we haven't taken Washington, but we scared Abe Lincoln like hell," he remarked to an officer soon after leaving the outskirts.

President Abraham Lincoln and his general in chief, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, would soon draw up plans to make sure Early or any other Confederates would never scare "Abe Lincoln" and Washington again.

After the Union defeat at New Market in mid-May, Maj. Gen. David Hunter had taken over command of Union forces in the Shenandoah Valley. Hunter promptly moved up the Valley and threatened the vitally important railroad depot of Lynchburg.

This Federal presence forced Gen. Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, to act. Locked in a continuous struggle with Union armies around Richmond, Lee dispatched his most trusted subordinate, Lt. Gen. Jubal Early, to rescue the city. By railroad and by marching, Early and his Second Corps arrived in the nick of time and defeated the Yankees on June 17-18, 1864. The victory sent Hunter scurrying into the mountains and cleared the path for Early to march to the Potomac River.

At the head of "Stonewall" Jackson's old command, Early did just that, taking the war from Lynchburg to the gates of Washington.

Understandably, with the presidential election looming in the fall, Lincoln could not let such an invasion happen, especially on the high-profile heels of previous Confederate incursions across the Potomac, which had each set off waves of fear and panic across the North. Coupled with the high casualty figures from Grant's Overland campaign — the Federal effort to destroy Lee's army that spring — popular support for the war in the North was beginning to wane. If Lincoln hoped to win reelection, the elimination of the Shenandoah Valley as an invasion route would have to be a top priority.

Known as the "Breadbasket of the Confederacy," the lush Valley stretched from Lynchburg in the south to Winchester in the north, bracketed by the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east and the Alleghany Mountains to the west. Running like a spine through the Valley is Massanutten Mountain. It begins east of Harrisonburg and continues for 71 miles until leveling off south of Middletown. This mountain dissects the larger valley into two smaller valleys: the Shenandoah and Luray.

The main thoroughfare through the Shenandoah Valley was the Valley Turnpike. Harrisonburg, Strasburg, New Market, and Middletown sat astride it. Railroad lines also ran into and through the region. The Shenandoah River, the main water source for the Valley, flowed from south to north. Thus, if an individual traveled north from Lynchburg to Winchester, they were going "down the Valley;" people heading south from Winchester were going "up."

Because of its geography, the Valley made a perfect "back door" for invasion. In 1863, Lee had used the Valley as an avenue of advance, emerging from the mountain ranges in Pennsylvania. The campaign culminated in the battle of Gettysburg, which left more than 50,000 casualties. The extreme loss of life provided the backdrop for President Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address." The president hoped that these men "had not died in vain."

Now, a year later, Early had reached the doorsteps of Washington using that same route. Only the delaying action at Monocacy, which would eventually become known as "The Battle that Saved Washington," prevented Early's Confederates from slipping into the city. This back door of invasion had to be closed.

Unfortunately, after the Southern legions marched away from Washington, the Union response was anything but decisive. One of the issues was the confusing problem of authority. The Federals had departmentalized different regions. Four military departments embracing Washington, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and the Shenandoah Valley needed to be merged into one. These departments had different commanders, and coordination in an orderly manner was difficult to achieve — and so, after threatening Washington, Early slipped back to the Valley unopposed.

After the failed pursuit of the Confederates, Grant had to appoint a new commander who would have authority over all the departments and be responsible for destroying Early's army.

Under consideration were Maj. Gen. William B. Franklin; former commander of the Army of the Potomac, Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan; and the current commander of the Army of the Potomac, Maj. Gen. George G. Meade. President Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton balked at all three propositions.

McClellan's name had been floated as a possible ploy to keep him from running against Lincoln for president in the fall. However, his contentious relationship with Lincoln and one-time political ally Stanton almost assured more of the same sorts of problems and delays that had led to McClellan's removal from command a year and a half earlier. Nor could Lincoln afford the other edge of that sword — on the outside chance that McClellan performed well, it would only bolster Little Mac's bid for the White House. The next candidate, Franklin, was passed over because of the lackluster record he'd amassed with the Army of the Potomac earlier in the war. Meade, too, was rejected; Lincoln was holding back political forces wishing to have the Army of the Potomac commander replaced, and the president did not want to appear as though he was appeasing the opposition.

Finally, Grant proposed Meade's chief of cavalry, Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan. Lincoln and Stanton again had their reservations, but time was of the essence, and they acquiesced. On August 6, Grant and Sheridan met outside Frederick, Maryland, at Monocacy Station. There, Grant handed his subordinate written orders for the task ahead. The two men departed in opposite directions; time would tell if they were also starting on diverging destinies.

* * *

The campaign waged in the Shenandoah Valley that year would take on a greater significance than its sister campaign two years earlier. In the spring of 1862, Confederate Maj. Gen. Thomas Stonewall Jackson used the geography of the Valley to influence Union strategy in Virginia. Jackson's victories at Front Royal, Winchester, Cross Keys, and Port Republic managed to keep reinforcements from being sent to Maj. Gen. George McClellan's Union army advancing on Richmond.

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

This could not have been comforting to Abraham Lincoln or the rest of the Union high command. The Shenandoah Valley was a place where Union hopes had been dashed in the past, and there was nothing to indicate that this time things would be different.

For the Southern cause, the Valley had been a scene of pride and victory. During the summer of 1864, Jubal Early had used the region to threaten Washington. If he could maintain a tight hold on the Shenandoah, the advantages to the South would be numerous. The Confederates could continue to threaten northward, force the detachment of additional Union troops to the region and thus weaken the grip on Richmond and Petersburg, and continue the production of materials and produce essential to the war effort. Stonewall Jackson's words "If the Valley is lost so is Virginia" could not have been more prophetic two years later.

With a new cast of characters, the Valley would take center stage again in the fall of 1864. The rolling hills and flats between the Alleghenies and the Massanutten would play a crucial role in the coming drama. During this act, the region would witness something yet to be seen in that part of Virginia: the concept of total war. Consequences of defeat would be disastrous to either side. The outcome of the great struggle that had plagued the nation was on the line.


"Little Phil" and "Old Jube"

Summer 1864

Philip H. Sheridan was not physically impressive. Standing at 5'5", many of his peers towered above him. President Lincoln, an astute observer with a flair for description, called him a "brown, chunky little chap, with a long body, short legs, not enough neck to hang him, and such arms that if his ankles itch he can scratch them without stooping." Sheridan's contemporaries also remembered his oddly shaped head. Perhaps to hide this feature, Sheridan more often than not wore his hat at an angle.

Yet inside this small frame, there burned a fiery ambition that was fueled by a hair-trigger temper and a strong will to succeed, no matter what the cost. "You will find him big enough for the purpose before we get through with him," Grant once said of him.

Sheridan was 33 years old when he was selected to command the Army of the Shenandoah. It was for this reason, age, that President Lincoln and Secretary Stanton were hesitant to approve his appointment.

Their new army commander grew up in the hamlet of Somerset, Ohio, in the eastern part of the state. In 1848, he was appointed to West Point. Suspended for a year for an altercation with a fellow cadet, Sheridan finally graduated in the Class of 1853. His antebellum service was monotonous, and promotions were slow. By the fall of 1861, when he headed east to participate in the War of Rebellion, he had risen to the rank of captain.

Promoted to brigadier general in September 1862, "Little Phil" led an infantry division at Perryville, Stones River, and Chickamauga. For his actions at Stones River, Sheridan was promoted to major general. In November 1863, Sheridan led the assault on Missionary Ridge that broke the siege of Chattanooga. These actions did not go unnoticed by Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. The following March, Grant was promoted to lieutenant general and made general in chief of the Federal armies. Coming to Virginia to direct operations, Grant brought Little Phil with him and gave him command of the cavalry corps of the Army of the Potomac.

This assignment did not fit well. Sheridan botched the opening maneuvers of the spring campaign when he failed to cover the army's right flank — a failure that ultimately led to the two-day bloodbath in the Wilderness. After the battle, he failed to secure the army's route to Spotsylvania Court House. This debacle completely soured his relationship with the commander of the Army of the Potomac, Maj. Gen. George G. Meade.

On May 8, a meeting between the two quickly escalated into a fiery verbal confrontation. Surprisingly, this did not result in Sheridan's censure. Instead, Grant sent Sheridan with his entire corps southward to engage the Confederate cavalry. Although Sheridan could count the May 11 battle of Yellow Tavern and the death of Maj. Gen. J. E. B. Stuart as a victory, the day following the engagement, he was nearly surrounded and trapped outside Richmond. In June, Sheridan and two of his divisions were stopped by Stuart's successor, Maj. Gen. Wade Hampton, during a raid on the Virginia Central Railroad at Trevilian Station.

In short, Virginia had not been kind to Phil Sheridan. His shortcomings were apparent. Any misgivings about his abilities on the part of other officers within the army may have been kept private so as not to offend the temperamental Sheridan or the proud general in chief Grant.

Grant probably also understood that, due to the catastrophe on the march to Spotsylvania, Sheridan could not work with Meade. It may not have been due to Sheridan's past successes, then, but rather his recent failures, that Grant recommended him to command the Army of the Shenandoah.

When Sheridan assumed his new command, he had more than 40,000 men in all three branches to put in the field against Jubal Early. His men came from a range of states, including Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, West Virginia, and Iowa. The foundation of the army was the battle-tested VI Corps from the Army of the Potomac, led by Maj. Gen. Horatio Wright.

Wright relied on the combined experience of division commanders David A. Russell, George W. Getty, and James B. Ricketts — all of them brigadiers. Russell had begun the conflict as a colonel and rose through the ranks. Getty had held various posts during the early years of the war and was wounded at the Wilderness. Ricketts had been fighting for the Union cause since First Manassas. The backbone of the corps was a brigade from Getty's division. Made up of six regiments from Vermont, these men were some of the best-disciplined and hardest fighting men the North had to offer.

Sheridan could also call upon the XIX Corps from the Army of the Gulf, commanded by Maj. Gen. William Emory. Like Wright, Emory also had two veteran division commanders, Brig. Gen. William Dwight and Brig. Gen. Cuvier Grover. Both had seen service in Virginia earlier in the war, and Dwight had been wounded at the battle of Williamsburg, in May 1862.

Upon arriving in the Valley, Sheridan also inherited the Army of West Virginia. As its name implied, this unit consisted mainly of men from the newly formed state. It was commanded by one of Sheridan's roommates at West Point, Maj. Gen. George Crook. Colonels Isaac Duval and Joseph Thoburn led the divisions. Both were experienced fighters.

Twelve batteries of artillery supported the Army of the Shenandoah. Directing the guns attached to the Army of West Virginia was Capt. Henry DuPont. DuPont had graduated first in the West Point Class of May 1861 just after the war began. At New Market, DuPont had distinguished himself by using his batteries to cover the retreat of the Union army.

Three divisions of cavalry were assigned to the army, led by Bvt. Maj. Gen. Alfred T. A. Torbert. Brigadier Generals William W. Averell, Wesley Merritt, and James Wilson commanded these divisions. Averell had fought at Hartwood Church, Kelly's Ford, and Droop Mountain. Merritt's solid service with the U.S. Regulars had earned him a general's star on the eve of the battle of Gettysburg. Wilson, like his army commander, had come to the eastern army in the spring of 1864.

Although the VI Corps formed its nucleus, the army's greatest asset was the cavalry. The role of the Union cavalry had changed drastically since the war began. By the autumn of 1864, these troopers had transitioned from scouts and escorts to a mounted strike force. The horse was no longer a means of transportation — it was a source of mobility used to move armed men from point to point. Many in the ranks were armed with the repeating seven-shot Spencer carbine and were augmented by batteries of horse artillery. These factors made Sheridan's troopers more than capable of contending with their gray counterparts. It also put them on a superior plain when confronted by enemy infantry.

That enemy army was commanded by the colorful "Old Jube." Along with the moniker "My Bad Old Man," Early had two of the most fitting nicknames given to any leader outside of "Stonewall" in the Confederate military. Both of his nicknames were well-deserved. He had a short temper, was not immune to using an array of swear words, and was a fearless combat leader. Part of his cantankerous temper can be traced to suffering from severe arthritis. General Robert E. Lee was credited with giving Early the second of his two monikers, "My Bad Old Man," as Early was the only officer with the nerve to curse in the presence of the Southern leader. Lee purportedly overlooked Early's profanity because the "Bad Old Man" fought so well.

The irascible Early was born on November 3, 1816, in Franklin County to a wealthy and well-connected Virginia family. He attended academies at both Danville and Lynchburg in preparation for his entry into West Point in 1833.

While attending the academy, an argument with future Confederate Brig. Gen. Lewis Armistead escalated to the point that Early had a plate smashed over his head. Armistead resigned instead of facing the chance of dismissal. Early continued on, and upon graduation in 1837, he fought in the Seminole War before resigning in 1838.


Excerpted from "Bloody Autumn"
by .
Copyright © 2013 Daniel T. Davis and Phillip S. Greenwalt.
Excerpted by permission of Savas Beatie LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements viii

Foreword Scott Patchan xi

Prologue xvii

Chapter 1 The Back Door of Invasion-Summer 1864 1

Chapter 2 "Little Phil" and "Old Jube"-Summer 1864 9

Chapter 3 Opening Maneuvers-August-September 1864 15

Chapter 4 Third Winchester, Part I-September 19, 1864 21

Chapter 5 Third Winchester, Part II-September 19, 1864 31

Chapter 6 Fisher's Hill-September 19-22, 1864 37

Chapter 7 Laying Waste to the Valley September 22-October 5, 1864 45

Chapter 8 Tom's Brook-October 5-9, 1864 51

Chapter 9 Preparations for Battle-October 10-18, 1864 59

Chapter 10 Cedar Creek, Part I-October 18-19, 1864 65

Chapter 11 Cedar Creek, Part II-October 19, 1864 73

Chapter 12 The End of the Campaign-Autumn 1864 83

Driving Tour #1 Third Winchester 91

Driving Tour #2 Fisher's Hill and Tom's Brook 97

Driving Tour #3 Cedar Creek 103

Driving Tour #4 Two Fallen Officers: Alexander Pendleton and John Rodgers Meigs 111

Appendix A Winchester During the War 115

Appendix B John Mosby, George Custer, and the Front Royal Executions 119

Appendix C The Valley Campaign for Memory Chris Mackowski Phillip Greenwalt 123

Appendix D Preserving the Shenandoah Valley's Civil War Battlefields Eric Campbell 133

Order of Battle 140

Suggested Reading 146

About the Authors 148

List of Maps: Maps Hal Jespersen

Shenandoah Valley 2

Third Battle of Winchester 22

Third Battle of Winchester: Cavalry Actions 28

Battle of Fisher's Hill 38

Battle of Tom's Brook 52

Battle of Cedar Creek: Confederate Attacks 66

Battle of Cedar Creek: Union Counterattack 74

Tour Map #1 Third Winchester 90

Tour Map #2 Fisher's Hill and Tom's Brook 96

Tour Map #3 Cedar Creek 102

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