The Valley Campaigns of 1864
were American Civil War
operations and battles that took place in the Shenandoah Valley
from May to October 1864. Military historians divide this period into three separate campaigns
, but it is useful to consider the three together and how they interacted.
At the beginning of 1864, Ulysses S. Grant
was promoted to lieutenant general
and given command of all Union
armies. He chose to make his headquarters with the Army of the Potomac
, although Maj. Gen. George G. Meade
remained the actual commander of that army. He left Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman
in command of most of the western armies. Grant understood the concept of total war
and believed, along with Sherman and President Abraham Lincoln
, that only the utter defeat of Confederate
forces and their economic base would bring an end to the war. Therefore, scorched earth
tactics would be required in some important theaters. He devised a coordinated strategy that would strike at the heart of Confederacy from multiple directions: Grant, Meade, and Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler
against Robert E. Lee
's Army of Northern Virginia
; Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel
to invade the Shenandoah Valley and destroy Lee's supply lines; Sherman to invade Georgia
and capture Atlanta
; Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks
to capture Mobile, Alabama
Three Valley Campaigns of 1864
Lynchburg Campaign (May – June 1864)
The first campaign started with Grant's planned invasion by Sigel. Sigel was in command of the Department of West Virginia
, and his orders from Grant were to move "up the Valley" (i.e., southwest to the higher elevations) with 10,000 men to destroy the railroad center at Lynchburg, Virginia
. Battle of New Market
- Sigel was intercepted by 4,000 troops and cadets from the Virginia Military Institute under Confederate Maj. Gen. John C. Breckenridge and defeated. He retreated to Strasburg, Virginia, and was replaced by Maj. Gen. David Hunter, who later burned VMI in retaliation for the actions of the VMI cadets. Battle of Piedmont (June 5 – June 6)
- Hunter resumed the Union offensive and defeated William E. "Grumble" Jones, who was killed in the battle. Hunter occupied Staunton, Virginia. Battle of Lynchburg (June 17 – June 18)
- Hunter was foiled in his plan to destroy railroads, canals, and hospitals in Lynchburg when initial units under Jubal A. Early arrived. Hunter, short on supplies, retreated back through West Virginia.
Early's Raid and operations against the B&O Railroad (June – August 1864)
Robert E. Lee was concerned about Hunter's advances in the Valley, which threatened critical railroad lines and provisions for the Virginia-based Confederate forces. He sent Jubal Early's corps to sweep Union forces from the Valley and, if possible, to menace Washington, D.C., hoping to compel Grant to dilute his forces against Lee around Petersburg, Virginia. Early was operating in the shadow of Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, whose 1862 Valley Campaign against superior forces was fabled in Confederate history. Early got off to a good start. He drove down the Valley without opposition, bypassed Harpers Ferry, crossed the Potomac River, and advanced into Maryland. Grant dispatched a corps under Horatio G. Wright and other troops under George Crook to reinforce Washington and pursue Early. Battle of Monocacy Junction (July 9)
- Also known as the Battle of Monocacy. Early defeated a smaller force under Lew Wallace near Frederick, Maryland, but this battle delayed his progress enough to allow time for reinforcing the defenses of Washington. Battle of Fort Stevens (July 11 – July 12)
- Early attacked a fort on the northwest defensive perimeter of Washington without success and withdrew back to Virginia.Heaton's Crossroads (July 16)
- Union cavalry attacked Early's supply trains as the Confederates withdrew across the Loudoun Valley towards the Blue Ridge Mountains. Several small cavalry skirmishes occurred throughout the day as the Federals continued to try and harass Early's column. Battle of Cool Spring (July 17 – July 18)
- Also known as Snicker's Ferry. Early attacked and repulsed pursuing Union forces under Wright. Battle of Rutherford's Farm (July 20)
- A Union division attacked a Confederate division under Stephen Dodson Ramseur and routed it. Early withdrew his army south to Fisher's Hill, near Winchester, Virginia. Second Battle of Kernstown (July 24)
- Wright withdrew, thinking Early was no longer a threat. Early attacked him to prevent or delay his return to Grant's forces besieging Petersburg. Union troops were routed, streaming through the streets of Winchester. Early pursued and burned Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, along the way in retaliation for Hunter's previous destruction in the Valley. Battle of Folck's Mill (August 1)
- Also known as the Battle of Cumberland. An inconclusive small cavalry battle in Maryland. Battle of Moorefield (August 7)
- Also known as the Battle of Oldfields. Confederate cavalry returning from the Chambersburg burning were ambushed and defeated by Union cavalry.
Sheridan's Valley Campaign (August – October 1864)
Grant finally lost patience with Early, particularly his burning of Chambersburg, and knew that Washington remained vulnerable if Early was still on the loose. He found a new commander aggressive enough to defeat Early: Philip Sheridan, the cavalry commander of the Army of the Potomac, who was given command of all forces in the area, calling them the Army of the Shenandoah. Sheridan initially started slowly, primarily because the impending presidential election of 1864 demanded a cautious approach, avoiding any disaster that might lead to the defeat of Abraham Lincoln. Battle of Guard Hill (August 16)
- Also known as Front Royal or Cedarville. Confederate forces under Richard H. Anderson were sent from Petersburg to reinforce Early. Brig. Gen. Wesley Merritt's Union cavalry division surprised the Confederate columns while they were crossing the Shenandoah River, capturing about 300. The Confederates rallied and advanced, gradually pushing back Merritt's men to Cedarville. The battle was inconclusive. Battle of Summit Point (August 21)
- Also known as Flowing Springs or Cameron's Depot. Early and Anderson struck Sheridan near Charles Town, West Virginia. Sheridan conducted a fighting withdrawal. Battle of Smithfield Crossing (August 25 – August 29)
- Two Confederate divisions crossed Opequon Creek and forced a Union cavalry division back to Charles Town. Battle of Berryville (September 3 – September 4)
- A minor engagement in which Early attempted to stop Sheridan's march up the Valley. Early withdrew back to Opequon Creek when he realized he was in a poor position for attacking Sheridan's full force. Battle of Opequon (September 19)
- Also known as the Third Battle of Winchester. While Early had his forces dispersed, raiding the B&O Railroad, Sheridan struck near Winchester, Virginia. Sustaining ruinous casualties, Early retreated from the largest battle in all three of the campaigns, taking up defensive positions at Fisher's Hill. Battle of Fisher's Hill (September 21 – September 22)
- Sheridan hit Early in an early-morning flanking attack, routing the Confederates with moderate losses. Early retreated to Waynesboro, Virginia.
With Early damaged and pinned down, the Valley lay open to the Union. And because of Sherman's capture of Atlanta, Lincoln's re-election now seemed assured. Sheridan pulled back slowly down the Valley and conducted a scorched earth campaign that would presage Sherman's March to the Sea in November. The goal was to deny the Confederacy the means of feeding its armies in Virginia, and Sheridan's army did so ruthlessly, burning crops, barns, mills, and factories. Battle of Tom's Brook (October 9)
- As Early began a pursuit of Sheridan, Union cavalry routed two divisions of Confederate cavalry. Battle of Cedar Creek (October 19)
- In a brilliant surprise attack, Early routed two thirds of the Union army, but his troops were hungry and exhausted and fell out of their ranks to pillage the Union camp; Sheridan managed to rally his troops and defeat Early decisively.
Having completing his missions of neutralizing Early and suppressing the Valley's military-related economy, Sheridan returned to assist Grant at Petersburg. Most of the men of Early's corps rejoined Lee at Petersburg in December, while Early remained to command a skeleton force. His final action was defeat at the Battle of Waynesboro on March 2, 1865, after which Lee removed him from his command because the Confederate government and people had lost confidence in him.
- Gallagher, Gary W., ed., The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864 (Military Campaigns of the Civil War), University of North Carolina Press, 2006, ISBN 978-0807830055.