Struggle for the Shenandoah: Essays on the 1864 Valley Campaign, Part 1

Struggle for the Shenandoah: Essays on the 1864 Valley Campaign
edited by Gary Gallagher

While I’m reading Tempest at Ox Hill: The Battle of Chantilly at home, I’ve also been bringing Struggle for the Shenandoah: Essays on the 1864 Valley Campaign to read at work (shhh, don’t tell my boss). The short essays make perfect 15-30 minute reads. I’ve finished the introduction by Gary Gallagher and the first two essays, so I thought I’d comment on them. To be perfectly honest, I haven’t had time to read Tempest at Ox Hill over the past few days, so this smallish book will hopefully provide a few blog entries until I can get more of Welker’s book finished (hopefully tonight). I am very familiar with Gary Gallagher’s series of “essay books”. The series takes various large campaigns and battles from the Eastern Theater of war and collects a series of essays on them. The topics do not cover everything about a campaign, but assume instead that the reader has a working knowledge of the campaign in question. I’ve read Jeffry Wert’s From Winchester to Cedar Creek, so I had a pretty good foundation down as far as knowledge of the 1864 Valley Campaign goes. The names selected to write the essays in this book were as usual well-known authors and historians. Men such as the aforementioned Wert and Gallagher, A. Wilson Greene, Robert K. Krick, and Dennis Frye are all tapped to author essays in this smaller book. If I’m not mistaken (and I could very well be) this book was the first in the series. That may account for its smaller than usual (in this series) number of pages.

by Gary Gallagher

In the introduction, Gallagher mentions that battles fought after June 15, 1864 (the first day of the Battle of Petersburg) in the Eastern Theater are usually ignored. Along with the Siege of Petersburg, this also encompasses the numerous battles fought in the Shenandoah Valley between Early and whatever Union general he was facing in a given battle. Gallagher states that while the 1862 Valley Campaign is more popular with buffs, the 1864 Valley Campaign was larger and more important to the outcome of the war than was Jackson’s model of strategy. He also points out that Early was outnumbered 3:1, and the odds for eventual victory probably even longer than that. Sheridan’s success in the Valley made him a major Union hero, but at the time he was appointed, many including Lincoln himself, had reservations. Gallagher mentions that these articles were originally given as presentations at a 1989 conference held at the Mont Alto campus of Penn State University.

The Shenandoah Valley in 1864
by Gary Gallagher

In this lead essay, Gallagher gives a brief overview of the events that took place in the Valley in 1864. The Battles of NEw Market and Piedmont are discussed. Then Lee sent Early to the Valley with the II Corps of the ANV, where Early bluffed David Hunter away from Lynchburg, and then set out on a northward advance which beat a Union Army at Monocacy in July, and even threatened Washington, D.C. briefly. Early’s audacity had a stirring effect on the Union high command. They brought elements of the AotP (VI Corps and two thirds of the Cavalry Corps) plus the XIX Corps (recently arrived from the aborted Red River Campaign) to the Valley, and combined them with the Union VIII Corps (aka the Army of West Virginia) to form the new Army of the Shenandoah. To command this new force, Grant appointed Phil Sheridan, the former commander of the Cavalry Corps of the AotP. From September 19 to October 19, 1864, Sheridan beat Early four separate times and destroyed the Valley in its role as “breadbasket of the Confederacy”. Early is usually denigrated, but Gallagher believes he did as well as he could with what he had. He doesn’t believe it is fair to compare Early with Jackson in 1862, although that’s exactly what many people do. He ends by saying that the ’64 Valley Campaign will never match the popular appeal of Jackson’s Valley Campaign in ’62, but he calls the match-up of Early vs. Sheridan “one of the most fascinating and important episodes in Civil War history”. This was a fairly standard and concise essay, setting the stage for all to follow. Gallagher usually (always?) does this in the essay series, and it does a good job in its intended role. For a more detailed overview, I highly recommend Jeffry Wert’s From Winchester to Cedar Creek.

Jubal A. Early and Confederate Leadership
by Jeffry D. Wert

Jeffry Wert takes a look at Jubal Early’s leadership during the campaign in the next essay. Shortly after the intro, Wert says that “history…favors neither the fool nor the loser”. He maintains that the Confederates required a flawless performance during the campaign, and that Old Jubilee came up short. The author characterizes the ’64 Valley Campaign as a “refashioning” of the ’62 version. Lee needed something to break the Petersburg stalemate, and he was willing to gamble. That gamble resulted in Early’s victories at Lynchburg and Monocacy, and then of his ultimate defeat at the hands of Sheridan. Several flaws were present in the general commanding the Valley Army in 1864. Early was a cantakerous person, quick to find fault and slow to admit his own role in any setback. Lee even called him his “bad old man”. Early, as an infantryman, was not great when it came to proper use of his cavalry. He even referred to the cavalry under his command as “buttermilk rangers”. This prejudice came back to haunt him. And lastly, Early did not get along with subordinates, even though Breckenridge, Gordon, Rodes, and Ramseur were some of the finest combat commanders Lee had in his entire Army. Wert postulates that perhaps Early was jealous, especially of Gordon. In any event, this major flaw was unacceptable in a situation where perfect harmony was needed. Wert runs through each of the four battles from September 19 to October 19, 1864, and he goes over Early’s main mistakes. At Winchester, he almost lost his Army because he had mischaracterized Sheridan as a timid person and as a consequence he had sent half of his infantry on a raid better left to cavalry. At Fisher’s Hill on September 22, Early placed his cavalry (his weakest troops) on his left flank. Unfortunately, the left was the weakest natural defensive position, and Crook’s Federal VIII Corps rolled up that flank and routed Early’s Army. At tom’s Brook, Early sent his weak cavalry too far from their supporting infantry, and as a result, the superior (in training, morale, arms, and numbers) Union cavalry routed and captured a good many men of that force. And lastly, at Cedar Creek, Early did not send a force through Middletown on the Valley Pike to cut off the Union line of supplies and force them to retreat. Instead, after a spectacularly successful dawn surprise attack, he patiently waited for the disorganized northern troops to retreat. Instead, Sheridan arrived and attacked. The result was a final humiliating and devastating Confederate defeat. Though Early risked a fight against long odds, Wert doesn’t have a problem with this. He points out that the entire campaign was fought against long odds, and that Confederate armies at Sharpsburg and Chancellorsville faced long odds and didn’t lose. He also believes that Lee did not realize just how many men Sheridan had in the Valley. But in his conclusion, Wert states that “Early and the Army ultimately failed” and says that Early “was a flawed man and general”. As a result of this campaign, people have had a tendency to compare Early’s and Jackson’s highly different results. Wert believes this is a mistake, and he believes that Early did about as well as he could given the long odds and his own particular shortcomings.

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3 responses to “Struggle for the Shenandoah: Essays on the 1864 Valley Campaign, Part 1”

  1. Mitch H. Avatar

    I’m reading Wittenberg’s Little Phil, and aside from the Sheridan-bashing, I just can’t get over Early blaming his own men for the defeat at Cedar Creek. Sheridan had many, many faults, but crapping on the rank-and-file wasn’t one of them.

  2. Brett Schulte Avatar


    I’m hoping to pick up quite a few of Eric’s books here soon. I’ve been reading about the Cavalry a little over at the CWDG, and to be honest it wasn’t something I’ve ever been largely interested in. As I learn more and more about the war, I’m starting to get into the mounted arm more and more. Sherman’s Horsemen started that trend, and I believe it will continue.

    As for Early, I haven’t read too much about his “Lost Cause” shenanigans after the war. I didn’t know that he blamed his men (other than his “Buttermilk Rangers” from time to time) after Cedar Creek. That strikes me as pretty low behavior, almost on par with Henry Benham calling Isaac Stevens and his Division cowards after Secessionville.

  3. Mitch H. Avatar

    _Little Phil_, 85:

    “This was a case of a glorious victory given up by my own troops after they had won it,” observed Early. “It is to be accounted for on the ground of the partial demoralization caused by the plunder of the enemy’s camps, and from the fact that the men undertook to judge for themselves when it was proper to retire. Had they but waited, the mischief on the left would have been remedied.” Early, _Autobiographical Sketch_, 451.

    Like I said, Early blamed his rank-and-file for the Cedar Creek defeat. Explicitly, “the men”.

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