Struggle for the Shenandoah: Essays on the 1864 Valley Campaign, Part 2

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

Union Generalship in the 1864 Valley Campaign
by A. Wilson Greene

1. Greene goes over the Union Generalship in a sort of companion piece to Jeffry Wert’s earlier essay on the Confederate Leadership. In addition to the obvious focus on Phil Sheridan, Greene goes into detail about Sheridan’s key subordinates, George Crook (VIII Corps), Horatio Wright (VI Corps), William Emory (XIX Corps), and A.T.A. Torbert (Cavalry). He also describes Sheridan’s relationship with his superiors, Grant and Lincoln. The author not only describes the strengths and shortcomings of these men. He also goes through the campaign and points out the mistakes and successes as well. Greene comes to the conclusion that victory was not inevitable for the Union in the Shenandoah Valley, but that it was likely due to numerical superiority and the full support Sheridan was given by both Lincoln and Grant. These victories greatly increased the morale of the Northern civilians, and thus helped to ensure Lincoln’s reelection.

2. Greene talks about Sheridan’s sacking of William Averell shortly after the Battle of Fisher’s Hill. Apparently Averell’s Union Cavalry was extremely slow in the pursuit of the routed Confederates. This was critical because a good number of Confederates might have been rounded up had Averell pursued vigorously. Greene agrees here with Sheridan’s decision to remove Averell (and also apparently with Sheridan’s decision to remove Gouvernor Warren at Five Forks in April of 1865 in a similar situation). Many might disagree with this idea, among them Eric Wittenberg, who wrote a biography of Little Phil.

3. Greene goes into an interesting discussion about Early’s decision not to approach Richmond from the west after his complete victory over Early at Fisher’s Hill. Greene believes that Sheridan was not the glory-seeker in 1864 that he later became after the war. In fact, he points out that Sheridan’s recommendation to move his Army out of the Valley and ship them to Grant at Petersburg was remarkable for an ambitious man such as Little Phil and displayed great unselfishness. Despite this, Greene firmly believes that Sheridan erred in his thoughts and that Sheridan overestimated the effect Confederate guerillas might have on his supply lines if he tried to attack the Confederate capital from the west.

4. George Crook, the commander of the Federal VIII Corps (aka the Army of West Virginia), was Sheridan’s good friend and faithful subordinate during the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign. However, this friendship dissolved after the war. Sheridan sought even more glory after the war, as he was not content with his already prodigious reputation. This led him to claim several ideas for himself when they in reality originated with Crook. Two claims in particular stand out. First, at Third Winchester, Sheridan claimed he had ordered Crook to attack Early’s left flank, while Crook angrily responded that he had attacked Early on his own initiative. The second claim from Fisher’s Hill was similar. Sheridan initially wanted to attack Early’s strong right flank, but his subordinates overruled him. Then Crook suggested a flanking move on Early’s weaker left. Greene says Sheridan liked this move so much he tried to claim it for his own. These tow former friends and comrades in arms became enemies after the war due mostly to Sheridan’s glory-seeking.

“The Cause of All My Disasters”: Jubal A. Early and the Undisciplined Valley Cavalry
by Robert K. Krick

1. Reputable and venerable historian Robert K. Krick recounts “the cause of all my disasters”, Early’s irregular Valley Cavalry during the 1864 Valley Campaign. In the article, Mr. Krick details the numerous issues facing these troopers, their leaders, and the battle by battle mistakes they made. Krick’s says the main issues these men faced were lack of discipline, the fact that they were armed with rifles which forced them to fight dismounted (which they disliked), and poor leadership. These men were also mostly fighting with their homes behind enemy lines, and Krick says that this caused numerous desertions. The leaders of the Valley Cavalry were not much better. Of the nine men who commanded the Valley Cavalry for any length of time, Krick believes only Williams Wickham and Lunsford Lomax proved of any worth. The others, such as John Imboden and Bradley Johnson, either lacked discipline or were just not very good cavalry commanders. He also mentions that solid replacements for junior officers were lacking as well. Krick traces the history of the Valley Cavalry’s extreme lawlessness and lack of discipline to the legendary Turner Ashby. Krick calls him possibly the finest company commander in the history of mounted warfare. However, he says Ashby did poorly when asked to lead larger formations. Due to this peculiarity, Ashby had control of 27 separate companies, an unwieldy formation at best, and a recipe for disaster under Ashby. In any event, this lack of discipline was never remedied, and it showed during the stressful ’64 Valley Campaign. The Valley Cavalry was always Early’s weak leak. Krick believes the II Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia fought as well as any infantry during the war in this campaign, but that they were repeatedly let down by the Valley Cavalry on their flanks. He concludes by saying that Early’s legendary distrust and dislike of cavalry was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

2. Krick uses the 1st Virginia Cavalry as an example to point out the severe attrition of capable junior officers. “Jeb” Stuart, Fitz Lee, Grumble Jones, and James Henry Drake all commanded the regiment during the war, but by the time the 1st Virginia participated in the Valley Campaign of 1864, their commander was Welby Carter. Krick pulls no punches when he calls Carter an “unmitigated disaster” as commander of the regiment. At tom’s Brook on October 8, 1864, Carter fled and kept running for over 20 miles until he was safely within the Confederate infantry lines. Needless to say, he was cashiered for this disgraceful performance.

3. I found the explanations of the shortcomings of the Valley Cavalry to be fascinating. Krick points out that these men were mostly armed with rifles and lacking sabers. This meant that they were best employed as Mounted Infantry, riding to the proximity of a battle and then fighting dismounted. However, these men of western Virginia were made of the Ashby mold. They hated fighting in this way. As a result, these men fought mounted and were at a serious disadvantage. The Turner Ashby explanation is also interesting. The extreme discipline problems of this group were an unintended negative consequence of Ashby’s MO. The Tom’s Brook debacle, where the Confederate Cavalry outpaced their infantry supports and were routed, can also be explained by circumstances unique to this body of men. Most of their homes were behind Sheridan’s lines, and unlike the infantry, they had the mobility to go home if needed. When Sheridan started “The Burning”, these men were extremely angered and desired revenge. As a result, they pursued Sheridan’s Cavalry vigorously, lost contact with their infantry, and were routed in an episode later known as the Woodstock Races.

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2 responses to “Struggle for the Shenandoah: Essays on the 1864 Valley Campaign, Part 2”

  1. Mitch H. Avatar

    I wouldn’t characterize _Little Phil_ as a biography. It’s more in the way of a prosecutor’s brief. Sounds like an interesting book, but I’m over-subscribed with other cavalry books on order right now, so maybe some other season…

  2. Brett Schulte Avatar


    You caught me. 😉

    I haven’t read Eric’s book, but I do see his opinions on Sheridan expressed a lot at the CWDG. I knew (and should’ve written) that Eric took an attorney’s view of Sheridan, and I should’ve described it that way. Mea Culpa…

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