Struggle for the Shenandoah: Essays on the 1864 Valley Campaign, Part 3

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

I managed to finish the book earlier this week, but I haven’t had time to talk about the final essay and the bibliographic note until now.

“I Resolved to Play a Bold Game”: John S. Mosby as a Factor in the 1864 Valley Campaign
by Dennis E. Frye

1. In the last essay in the book, Dennis Frye discusses Mosby’s effect on Sheridan’s Valley Campaign. Frye believes Mosby’s successes were duew in part ot negligence on the part of Union generals facing him, incompetence by these same generals, and Mosby’s well-conceived tactical doctrine. This doctrine consisted of always charging instead of being charged, scouting lines of attack and withdrawal, using Colt six-shooters instead of carbines or sabers, and attacking at night to cause surprise. In order to determine Mosby’s effectiveness, Frye determines to judge Mosby by Mosby’s own criteria. When disrupting the enemy, Mosby liked to accomplish three objectives. He wanted to destroy enemy supply trains, isolate an Army from its base and individual parts from each other, and break up means of conveying intelleigence and capture dispatches to confuse plans. To make a long story short, Frye believes Mosby completely failed in his first two objectives but succeeded to some extent in the third objective. The reason Mosby failed, says Frye, was because Shridan paid attention to sound structural organization. He also had a vigilant rear area commander in the person of General Stevenson at Harper’s Ferry. If that were not enough, a veteran Brigade of the XIX Corps was speicifically detailed to escort supply trains throughout the campaign.

2. Frye talks a lot about the propensity of both Mosby and Sheridan to make outlandish claims after the war. Sheridan at one point said that although he outnumbered Early in total men, their battlefield numbers were almost equal due to the large number of troops he had to detach to combat Mosby. Mosby, for his part, said that he had caused Sheridan to retreat several times in the campaign, and that he alone had prevented Sheridan from attacking Richmond from the west, thus prolonging the war for six months. Frye calls all of this bravado sheer nonsense, and he backs it up with primary sources from men who were there.

Bibliographic Note
As in every Gallagher essay book, this one includes a Bibliographic Note that discusses some of the better books focusing on the 1864 Valley Campaign. In an earlier blog entry, I listed all of these books and provided links to I particularly recommend Jeffry Wert’s book on the fights between Early and Sheridan, and B.F. Cooling’s book on Early’s Raid on Washington, D.C.

After reading Struggle for the Shenandoah, I found that the five authors presented some key points over and over. Some of these, not necessarily in any order, include:

1. Comparing Early’s performance in 1864 to Jackson’s in 1862 is extremely unfair. Jackson was outnumbered to a lesser degree than Early, he faced worse commanders, and he faced three separate enemy units instead of one powerful, organized army such as the Army of the Shenandoah.

2. It was very probable that Sheridan would have succeeded regardless of any minor mistakes due to his large number of men and the complete support of Lincoln and Grant.

3. Sheridan did make mistakes in the campaign. He marched two Corps with their wagons through a narroe mountain gap at Third Winchester, he proposed a poor flanking attack on the Rebel right at Fisher’s Hill before trying to claim Crook’s proposal to attack the Rebel left as his own, and he left his Army on the eve of Cedar Creek after believing there was no way Early would ever attack.

4. Early needed to be perfect in this campaign to win it, but his personal flaws plus his fear and distrust of Cavalry led to a flawed performance.

5. Sheridan was not always a vain glory-seeker who pumped up his own exploits. He actually was rather unselfish and unconcerned about such things at the time of the Campaign.

6. Lee underestimated the number of men Sheridan had with him, and thus he expected the impossible of Early.

I enjoyed the book. Unlike later volumes in this series, Struggle for the Shenandoah only contains essays on military history. It does not have any “New History” articles on political or social history. I hope to have a book review out some time this weekend.

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