Review: Struggle for the Shenandoah: Essays on the 1864 Valley Campaign, ed. by Gary Gallagher

Struggle for the Shenandoah: Essays on the 1864 Valley Campaign. Edited by Gary Gallagher. The Kent State University Press (1991). 137 pp. 5 maps.

The following is a review and summary of Struggle for the Shenandoah: Essays on the 1864 Valley Campaign, edited by Gary Gallagher.  Contributors to this collection of essays include Dennis E. Frye, Gary W. Gallagher, A. Wilson Greene, Robert K. Krick, and Jeffry D. Wert.  I’m familiar with all of these authors, and I’ve read books by all except Dennis Frye.  Several have written books on the 1864 Valley Campaign, so they are all well qualified to author essays on the subject.  This book is the first in a series of essay collections edited by Gallagher.  In later titles, some essays wander into Social History, and I’m not too fond of that.  However, I was pleasantly surprised here when I found that all five essays focused on the military aspects of the campaign.  The maps were only okay.  It helps to have Jeffry Wert’s From Winchester to Cedar Creek on hand when reading this title for the maps.  Topics include an overview of the campaign, separate essays on Union and Confederate leadership, Early and the Confederate Valley Cavalry, and John S. Mosby’s quest to hinder Sheridan’s campaign.  The book is rather short at 137 pages, but the excellent quality of each makes this one worth owning.


by Gary W. Gallagher

Gallagher discusses the importance of this campaign and also mentions the natural comparisons between the 1862 and 1864 Valley Campaigns.  Gallagher says that even though the 1862 Valley Campaign will always be more popular, the 1864 Campaign was much larger and much more important to the outcome of the war.  Early was blamed for his defeat in the Valley, but with the 3:1 troop ratio did he really have a chance?  Likewise, Sheridan is praised, but when the campaign started, many including Lincoln had serious reservations.  The essays in the book were originally part of a 1989 conference held at the Mont Alto campus of Penn State University.

“The Shenandoah Valley in 1864”

by Gary W. Gallagher

This was Gallagher’s standard overview of the Campaign to set the stage for the articles to come.  For those of you familiar with this series, Dr. Gallagher usually kicks off these books with this sort of overview essay.  In it, he discusses the importance of the Valley to the Confederates due to its use as a launching pad for invasions of the north and its importance as a granary for the South’s armies.  The entire extended campaign from New Market to Cedar Creek is detailed.  Gallagher’s key points are that this lesser-known Valley Campaign was much more important, that Early could probably not have matched Jackson’s success of 1862 at this later date due to the changed circumstances confronting Early (more Union troops combined in one Army under a competent leader), and that Jackson himself probably could not have stopped Sheridan in 1864.  Gallagher concludes by calling the 1864 Valley Campaign “one of the most fascinating and important episodes in Civil War history”.

“Jubal A. Early and Confederate Leadership”

by Jeffry D. Wert

Jeffry Wert was well qualified to write this essay.  His book From Winchester to Cedar Creek: The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864 is a model campaign study.  In less than one month, Wert writes, Early lost four major battles (Third Winchester, Fisher’s Hill, Tom’s Brook, and Cedar Creek) and more importantly the Shenandoah Valley and its use to the Confederacy as a granary.  He believes the Confederacy needed a flawless performance in 1864 in the Valley and Early came up far short.  Early’s raid on Washington and burning of Chambersburg, PA raised the stakes and meant the Union would now concentrate a large force against him.  Wert covers Early’s character traits and flaws near the beginning of the essay.  Early was difficult to work with, saw others’ mistakes and commented loudly, and at the same time ignored or downplayed his own mistakes.  Despite having a group of excellent subordinates in Breckenridge, Rodes, Gordon, and Ramseur, these flaws caused Early not to make use of them.  Wert indicates that Early was possibly jealous of these other officers, especially John Gordon.  Early lacked physical stamina and charisma, but he was at the front of many fights and his courage could not be questioned.  Early’s troops respected and had affection for him.  One of Early’s biggest flaws, as a long time infantryman, was his distrust and near hatred of his cavalry.  To be fair, the Valley Cavalry was pretty poor fighting force, but Early did not use them properly.  Wert goes on to detail Early’s mistakes at the major battles of the campaign.  In the end, Wert says, “Early and the Army ultimately failed and that Early “was a flawed man and general”.  Early was ever afterward compared to Jackson and his 1862 success, but Wert believes Early did about as well as could be expected given the long numerical odds and his own peculiar flaws.

“Union Generalship in the 1864 Valley Campaign”

by A. Wilson Greene

Greene is another author I am familiar with.  He runs Pamplin Park near Petersburg, VA and has written a solid work on the Union Breakthrough at Petersburg on April 2, 1865.  In this assessment of the Union leaders, Greene also covers Sheridan’s four main subordinates in George Crook (Sheridan’s friend at the time and commander of the VIII Corps), Horatio Wright (commander the VI Corps, Greene calls him “competent” but notes that he had “rarely distinguished himself”), William H. Emory (led XIX Corps and provided them with “steady leadership at the Corps level”), and A.T.A. Torbert (commander the Union cavalry, Greene doesn’t think much of Torbert, but says he had skilled subordinates).  Sheridan’s rather odd appearance is given some attention, and Greene mentions the initial uncertainty with which the Union leadership other than Grant greeted Little Phil.  Greene goes on to chronicle the mistakes and successes of Sheridan and his subordinates.  Crook performed well and was directly responsible for the smashing success at Fisher’s Hill.  In later years, Crook and Sheridan had a falling out over who deserved credit for some of the successes in the Valley.  Wright performed generally well, and although he was responsible for the surprise at Cedar Creek, Greene asserts that Wright had gained control of an initially bad situation and saved the army before Sheridan ever arrived.  What Sheridan DID do is launch the attack that drove Early from the field.  Sheridan’s Campaign won him promotion and personal glory, but more importantly it raised sagging northern morale and helped get Lincoln reelected in the fall.  Greene says that during the campaign Sheridan cared little for personal glory but that later in life he made many exaggerated or false claims that earned him the enmity of George Crook among others.  The victory started at the top, when Lincoln and Grant backed Sheridan fully and allowed him to fight the Campaign with no outside interference.  Still, Greene says,  “this campaign belongs to Sheridan more than any other Northern figure”.  Greene concludes by saying that each one of Sheridan’s victories contained flaws and that critics of the General will always point to his large numerical superiority to explain the results.  He believes the victory was not inevitable, but full support from the Union leadership combined with that large numerical superiority made it likely.

“‘The Cause of All My Disasters’: Jubal A. Early and the Undisciplined Valley Cavalry”

by Robert K. Krick

Robert Krick needs no introduction for the seasoned Civil War reader.  The man is an expert on the Army of Northern Virginia, especially Jackson’s Second Corps.  In this interesting piece Krick explores the shortcomings of the Valley Cavalry and Early’s unsuccessful attempts to use them as an effective fighting force.  Cavalry had been invented 2,500 years earlier in Assyria, and it died with the Confederacy.  Early and D.H. Hill were two men who particularly disliked the mounted arm.  Unfortunately for Early, Krick writes, the topography of the Valley made Cavalry even more important than usual.  Early’s faults, mainly those described by Wert in an earlier essay, are covered.  Despite these flaws, Krick says, “Early displayed considerable skill under dreadful conditions in the 1864 Valley Campaign”.  The flaws of the other part of this equation, the Valley Campaign, are discussed next.  The Confederate remount system was beginning to affect the way Rebel troopers fought.  Each man brought his own horse when he entered the service.  If it died, he was paid and he alone was responsible for finding a replacement mount.  Krick points out that due to the extreme shortage of horses by 1864 many Confederate troopers did not want to risk their horses in battle.  Capturing Federal mounts likewise became a priority.  The homes of the Valley Cavalry were behind enemy lines and thus were subject to depredations by the northern troops in the Valley.  These men had both the motivation and mobility to leave the front to help their families at home.  Drinking was also a problem for these men.  Krick asserts that the one thing cavalry needed most was discipline, especially as they evolved into mounted infantry late in the war.  And as the rest of the essay points out, discipline was the one thing the Valley Cavalry lacked more than anything.  This went back to Turner Ashby, the brilliant though flawed commander of Jackson’s cavalry during the 1862 Valley Campaign.  The leaders of the Cavalry left something to be desired as well.  Out of the eight men who commanded parts of the Cavalry during the Campaign, Krick maintains that only Williams C. Wickham and Lunsford L. Lomax performed competently.  The others were a mix of poor disciplinarians and tacticians.  As the essay moves along, Krick discusses the poor battlefield performances of the Valley Cavalry.  In most instances the cavalry simply performed poorly, but in some cases Early set them up for failure (Third Winchester, Fisher’s Hill, and partially at Cedar Creek).  Krick concludes that probably no commander could have controlled the Valley Cavalry successfully in this campaign.  These men had been without strong commanders for the entire war.  The Valley Campaign required a strong leader for the Cavalry, but no one was available.

“‘I Resolved to Play a Bold Game’: John S. Mosby as a Factor on the 1864 Valley Campaign”

by Dennis E. Frye

Dennis Frye rounds out the contributors to this volume.  He discusses the impact (or lack thereof) Mosby had on Sheridan’s efforts to wage a successful campaign.  He asks the question, “how much of a factor were Mosby’s guerilla raids during the campaign?”  Long after the war, both Sheridan and Mosby claimed these raids were very successful.  The historical record does not bear this out according to Frye.  Frye says that three things contributed to Mosby’s success.  First, there was negligence on the part of Federal commanders in his area.  Second, many of these Federal leaders were simply incompetent.  And third, Mosby’s well-conceived tactical doctrine was a weapon Mosby used very effectively.  The first two conditions changed when Sheridan came onto the scene in August 1864.  Frye’s discussion on Mosby’s tactical doctrine was a very interesting part of the essay.  His doctrine included always charging instead of being charged, scouting out lines of advance and retreat before a fight, using surprise to his advantage by often attacking at night or other unexpected times, and the use of Colt six-shooters as his weapon of choice.  Mosby’s design was to keep as many troops off of the front lines as possible.  Mosby believed an army’s supply line was its Achilles heel, and he had three objectives when attacking such a supply line.  First, he wanted to destroy supply trains.  Second, he wanted to isolate an army from its base and individual portions of an army from each other.  And lastly, he wanted to break up means of conveying intelligence and capture dispatches to confuse plans.  Frye examines Mosby’s efforts and concludes that he failed miserably in his first two objectives, but was actually pretty successful in the third.  Frye believes Mosby failed due to Sheridan’s sound structural organization.  Sheridan had good commanders in the rear, he placed veteran troops (a XIX Corps Brigade) on escort duty, he used counterintelligence to foil Mosby’s plans, and he prevented civilians from giving Mosby too much information.  Mosby’s raids “constituted an irritation to the Union invaders” according to Frye, but he believes that Mosby essentially was a non-factor when it came to Sheridan’s successful running of his campaign.

Bibliographic Note

I love the ‘Bibliographic Note’ sections in Gallagher’s essay books.  In this area, Gallagher (and probably the other contributors) select the best books on various aspects of a campaign.  I’ve listed the books mentioned as a way for interested readers to further explore this campaign.

Official Records

The War of the Rebellion, series 1, volume 37, parts 1 and 2 (June-August 1864)

The War of the Rebellion, series 1, volume 43, parts 1 and 2 (August-December 1864)

Other Early Sources

Battles and Leaders of the Civil War

-Military Historical Society of Massachusetts, Papers, Vol. 6

Campaign & Battle Studies

From Winchester to Cedar Creek: The Shenandoah Campaign of 1864 by Jeffry D. Wert

Season of Fire: The Confederate Strike on Washington by Joseph Judge

Jubal’s Raid: General Early’s Famous Attack on Washington in 1864 by Frank E. Vandiver

Jubal Early’s Raid on Washington, 1864 by B.F. Cooling

Fighting for Time: The Battle That Saved Washington and Mayhap the Union by Glenn H. Worthington

Sheridan in the Shenandoah: Jubal Early’s Nemesis by Edward J. Stackpole

The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 by Thomas A. Lewis

The Shenandoah Valley in 1864 by George E. Pond

The Campaign of 1864 in the Valley of Virginia and the Expedition to Lynchburg by Henry A. Du Pont

The Shenandoah Valley and Virginia, 1861 to 1865: A War Study by Sanford C. Kellogg


Old Jube: A Biography of General Jubal A. Early by Millard K. Bushong

General Sheridan by Henry E. Davies

-“Sheridan and Cedar Creek: A Reappraisal” by Raiul S. Naroll in Military Analysis of the Civil War

Little Phil: A Reassessment of the Civil War Leadership of Gen. Philip H. Sheridan by Eric J. Wittenberg

John Brown Gordon: Soldier, Southerner, American by Ralph Lowell Eckert

Stephen Dodson Ramseur: Lee’s Gallant General by Gary W. Gallagher

Ranger Mosby by Virgil Carrington Jones

Hayes of the Twenty-Third: The Civil War Volunteer Officer by T. Harry Williams

The Life and Letters of Charles Russell Lowell by Edward W. Emerson

Custer Victorious: The Civil War Battles of General George Armstrong Custer by Gregory J.W. Irwin

Brandy Station to Manila Bay: A Biography of General Wesley Merritt by Don E. Alberts

Personal Reminiscences

Personal Memoirs by Philip H. Sheridan

Lieutenant Jubal Anderson Early C.S.A., Autobiographical Sketch and Narrative of the War Between the States by Jubal A. Early

Make Me a Map of the Valley: The Civil War Journal of Stonewall Jackson’s Topographer by Jedediah Hotchkiss

General George Crook: His Autobiography by George Crook

The Memoirs of Colonel John S. Mosby by John S. Mosby

Partisan Life with Col. John S. Mosby by John Scott

Reminiscences of a Mosby Guerilla by John W. Munson

Fighting Rebels and Redskins: Experiences in Army Life of Colonel George B. Sanford, 1861-1892 by George B. Sanford

Reminiscences of the Civil War by John B. Gordon

I Rode With Stonewall by Henry Kyd Douglas

Unit Histories

The Comanches: A History of White’s Battalion, Virginia Cavalry, Laurel Brig., Hampton Div., A.N.V., C.S.A. by Frank M. Myers

History of the Nineteenth Army Corps by Richard B. Irwin

The Vermont Brigade in the Shenandoah Valley, 1864 by Aldace F. Walker

Mosby’s Rangers by Jeffry D. Wert

The Union Cavalry in the Civil War, vol. 2, The War in the East from Gettysburg to Appomattox, 1863-1865 by Stephen Z. Starr


The James E. Taylor Sketchbook: With Sheridan Up the Shenandoah Valley in 1864, Leaves from a Special Artist’s Sketch Book and Diary by James E. Taylor (ed. by Dennis E. Frye, Martin F. Graham, and George F. Skoch)

General Histories

Lee’s Lieutenants: A Study in Command by Douglas Southall Freeman

The Civil War: A Narrative by Shelby Foote

There’s not too much for wargamers in this one.  There are few maps in the book, and those that are shown don’t go into great detail.  However, since these essays were more focused on the campaign than any detailed tactical action, this was acceptable.  There are no OOBs either, and again due to the scope of the book that makes sense.

This was an interesting though short read.  The authors are all qualified and respected Civil War historians with many books to their credit.  I liked the fact that the book focused strictly on military affairs and didn’t delve into Social History topics.  Anyone interested in Sheridan or Early and the 1864 Valley Campaign will enjoy this book.  If you are familiar with the Gallagher essay books, this one is a solid entry in the series.  At only five essays it is shorter than most Gallagher books, but I found each individual essay held my interest throughout.  This is not always true of the books in this series, for me at least.  For further reading, I highly recommend Jeffry Wert’s From Winchester to Cedar Creek.

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