The Shenandoah Valley July 1864: Grant and Lincoln Realize the Need for a New Commander in the Valley by Scott C. Patchan
Scott Patchan covers a neglected portion of the 1864 Valley Campaign in this issue of Blue & Gray. Early’s victory at Monocacy in early July and his advance on Washington, D.C. are relatively famous events, as is Sheridan’s ascension to command of the newly coined Union Army of the Shenandoah in August 1864. But between these two events plenty of fighting occurred between Early’s II Corps and the Federal units which would later make up Sheridan’s Army. The author covers the battles of Cool Spring (Snicker’s Gap) on July 18, 1864, Rutherford’s Farm on July 20, and Second Kernstown on July 24. George Wright, commander of the VI Corps, was in nominal command of the pursuit of Early from Washington, D.C. He had available his VI Corps, Army of the Potomac, the Army of West Virginia under George Crook, a portion of the XIX Corps, and various cavalry.
On July 18 at Cool Spring, George Crook sent Colonel Joseph Thoburn’s Division of the Army of West Virginia across the Shenandoah River at Island Ford to see where the main Confederate body was located. In an unfortunate choice, the Union cavalry had been sent south to try to outflank Early. What happened instead was that the cavalry was unavailable to screen Thoburn’s force from the enemy. Thoburn soon learned a large portion of Early’s army was very near his small 3,500 man division, and he requested help from Crook and Wright. They agreed to send Rickett’s VI Corps division to help, but it would take some time. What happened instead is that the Confederate divisions of Rodes and Wharton confronted Thoburn with his back to the river, Rodes’ Division being the only one to attack. Many of Thoburn’s Federals fled across the Shenandoah River in a panic, but some of his veteran troops were able to halt Rodes’ attack before being driven into the river in an affair that could have turned into Ball’s Bluff. Ricketts saw the bad situation on the opposite bank, and he and Wright decided to let Thoburn withdraw without help. It was a close call, but Thoburn was able to do just that and withdraw unmolested after nightfall. Both sides lost around 400 men in what Patchan calls “a successful rear guard action by Early.”
The next major battle occurred two days later on July 20, 1864 at Rutherford’s Farm. Early had been concerned with William Averell’s Union cavalry probing his left, or northern flank, so he retreated to the vicinity of Winchester on July 19. Early then ordered Ramseur’s Division and some Valley Cavalry to guard the rear of Early’s army as he retreated even further south. In a somewhat shocking defeat north of Winchester, Averell’s cavalry and an infantry brigade defeated Ramseur’s veterans of the Army of Northern Virginia when they managed to flank the Confederates on their left. Patchan blames Ramseur for a faulty initial deployment and his failure to properly deploy his skirmishers. The outnumbered Federals inflicted well over 400 casualties at the cost of around only half that number. Ramseur blamed his men for running, but his men agreed with the author’s assertion that they weren’t well handled on this day. In the end, Early forgave Ramseur for this mistake, but at the time he was angry because the 1864 Valley Campaign had been an unbroken string of successes up to that time.
The last battle to occur in July 1864 was the Second Battle of Kernstown on July 24, 1864. Horatio Wright had built up a force of some 25,000 Federals to confront Early’s 16,000-17,000 men, but at this critical juncture he sent the veterans of the VI Corps and XIX Corps back to Washington to board steamers for a return trip to Petersburg. This left George Crook and his 11,000-12,000 man Army of West Virginia to deal with Early. Crook stationed his men at Winchester and hoped Early would divide his larger force. Early, learning of the division of the Union command, set out to destroy Crook’s force. In somewhat of a reversal of the First Battle of Kernstown, this time the Federals underestimated the Confederate force and attacked straight forward. Early’s troops were able to attack the flanks of this advance and drove the Federals from the field. Despite the retreat, George Crook was able to rally his men in surprisingly swift fashion. However, Early had inflicted 1200 casualties on Crook’s force at the cost of only 300 of his own men. This “overwhelming victory” by the Confederates convinced Grant and Lincoln that one general was needed to command the various forces available in the Valley. That man was Phil Sheridan. Early would not win another victory in the Valley.
Scott Patchan plans to release a book on this portion of the campaign entitled Shenandoah Summer: The 1864 Valley Campaign. It is due to be released by the University of Nebraska Press in Spring 2007.
Order of Battle: Shenandoah Valley Campaign July 1864
Books reviewed in this issue:
1. Minnesota in the Civil War: An Illustrated History by Kenneth Carley
2. To Rescue My Native Land: The Civil War Letters of William T. Shepherd, First Illinois Light Artillery edited by Kurt H. Hackemer
3. “Whip the Rebellion”–Ulysses S. Grant’s Rise to Command by George Walsh
Sauers’ Book Notes On Other New Titles:
1. Jeff Shaara’s Civil War Battlefields: Discovering America’s Hallowed Ground by Jeff Shaara
2. The Battle of Hampton Roads: New Perspectives on the USS Monitor and CSS Virginia edited by Harold Holzer and Tim Mulligan
3. Clarkson’s Battalion C.S.A.: A Brief History and Roster by David L. Haimerl (not listed at Amazon)
4. In Search of Confederate Ancestors: The Guide by J. H. Segars
5. Struggle for a Vast Future: The American Civil War by edited by Aaron Sheehan-Dean
6. The History Buff’s Guide to Gettysburg by Thomas R. Flagel and Ken Allers, Jr.
Wiley Sword’s War Letters Series
In this edition of Wiley Sword’s War Letters Series, Capt. Walter A. Goodman, a staff officer from Chalmers’ Division of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Cavalry, describes the cavalry commander and his “horse marines” during the Johnsonville Raid in 1864. Forrest captured several steamers on the Tennessee River, and he planned to use them to raid the large depot at Johnsonville. When both ships were lost, he used his artillery instead, setting flame to the ships and warehouses along the river front.
This issue’s lead story is the dedication of the Parker’s Crossroads battlefield in Tennessee. Other topics include a ceremony for the submarine Hunley, a monument dedicated to Elizabeth Wirz, the Newcomer Barn at Antietam, a land purchase near the Cedar Creek battlefield in the Shenandoah Valley, Jeff Shaara’s donation of advance proceeds from his new book, and the latest on the proposed Casino at Gettysburg.
The Death and Burial of James A. Mulligan by Scott C. Patchan
Colonel Mulligan led a division of Crook’s Army in the disastrous defeat at Second Kernstown. Mulligan was calmly rallying his men when he was severely wounded on the battlefield. His men put up a valiant fight to bring the Colonel off of the field, but they eventually had to leave him under the care of the victorious Confederates. The Colonel’s wife Marian, pregnant with their third child, made the trip south, but was unable to reach her husband before he died. She accompanied the body back to Chicago, where James A. Mulligan was buried. His wife continued to raise their three daughters after his death.
The General’s Tour: The Shenandoah Valley, July 1864 by Dave Roth, with Scott Patchan
Author Dave Patchan covers the sites of the three battles he discussed in this issue, most of which are located in and around the towns of Winchester, Kernstown, and Berryville, Virginia.
B&G Back Issues
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