Throughout the War control of the Shenandoah Valley, an incredibly fertile agricultural region had been hotly contested by the Union and the Confederacy. So long as the Confederates controlled it, they not only reaped the crops, vital to feed Lee’s army, but they also had an avenue to launch sudden invasions of the North, shielded from Northern cavalry observation the Blue Ridge Mountains that marked the eastern border of the Valley. On September 19, 1864 control of this militarily vital region swung, for the last time, in favor of the Union.
After his conference with Grant on September 16, Sheridan began a drive on Winchester to smash Early’s army. Early hastily gathered together his scattered forces just in time before Sheridan attacked on the 19th. The Confederates were heavily outnumbered, 12000 to 40000. The narrow rode that Sheridan’s men had to take to attack gave Early time, that he took full advantage off, to entrench his force.
With numbers so overwhelmingly in his favor, Sheridan simply ordered a frontal attack against the entire Confederate line. The attack made slow progress, aided by Brigadier General James Wilson, launching a turning movement with his cavalry against the Confederate right.
By the end of the day Early was in full retreat, a Union two division Union cavalry charge crushing his left flank. It was a stunning Union victory. They paid a high price for it, incurring 5,020 casualties to 3, 610 Confederate. Church bells rang throughout the North in celebration of the victory. Here is Sheridan’s account of the battle in his memoirs: (more…)