Shenandoah Valley: The Burning

 Shenandoah in Flames196

After his victory over Early at Fisher’s Hill, Sheridan decided that further pursuit of Early up the Valley would be pointless as Early’s force was too small to any longer pose a threat to Union control of the Shenandoah and his time would be better spent carrying out Grant’s wish expressed to General David Hunter that crows have to carry their own provisions over the Shenandoah Valley.  As Sheridan wrote to Grant: , “My judgment is that it would be best to terminate this campaign by the destruction of the crops, &c., in this valley, and the transfer of troops to the army operating against Richmond.”   Grant agreed, and Sheridan over the next two weeks conducted a march from Stanton north to Strasburg, a distance of 70 miles with his army covering a width of thirty miles.

 

On October 7, 1864 Sheridan reported to Grant:

I have the honor to report my command at this point to-night. I commenced moving back from Port Republic, Mount Crawford, Bridgewater, and harrisonburg yesterday morning. The grain and forage in advance of these points up to Staunton had previously been destroyed. In moving back to this point the whole country from the Blue Ridge to the North Mountains has been made untenable for a rebel army. I have destroyed over 2,000 barns filled with wheat, hay, and farming implements; over seventy mills filled with flour and wheat; have driven in front of the army over 4,[000] head of stock, and have killed and issued to the troops not less than 3,000 sheep. this destruction embraces the Luray Valley and Little Forst Valley, as well as the main valley. A large number of horses have been obtained, a proper estimate of which I cannot now make. Lieutenant John R. Meigh, my engineer officer, was murdered beyond Harrisonburg, near Dayton. For this atrocious act all the houses within an area of five miles were burned. Since I came into the Valley, from Harper’s Ferry up to Harrisonburg, every train, every small party, and every small party, and every straggler has been bushwhacked by people, many of whom have protection papers from commanders who have been hitherto in this valley. From the vicinity of Harrisonburg over 400 wagon-loads of refugees have been sent back to Martinsburg; most of these people were Dunkers and had been conscripted. The people here are getting sick of the war; heretofore they have had no reason to complain, because they have been living in great abundance.

The events of these days remained seared in the minds of the Shenandoah civilians and their descendants as The Burning.  Many Union officers and troops also expressed dismay at the destruction wreaked:

What I saw there is burned into my memory. The anguish pictured in their faces wouldhave melted any heart not seared by the horrors and ‘necessities’ of war. It was too much for me and at the first moment that duty would permit I hurried from the scene.

Colonel James H. Kidd, 6th Michigan, Custer’s Brigade

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Published in: on September 23, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Shenandoah Valley: The Burning  
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