March 2, 1865: End of the War in the Valley

 

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It had been a long and grueling War in the Shenandoah Valley with some towns changing hands some seventy times between Union and Confederate forces.  On March 2, 1865 it came to an end.  Jubal Early’s force, stripped over the winter to shore up Lee’s thin ranks holding the lines at Petersburg, was now reduced to 1500 men.  Sheridan was moving South, initially under orders to move into North Carolina and link up with Sherman advancing into North Carolina.  Not wanting to leave Early in his rear, Sheridan sent twenty-five year old Brigadier General George Armstrong with a division of cavalry, 2,500 men, to find Early.

Custer had graduated dead last in his class at West Point in 1861, making him the class goat.  The “goat” had a spectacularly successful War, rising in rank from Second Lieutenant to Major General of Volunteers. (He had been promoted from Captain to Brigadier General of Volunteers, passing over the intervening ranks, in 1863.)  Daring and combative, Custer had helped transform Union cavalry from lackluster to an able strike force.

Early posted his small force on a ridge due west of Waynesboro, Virginia.  Arriving at 2:00 PM on March 2, Custer quickly saw that Early had fortified his position and that head on attacks would probably not work, but that Early’s left could be turned.  (Early had thought that a thick wood adequately protected this flank.)  Sending one brigade to turn the Confederate left while he attacked frontally with two brigades worked  to perfection.  Virtually the entire Confederate force was taken prisoner with Early and fifteen to twenty Confederates escaping.  Here is Sheridan’s account of the battle from his Memoirs: (more…)

Published in: on March 2, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on March 2, 1865: End of the War in the Valley  
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September 21, 1864: Battle of Fisher’s Hill

Fisher's Hill

After his defeat at the Third Battle of Winchester on September 19, 1864, go here to read about it,  Early retired south to a strong position near Strasburg, Virignia, with his right anchored on the North Branch of the Shenandoah River, and his left on Fisher’s Hill, grandiloquently known during the Civil War as the Gibraltar of the Valley.  The position was a very strong one, but with only 10,000 men to cover four miles, Early did not have enough troops to man it adequately.

Sheridan with 29,000 men quickly decided that a frontal attack would be fruitless without a flank attack.  Crook was sent with his corps on an arduous march to flank the Confederate left on Fisher’s Hill.  Crook was in position to commence his attack at 4:00 PM on September 22, while Sheridan pressed Early from the front.  After some desultory fighting, the Confederate army routed.  Battle losses in dead and wounded were minimal, but  1000 Confederates were taken prisoner.  Early retreated to Waynesboro leaving Sheridan in undisputed control of the lower Valley, a control that Sheridan was going to use to destroy the granary of the Confederacy.

Here is Early’s report to General Robert E. Lee on the engagement: (more…)

July 6, 1864: Ransom of Hagerstown, Maryland

Brigadier General John McCausland, Jr.

On July 5, 1864, Early’s Corps marched into Maryland in an attempt to take the pressure off Lee.  As part of this invasion Early sent Brigadier General John McCausland, Jr. to occupy Hagerstown, Maryland and demand a ransom from the town of $200,000.00 in recompense for the destruction wreaked in the Valley by Union General Hunter.  McCausland took the town without fighting early in the morning of July 6.

For some unknown reason McCausland demanded only $20,000.00 and 1500 suits of clothes for the ragged Confederates.  The dismayed citizens of Hagerstown raised the sum from three local banks and the clothes were provided.  McCausland and his men rode off at 1:00 AM on July 7.

Hagerstown got off lightly.  Frederick, Maryland during this campaign paid a ransom of $200,000.00.  The city of Frederick would be paying off this debt to local banks for almost a century, with the last payment made in 1951. (more…)

Published in: on July 6, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments (3)  
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June 17-18, 1864: Battle of Lynchburg

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When it came to military matters Robert E. Lee was a gambler.  His decision to send Jubal Early and his Second Corps off to the Shenandoah Valley in June of 1864 was an example of this, in spite of facing the Army of the Potomac that outnumbered him almost two to one.  Lee’s calculation was simple:  if the Union had control over the Shenandoah it became increasingly difficult for him to feed his army, losing access to the grain bin of the Confederacy and the rail line that allowed it to supply Richmond and Lee’s army.  A Union army under David Hunter was approaching Lynchburg, and Early’s initial mission was to save that essential rail depot. (more…)

Published in: on June 18, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on June 17-18, 1864: Battle of Lynchburg  
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July 10, 1864: Lincoln Telegraphs Grant for Help

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On July 10, 1864 Jubal Early’s men were approaching the outer suburbs of Washington and panic was seizing the city.  Lincoln’s telegram to Grant does not indicate any panic on the part of Lincoln, but worry about whether Early would take the city: (more…)

Published in: on July 10, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on July 10, 1864: Lincoln Telegraphs Grant for Help  
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July 11, 1864: Battle of Fort Stevens

 

 

The culmination of Early’s raid on Washington, the skirmishing at Fort Stevens, one of the many forts guarding Washington, on July 11-12, really didn’t amount to much, Early quickly realizing that the fort was now manned partially by veteran troops of the VI corps from the Army of the Potomac, dispatched by Grant to guard Washington, and that whatever opportunity he had ever had to seize Washington by a coup de main was now gone.

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Early withdrew on the evening of July 12 and by July 13 was south of the Potomac, his raid on Washington becoming simply a matter for historians.  The attack on Fort Stevens is now chiefly remembered for the visit by President and Mrs. Lincoln during the engagement, and Lincoln becoming the only American president during his term of office to come under combat fire. (more…)

Published in: on July 11, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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June 26, 1863: First Confederate Occupation of Gettysburg

 

Doubtless none of the men of Major General Jubal Early’s division felt any twinges of foreboding as they marched through Gettysburg on their way to York, Pennsylvania on June 26, 1863.  Why should they have?  They had swatted aside some Pennsylvania militia who quickly decided that discretion was definitely the better part of valor against veteran Confederate infantry and taken to their heels.  The War for the Confederates had turned into a summer time lark where they were living off the produce of Pennsylvania and having a fun time giving the population of the Keystone State a small taste of what Virginia was enduring as a combat theater of operations.  Part of the fun was no doubt the arrest of John Burns, 69 year old veteran of the War of 1812 and the Mexican War, who was briefly jailed by the Confederates for his insistence of upholding the authority of the Union.  Brown was released as the Confederates marched out, and he promptly began arresting Confederate stragglers.  An innocent prelude to the bloodiest battle of a very bloody war.

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September 19, 1864: Third Battle of Winchester

Third Battle of Winchester

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…)

July 24, 1864: Second Battle of Kernstown

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After the ending of his raid on Washington, General Jubal Early returned to the Shenandoah Valley.  With Early no longer a threat to Washington, the Union VI and XIX corps were returned to Grant’s army besieging Petersburg.  This left only the three division Army of West Virginia under Major General George Crook to contest the Shenandoah with Early.

Crook planned to attack Early at Kernstown on July 24.  Crook began getting messages from his division commanders indicating a reluctance to attack Early as the Confederates seemed to have a numerical superiority.  Their caution was justified in that Early had about 13,000 troops to the Union 10,000.

A Union attack began at 1:00 PM and was quickly routed by Major General John Breckinridge.  This began a panic in the Union force that routed as the Confederates chased them back into West Virginia.  Union casualties were 1200 to 600 Confederate.  With this victory, Early once again raided the north, burning Chambersburg, Pennsylvania on July 30, and go here to read about it.  Grant now realized that Early was a serious threat, and turned the VI and XIX corps back around towards the Shenandoah.  He placed Major General Philip Sheridan in overall command with the mission to stamp out Confederate resistance in the Shenandoah for good.

Here is Crook’s report on the battle: (more…)

Published in: on July 24, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on July 24, 1864: Second Battle of Kernstown  
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July 9, 1864: Battle of Monocacy

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In early July 1864 Washington was in something of a panic.  Jubal Early fresh from his victories in the Shenandoah Valley was driving north towards Washington.  The extensive fortifications of Washington had been stripped of men, sent south to participate in Grant’s Overland Campaign.  Grant on July 6, ordered two veteran brigades of the VI Corps to be shipped to Baltimore by sea.  Until they arrived, all that stood between early was Major General Lew Wallace and 6300 Union troops, many of them recently recruited 100 day men, short term enlistees mustered into service in the Spring of 1864.  Few of Wallace’s men had ever seen combat.

The future author of the block buster novel Ben Hur, the West Point trained Wallace had not had a good war up to this point.  Unfairly made a scape goat after Shiloh, Wallace had been shunted aside to non-combat assignments, his most notable achievement being his preparation of Cincinnati for a Confederate attack that never came during Bragg’s invasion of Kentucky in 1862.

Now the commander of the Mid-Atlantic region, the War had come to him.

Wallace decided to stand and fight at Monocacy Junction three miles south of Frederick, Maryland.  At Monocacy the Georgetown Pike to Washington and the National Road to Baltimore both crossed the Monocacy River there as did the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.  Delaying Early here would give at least one more day for reinforcements to get to Washington.  Wallace was in luck and VI Corps troops from Baltimore reached him before the battle.  The odds were still long however, 5800 Union troops facing 14000 Confederates, with Wallace’s men defending a six mile front to guard the Georgetown Pike, the National Road and the Baltimore and Ohio.

The Union beat off two attacks by Confederate divisions attacking along both the Georgetown Pike and the National Road.  An attack by Gordon’s division on the left forced a retreat of Wallace to Baltimore beginning in the late afternoon.  However, he and his men succeeded in delaying Early just long enough to save Washington, as Early noted in his memoirs:

Some of the Northern papers stated that, between Saturday and Monday, I could have entered the city; but on Saturday I was fighting at Monocacy, thirty-five miles from Washington, a force which I could not leave in my rear; and after disposing of that force and moving as rapidly as it was possible for me to move, I did not arrive in front of the fortifications until after noon on Monday, and then my troops were exhausted…

Union casualties were 1294 to some 700-900 Confederate.

Wallace proposed that a memorial should be built at Monocacy to the Union troops who died there stating:

“These men died to save the National Capital, and they did save it.”

Such a memorial has never been built, but it should be.  The report of Lew Wallace on the battle: (more…)

Published in: on July 9, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on July 9, 1864: Battle of Monocacy  
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