Lesser-Known Battles Transform War; Shenandoah Valley Essays Provide Military, Social Perspective

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 21, 2009 | Go to article overview

Lesser-Known Battles Transform War; Shenandoah Valley Essays Provide Military, Social Perspective


Byline: Thomas J. Ryan, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

While Winchester, Fisher's Hill, Tom's Brook and Cedar Creek do not resonate historically like Antietam, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, battles at the aforementioned locations in the Shenandoah Valley played a key role in bringing the war to a close. The struggle over control of this important region is the theme of a collection of essays that examine the transformation from a civilized to a much harsher form of warfare.

As he has done in producing essay books on other Civil War engagements, Gary W. Gallagher edited The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864. The University of North Carolina Press reissued this collection in a paperback version of the 2006 publication.

These essays investigate why Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan's Army of the Shenandoah soundly defeated Confederate forces under the command of Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early during battles fought in September and October of 1864. As a result, sorely needed food and supplies from Valley farms were denied to the hard-pressed army of Gen. Robert E. Lee that was under siege near Petersburg, Va.

Mr. Gallagher leads off with an introduction and a discussion of Sheridan and Early's goals, strategy, tactics, initiative and leadership qualities, and notes that the 3-to-1 manpower advantage Sheridan enjoyed over Early was only partially offset by the rebels operating in more familiar and friendly territory.

While not all of Sheridan's goals for the campaign were met and his tactics at times were flawed, his personal leadership and overall accomplishments were sufficient to cause Lee to remove Early as commander in the Valley despite his initial success at Cedar Creek. Early did not go quietly, however, and openly attempted to divert blame for the defeat by accusing his officers and men of cowardice and bad conduct.

Joseph T. Glatthaar follows with a discussion of Ulysses S. Grant's objectives for the 1864 Valley Campaign. After his selection as general-in-chief in early 1864, the Union high command insisted that Grant come east to oppose Lee's army directly.

When Grant chose to travel with Lee's chief adversary, the Army of the Potomac, this arrangement posed communication problems between Grant and the other Union commands. These were soon exploited by Early, who gained a victory over Gen. David Hunter in the Shenandoah Valley, and proceeded to march northward to threaten the defenses of Washington.

This forced Grant to detach troops from his siege of Lee's army near Petersburg in order to protect the capital, and motivated him to consolidate four separate military departments under the forceful leadership of Sheridan.

Mr. Glatthaar notes that Grant's selection of Sheridan was timely because his subsequent victories in the Valley, along with Gen. William T. Sherman's capture of Atlanta, led to Abraham Lincoln's re-election in the fall of 1864.

Keith S. Bohannon assesses Early's generalship at Cedar Creek. He compares Early's claim of bad conduct on the part of his troops with his subordinate Gen. John B. Gordon's belief that Early erred by calling a halt that interrupted the momentum of a surprise attack on Sheridan's forces.

It was Gordon who had observed the poor alignment of Sheridan's defensive position, and discovered a route to take advantage of the situation. As a result, Early had placed Gordon in command of the attack force.

Gordon's underfed and poorly clothed troops reportedly stopped to plunder the camps after the attack had driven the enemy away in disorder. A subsequent meeting between Early and Gordon is shrouded in mystery regarding whether Early ordered a halt while Gordon argued for pressing ahead.

Whatever the cause, a pause in the attack afforded Union forces sufficient time to reorganize and counterattack. While neither Early nor Gordon accepted responsibility for the outcome caused by the delay, Mr. …

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