In May of 1864 Grant launched his Overland Campaign. His objective was Lee’s army, which he would either try to destroy in the field or box into the defences around Richmond. For Grant, the Shenandoah Valley was just one of several sideshows that he hoped would support his main operation.

The Shenandoah was always more important to the South. It was a vital source of food, supplies, and recruits. Its geography made it a sheltered approach for Confederate armies to land at Washington’s back door. As Lee’s army was relentlessly pushed into a siege around Richmond, he saw the Valley as the South’s only chance to divert Union attention away from Richmond.

Jubal Early was given the Second Corps – Jackson’s old command – and sent to the Shenandoah Valley to see if he could repeat the magic of 1862 when Jackson and his “foot cavalry” drew many times his strength in Union troops away from McClellan’s drive on Richmond. Early was also to try to hold the breadbasket of Virginia and protect critically needed supplies for Lee’s hungry army.

He succeeded – for a while. Although Early could not take Washington he drew tens of thousands of Union troops away from Grant’s forces around Richmond. The effort ultimately annihilated his army and left the Valley in ashes, but Early probably extended the life of the Confederacy into 1865.

The Civil War in the Valley in 1864 was not one, but a series of campaigns. In the first, Union troops moved up the valley to strike at and be turned back from the vital Confederate rail center at Lynchburg. The second campaign brought Early’s Second Corps from the Army of Northern Virginia to sweep the Valley clean of Federals and threaten Washington itself. In the final campaign Union forces diverted from Grant’s army took permanent control of the Valley in a series of battles in September and October.

April
April 30 Union Major General Franz Siegel marched south from Winchester with 6,300 men. A commander of revolutionary forces in the 1848 German Revolution, he had become a leader of the pro-Union, anti-slavery German community after emigrating to the United States in 1852. His orders were to advance up* the Shenandoah Valley and destroy the strategic railroad junction at Lynchburg.

(*In the Shenendoah Valley “moving up” refers to elevation; the Valley rises as you move south.)

Union General Franz Siegel
Franz Siegel
May
Early May Confederate Major General John Breckinridge was ordered to assume “general direction of affairs” in the Shenandoah Valley. The former vice president of the United States under James Buchanan and candidate for President of the United States in 1860 (coming in second in the Electoral College behind Lincoln), Breckinridge was able to bring together about 4,000 men in two small brigades of infantry and a brigade of cavalry.
Confederate General John Breckinridge
John Breckinridge
May 11 Confederate General John Imboden captured 464 of Sigel’s cavalry near Front Royal.
May 12 Breckinridge arrived at Staunton.
May 14 Sigel’s advance reached Mount Jackson.
May 15 Battle of New Market

Breckinridge’s outnumbered Confederates (including a contingent of cadets from the Virginia Military Institute) beat Sigel, who retreated to Mount Jackson.

May 17 Sigel continued his retreat to north of Cedar Creek.
May 18 Breckinridge was ordered to take his infantry division to join Lee, who had just finished the bloody fight at Spotsylvania Court House and was taking up new defensive positions north of Richmond along the North Anna River.

Confederate Brigadier General William ‘Grumble’ Jones (USMA 1848) and his cavalry brigade were left behind to cover the Valley. Jones, rated as the best outpost officer in the Confederate cavalry, got along so poorly with cavalry commander J.E.B. Stuart that Stuart had him court-martialed. Lee intervened, sending Jones to western Virginia where he could put his disciplinary skills to work on the irregular Confederate troopers west of the Blue Ridge.

Confederate General William "Grumble" Jones
William Jones
May 21 Franz Sigel was relieved of command of the Deartment of West Virginia reassigned to the Reserve Division at Harpers Ferry.

Union forces in the Shenandoah Valley and the Department of West Virginia were taken over by Major General David Hunter (USMA 1822), an ardent abolitionist who had accompanied Lincoln on his inaugural train from Springfield to Washington in 1861 and a friend of Grant. Hunter was ordered to advance up the Valley through Staunton to Charlottesville and Lynchburg, “living off the country” and destroying the Virginia Central Railroad, one of the main supply arteries to Richmond.

Unnion General David Hunter
David Hunter
May 26 Hunter’s forces began advancing up the Valley Pike.

June

June 5 Battle of Piedmont

Hunter’s 8,500 man army defeated Jones’ 5,500 about 10 miles northeast of Staunton. Jones was killed leading a charge, and over 1,000 Confederates are taken prisoner.

June 6 Hunter occupied Staunton.
June 8 Union Brigadier General George Crook from West Virginia joined with Hunter.
June 10 Hunter resumed his march up the Valley
June 11-13 The occupation of Lexington. Hunter pushed McCausland’s Confederate Cavalry Brigade out of Lexington and ordered Duffié’s cavalry brigade to join him. Hunter burned the Virginia Military institute, two faculty houses and Governor Letcher’s house. The bronze statue of George Washington was removed and taken to West Virginia. Civilian homes and businesses were looted.
June 12 Robert E. Lee met with Lieutenant General Jubal Early (USMA 1837), who commanded the Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia. Lee ordered Early to take his three infantry divisions and two of his artillery batteries – reduced in the battles since May to a strength of barely 8,000 men – and move west to prevent Hunter from taking Lynchburg and destroying the railroad junction there. Afterward Early was to advance into the Shenandoah Valley and recreate the role Stonewall Jackson played in 1862, threatening Washington and creating a diversion that would force Union forces to be diverted from the Richmond area.
Confederate General Jubal Early
Jubal Early
June 13 Duffié’s cavalry joined Hunter at Lexington. Hunter sent Averell’s cavaly to drive McCausland out of Buchanan and capture the James River bridge, but McCausland was able to burn the bridge before withdrawing.

Early’s men began their movement from Richmond. The infantry were to move by train while artillery and cavalry march for Lynchburg.

June 14 Hunter joined Averell in Buchanan.
June 15 Hunter moved between the Peaks of Otter to Liberty.

Breckinridge sent Imboden’s Cavalry to join McCausland.

June 16 Breckinridge and his division arrived in Lynchburg. Major General D.H. Hill and Brigadier General Harry T. Hays, both in town without commands, volunteer to help with the defense. A defensive line was built southwest of the city.

Averell skirmished with McCausland at New London, driving him out in the evening.

June 17-18 Battle of Lynchburg

Early traveled ahead of his troops and arrived in Lynchburg shortly after midnight. Hunter’s 16,600 men threaten the city. Orignially only defended by Breckinridge, it was rereinforced by Early’s Corps to a strength of over 14,000. Hunter withdrew after probing attacks convinced him he could not take the city.

June 19-21 Hunter, running low on supplies, retreated toward West Virginia. Early pursued for three days as far as Salem before calling off the chase.
June 22 Early gave his men a day’s rest at Salem.
June 23 Early begans marching north down the Valley Pike, unopposed. Passing through Lexington, the Second Corps file past Jackson’s grave.
June 26 Early reached Staunton. Taking two days of rest for the men, he reorganized his army. Breckinridge was given command of a provisional corps made up of Gordon’s Division and his own, temporarily commanded by Arnold Elzey and then J.C. Vaughn. Early continued to command Rodes’ and Ramseur’s divisions, as well as the artillery and cavalry.
June 28 Early resumed the march north.
June 29 Confederate cavalry strike at the railroad and telegraph near Martinsburg.

Baltimore & Ohio Railroad President John Garrett notified the War Department that behind the Confederate troopers heavy infantry forces were threating the lower Shenandoah Valley. Garrett was a trusted ally of the Lincoln administration and his network of agents and telegraphists along the railroad have proven invaluable during Confederate incursions in the past. The War Department put little faith in its generals in Maryland and West Virginia, but it listened to Garrett.

Baltimore & Ohio Railroad President John Garrett
John Garrett

June 30 Early passed through New Market.
July
July 1 Early’s men reached Winchester and continue north.
July 2 Early’s advance elements encountered Sigel’s outpost guard and force it back into Harpers Ferry. Early received a telegram from Lee instructing him to remain in the Valley “until everything was in readiness to cross the Potomac and to destroy the Baltimore & Ohio and the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal.”

At the same time the B&O’s President Garrett met with Lew Wallace, commander of the Middle Military District headquartered in the railroad’s headquarters city of Baltimore. Wallace’s authority extends only to the Monocacy River outside Frederick, Maryland, but he promised Garrett that he would reinforce the guard on the B&O bridge over the river there.

Union General Lew Wallace
Lew Wallace

July 3 Terry’s Virginia Brigade reached Martinsburg, disrupting the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.

The Federal high command were still not aware of the threat Early posed. Grant telegraphed Washington from Petersburg that “Early’s Corps is now here. There are no troops that can now be threatening Hunter’s department, except the remnant of the force W.E. Jones had, and possibly Breckinridge.”

Meanwhile Lew Wallace learned that Hunter’s troops left the Shenandoah Valley entirely and any Confederate raid would have a relatively open road to Washington and Baltimore. He sent the promised reinforcements to the Monocacy River bridge and began to pull together the meager forces in his rear-area department, gathering about 2,300 men.

July 4

Sigel evacuated Harpers Ferry and pulled back to Union fortifications on Maryland Heights. Four trainloads of supplies were saved and sent toward Baltimore and the bridges across the Potomac were disabled, blocking Early’s direct route to Washington. Small groups of Confederates looted the town’s saloons and stores, well stocked for Independence Day celebrations.

Washington lost telegraph communication with Harpers Ferry when Confederate partisan rangers under John Mosby cut the wires at Point of Rocks, Maryland.

Early’s Raid on Washington

July 5-6 Early crossed the Potomac at Boteler’s Ford at Shepherdstown, ten miles upstream from Harpers Ferry. Rebel cavalry under John Imboden wrecked bridges and culverts along the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad as far west as Cumberland, while Gordon’s infantry wrecked the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal bridge over Antietam Creek and the Antietam Ironworks and burned several canal barges full of coal. McCausland’s cavalry occupied Hagerstown with orders to demand 1,500 sets of shoes and clothes and a $200,000 ransom from the city or it will be burned to the ground. But a misplaced decimal point in their demands brought them only $20,000.

Lew Wallace left his Baltimore headquarters shortly after midnight on a locomotive provided by Garrett and joined his small force guarding the Monocacy River bridge. This is where the road from Frederick splits to go to Washington or Baltimore, so any Confederate invasion for either had to pass this point. Wallace decided he will gather his small forces and do what he could to stop or delay the enemy.

July 7 Early’s men moved through Boonsboro on the way to South Mountain. John Echols took command of Breckinridge’s Division from J.C. Vaughn.
July 8 Early crossed South Mountain and skirmished with Federal troops west of Frederick.
July 9 The Battle of Monocacy

Early defeated a hastily assembled force of Union troops under Lew Walace. They include men from the Sixth Corps that Grant hurriedly shipped up from Petersburg.

July 10 Early continued his interrupted advance on Washington. The day was brutaly hot and straggling was heavy.
July 11-12 Battle of Fort Stevens

Early’s leading men reached the outskirts of the District around midday, at about the same time steamers began to unload more Union Sixth Corps veterans that Grant had sent up from the Siege of Petersburg. With his exhausted men still arriving and moving into position at the end of the day Early decided to hold off attacking the imposing Union defences until morning.

July 12 It became obvious that the reinforced defences were too much for Early’s men to take and hold. He spent the day skirmishing and sent bullets singing past Lincoln’s head, wounding a man standing next to the President. A late afternoon advance by the Union Sixth Corps veterans drove Early’s men back.
July 13-14 Early withdrew from Washington, crossed the Potomac and moved across Loudoun County toward the Valley. He was followed by Wright’s 6th Corps with elements of the 19th Corps, recently arrived from Louisiana and originally intended for Petersburg.
July 15 Wright was joined by the Army of West Virginia, commanded by Brevet Major General George Crook (USMA 1852). Crook had commanded a brigade at Antietam and a division at Chickamauga. At West Point he had been roomates with Phillip Sheridan, with whom he remained friends.

Union General George Crook
George Crook

July 16 Heaton’s Crossroads and Woodgrove

Union cavalry attacked Confederate supply trains and harassed Early’s column as it withdrew across Loudoun County. Early’s force crossed the Blue Ridge at Snicker’s Gap and reached Berryville.

July 17 Battle of Cool Spring (Snicker’s Ferry)

Union pursuers failed to force their way across the Shenandoah River at Snicker’s Ford, also known as Castleman’s Ferry.

July 19 Early withdrew his army to Strasburg, leaving Ramseur’s Division in Winchester to cover the evacuation of hospitals and supplies.

Averell’s Division of Union cavalry moved from Martinsburg to Bunker Hill to counter a suspected Confederate raid against the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.

July 20 Battle of Rutherford’s Farm

Confederate cavalry under Vaughan and Jackson discovered Averell’s Federal Cavalry Division at Bunker Hill. They withdrew toward Winchester, skirmishing with Averell’s Division as it advanced on the city. Ramseur advanced his infantry division northeast of town to try to ambush the Union cavalry. After a short fight Ramseur was outflanked and his men withdrew into Winchester.

July 24 Second Battle of Kernstown

Early turned on following Union forces and attacked them south of Winchester. The Union troops collapsed and withdrew to Harpers Ferry as Early’s men followed them north.

July 30 Brigadier General John McCausland and 2,800 Confederate cavalrymen entered Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. They demanded a ransom of  $100,000 in gold or $500,000 in greenbacks. Failing to get it, McCausland’s  men burned the town.
August
August 1 Battle of Folck’s Mill

Emergency 100-day Union troops under Benjamin F. Kelley turned back McCausland’s cavalry as they sought to destroy the Union railroad center at Cumberland, Maryland.

Valley Campaign of 1864

August 6 Lee sent Lieutenant General Richard Anderson to the Valley with Kershaw’s Infantry Division, Fitz Lee’s Cavalry Division and Cutshaw’s Battery.

Union Major General Phili Sheridan (USMA 1853) was assigned command of the new Middle Military Division, which included the Middle Department and the Departments of Washington, Susquehanna, and West Virginia. His troops from those departments were reinforced by the 6th Corps and two cavalry divisions from the Army of the Potomac around Petersburg, and two divisions from the 19th Corps, which was returning from Louisiana and had been intended as reinforcements for the Petersburg fighting. Sheridan’s field force would be known as the Army of the Shenandoah. His objective was to destroy Early’s Confederate Army of the Valley.

Union General Philip Sheridan
Philip Sheridan

August 7 Battle of Moorfield (Oldfields)

Averell’s Union cavalry ambushed McCausland’s raiders, killing or capturing 400 at a loss of less than 50.

August 11 Double Toll Gate

Early turned back Union cavalry east of Winchester attempting to cut the Valley Pike.

August 16 Guard Hill

Confederate reinforcements under Richard Anderson moved north to join Early around Winchester. Union cavalry under George Custer captured over 300 in a sudden attack north of Front Royal.

August 17 Ordered by Grant to act with caution and unsure of how many Confederate reinforcements Anderson is bringing north, Sheridan withdrew to Charles Town. Early attacked the Union rear guard at Abrams Creek and moved north along the Valley Pike to Bunker Hill.
August 21 Summit Point

Early attacked the Union infantry at Cameron’s Depot while Anderson struck the cavalry at Summit Point, north of Berryville. Sheridan continued to withdraw.

August 25-29 Early attempted to move into Maryland.
August 26 While an attack by two divisions of Union cavalry was driven back, Union infantry attacked and captured Confederate defences at Halltown. Early and Anderson abandoned the movement into Maryland and withdrew to Stephenson’s Depot.
August 27-28 Early established a defensive line on the west side of Opequn Creek from Stehenson’s Depot outside Winchester north to Bunker Hill.
August 29 Smithfield Crossing

Union cavalry were driven back from an attempted crossing of the Opequonm, but a follow up attack by infantry restored the Union line along the creek.

September
September 2 – 3 While Averell’s cavalry attacked and were driven back from the Confederate flank at Bunker Hill, Sheridan concentrated the rest of his army at Berryville.
September 3 – 4 Battle of Berryville

Anderson unsuccessfully attacked Crook’s Army of West Virginia at Berryville. Early reinforced him with the rest of the army but decided the Federal defences are too tough to attack.

September 14 Anderson and Kershaw headed south from Winchester along the Valley Pike to return to Lee’s Army.
Setember 15 Convinced that Sheridan was a timid general, Early spread his infantry out in the lower Valley. He sent a division to Martinsburg, cutting the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.
September 18 Assuming they were not needed due to Sheridan’s lack of activity, Anderson and Kershaw left the Valley to return to Lee’s main army.
September 19 Third Battle of Winchester (Opequon)

Sheridan attacked west from Berryville, hoping to catch Early’s scattered army and defeat it in detail. But delays from trying to move three army corps up the narrow Berryville canyon gave Early time to force march his scattered infantry and reconcentrate east of Winchester. The fight went on all day. Confederate General Robert Rodes and Union General David Russel were killed within a short distance of each other as the fighting seesawed back and forth.

By late afternoon Crook’s two divisions outflanked the main Confederate line on the north. The Union cavalry overran Early’s line north of Winchester in a thundering saber charge, the largest of the war. Early’s line collapsed and his army retreated through Winchester and south twenty miles to the natural citadel of Fisher’s Hill. Sheridan lost 5,000 men, about 12% of his army. Early lost 3,500, but these represented over 25% of his small force. It was the bloodiest battle fought in the Shenandoah Valley in the Civil War.

September 21 Union probes against Early’s lines at Fisher’s Hill showed the position would be very costly to attack frontally. Crook proposed a flank march by his two divisions through the steep mountain terrain on the Confederate left flank. The plan was violently opposed by 6th Corps Commander Horatio Wright but Sheridan, who was Crook’s roommate at West Point, approved.

Early’s second in command, John Breckinridge, was ordered to leave the Valley to resume command of the Department of East Tennessee and Western Virginia.

September 22 Battle of Fisher’s Hill

Crook’s plan worked perfectly. While most of Sheridan’s men kept the attention of the Confederate defenders by preparing to make a frontal assault, Crook’s corps worked its way along the densely wooded mountain on the Confederate western flank. In the afternoon they charged down the mountainside “like an avalanch” and the Confederate line unraveled in panic. The rest of the Union line launched their assault against the rapidly emptying Confederate trenches. Compared to the Third Battle of Winchester three days before, Fisher’s Hill was almost bloodless – 30 Confederates and 51 Federals were killed, and 200 Confederates and 400 Federals wounded. Early, however, lost over a thousand prisoners, over a tenth of his army.

Sheridan’s victory was not complete. He had sent two of his three cavalry divisions in a long flank march to the east around Massanutton Mountain in the hopes they could cross and come in behind Early’s retreat at New Market. But Confederate cavary blocked the attempt near Luray and it failed.

September 23 Union cavalry pursued Early’s reteating men to just north of Mount Jackson, where Wharton’s and Ramseur’s Divisions organized a rear guard. Union infantry advanced to Edinburg. After darkness Early fell back to Rude’s Hill.
September 24 Early methodically leapfrogged his army south through a series of defensive positions from Rude’s Hill to south of New Market.
September 25 Early continued to fall back through Port Republic. By the end of the day his army went into camp at Brown’s Gap. Sheridan did not follow, continuing on the Valley Pike to camp around Harrisonburg.
September 26 Learning of Early’s defeat at Winchester, Kershaw returned to the Valley with his division of 2,700 men, joining Early at Brown’s Gap.
September 26 – October 8 The Burning

Beginning near Staunton, Sheridan slowly withdrew down the Valley, destorying its manufacturing and agricultural capability as he went. Public buildings as well as mills and barns were burned, livestock were herded away and crops were removed or destroyed.

October
October 5 Confederate General Rosser’s Cavalry Brigade arrived from Richmond with 600 men to reinforce Early.
October 6-9 Rosser harassed Sheridan’s cavalry as they carried out the destruction of the Valley.
October 9 Battle of Tom’s Brook

Tired of the Confederate harassment, Sheridan told his cavalry commander, A.T.A. Torbert, to “whip the enemy or get whipped.” When they reached Tom’s Brook, Merritt’s and Custer’s divisions of cavalry turned on their tormentors and made use of their superior numbers and repeating carbines to rout the Confederate horsemen. They were chased twenty miles down the Valley Pike in what would come to be known as the “Woodstock Races.”

October 13 Battle of Hupps Hill
October 15 Sheridan assumed that Early was finished and left his army in camps north of Cedar Creek while he met with higher command.
October 19 Battle of Cedar Creek

Early launched a pre-dawn surprise attack against the Union camps. Dense fog helped the Confederates, who rolled over the defenders and sent many of them running in a disorganized mob down the Valley Pike toward Winchester. But by mid-morning the attack reached the camps of the now-forewarned Army of the Potomac veterans of the 6th Corps and the fighting became much harder. The Federals established a defensive line and the Confederate attack lost its momentum as fatigue and the lure of looting the rich Union camps sapped Confederate strength.

Then Sheridan reappeared on the field. He had heard the sounds of battle in Winchester and had ridden hard for the army, rallying retreating stragglers as he came. By this time both armies faced each other in relatively static lines; Early did not want to push his worn-out men into more costly attacks, thinking the Federals were defeated and would withdraw in due time.

Instead Sheridan rallied his men, reinforced by stragglers he had brought back and the cavalry whose distant camps had not been overrun in the day’s fighting. After careful preparations Sheridan launched a crushing counterattack. It was resisted at first, but as it found weak spots the Confederate line began to crumble. Soon Early’s whole army was in panicked flight, with the Union cavalry riding hard to cut them off from retreat. Confederate General Stephen Dodson Ramseur, who had just learned of the birth of his daughter, was mortally wounded trying to rally his men. A cannon overturned and blocked a bridge on the Valley Pike, preventing the escape of most of Early’s artillery and wagons, including the Union artillery he had captured during the morning attack.

It was a brilliant attack which almost succeeded. And it would be Early’s last.

November
November 15 Kershaw’s Division was ordered to rejoin the 1st Corps of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia outside Richmond.

December

Mid-December The three divisions of the Confederate 2nd Corps returned to the Richmond front under the command of John Gordon. Early remained in command of the Valley with Wharton’s small infantry division and Lomax’s and Rossers’ cavalry divisions.
January 1865
January Unable to forage their cavalry horses in the ravaged Shenandoah, Lomax’s Cavalry Division was sent out of the valley to the west for the winter and Rosser’s Cavalry Division disbanded the men to their homes. Echol’s Infantry Brigade was detached to the Department of Southwestern Virginina, leaving Early with two small brigades of infantry in Wharton’s Division.
February 1865
The bitter winter limited operations. At the end of the month Sheridan sent his cavalry up the Valley in search of Early.
March 1865
March 2 Battle of Waynesboro

The last of Early’s infantry were wiped out. Early and a handful of followers escaped.

When Early sought to rejoin the army around Richmond, Lee told him that while he never doubted his abilities, public opinion prevented him from giving him a command. Lee thanked him for his service and told him to go home.

Mid-March Rosser’s Cavalry Division and McCausland’s Cavalry Brigade left the Valley to join Lee’s army around Petersburg
April 1865
Mid-April After Lee’s surrender Lomax’s Cavalry left the Valley to join Johnston in North Carolina. They surrender at Greensboro