Thursday, October 04, 2007
The Valley Campaign
While Lee lay helpless in Petersburg, Sherman began his march to the sea. Lee cast about for some maneuver that would force Grant to pull troops away from the Union Army and weaken the siege. An opportunity came when General Jubal Early chased Federal forces from the Shenandoah Valley, freeing him for other operations. Lee authorized Early to cross the Potomac and threaten Washington. Lee knew that Grant would have to send reinforcements to the capital.
With 17,000 men, Early and his Confederate forces headed north at the end of June, 1864.As Early approached Maryland, the only Federal detachment of 6,000 Union forces under the command of Gen earl Lew Wallace. They were easily routed and Early continued on toward Silver Springs, Maryland, on the outskirts of Washington. He arrived on the 11th of July. At that time, Early could have taken Washington had he pursued an aggressive attack, but he received reports of Federal reinforcements pouring into the city from Grants forces.
By the 14th of July, Early was back in Virginia and heading for the Shenandoah. Lee had anticipated that Grant would send more Federal forces from Petersburg to chase Early, and indeed, Grant did just that. He dispatched General Phil Sheridan with 48,000 troops into the Shenandoah with there primary job being to wreck the farms, burn the crops, and confiscate the livestock. The Federals pushed into the Shenandoah leaving a trail of fire and devastation in their wake.
The Federals caught up with Early at Winchester. Early' forces, battered fled south with Union cavalry in pursuit. Sheridan attacked Early again at Fisher's Hill, where the Rebels had dug in strongly. The Confederates were routed again. Sheridan then turned North to commence again the work of destruction.
Early reorganized his Rebel forces and began to harass the Yankees. General Sheridan was called away to Washington to confer with his superiors. On his return, on October 18, he stopped off at Winchester, some 20 miles from where his army was encamped at Cedar Creek. The next morning, Sheridan awoke to the sound of firing in the distance. Sheridan quickly mounted his charger and took to the road. As the firing was approaching him faster than he was approaching it, he realized that his men must be retreating under pursuit and heavy fire.
Sheridan and the Federal troops swept out to the attack, the sound swelling like an oncoming cyclone. The Rebels had little choice but to skedaddle as fast as they could, every man for himself. The battle of Cedar Creek finally ended Early's power in the Shenandoah valley. In March 1865, General Custer's cavalrymen wiped out the remains of the Confederate army under Jubal Early at Waynesboro. Early and two officers escaped with only twenty men. Sheridan completed his mission by the sacking of the once-beautiful valley, destroying or confiscating its farms, crops, animals, mills, powder works, barns, tanneries and railroads. Then he headed back to join Grant in his efforts to finish off General Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia.
Painting of General Sheirdan's ride, Anne S. K. Brown Military Collection, Brown University.
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