Shenandoah Valley 1864 Jubal Early in the Shenandoah - success or failure?

TexasRick

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Sep 5, 2013
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Austin, TX
Now before every cries out, "failure!!!" due to his performance at Winchester and Cedar Creek I more interested in opinions of his overall performance from June through October 1864.
 

FrazierC

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Sep 20, 2012
From what I understand, Early's Shenandoah Campaign was, as a whole, a failure, as Sheridan's Army torched much of the Valley and drove most of the Confederate resistance beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains. That is not to say, however, that the whole thing was a failure; there were several brighter spots, including Early maneuvering the Federals all the way back into the Washington defenses before he was finally turned back.
But, as a whole, the campaign was a failure: Early did not prevent Sheridan's forces from destroying much of the Valley, he did not destroy or strike a crippling blow to Sheridan's Army, and he was defeated decisively on several occasions; in doing so, he suffered casualties that the Confederacy could ill afford.
 

BillO

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Quinton, VA.
Earlys' mission was to put the scare on DC and hopefully Grant would be forced to move troops back to the capitol. The problem was he didn't have the manpower to do anything else. The initial mission was a success but then it was decided to leave him in the Valley to try to salvage as much as he could. Considering what he had to work with I think he did a good job.
 

rpkennedy

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I tend to agree with Bill. Early's mission was a desperate hail-mary attempt to distract Grant and give Lee some breathing room. Early accomplished all that could be realistically expected of him but it was ultimately for naught.

R
 
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Excellent question.......SUCCESS in that he drew off Federal troops in order to respond to his movements/actions.....Success in threatening Washington (although, because of the conditions of his troops, he could do little more than that)......Success, because, despite losses, he still remained a fighting force.....Failures: he didn't accomplish anything decisive.....BUT, the same could be said for LOTS of other actions and commanders.....Thanks!!
 

JeffBrooks

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I don't think you can call Early's operations from June to October a single campaign. I think it was two campaigns, one from June to August and another from August to October. The dividing point is Sheridan being appointed to command the Union forces facing Early.

In the first campaign, Early was not only successful but was spectacularly successful. He drove Union forces out of the Valley, reduced the pressure on Lee by drawing off the XI Corps and part of another corps from Petersburg, secured critical agricultural land for the Confederacy, humiliated the Lincoln administration by coming so close to Washington at a time when Lincoln was increasingly likely to lose the 1864 election, gathered supplies and secured money from enemy territory, raised Southern morale, lowered Northern morale, and inflicted three tactical defeats on the Union army (Monocacy, Cool Springs, and Second Kernstown). And all this with a force of only about 14,000 men!

In the second campaign, it can't be said that it was a success. Early successively lost three battles against Sheridan (Third Winchester, Fisher's Hill, and Cedar Creek) and his army was basically wrecked. But it was far from a humiliating failure. With between 15,000-20,000 men against Sheridan's 45,000 or so, Early fought hard and inflicted heavy casualties at Third Winchester and pulled off a spectacular surprise attack at Cedar Creek. I frankly doubt anyone could have done a better job than Early did.
 
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JeffBrooks

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He certainly wasn't perfect, but Lee's "Bad Old Man" could certainly do some fighting.

Not only that, but he could think outside the box in a way that made him ideal for independent command. When you look at his operations in June and July of 1864, it's hard to see Richard Ewell, A.P. Hill or Richard Anderson pulling off the stuff Early was able to.
 

kholland

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I tend to agree with Bill. Early's mission was a desperate hail-mary attempt to distract Grant and give Lee some breathing room. Early accomplished all that could be realistically expected of him but it was ultimately for naught.

R
Agreed with that assesment. As ole` Jubal put it to a major "we haven't taken Washington, but we scared Abe Lincoln like hell."
 

Lnwlf

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It is an exciting time in 1864 that is for sure. I have wondered "what if" Lee had sent Early swinging down the Valley in the Spring of '64 instead of late Summer. I don't think he could have or should have but it is one of the few "what ifs" I allow myself to indulge in. Ultimately the loss of an army, albeit a small one, was not worth the little gain it did achieve. So I mark it down as a failure. I do like Anaxagoras' take on it, it really can be considered as two campaigns.
 

Miles Krisman

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I don't think you can call Early's operations from June to October a single campaign. I think it was two campaigns, one from June to August and another from August to October. The dividing point is Sheridan being appointed to command the Union forces facing Early.

In the first campaign, Early was not only successful but was spectacularly successful. He drove Union forces out of the Valley, reduced the pressure on Lee by drawing off the XI Corps and part of another corps from Petersburg, secured critical agricultural land for the Confederacy, humiliated the Lincoln administration by coming so close to Washington at a time when Lincoln was increasingly likely to lose the 1864 election, gathered supplies and secured money from enemy territory, raised Southern morale, lowered Northern morale, and inflicted three tactical defeats on the Union army (Monocacy, Cool Springs, and Second Kernstown). And all this with a force of only about 14,000 men!

In the second campaign, it can't be said that it was a success. Early successively lost three battles against Sheridan (Third Winchester, Fisher's Hill, and Cedar Creek) and his army was basically wrecked. But it was far from a humiliating failure. With between 15,000-20,000 men against Sheridan's 45,000 or so, Early fought hard and inflicted heavy casualties at Third Winchester and pulled off a spectacular surprise attack at Cedar Creek. I frankly doubt anyone could have done a better job than Early did.

Just one note about troop strength.......by the time Early faced Sheridan, his effectives were likely no more than 10,000 men, if that.

Furthermore, Early's successes forced the Union command to send Sheridan to the valley. The Confederates tied up four Union Corps and didn't leave the Shenandoah Valley until mid-December 1864. I believe Early and his men, conducted a very successful campaign.
 

truthckr

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Waynesboro, Virginia
Early stayed in the Valley until March of 1865, when his entire force, minus him and his staff, was captured by G A Custer at the battle of Waynesboro. He stopped Hunter cold at Lynchburg and ran the Feds out of the Valley, but all it really did was postpone the inevitable. Still, I think it's a good question.
 

BillO

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Quinton, VA.
Early stayed in the Valley until March of 1865, when his entire force, minus him and his staff, was captured by G A Custer at the battle of Waynesboro. He stopped Hunter cold at Lynchburg and ran the Feds out of the Valley, but all it really did was postpone the inevitable. Still, I think it's a good question.
Which was really all he could have been expected to do.
 

JeffBrooks

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Location
Manor, TX
His "Fatal Pause" at Cedar Creek was his failure. He should have heeded the advice of Gen. Gordon, and victory would have been the result.

It was one of three "fatal pauses" that Gordon accused Early of making during the war. The first was on the second day in the Wilderness, when an earlier attack on the exposed Union right flank might have achieved better results; as it was, the rebels smashed the flank, captured hundreds of prisoners (including two generals) and scared Grant's headquarters near to death. The advance was only halted by nightfall. The second "fatal pause" was at Fort Stevens in front of Washington, but I think Early made the right decision when he decided not to attack. His men would only have become mired in the Washington defenses and then been easy prey for the incoming Union reinforcements.

Regarding the pause at Cedar Creek, you have to look at it from Early's perspective. His men were disordered and exhausted. The VI Corps had been beaten up a bit, but not smashed like the other two corps had been. Moreover, there was a powerful force of Union cavalry hovering off to the northeast, which would have been in perfect position to tear into Early's right flank had he resumed the advance.
 
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