Shenandoah Valley 1864 "The Burning": The Shenandoah Campaign of 1864

pamc153PA

Major
Forum Host
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Dec 28, 2008
Location
Pennsylvania
We've sometimes heatedly discussed here the significance, the cruelty and the strategy behind Sherman's March to the Sea and his scorched earth policies in 1864. However, I think the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864, conducted by Sheridan, was perhaps smaller in distance but no less brutal, and no less important.

Grant knew that until the Shenandoah Valley was secured, Washington DC would never be safe. He gave Sheridan free reign to accomplish this: make the Valley "a desert", and "a barren waste." Sheridan burned thousands of barns and homesteads, and decimated crops, as he and Early clashed again and again. Women and children were not spared the assault. This culminated in the Union victory Battle of Cedar Creek in October 1864.

My point is this: Sherman's campaign seems to have gotten most of the attention, but Sheridan's Valley Campaign was as brutal and made to humiliate and retaliate just as Sherman's was. Like Sherman, Sheridan was able to "hand" Lincoln a Christmas gift of a capitol, but Sheridan's gift was no less important. With the Shenandoah Valley in Union control finally, Washington was no longer in immediate danger.

I don't feel, IMHO, that the Valley Campaign of 1864 was any less important than Sherman's March. In fact, it's interesting that Stonewall Jackson, in 1862 before his brillant Valley Campaign, said, "If this Valley is lost, Virginia is lost."

Just my thoughts.

Pam
 

captainrlm

Sergeant
Joined
Jun 10, 2009
Location
Northern Kentucky
Very good thought.

I think Atlanta and the campaign for it is more discussed than Shenandoah for reasons involving perception. The campaign for Atlanta had started in May and went on for 4 months. People - then, just as much as now - saw the fall of Atlanta as being a huge blow to the Confederacy, it gave Northern voters the perception that progress was being made, leading to Lincoln's re-election, and Sherman's ordering of the citizens out of Atlanta grabbed a lot of attention too.

I especially think the length in time of the campaign, which kind of led to a build-up in people's minds as to how important Atlanta was, was THE key factor. Maybe Atlanta was not more important, but it seems to have become a powerful symbol, and the Confederate's last chance in the West.

Also, in Virginia, most attention, fairly or not, was paid to whatever Lee was doing, even when locked up in the siege. Early may have lost the Valley, but they still had Lee and his army to provide at least some hope in the East.
 

5fish

Captain
Joined
Aug 26, 2007
Location
Central Florida
I think it is due to the scale and timing is why Sheridan's Valley Campaign does not get the press of Sherman's March to the Sea...

Sheridan burns the Shenandoah Valley in September and he only scorch a valley..

Sherman begins his famed March to the Sea in November and he scorches a whole state and later scorches another state. Plus, Sherman's march was so much more epic then Sheridan's little titrate in the valley.

If one compares the two, Sherman's is epic and overshadows Sheridan's little romp...

A muse....
 

trice

Colonel
Joined
May 2, 2006
We've sometimes heatedly discussed here the significance, the cruelty and the strategy behind Sherman's March to the Sea and his scorched earth policies in 1864. However, I think the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864, conducted by Sheridan, was perhaps smaller in distance but no less brutal, and no less important.

Grant knew that until the Shenandoah Valley was secured, Washington DC would never be safe. He gave Sheridan free reign to accomplish this: make the Valley "a desert", and "a barren waste." Sheridan burned thousands of barns and homesteads, and decimated crops, as he and Early clashed again and again. Women and children were not spared the assault. This culminated in the Union victory Battle of Cedar Creek in October 1864.

My point is this: Sherman's campaign seems to have gotten most of the attention, but Sheridan's Valley Campaign was as brutal and made to humiliate and retaliate just as Sherman's was. Like Sherman, Sheridan was able to "hand" Lincoln a Christmas gift of a capitol, but Sheridan's gift was no less important. With the Shenandoah Valley in Union control finally, Washington was no longer in immediate danger.

I don't feel, IMHO, that the Valley Campaign of 1864 was any less important than Sherman's March. In fact, it's interesting that Stonewall Jackson, in 1862 before his brillant Valley Campaign, said, "If this Valley is lost, Virginia is lost."

IMHO, the biggest reason is that the Atlanta Campaign stands on its' own as a whole, while the Shenandoah Campaign is regarded as part of the overall campaign in Virginia.

Tim
 

gary

Captain
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Sheridan's fame arises from Cedar Creek, his ride and the snatching of victory from the jaws of defeat. By comparison, burning the valley conferred no military glory even close to it and it was like an afterthought to the nation. Bad as the deed was, it was overshadowed by Cedar Creek.
 

TVP45

Cadet
Joined
Apr 8, 2008
To a great extent, Sheridan's burning was exaggerated (sort of like the WWI Huns bayoneting Belgian babies stories). He burned many mills, factories, furnaces, and barns, but usually not homesteads. Even mills often escaped; consider the two big ones at Edinburg. The Grandstaff mill, right on the Valley Pike, was not burned, saved it's said by pleas of women that they needed the flour for their children.
 

Vareb

Banned
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Jul 2, 2008
Location
Shenandoah Valle
To a great extent, Sheridan's burning was exaggerated (sort of like the WWI Huns bayoneting Belgian babies stories). He burned many mills, factories, furnaces, and barns, but usually not homesteads. Even mills often escaped; consider the two big ones at Edinburg. The Grandstaff mill, right on the Valley Pike, was not burned, saved it's said by pleas of women that they needed the flour for their children.

The ones left standing were Unionist.
 

Baggage Handler #2

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
May 6, 2008
Location
Old Northwest Territory
To what extent was Sheridan's valley campaign an effort to quell the Mosby & some of the western VA semi-irregular cavalry units?

It raises the more general question of "to what extent can a civilian population that supports a guerrilla war be considered noncombatants?"

That was not, of course, a question restricted to that war alone. In fact, I'm not sure there's an entirely satisfactory answer for it today.
 

unionblue

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Member of the Year
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Location
Ocala, FL (as of December, 2015).
The ones left standing were Unionist.

Vareb,

And rightly so.

From the Laws of War: General Orders No. 100.

Section I: Martial Law - Military jurisdiction - Military necessity - Retaliation

Art. 15.

"Military necessity admits of all direct destruction of life or limb of armed enemies, and of other persons whose destruction is incidentally unavoidable in the armed contests of the war; it allows of the capturing of every armed enemy, and every enemy of importance to the hostile government, or of peculiar danger to the captor; it allows of all destruction of property, and obstruction of the ways and channels of traffic, travel, or communication, and of all withholding of sustenance or means of life from the enemy; of the appropriation of whatever an enemy's country affords necessary for the subsistence and safety of the army, and of such deception as does not involve the breaking of good faith either positively pledged regarding agreements entered into during the war, or supposed by the modern law of war to exist. Men who take up arms against one another in public war do not cease on this account to be moral beings, responsible to one another and to God.

Art. 21.

The citizen or native of a hostile country is thus an enemy, as one of the constituents of the hostile state or nation, and as such is subjected to the hardships of the war.

Section X: Insurrection - Civil War - Rebellion.

Insurrection is the rising of people in arms against their government, or a portion of it, or against one or more of its laws, or against an officer or officers of the government. It may be confined to mere armed resistance, or it may have greater ends in view.

Art. 156.

Common justice an plain expediency require that the military commander protect the manifestly loyal citizens, in revolted territories, against the hardships of the war as much as the common misfortune of all war admits.

The commander will throw the burden of the war, as much as lies within his power, on the disloyal citizens, of the revolted portion or province, subjecting them to a stricter police than the noncombatant enemies have to suffer in regular war; and if he deems it appropriate, or if his government demands of him that every citizen shall, by oath of allegiance, or by some other manifest act, declare his fidelity to the legitimate government, he may expel, transfer, imprison, or fine the revolted citizens wh refuse to pledge themselves anew as citizens obedient o the law and loyal to the government.

Whether it is expedient to do so, and whether reliance can be placed upon such oaths, the commander or his government have the right to decide."

Sincerely,
Unionblue
 

ole

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Retired Moderator
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Location
Near Kankakee
This is an extremely valuable thread. It does bring to the forefront what it means to be at war. There is nothing nice about war. There are no rules. (Well, maybe a few that no one pays any attention to.) But there is at least one: win.

There is this old adage: "All's fair in love and war." Don't know much about the love part, but the war part is amply documented. There are those sides that won and there are those sides that lost. Nowhere in any of those conflicts is a lack of stories of atrocities. Past wars get pretty pictures and monuments to grace and glory and who was right and who was wrong.

War is not ever glorious, if you were to question the grunt who was in it. There might be some justification, if you were to question the lofty leaders who deemed it necessary. (And, at times, it seemed necessary.) But, as humans, it does, from time to time, to resort to killing to supress the dissent. Herein is lesson from history that we might well acknowledge. (And isn't this the reason we study history? To learn "what fools these mortals be.")

Option #1 in a political disagreement. We could kill all of them.

Just a thought.

Ole
 

Savez

Sergeant Major
Joined
Mar 13, 2009
Location
Alabama
One thing to remember was that Sherman was essientially cut off from the rest of the world, Sheridan was not.


I have destroyed over 2,000 barns filled with wheat, hay and farming implements; over 70 mills filled with flour and wheat, and have driven in front of the Army over 4,000 head of stock and have killed and issued to the troops not less than 3,000 sheep. Tomorrow I will continue the destruction down to Fisher’s Mill. When this is completed, the Valley from Winchester to Staunton, 92 miles, will have but little in it for man or beast.....

from an Oct. 7, 1864 report to Gen. Grant from Gen. Sheridan.
 

Savez

Sergeant Major
Joined
Mar 13, 2009
Location
Alabama
According to the census of 1860 there were roughly 1,020 manufacturing establishments in the Shenandoah Valley. How many were Mills? I don't know. I'm not real sure what constitutes a manufacturing establishment either.
 

Elennsar

Colonel
Joined
May 14, 2008
Location
California
Assuming mills are manufacturing establishments (I don't think so, but I'm not entirely sure what the definition is either), and assuming a half of the Valley's ME were mills...

70/510. If this is "destroying all in my path", Sheridan's ability to burn is almost as bad as his ability to command cavalry (where he lost just about every battle).
 

Savez

Sergeant Major
Joined
Mar 13, 2009
Location
Alabama
"destroying all in my path",

Its also going to depend on what that path was and where it took him. He could only destroy what was near him without stretching himself too thin. Same with Sherman.
 

ole

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Retired Moderator
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Location
Near Kankakee
Ummm, Savez. Would you mind dumping the flaming red in your sig? It's a good sig and stands on its own. It really doesn't need to shout. OK?

Ole
 
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