Shenandoah Valley 1864 The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864

TexasRick

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For everyone's thoughts and comments.

In June of 1864 Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was deadlocked with the Union Army of the Potomac at Cold Harbor. During this time, Union forces were moving against Confederate logistical bases in the Shenandoah Valley and the Virginia Central Railroad. To counter these moves Robert E. Lee detached a large portion of his cavalry as well as Lt. General Jubal Early’s Second Corps to counter these threats. In addition, Early was given additional orders to “threaten” Washington with the hopes of drawing troops away from the Army of the Potomac as well as potentially rescuing Confederate prisoners of war from the Union prison camp at Point Lookout, MD.
This would begin what many historians consider to be “Phase One” of a three part campaign in the Valley. This phase began with Early’s move to Lynchburg in the Shenandoah Valley and ended with his withdrawal from the outskirts of Washington and the failure of the Point Lookout mission. Phase Two would be Early’s operations in the Valley from the time of his moving back into Virginia, which culminated in the Union defeat at the Second Battle of Kernstown. The third and final phase was Early confronted the Federal forces assembled to defeat him under the command of Major General Phil Sheridan. This phase ended with the Confederate defeat at the Battle of Cedar Creek and the return of the Second Corps to the Army of Northern Virginia.
The ultimate failure of this campaign had devastating consequences for the Confederacy and when looked at in hindsight would the benefits truly have outweighed the risks? From the outset of this campaign there are several points to consider:
Leadership:
While many historians agree that Jubal Early was the best qualified corps commander available at the time was he the overall best choice for leader of this mission? The first consideration is that if Early was Lee’s most aggressive corps commander then would Lee not have wanted that person close at hand? There were two extremely capable division commanders in the 2nd Corps that most likely could have filled the role of leader in the persons of John Gordon and Robert Rodes. As it was, Gordon would go on to command the 2nd Corps and become one of Lee’s closest confidants in the closing days of the war. Another factor is that the mission to Point Lookout would require the judicious use of cavalry. Now Lee might not have known of the poor caliber of the cavalry units assigned to the Valley District but he certainly would have known about the outspoken Early’s disdain for cavalry in general. That being said, another possibility for leadership would have been Major General Wade Hampton. Hampton was a proven combat leader and Valley force could have been augmented with a brigade of cavalry from the Army of Northern Virginia.
The Second Corps:
The choice of the Second corps was an interesting choice in itself. On the surface the logic is sound. The corps is made up of veterans of previous Valley Corps has also suffered horrendous casualties during the Overland Campaign. The Second Corps may very well have been down to 6000 effectives by June of 1864. The most optimistic estimates would place 9000 effectives in the ranks but the numbers vary from historian to historian to historian. Gordon C. Rhea, the acknowledged expert on the Overland Campaign states varying numbers for the Second Corps during this time in various books and magazine articles. In terms of numbers, it was the weakest combat formation at corps level in the Army of Northern Virginia at the time. Some would question Lee reducing his available infantry force by detaching the Second Corps but Lee was able to offset these losses by being able to utilize the infantry divisions under George Pickett, Bushrod Johnson, and Robert Hoke. It is also important to note that all of the combat units in the Army of Northern Virginia had been continuously marching or fighting since May 5th. It puts into perspective the plight of Confederacy at this stage in the war that such a campaign was even considered.
The Tactical Situation:
If Lee was going to detach a separate force for operations in the Valley would that force not have been more effectively utilized against the Army of the Potomac in his front? Lee’s back was against Richmond at this point and he knew as he stated “if it comes down to a siege it is only a matter of time”. At the same time the 2nd corps was beginning to move towards the Valley the Army of the Potomac was beginning an extremely risky maneuver towards the James River and Petersburg. At this point of the campaign, Lee would have the best concentration of forces that he could hope to have for the remainder of the war. In one article Gordon Rhea puts Lee’s total number of effectives at 74,000. This would be prior to the detachment of John Breckenridge’s division back to the Shenandoah Valley as well as Wade Hampton’s two divisions of cavalry, but it is still an important consideration. A move against Grant’s flanks or more importantly his logistics and supply base would have great possibilities. When one takes into consideration that Grant had a bad habit of detaching all of his cavalry corps for raids and had just done so again on June 7th the argument becomes even more compelling.
The Strategic Situation:
Many historians refer to the Shenandoah Valley as “Lee’s Strategic Left Flank”. Certainly, it was an important source of commissary and other types of supplies, but it is my opinion that Lee would not have considered it his flank. Indeed, all correspondence regarding the movement of the Second Corps to the Valley by various Confederate diarists refer to the defeat of Major General David Hunter and the importance of protecting the Valley from further Union incursions but this stems from the agricultural resources of the area; not so much as the Valley being considered a “flank”. Another reason for Lee to send forces to the Valley was to hopefully draw Union forces away from his front at Richmond and improve his odds for successfully attacking the Army of the Potomac. An interesting theory presented by Noah Trudeau is that Grant sent forces to attack the Valley and the Virginia Central Railroad in the hopes that Lee would detach forces to counter them thereby leaving the Army of Northern Virginia in position to be overwhelmed by superior Union numbers. It is Trudeau’s opinion that if Grant had better subordinates under his command this strategy would have worked.
The Logistical Situation:
In warfare it is said that amateurs study tactics and experts study logistics. From a purely logistical standpoint defending the Shenandoah Valley at this stage in the war may very well have been counterproductive. No one would argue the abundant agricultural resources of the Valley however the problem was getting those supplies from the Valley to Richmond. There were only two supply routes from the Valley that were still in Confederate Hands: The Virginia Central Railroad and the James River/Kanawha Canal. The rail line was already under attack by Union forces and even if it had not been the case, the Confederate railroad system was never a very reliable means of moving supplies. Lee should have known this from his previous experiences by being supplied by the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroad when he was defending the line of the Rappahannock River around Fredericksburg. Also, with Lee being as close to Richmond as he was now, he was now being supplied by the numerous rail lines coming into Petersburg. Not defending the Virginia Central would allow Lee to concentrate his forces in front of Richmond and Petersburg with his left flank secured by the Chickahominy River. Another factor to consider is the amount of commissary supplies that could be delivered from North Carolina and South Central Virginia without relying primarily on the Shenandoah Valley. The Confederate supply system would have had another relief being this close to Richmond and her factories especially the Tredegar Iron Works. More transportation could be devoted to food and forage and less to munitions. It is interesting to note that most modern historians agree that while Lee’s supply situation during the siege of Richmond/Petersburg was tenuous his troops were by no means starving.
The Political Situation:
“War is nothing but a continuation of politics with the admixture of other means”, stated Carl von Clausewitz. This was especially true of the Shenandoah Valley campaign of 1864. Both Grant and Lee realized that the Northern presidential elections in November would most likely be directly influenced by Union successes on the battlefield…or lack thereof. Lee knew that if Early could threaten Washington, especially for an extended operational period then there was a very good chance that Abraham Lincoln and his political party could be defeated in the election and the Peace Democrats and their party nominee, George McClellan, would immediately move to end hostilities with the Confederacy. It’s interesting to note in hindsight that Lincoln secured pledges from his cabinet to pursue the war by all possible means in the event of his defeat until the new president was sworn in. Which means that by that time even the Peace Democrats would have realized that the war was merely weeks away from being over with complete Union victory being the outcome.
In conclusion, while I agree that the move to send Jubal Early and the Second Corps to the Shenandoah Valley was a bold move I again ask was it the correct move if all factors were taken into consideration. I have benefit of both hindsight as well as being a relative amateur in the study of this campaign in particular, and the American Civil War in general. Even Jubal Early spoke of this campaign in his memoirs as a “forlorn hope”.
 

James N.

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Jubal Early calling his campaign a "Forlorn Hope" sounds like more Lost Cause mythology - if Lee hadn't thought it had at least a chance of success I doubt he would've done it. And for a time it DID succeed: since one of the primary goals was to relieve pressure on Richmond, the dispatching of Wright's entire VI Corps contributed to that, as did sending Emory's corps there instead of using it as intended to replace Grant's losses in the Overland Campaign. Lee hoped Early could repeat Jackson's triumphs of two years previously, but Sheridan wasn't Banks or Fremont and the sands of Time had already run too low for that.
 

NedBaldwin

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... Lee hoped Early could repeat Jackson's triumphs of two years previously....

Seems to me that Early did as well as or better than Jackson two years previously.
Early crossed into Maryland and went as far as DC, which is further than Jackson got.
Early beat the US at Monacy, Cool Spring and Kernstown.
As you point out, Grant had to redeploy two Corps in order to deal with Early
and even then it wasnt until mid-September that Sheridan got the upper hand.
 
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Under General Jubal Early, General John McCausland and a force of 2800 Confederate cavalry also were able to invade Pennsylvania at the end of July 1864, capturing, plundering, and burning the Union Army supply depot at Chambersburg with near impunity. After raiding another small town to the west known as Mcconnelsburg, General John McCausland and his men raided Cumberland, Maryland, and then withdrew with their plunder back south across the Potomac. The Confederate raiders were eventually engaged and defeated at Moorefield, West Virginia by pursuing Union cavalry.

http://explorepahistory.com/hmarker.php?markerId=1-A-202
 
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Rebforever

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General Early did pretty good until General Lee started drawing down Early's forces
to roughly 1500 men at Waynesboro. The 52nd Va. Inf. was the last to leave and went
by train from Waynesboro to General Lee at Petersburg.
 

JerryB8

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Interesting. In my humble opinion I don't think Lee should have entrenched himself at Petersburg at all. It enabled the Union to starve his Army into submission. Plus he lost all ability obviously to maneuver and led to him being surrounded. Petersburg as well Richmond were expendable. Lee's army was not.

By surrounded. I'm talking at the end. By that time the war was already won anyhow. It was just a matter of time.
 

dvrmte

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Seems to me that Early did as well as or better than Jackson two years previously.
Early crossed into Maryland and went as far as DC, which is further than Jackson got.
Early beat the US at Monacy, Cool Spring and Kernstown.
As you point out, Grant had to redeploy two Corps in order to deal with Early
and even then it wasnt until mid-September that Sheridan got the upper hand.


Jackson wasn't ordered to invade the North as was Early. Jackson's orders were to leave the Valley and strike McClellan's exposed flank. No comparison.
 

James N.

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Interesting. In my humble opinion I don't think Lee should have entrenched himself at Petersburg at all. It enabled the Union to starve his Army into submission. Plus he lost all ability obviously to maneuver and led to him being surrounded. Petersburg as well Richmond were expendable. Lee's army was not.

By surrounded. I'm talking at the end. By that time the war was already won anyhow. It was just a matter of time.

Agreed, in a perfect wargame world where the only consideration is the military force at hand. ( And I'm not criticizing you - I used to think along those lines too. ) But the socio-political problem presented by the Richmond/Petersburg political/industrial/population/hospital/transportation concentration that MUST be protected in order to have a viable national presence was overwhelming. And Lee's army couldn't simply pick itself up off the mapboard and put itself down in another place either, as the Appomattox Campaign showed all-too-well. The basic overriding military problem was one of logistics and without taking that ( plus all those other considerations I mentioned ) into account would merely have led to the dissolution of the army and the guerrilla war Lee sought to avoid.
 
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NedBaldwin

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dvrmte

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I would agree that there is no comparison in that it diminishes Early's campaign to compare it.
As the Encyclopedia of Virginia says "The 1864 Valley Campaign far exceeded Confederate general Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's famed 1862 Valley Campaign in scope and impact."

I have no desire to diminish Early's campaign or compare it with Jackson's, like apples to oranges.

Jackson was successful in his campaign and his success was what defeated McClellan. When Jackson descended from the Valley on McClellan's flank, it made McClellan's supply base untenable, he had to change his base of supplies. He could not bring up his heavy siege guns from White House Landing. His planned siege could no longer happen without the railroad from White House Landing to move the siege guns. The end result was a Confederate victory.

No comparison.
 

TexasRick

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Thanks everyone for the replies. Mr. Wittenberg we need another book from you asap!! I'm in the process of applying to grad school and the above was what I sent as a "writing sample" as was requested. It is my hope to focus my thesis studies on this campaign. It's interesting to say the Early "outgeneraled" Sheridan at both Winchester and Cedar Creek. Early had divided his forces prior to Winchester which almost led to disaster if not for the narrow approach Union forces were forced to use which negated their advantage in numbers early in the engagement. And out Cedar Creek I would daresay that Early outgeneraled Wright and was in turn outgeneraled by himself. Sheridan actually wasn't there for much of the engagement.
 

ole

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Interesting. In my humble opinion I don't think Lee should have entrenched himself at Petersburg at all. It enabled the Union to starve his Army into submission. Plus he lost all ability obviously to maneuver and led to him being surrounded. Petersburg as well Richmond were expendable. Lee's army was not.

By surrounded. I'm talking at the end. By that time the war was already won anyhow. It was just a matter of time.
Agreed. Entrenching at Petersburg was fatal. However, not entrenching at Petersburg would have lost Richmond to Union Forces.

Given that the Confederate government was no great shakes, it was still vital as communications central. Without Richmond, Lee might well have been trying to live off the devastated Virginia countryside.

We can speculate how an unhobbled Lee might have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, but it would be speculation. The war was all but over by the time the envelopment occurred.
 

TexasRick

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Lee had no choice but to defend both Richmond and Petersburg. To move away from these areas loses not on the Tredegar Iron Works but also critical rail supply lines as well as hospital resources. Then there is Libby Prison to consider as well.
 
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SouthernRebel772

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Early outgeneraled Sheridan badly at both Third Winchester and at Cedar Creek. Then again, it didn't take much to outgeneral Sheridan.

It has always seemed to me that Sheridan was in many ways an attack dog. point him at something and let him go and he'll go after it like a banshee out of h*ll, he was a fighter, but I don't know what kind of general he was.
 

Eric Wittenberg

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Thanks everyone for the replies. Mr. Wittenberg we need another book from you asap!! I'm in the process of applying to grad school and the above was what I sent as a "writing sample" as was requested. It is my hope to focus my thesis studies on this campaign. It's interesting to say the Early "outgeneraled" Sheridan at both Winchester and Cedar Creek. Early had divided his forces prior to Winchester which almost led to disaster if not for the narrow approach Union forces were forced to use which negated their advantage in numbers early in the engagement. And out Cedar Creek I would daresay that Early outgeneraled Wright and was in turn outgeneraled by himself. Sheridan actually wasn't there for much of the engagement.

LOL. I wrote that book years ago: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1574885480/?tag=civilwartalkc-20

People either love that book or they hate it. It's polarizing, which makes it fun. :D
 

NedBaldwin

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I have no desire to diminish Early's campaign or compare it with Jackson's, like apples to oranges.

Jackson was successful in his campaign and his success was what defeated McClellan. When Jackson descended from the Valley on McClellan's flank, it made McClellan's supply base untenable, he had to change his base of supplies. He could not bring up his heavy siege guns from White House Landing. His planned siege could no longer happen without the railroad from White House Landing to move the siege guns. The end result was a Confederate victory.

No comparison.
You seem to be talking about the 7 days battles, which involved a lot more than Jackson.
The earlier comparison was between the two Valley campaigns.
 

SouthernRebel772

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I have no desire to diminish Early's campaign or compare it with Jackson's, like apples to oranges.

Jackson was successful in his campaign and his success was what defeated McClellan. When Jackson descended from the Valley on McClellan's flank, it made McClellan's supply base untenable, he had to change his base of supplies. He could not bring up his heavy siege guns from White House Landing. His planned siege could no longer happen without the railroad from White House Landing to move the siege guns. The end result was a Confederate victory.

No comparison.

As far as I know, aside from the operations and engagements in the valley, Jackson was working under the orders of Lee. So to compare the actions of Jackson after he left the valley in 1862 to Early in the valley in 1864, is a stretch.
 

dvrmte

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You seem to be talking about the 7 days battles, which involved a lot more than Jackson.
The earlier comparison was between the two Valley campaigns.


The success of the Seven Days depended on Jackson's success in the 62 Valley Campaign. Yes the Seven Days depended on more than Jackson, but his threat to the supply line is what forced McClellan to move and made him susceptible to attack while on the move and with his army divided by the Chickahominy.

Jackson wasn't given free reign to invade the North, Early was. Early wasn't ordered to descend on the enemies flank, Jackson was. No comparison.
 
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