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Neutralizing the Valley: The Role of Military Intelligence in the Defeat of Jubal Early's Army of the Valley, 1864-1865
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Neutralizing the Valley: The Role of Military Intelligence in the Defeat of Jubal Early's Army of the Valley, i864-1865 William B. Feis "Despite their decisive character," writes historian Gary W. Gallagher, "operations in the [Shenandoah] Valley during 1864 will most likely never inspire the mixture of uncritical adulation and intense interest like that directed toward Jackson's Valley campaign."1 Although this assertion remains true, the duel between Jubal Early and Philip Sheridan has inspired renewed interest in the past few years. Recent studies have examined the campaign from varying perspectives in an effort to determine why Early eventually lost the symbol of Southern invincibility to Sheridan's merciless torch. Explanations for the Confederate defeat include, but are not limited to, the numerical superiority Sheridan enjoyed over his opponent, the overall strategic situation in 1864 that demanded Confederate aggressiveness in the Valley, Early's uncanny ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, the abysmal performance of the Confederate Valley cavalry, and the substantive impact of guerrilla warfare, specifically the John Singleton Mosby variety, upon Federal operations. Assessments of both commanders' generalship throughout the campaign also factor into the equations posited by historians.2 The author would like to express his sincere gratitude to Prof. Peter Maslowski, Mr. Edwin C. Fishel, and Dixee Bartholomew-Feis for reading early drafts of this essay. 1 Gary W. Gallagher, ed.. Strugglefor the Shenandoah: Essays on the ¡864 Valley Campaign (Kent Ohio: Kent State Univ. Press, 1991), 18. 1 For the most recent examples, see essays by Jeffry D. Wert, A. Wilson Greene, Robert K. Krick, and Dennis E. Frye in Gallagher, ed.. Struggle for the Shenandoah. See also Jeffry D. Wert, From Winchester to Cedar Creek: The Shenandoah Campaign of 1864 (Carlisle, Pa.: South Mountain Press, 1987), which is also the best and most recent full-length study of the campaign's decisive phase. Civil War History, Vol. XXXIX, No. 3, © 1993 by The Kent State University Press 200CIVIL WAR HISTORY Although these factors constitute some of the major elements that determined the outcome of the 1864 Valley campaign, they are by no means exclusive . One important aspect, and the subject of this essay, remains relatively untouched: how strategic and tactical intelligence aided the Federals in their defeat of the Confederate Army of the Valley. Although the acquisition of accurate and timely military intelligence was not the decisive factor in the campaign, it was nonetheless an essential one. An examination of Ulysses S. Grant's Bureau of Military Information and Sheridan's Valley scouts commanded by Maj. Henry K. Young and the information these groups collected provides a different perspective from which to view events. Looking at the Valley campaign from this angle illuminates the information available to Grant and Sheridan concerning troop movements between the Valley and Richmond and demonstrates how they utilized this intelligence to make command decisions. As this study will show, good information coming at the right time played a significant role in the Union high command's effort to remove the Valley's strategic assets from Lee's grasp and eliminate Early's chances to imitate Jackson's Valley masterpiece of 1862. By the fall of 1864, it remained a matter of time before "Stonewall's Valley" belonged to Phil Sheridan. The Valley campaign of 1864 began as an attempt by Confederates under Gen. Robert E. Lee to drive Gen. David Hunter from the Valley and protect the "breadbasket" ofthe Confederacy. Lee knew the loss ofthe Shenandoah meant disaster from his already-hungry army. The man he picked to save the Valley, Jubal Anderson Early, did more than drive the Federals out; he marched down the natural invasion corridor into Maryland and reached the outskirts of Washington, causing considerable alarm among the Northern population, the Lincoln administration, and the commanding general of all armies, Ulysses S. Grant. The raid ground to a halt at the gates ofthe capital after Grant hurriedly dispatched the Sixth Corps from the Petersburg siege lines to man the capital's defenses, and Early, discouraged over the lost opportunity , returned to the Valley.3 However, the Federal commander in chief remained deeply concerned about what had transpired in the weeks between...