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Brigadier General John D. Imboden

Confederate Commander in the Shenandoah

Spencer Tucker

Publication Year: 2003

" John D. Imboden is an important but often overlooked figure in Civil War history. With only limited militia training, the Virginia lawyer and politician rose to the rank of brigadier general in the Confederate Army and commanded the Shenandoah Valley District, which had been created for Stonewall Jackson. Imboden organized and led the Staunton Artillery in the capture of the U.S. arsenal at Harper’s Ferry. He participated in the First Battle of Bull Run/Manassas and organized a cavalry command that fought alongside Stonewall Jackson in his Shenandoah Valley Campaign. The Jones/Imboden Raid into West Virginia cut the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and ravaged the Kanawha Valley petroleum fields. Imboden covered the Confederate withdrawal from Gettysburg and later led cavalry accompanying Jubal Early in his operations against Philip Sheridan in Sheridan’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign. Imboden completed his war service in command of Confederate prisons in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. Spencer C. Tucker fully examines the life of this Confederate cavalry commander, including analysis of Imboden’s own post-war writing, and explores overlooked facets of his life, such as his involvement in the Confederate prison system, his later efforts to restore the economic life of his home state of Virginia by developing its natural resources, and his founding of the city of Damascus, which he hoped to make into a new iron and steel center. Spencer C. Tucker, John Biggs Professor of Military History at the Virginia Military Institute, is the author of Vietnam and the author or editor of several other books on military and naval history. He lives in Lexington, Virginia.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky


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pp. vii

List of Maps

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pp. viii

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pp. ix-xiii

John Daniel Imboden figured prominently in the Civil War in Virginia. In a letter of 1884, Imboden claimed to have been a participant in a total of "67 encounters with the enemy, battles, affairs, etc., in which the fighting was hard." He was slightly wounded twice.1 The major battles included First Bull Run...

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1. Early Life to the Civil War

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pp. 1-22

John Daniel Imboden was born on February 16, 1823, at Christian's Creek near Fishersville, Virginia, a small community not far from the Augusta County seat of Staunton. Augusta County is situated on the westward slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the central Shenandoah Valley, which takes its name from the Shenandoah...

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2. Initial Military Service

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pp. 23-43

The public, both in the North and South, greeted the war with patriotic fervor. The citizenry on both sides expected a short, victorious contest. Resources available to each were quite different, however. This played a prominent role in the strategies that evolved. The North had a vastly superior population and industrial base. The population of the sixteen northern...

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3. First Battle of Manassas

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pp. 44-68

On withdrawing from Harpers Ferry, Johnston's Confederates moved toward Winchester. Patterson's Federals then crossed the Potomac also headed for Winchester, with a force reported at twice that of Johnston's nine thousand men. Patterson moved at a glacial pace, but battle appeared imminent. Jackson had charge of the Confederate rear guard and, wary...

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4. Forming a Partisan Command

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pp. 69-93

On March 7, 1862, the day before the Staunton Artillery departed Dumfries for Fredericksburg, Imboden wrote, "I have written the President about raising a Legion for Guerrilla service in the Mountains. I will hear from him next week. If he authorizes it, I shall go home at once to raise the men in the Western Counties."1 Soon Imboden had left the Staunton Artillery at Yorktown and returned to Staunton, where he raised two regiments...

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5. The 1st Virginia Partisan Rangers (1862-1863)

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pp. 94-110

On July 3, 1862, Imboden's Company B, 1st Virginia Partisan Rangers was officially sworn into Confederate service. Imboden continued recruiting, but he was unsuccessful in his effort to add the Staunton Artillery to his command.1 Partisan service was appealing to many, and in early July Capt. John F. Harding requested the transfer of his entire company in the 31st Virginia Regiment to join Imboden's Rangers...

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6. The Spring 1863 Jones-Imboden Raid into West Virginia

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pp. 111-138

Imboden's hometown newspaper applauded his January 1863 promotion to brigadier general. It admitted that although the army had been "rather unsuccessful" in western Virginia, "we predict, from what we know of the man, and the material of which his command is composed, that General Imboden will accomplish whatever is possible in that section."1 Such action would have...

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7. The Gettysburg Campaign

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pp. 139-172

In early May 1863 Imboden's Northwestern Brigade was at Bulltown in Braxton County. Late that month, however, Lee ordered him to reposition his brigade "by easy marches" at some point down the Shenandoah Valley, preferably to Shenandoah Mountain or a similar location, where he could "keep strict watch on the movement of the enemy." On June 1...

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8. Imboden's Second West Virginia Raid

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pp. 173-192

Following the Gettysburg Campaign, Lee rested his army in northern Virginia. At the end ofJuly, however, he moved the army east of the Blue Ridge to the area of the upper Rappahannock River near Culpepper. Meade's Army of the Potomac deployed north of that flver. Meanwhile, Imboden held the Valley. Initially his new command counted some three thousand men: his own Northwestern Brigade of cavalry and mounted infantry (the 62d Virginia Mounted Infantry), Brig. Gen. Gabriel C. Wharton's...

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9. The 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign

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pp. 193-221

Following Fitzhugh Lee's raid in the first week of January 1864, Imboden's Northwestern Brigade had reunited and gone into winter quarters near Mount Crawford. It spent the next six weeks resting and replenishing. In early 1864 clothing and shoes were in short supply, but medical supplies were apparently adequate, despite an outbreak of chicken pox.1 During this period...

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10. Destruction of the Valley

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pp. 222-261

Following the Battle of New Market, Breckinridge and Lee assumed the threat to the Valley had disappeared for the time being, but the respite purchased was brieE On May 19 Sigel was relieved of command; two days later Maj. Gen. David Hunter replaced him. The more determined Hunter soon again led his command south up the Valley. Born in the...

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11. Final Confederate Service

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pp. 262-288

At Staunton Early reorganized his command. With Hunter's army now to the west beyond the Alleghenies, Washington was temporarily exposed. Early hoped to take advantage of this in a thrust northward. Although heavily outnumbered by Union forces that were, moreover, able to concentrate quickly, Early hoped to assist Lee by forcing Grant to detach...

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12. Post-Civil War Career

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pp. 289-311

The Civil War was over. Chaos reigned in the South, which was prostrate and in ruins. More than 10 percent of its adult male population lay dead. The economy was in shambles. Railroads were in terrible shape. With many mills and factories burned or otherwise destroyed, industry was at a standstill. Agricultural production was well off prewar levels, and...

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pp. 312-314

John Daniel Imboden was not someone who sought out a military career. Had he wanted that, he would have fought in the MexicanAmerican War, and possibly perished there with his brother Benjamin. He came to military service only as a consequence of the Civil War, or as he put it, "in defense ofVirginia."1 Imboden the soldier was controversial. In his postwar writing he often exaggerated his role...


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pp. 315-350


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pp. 351-362


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pp. 363-373

E-ISBN-13: 9780813128771
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813122663

Page Count: 392
Publication Year: 2003