- The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864
The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864 was one of the most obvious indicators that the Confederacy was falling apart in the last months of the Civil War. By the fall of that year, the Army of the Valley, under crusty Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early, was being handed a series of defeats by a much stronger Army of the Shenandoah under Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan. In August Ulysses S. Grant had sent Sheridan to subdue the Valley, and he largely succeeded. Earlier in the campaign, Early had briefly threatened Washington, D.C., but a loss at Third Winchester in September forced him back up the Valley (deeper into Virginia) and helped turn the tide of the campaign. Additional drubbings inflicted on Early in the fall also took a major toll on Confederate morale.
The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864, edited by Gary W. Gallagher, gives strong treatment to the campaign’s climactic series of battles. The collection of essays is a part of the University of North Carolina Press’s Military Campaigns of the Civil War series, for which Gallagher serves as editor, and it boasts eleven essays by an array of firmly established Civil War historians, as well as rising scholars. The essays mix straight military history with biography, political analyses, and treatment of memoirs that shed light not only on the campaign itself but upon how the reputations of Sheridan, Early, and other officers were built or tarnished.
Gallagher himself sets the stage for the essays with an examination of Sheridan and Early. “Two Generals and a Valley: Philip H. Sheridan and Jubal A. Early in the Shenandoah” notes the rise in Sheridan’s reputation during the Valley Campaign at the same time that Early’s was quickly becoming [End Page 120] tarnished. Gallagher examines Early’s famous “fatal halt” that many think led to his loss at Cedar Creek in October 1864, Sheridan’s famous ride to Cedar Creek to urge on his troops, and other actions that affected the two men’s reputations. Concluding that Sheridan’s ride was highly exaggerated in American popular culture, Gallagher also notes that Sheridan got credit for the decisions of officers under him. Nonetheless, Gallagher sees Sheridan’s ability to rouse his men as one of his strengths. He also partially exonerates Early by noting the degree to which he was outnumbered toward the end of the campaign. Early’s reputation is a recurring subject of the essays. Keith Bohannon’s essay, “‘The Fatal Halt’” versus ‘Bad Conduct’: John B. Gordon, Jubal A. Early, and the Battle of Cedar Creek,” examines not only Cedar Creek but also Early’s and Maj. Gen. John B. Gordon’s conflicting accounts of the battle.
The campaign was fought during an election year, and two essays show the relationship between war and politics. Andre M. Fleche’s “Uncivilized War: The Shenandoah Valley Campaign, the Northern Democratic Press, and the Election of 1864” brings a different twist on Democratic strategy that year. Fleche concludes that Abraham Lincoln has been credited too much for the harsher approach to war that Ulysses S. Grant used when he came east in 1864. Fleche argues effectively that depredations blamed on Sheridan and on Maj. Gen. David Hunter earlier in the year actually provided Democrats with an argument to use against Republicans during the political campaign. Joseph T. Glatthaar’s “U.S. Grant and the Union High Command during the 1864 Valley Campaign” shows “just how tightly military and political events dovetailed” as he examines the consequences of Grant’s decision to stay in the field instead of in Washington, D.C., in 1864 (52).
Several of the essays are paired together well in Gallagher’s introduction and in the book. Robert E. L. Krick and William J. Miller provide detailed descriptions and analyses of Fisher’s Hill and Tom’s Brook, defeats that preceded Cedar Creek in September and October 1864. Two other essays deal specifically with the changing nature of the Valley Campaign as it shifted...