The Valley Campaigns of 1864 were "American Civil War operations and battles that took place in the "Shenandoah Valley of "Virginia from May to October 1864. While some military historians divide this period into three separate campaigns, but they interacted in several ways, so this article considers all three together.
As 1864 began, "Ulysses S. Grant was promoted to "lieutenant General and given command of all "Union armies. He chose to make his headquarters with the "Army of the Potomac, although "Maj. Gen. "George G. Meade remained the actual commander of that army. He left Maj. Gen. "William Tecumseh Sherman in command of most of the western armies. Grant understood the concept of "total war and believed, as did Sherman and "President "Abraham Lincoln, that only the utter defeat of "Confederate forces and their economic base would bring the war to an end. Therefore, "scorched earth tactics would be required in some important theaters. Grant devised a coordinated strategy that would strike at the heart of the Confederacy from multiple directions: he would join with Meade and Maj. Gen. "Benjamin Butler to fight against "Robert E. Lee's "Army of Northern Virginia near "Richmond; Maj. Gen. "Franz Sigel would invade the Shenandoah Valley and destroy Lee's supply lines; Maj. Gen. Sherman would attack "Joseph E. Johnston's "Army of Tennessee, invade "Georgia and capture "Atlanta; and finally Maj. Gen. "Nathaniel P. Banks was assigned to capture "Mobile, Alabama.
The first campaign started with Grant's planned invasion of the Shenandoah Valley from the Department of "West Virginia, which Gen. Sigel commanded. West Virginia remained loyal and had been admitted to the Union, despite the Confederate "Jones-Imboden Raid the previous summer. Grant ordered Sigel to move "up the Valley" (i.e., southwest to the higher elevations) with 10,000 men to destroy the Confederate railroad, hospital and supply center at "Lynchburg, Virginia.
Sigel was intercepted by 4,000 troops and cadets from the "Virginia Military Institute under Confederate Maj. Gen. "John C. Breckinridge and defeated. His forces retreated to "Strasburg, Virginia. Maj. Gen. "David Hunter replaced Sigel, and as discussed below would again strike southward, eventually burning VMI in retaliation for the Jones-Imboden Raid as well as subsequent actions of VMI cadets.
On June 11 Hunter, who had continued to strike southward, fought at "Lexington against "John McCausland's Confederate cavalry, which retreated to the mountains and "Buchanan. Hunter ordered Col. "Alfred N. Duffié's cavalry division to join him in Lexington. While awaiting their arrival, Union forces burned former "Governor "John Letcher's home, as well as shelled and burned the Virginia Military Institute. They seized the statue of George Washington, and nearly destroyed the campus (VMI moved classes to the "Richmond Alms House).
Joined by Duffié on June 13, Hunter sent Averell to drive McCausland out of Buchanan and capture the "James River bridge. However, McCausland burned the bridge and fled. Hunter joined Averell in Buchanan on June 14 and on June 15 advanced via the road between the "Peaks of Otter to occupy "Liberty that evening. Meanwhile, Maj. Gen. "John C. Breckinridge sent Brig. Gen. "John D. Imboden and his cavalry to join McCausland. Breckinridge arrived in Lynchburg the next day. Maj. Gen. "Daniel Harvey Hill and Brig. Gen. "Harry T. Hays constructed a defense line in the hills just southwest of the city. When McCausland fell back, Averell's cavalry pursued, engaging in the afternoon Skirmish at New London Academy. Union forces launched another attack on McCausland and Imboden that evening, and the Confederates retreated from New London.
Gen. "Jubal A. Early and his troops arrived in Lynchburg on June 17 at 1 p.m. Although Hunter had planned to destroy railroads and hospitals in Lynchburg, as well as the "James River Canal, when Early's initial units arrived, Hunter thought his forces outnumbered. Hunter, short on supplies, retreated back through West Virginia.
Robert E. Lee was concerned about Hunter's advances in the Valley, which threatened critical railroad lines and provisions for the Virginia-based Confederate forces. He sent Jubal Early's corps to sweep Union forces from the Valley and, if possible, to menace "Washington, D.C., hoping to compel Grant to dilute his forces against Lee around "Petersburg, Virginia. Early was operating in the same area that "Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson had in his successful 1862 "Valley Campaign. Early got off to a good start. He drove down the Valley without opposition, bypassed "Harpers Ferry, crossed the "Potomac River, and advanced into "Maryland. Grant dispatched a corps under "Horatio G. Wright and other troops under "George Crook to reinforce Washington and pursue Early.
Early attacked a fort on the northwest defensive perimeter of Washington without success and withdrew back to Virginia.
Union cavalry attacked Early's supply trains at Purcellville as the Confederates withdrew across the "Loudoun Valley towards the "Blue Ridge Mountains. Several small cavalry skirmishes occurred throughout the day as the Federals attempted to harass Early's column.
Also known as Snicker's Ferry. Early attacked and repulsed pursuing Union forces under Wright.
Wright withdrew, thinking Early was no longer a threat. Early attacked him to prevent or delay his return to Grant's forces besieging Petersburg. Union troops were routed, streaming through the streets of Winchester. Early pursued and burned "Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, along the way in retaliation for Hunter's previous destruction in the Valley.
Also known as the Battle of Oldfields. Confederate cavalry returning from the Chambersburg burning were surprised in the early morning and defeated by Union cavalry.
Grant finally lost patience with Hunter, particularly his allowing Early to burn Chambersburg, and knew that Washington remained vulnerable if Early was still on the loose. He found a new commander aggressive enough to defeat Early: "Philip Sheridan, the cavalry commander of the Army of the Potomac, who was given command of all forces in the area, calling them the "Army of the Shenandoah. Sheridan initially started slowly, primarily because the impending "presidential election of 1864 demanded a cautious approach, avoiding any disaster that might lead to the defeat of Abraham Lincoln.
Also known as Front Royal or Cedarville. Confederate forces under "Richard H. Anderson were sent from Petersburg to reinforce Early. Brig. Gen. "Wesley Merritt's Union cavalry division surprised the Confederate columns while they were crossing the "Shenandoah River, capturing about 300. The Confederates rallied and advanced, gradually pushing back Merritt's men to Cedarville. The battle was inconclusive.
Two Confederate divisions crossed Opequon Creek and forced a Union cavalry division back to Charles Town.
A minor engagement in which Early attempted to stop Sheridan's march up the Valley. Early withdrew back to Opequon Creek when he realized he was in a poor position for attacking Sheridan's full force.
Also known as the Battle of Opequon. While Early had his forces dispersed, raiding the "B&O Railroad, Sheridan struck near "Winchester, Virginia. Sustaining ruinous casualties, Early retreated from the largest battle in all three of the campaigns, taking up defensive positions at Fisher's Hill.
With Early damaged and pinned down, the Valley lay open to the Union. And because of Sherman's capture of "Atlanta, Lincoln's re-election now seemed assured. Sheridan pulled back slowly down the Valley and conducted a "scorched earth campaign that would presage "Sherman's March to the Sea in November. The goal was to deny the Confederacy the means of feeding its armies in Virginia, and Sheridan's army did so ruthlessly, burning crops, barns, mills, and factories.
As Early began a pursuit of Sheridan, Union cavalry routed two divisions of Confederate cavalry.
In a surprise attack, Early smashed two thirds of the Union army, but his troops were hungry and exhausted and fell out of their ranks to pillage the Union camp; Sheridan, in a ride from Winchester, managed to rally his troops and utterly rout Early's men, and the Confederates lost everything they had gained in the morning. This victory helped Lincoln get reelected.
After his missions of neutralizing Early and suppressing the Valley's military-related economy, Sheridan returned to assist Grant at "Petersburg. Most of the men of Early's corps rejoined Lee at Petersburg in December, while Early remained to command a skeleton force. His final action was defeat at the "Battle of Waynesboro on March 2, 1865, after which Lee removed him from his command because the Confederate government and people had lost confidence in him.