Overview of The Civil War or as we call it
"The War Between the States"
in the Shenandoah Valley

 

The Historic Context
Geography and Strategic Importance of the Valley

Overview of the Military Strategy in the Shenandoah Valley

Introduction

Much of the text on this page is taken from a study of Civil War sites in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia authorized by Public Law 101-628 and completed in 1992.

The Shenandoah Valley's unique geographic, topographic, and economic features, and its military-strategic importance, influenced the conduct of the Civil War in Virginia and in the Main Eastern theater. Running from southwest to the north east, the Shenandoah Valley points like a dagger at the Washington D.C. providing an avenue of potential invasion of the Federal capito. To the south, the Valley was "the breadbasket of the Confedracy" providing much of the food and war materials for the Army of Northern Virginia. Official records document 326 armed conflict incidents alone in the Shenandoah Valley and this does not include many of the raids, ambushes, and partisan actions that also comprised war in Valley. As a result of historical analysis to be described, this record of 326 notable armed conflicts was reduced to fifteen battle events of major significance. The battlefields selected for the study were associated with Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign of 1862, the Gettysburg Campaign of 1863, and the decisive campaigns of 1864. These battles were Cedar Creek, Cool Spring, Cross Keys, Fisher's Hill, Front Royal, First and Second Kernstown, McDowell, New Market, Opequon (Third Winchester), Piedmont, Port Republic, Tom's Brook, First and Second Winchester.

The Historic Context of the War in the Valley

"The Crossroads of Our Being..."

Few places associated with the Civil War in Virginia evoke more recognition or response among students of the time than the Shenandoah Valley, where a Southern VMI professor-turned-general named Thomas J. Jackson defeated three Northern armies in a single month. The battles of Jackson's Valley Campaign of 1862 are known to students of the war, not only in the United States, but across the world. To this day, the U.S. Army regularly conducts ``staff rides'' in the Valley for its officers, following the course of Jackson's famed ``Foot Cavalry.''

Less romantic, less well known than the 1862 campaign, but no less significant, were the events of the war's later years as the North tried to exorcise the ghost of Jackson and gain control of the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia's most important agricultural region. The war acquired a dark and desperate edge. In October 1864, Union general Philip Sheridan introduced total warfare to the Valley, a concept that Maj. General. William Tecumseh Sherman introduced in Mississippi and would bring to Georgia in November and December, during his ``March to the Sea.'' In Sheridan's words: ``I have destroyed over 2,000 barns, filled with wheat, hay, and farming implements; over 70 mills, filled with flour and wheat.... When this is completed, the Valley from Winchester up to Staunton, ninety-two miles, will have but little in it for man or beast.'' This bitter month became known to Valley residents as "The Burning".

P>Few regions in the United States have experienced the horrors of systematic destruction, and the memories are still close to the surface for many long-time Valley residents. Family histories are filled with stories that relate to the hardships of that time. It took a generation to repair the ravages of ``The Burning'' and another generation before life in the Valley returned to its pre-war condition. There can be found there today a fierce pride in ancestors who survived the war and who struggled to rebuild all that was lost.

Official chronologies record 326 incidents of armed conflict in the Shenandoah Valley during the Civil War: 6 battles, 21 engagements, 21 actions, and 278 skirmishes, on the average one conflict every 4-5 days. These statistics do not include most of the raids, ambushes, and partisan affairs that made warfare in the Valley a daily dance with death. More than half of the recorded armed conflicts occurred in the final year of the war.

The total numbers of killed and wounded in these conflicts has never been tallied, nor do the records exist to allow it. Thousands more died in hospitals of disease than in battle. The Confederate and National cemeteries at Winchester alone account for nearly 7,500 dead, and it is difficult to locate a city or private cemetery in the Valley that does not comment silently on the commitment and valor of the Valley's soldiers.

The history of the Civil War in the Shenandoah Valley bears witness to the devastation and waste of warfare, but more importantly, it underscores the irrepressible human will to survive, to rebuild, to carry on. Lessons which will continue to have relevance for generations to come. The historic events and the human players of the Valley--the heroic and the tragic alike--have contributed significantly to the texture of our American cultural heritage.

Much of the text on this page is taken from a study of Civil War sites in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia authorized by Public Law 101-628 and completed in 1992.

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