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The Civil War in the Shenandoah Valley
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The Burning

Warfare in the Shenandoah Valley seemed to drag everything down to its lowest form. Even the vocabulary used by both sides reflected the harsh realities faced in the Valley. Union General Ulysses S. Grant's initial orders to Maj. Gen. Phil Sheridan to "make all the Valley a desert" and a "barren waste" set the harsh tone for the following months. Statements from the two camps mirrored each other. Grant exhorted his troops to follow the enemy "to the death," while John S. Mosby's men rode into battle yelling, "Wipe them from the face of the earth!" A northern chaplain spoke of the need to "peel this land" like a piece of fruit. In turn, Lt. Col. William Chapman led his troops into battle with the cry to "Take no prisoners!"

The terrifying image of fire was a common description used by both North and South to describe the Valley's devastation. General George A. Custer spurred his horse forward screaming, "put the fear of Hell" into Rebel hearts. He succeeded, for Confederate soldier Henry Douglas described the ultimate result as a "holocaust." Death was depicted in ways that showed the callousness prevalent among soldiers in the Valley. Custer's aide was "shot down like a dog" and a hanging of Northern prisoners was "too damned slow work." A particularly gruesome aspect of Valley warfare was the plight of women. A war correspondent accompanying Custer agonized over the sounds of "the wailing of women and children mingling with the crackling of flames." The theme often chracterizing the Valley fighting was retaliation: planned retaliation for what the other side had done. And it may be appropriate that the word which best summarized the savage Shenandoah warfare in 1864 was found there scribbled on rough signs attached to lifeless bodies. "Retaliation," they read." Source: America's Civil War

A number of smaller batters and skirmishes are directly associated with “The Burning”. The campaign began in earnest after Sheridan’s victory at Fishers Hill and continued on through early October. As Sheridan moved south as far as Augusta County his men plundered their way south. Feeling that he had eliminated the Confederate threat in the Valley he began his retrograde movement back north and the destruction of agricultural base reached its zenith. Confederate cavalry followed occasionally catching and killing some of the barnburners. A sharp skirmish took place at Mt. Clifton on October 9th, 1864 but the two mounted forces met in a crushing blow for the Confederate horsemen on October 9th, at the Battle of Toms Brook.

Buy the Book The Burning by John Heatwole
Shadows in the Valley: Custer and Mosby

The Civil War in the Shenandoah Valley
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