"Eat out Virginia clean and clear...so that crows flying over it for the balance of the season will have to carry their own provinder."
Sheridan Appointed to Command all the Forces in the Shenandoah Valley(7 July)
Grant realized that as long as the Confederacy maintained an army in the valley, the capitol would never be safe. To deal with this difficulty, he ordered VI and XIX Corps to leave their fortifications in Washington and concentrate near Harper's Ferry. This force was to be placed under the command of Phillip Sheridan. So the Army of the Shenandoah was born.
Early, always a cagey veteran, kept his army in motion, moving first to Martinsburg, then back toward Winchester keeping Sheridan in the dark as to his true intentions.
General Lee, convinced that Early had done all he could do and ordered Early to send Kershaw's Division and General Anderson back to the defenses of Richmond.
Through a system of loyalist spies in Winchester, Sheridan learned of the weakening of Early's Army and chose this time to strike his first blow.
In what became the larges battle in the Valley up until this time, poured his forces west through the Berryville Canyon and attacked Early’s scatter forces just east of Winchester in what has gone down in history as the Battle of Opequon or Third Winchester on September 19, 1864.
After a day of bitter fighting, Early's forces were crushed and retreated to the what was perceived as strong defenses at Fisher's Hill just south of Strasburg.
Sheridan’s great army followed Early and again attacked him, in what became known as the Battle of Fishers Hill, on September 20,21, 1864
Battle of the Shenandoah by Mort Kunstler Sheridan's Rampage (September - October)
The army of the Shenandoah followed in the wake of Early’s shattered forces. Sheridan reached as far south as August County before deciding to discontinue the pursuit. Sheridan chose this time to follow his orders from Grant and destroy the agricultural potential of the Valley. In a campaign of destruction known locally as the The Burning more than 2,000 barns and mills were burnt. Sheridan’s cavalry fanned out across the floor of the Valley as they moved north through the valley, leaving nothing but desolation in its wake.
Neither the Confederate guerillas nor the remainder of Early's command made much of an impact on Sheridan's operations. By mid-October, the devastation of the much of the Valley was complete, and the 31,000-man army bivouacked along Cedar Creek.
Reinforced with Kershaw’s Division and Cutshaw’s Artillery Battalion, Early battered army moved north once more. The Confederate cavalry, in the vanguard of the force, passed the smoldering ruins of barns and mills, many of them, once called home. They caught Custer’s cavalry near Mill Creek on October 7th and inflicted some loss but little real damage. On October 9th the opposing cavalry forces stood opposite each other across the meandering Toms Brook a few miles south of Strasburg. The Federal cavalry outmatched their Southern counterparts and chased them over many miles of road back to Early main force at Mt. Jackson. The uneven battle became know as the “Woodstock Races” the once vaunted Confederate cavalry ceased to be a major factor in combat.
Early’s Army had one more good fight left in it. Several of Early’s officers devised a plan for a surprise attack on Sheridan’s army as it lay in camp along the banks of Cedar Creek. Early on the morning of October 19th the Southerners surprised the Federals and carried the field before being overwhelmed late in the afternoon in a brilliant counterattack. Click here for a description of this last great battle for control of the Shenandoah Valley.
Others Battle of 1864
Battle of Staunton River Bridge
War in Southwestern Virginia
The Battles of Saltville
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