Shenandoah Summer: The 1864 Valley Campaign

by Scott C. Patchan University of Nebraska Press, 2007, $34.95

There was no shortage of drama and heroics during the summer 1864 fighting in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.At the Battle of New Market,Virginia, Military Institute cadets launched a desperate charge that broke the lines of Federal forces ineptly led by Major General Franz Sigel. Confederate Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Confederate Second Corps rescued Lynchburg from forces led by Major General David Hunter. Early’s subsequent raid with his Army of the Valley threw a scare into Washington, D.C.’s defenders. Union Major General Philip Sheridan’s promotion to command the Army of the Shenandoah led to his victories at Third Winchester and Fisher’s Hill.At the Battle of Cedar Creek, Early’s successful dawn surprise attack was met with a devastating counterattack launched that afternoon by Sheridan’s rallied force.

Often lost in all that drama,though,is the fact that the campaigns involved crucial strategic goals.By sending Early into the Valley,General Robert E.Lee hoped to replicate the confusion generated by Lt. Gen. Thomas “Stonewall”Jackson two years before and relieve pressure on Richmond and Petersburg. Also, by demonstrating that Confederate forces in the East were still capable of offensive action, Lee sought to undermine Abraham Lincoln’s chances for reelection.

Scott Patchan’s book is misleadingly titled;instead of recounting the entire summer as implied,the author focuses narrowly on a forgotten period between midJuly and mid-August.He follows the opposing forces from the time Early withdrew from the Washington defenses,and details the battles of Cool Spring (July 18), Rutherford’s Farm (July 20) and Second Kernstown (July 24). He also covers Confederate Brig. Gen. John McCausland’s cavalry raid into Pennsylvania and the burning of Chambersburg (July 30). The last clash described is the little-remembered Battle of Moorefield (August 7), where an inferior Union force led by Brig. Gen.William Averell surprised and routed McCausland’s brigades.

While the book’s focus does seem narrow, Patchan illustrates that those few weeks were significant.The complex set of interrelated actions resulted in, among other Confederate successes, the last significant victory in the valley at Kernstown.That,and the burning of Chambersburg,led to the promotion of Sheridan to command a reorganized and reinforced Army of the Shenandoah on August 6.The Union victories in September and October,successes that help seal President Lincoln’s reelection, all but ended the war in the valley.

Patchan begins with the ineffectual pursuit of Early’s army as it returned to Virginia. Major General Horatio Wright’s VI Corps and Early met at Cool Spring, a near-disaster for Union forces.After the battle Wright inexplicably decided Early was headed back to Richmond. In accordance with his orders, Wright marched back to Washington to embark for City Point and the Petersburg trenches.That allowed Early to overwhelm the smaller Army of West Virginia led by Maj.Gen.George Crook at Kernstown, a victory that reopened the lower Shenandoah Valley and provided the opportunity for McCausland’s raid. Wright’s departure was canceled,and Lt.Gen.Ulysses S. Grant ordered additional reinforcements to the region and brought in Sheridan.

Full treatments of the battles of Cool Spring and Kernstown, the two most consequential clashes during this period, are among Shenandoah Summer’s attractions.Patchan demonstrates strong narrative skill in describing these and several smaller engagements, most notably Ruthersford Farm (also known as Stephenson’s Depot) and Moorefield Creek.

The author delivers an insightful analysis of the attributes of senior Federal commanders, especially George Crook and William Averell.Patchan is rightly critical of Crook for his failure to get along with subordinates and to read the signs that Confederates were attacking in force at Kernstown.Averell had his own shortcomings, and Patchan shows he was inconsistent.Still,his success at Moorefield Creek stands out.Patchan also revives the reputation of a few Federal commanders,most notably Colonel James Mulligan, who was killed at Kernstown. The betterknown key Confederate generals are sketched well—Early and Maj.Gens John B.Gordon,John C. Breckenridge and Stephen D.Ramseur—but we also learn more about less-famous generals such as McCausland and Bradley Johnson.

Patchan at times understates the logistical difficulties that Union forces faced as invaders and occupiers in a hostile territory. His maps are helpful, but one is forced to search for the location of the Battle of Cool Spring in the general map covering the area of operations.

Those quibbles aside,Patchan deserves credit for prodigious research—the book ends with more than 60 pages of footnotes and bibliography—and for bringing to light several important yet nearly unknown episodes that occurred in a picturesque valley that the native Indians called “Daughter of the Stars.”

 

Originally published in the November 2007 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here.