Volume XXIII Issue #3 • An Excerpt From:

The Shenandoah Valley, July 1864

By Scott C. Patchan

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The Cool Spring battlefield along the Shenandoah River west of Snicker's Gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains

The irascible Confederate commander “Old Jube” Early declared, “We haven’t taken Washington, but we’ve scared Abe Lincoln like hell.” Inside the White House, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles observed that Lincoln became “enjoined to silence” as his anxiety increased. His military Chief of Staff, Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck, was lost “in a perfect maze, without intelligent decision or self reliance.” Although the immediate threat to the Federal capital soon receded, Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early continued to haunt the Lincoln administration throughout the summer of 1864.1

Two days after Gen. Robert E. Lee’s victory at the Battle of Cold Harbor on June 3, Union Maj. Gen. David Hunter’s army routed Brig. Gen. William E. “Grumble” Jones at the Battle of Piedmont near the logistically vital town of Staunton in the Shenandoah Valley. This defeat left the Valley virtually defenseless and prompted Lee to return Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge’s division to the area to confront Hunter. However, the Kentuckian’s small force could do no more than obstruct the gaps in the Blue Ridge as Hunter had been reinforced to nearly 17,000 men. By June 11, the Federals entered Lexington where Hunter burned the Virginia Military Institute and the home of former Virginia Governor John Letcher.

On June 14, Hunter marched on Lynchburg threatening Lee’s line of communications, as the town was a critical railroad junction east of the Blue Ridge and a primary logistical center in the rear of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Along the way the Federals destroyed foundries, mills, bridges and miles of railroads. At the same time, Hunter selectively burned the homes of several Virginia civilians as the army inched toward Lynchburg where it arrived late in the day on June 17.

Near Richmond, Lee had monitored reports of Hunter’s progress with growing alarm. By June 13 the threat to his logistics and communications grew so dire that Lee detached 8,000 infantry and 24 guns under Jubal Early to save Lynchburg from Hunter’s grasp. Early’s men were no strangers to western Virginia; most of them had served in the Shenandoah Valley in 1862 and 1863 under Stonewall Jackson and Dick Ewell. Some, such as Maj. Gen. Robert E. Rodes, were natives of Lynchburg; Early himself knew the area especially well, having grown up in nearby Franklin County and practiced law in Rocky Mount.

When Early reached Lynchburg, Hunter’s advance was driving the cavalry of Breckinridge’s command from the outskirts of town. The arrival of veteran troops from Lee’s army convinced Hunter that his campaign could not succeed, so he retreated deep into the mountains of West Virginia after a minor engagement in front of Lynchburg. This roundabout withdrawal opened the Shenandoah Valley as an avenue for Early to invade Maryland and threaten Washington and Baltimore.

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