The Shenandoah Valley played an important supporting role in the Civil War. With the apt nickname “The Breadbasket of the Confederacy”, it supplied Confederate forces in the eastern theater, particularly the Army of Northern Virginia, with grains, produce and livestock necessary to their survival. That part that was in “friendly hands” protected the flank of operations, Union as well as Confederate, in eastern Virginia; the part that wasn’t in “friendly hands” posed a significant flanking threat. In 1862 it was the theater in which Maj. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson rose to lasting fame by demonstrating his tactical and operational skills holding three Union armies at bay and thus likely saving the Army of Northern Virginia from encirclement and destruction. It then became the Army of Northern Virginia’s axis of advance into Maryland (1862) and Pennsylvania (1863) and its main supply route (or MSR) during both of these campaigns. In July 1864 it was the axis of advance for yet another Confederate offensive into Maryland, this time under the command of Lt. Gen. Jubal Early who, with his Army of the Valley District, menaced the defensive lines of Washington, DC and even brought President Abraham Lincoln under fire on July 12 at Ft. Stevens (albeit this was occasioned more by President Lincoln’s curiosity than by Early’s offensive posture at that point).
Early could not sustain the pressure on Washington, however, and withdrew back into the Shenandoah Valley. Union Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, commander of all Union forces (since March 1864), decided it was time to neutralize the Valley as a threat. He centralized command lines of authority in the region and placed Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan in command of the Army of the Shenandoah.
It was Sheridan’s job to shut the Valley down. Starting out on August 9 from his conference with Grant at Monocacy Station, Maryland, Sheridan (who latest position had been Maj. Gen. Meade’s, i.e., the Army of the Potomac’s, chief of cavalry) rode to Harpers Ferry and commenced to do just that. Over the next two months fighting raged up and down the valley: at Guard Hill, Summit Point, Berryville, Winchester, Fisher’s Hill, Tom’s Brook, and Cedar Creek – battles dim in the knowledge of many, but engagements in a campaign of significance.
Davis and Greenwalt capture the campaign with a concise, yet reasonably detailed description of the engagements, supporting movements, and key personalities, particularly their ongoing discussions of Early and Sheridan. The writing is generally crisp and effective, although occasionally it does get a bit tedious. There are numerous maps, but of only mediocre detail. There is a large number of photos, but several of the landscape shots are dark, with resultant loss of detail. The book includes four appendices on related topics, and a detailed order of battle for both sides down to regimental and battery level.
All in all, this is a good primer on the campaign. But it is more than that. The book’s strength is its four driving tour guides – Third Winchester, Fisher’s Hill and Tom’s Brook, Cedar Creek, and “Two Fallen Officers: Alexander Pendleton and John Rodgers Meigs”. These will facilitate the planning of personal and professional tours of all or parts of this August-October 1864 campaign area, particularly for families with elementary through high school children who want to walk and see the ground over the course of a two or three-day weekend, perhaps with evening readings as a review of the coming day’s tour. The Shenandoah Valley is a beautiful piece of ground and would make for a great family outing. Davis’s and Greenwalt’s book would provide an ideal supplement.
Review by Emil Posey