Jubal Early Steps Off!

June 28, 1864 (Tuesday)

Keep up the buff work, Breck!
Keep up the buff work, Breck!

Confederate General Jubal Early had disposed of the Federal force under David Hunter, which was now scurrying west through the Kanawah Valley of West Virginia. Early had received notice from General Lee to forget about Hunter and focus on either moving north to threaten Washington or to rejoin the Army of Northern Virginia at Petersburg.

Early, once a protege of Stonewall Jackson, chose the former. By the 26th of June, he was in Staunton, gathering provisions and supplies for the march north. There, he sorted his artillery, leaving behind both horses and guns deemed unfit for service. There were 2,000 mounted men, and 10,000 foot soldiers. The cavalry was more or less fit, but fully half of the infantry lacked shoes.

General Lee began to question the logic of sending Early on this mission. He was now more or less besieged before Petersburg and could certainly use the 10,000 extra bodies to line myriad embattlements. But Early reassured him that all would be well; that the first instinct was the better. He would march north, cross the Potomac into Maryland, and hopefully draw troops away from Lee’s front.

On this date, the men stepped off with five days’ rations in their wagons and two in their haversacks. They were the Army of the Valley, so-called after Jackson’s own of two years before.

As with any newly created army, Jubal Early reorganized it. Originally, it has been Ewell’s Corps from Lee’s Army, but now it was his own. It was organized (if it could be called “organized” into basically two corps. The first, commanded by nobody apart from Early, contained two divisions. The second, commanded by John Breckinridge, contained two divisions and two brigades (which each contained two or three brigades themselves). Finally, Robert Ransom rounded out the column with four brigades of cavalry.

By my mustaches, I shall buff!
By my mustaches, I shall buff!

Breckinridge had commanded a division, which, after Cold Harbor, was reduced to the size of a brigade, and Early created a corps commander position specifically for the old vice-president of the United States. Breckinridge also served as a sort of buffer between Early and the Georgian, John Brown Gordon, for whom Early cared not at all.

General Early simply didn’t understand the cavalry. To this date, and in his eyes, they hadn’t accomplished much at all over the spring in the Shenandoah Valley. In turn, the cavalry didn’t really take to Early. Both, of course, had the same objective, and even some Marylanders joined in with Early’s band.

In a controversial move, General Early sent home all of the Valley’s home guard units. They would not be tramping along with his Army of the Valley, but would instead be by their firesides and harvesting crops to feed the army. And why not? Now that the Shenandoah Valley was once more in Confederate hands, it made a great deal of sense to use its fertile soil for crops.

I'm going to novelize the crap out of this.
I’m going to novelize the crap out of this.

However motley it was, they stepped off from Staunton, marching but nine miles to Mount Crawford.

At this point, the only Federal troops in the Shenandoah Valley were roughly 5,000 infantry under the disgraced Franz Sigel at Martinsburg and about 600 cavalry under Max Weber, based out of Harpers Ferry. If Early could move with both speed and stealth, they could easily be cast aside.1

  1. Sources: Autobiographical Sketch by Jubal Anderson Early; Jubal Early’s Raid on Washington by Benjamin Franklin Cooling; Shenandoah Valley Summer by Scott C. Patchan; Sheridan in the Shenandoah by Edward J. Stackpole. []


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