Sheridan to Render the Shenandoah Unfit for Man or Beast

October 7, 1864 (Friday)

The 3rd Custer div. on the 7th of Octr. retiring and burning the forage Etc. Somewhere near Mt. Jackson
The 3rd Custer div. on the 7th of Octr. retiring and burning the forage Etc. Somewhere near Mt. Jackson

While Philip Sheridan pillaged his way out of the upper Shenandoah Valley, Jubal Early’s Confederates crept forward from their cover in Brown’s Gap, east of Harrisonburg. Early had been rejoined by Joseph Kershaw’s Division, as well as an additional brigade of cavalry. With this, he “determined to attack the enemy in his position at Harrisonburg.” But when he sent his scouts forward on the 6th, they realized that Sheridan was gone.

“When it was discovered that the enemy was retiring,” wrote Jubal Early in his memoirs, “I moved forward at once and arrived at New Market with my infantry on the 7th.”

The Rebel army arrived in New Market early in the day, going into camp almost immediately, and there they would remain for the better part of two days. The zeal with which Early seemed to pursue Sheridan was gone. As his infantry rested, he bade his cavalry to continue north in search of the Yankees.

Sheridan’s force was now nearing Woodstock, twenty miles north. They too went into camp, and Sheridan had time to reflect on the week previous. The idea of attacking Early in Brown’s Gap was one that had occurred to him. He had considered it and ultimately decided against it.

The reasons were many, but mostly it was because his force was too small. Not too small to best Early, but too small to deal with the results of such a victory. Once Early was routed from the Blue Ridge Mountains, he would flee back to Richmond. When he did so, Sheridan was bound to follow. However, he would have to leave at least a corps in the Valley and detachments along the way to protect the Orange & Alexandria Railroad. These depletions would leave him “a wholly inadequate number of fighting men to persecute a campaign against the city of Richmond.”

So it was clear – Sheridan could not attack Early because he could not take Richmond. The logic is perhaps a bit shaky, but that’s how it was.

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“I therefore advised that the Valley campaign be terminated north of Staunton, and I be permitted to return, carrying out on the way my original instructions for desolating the Shenandoah country so as to make it untenable for permanent occupation by the Confederates.”

When Sheridan arrived in Woodstock, he communicated with General Grant, telling him of his exploits and the gruesome figures which accompanied them.

“I have destroyed over 2,000 barns, filled with wheat, hay, and farming implements,” began the incredibly long list of destruction, “over 70 mills, filled with flour and wheat; have driven in front of the army over 4,000 head of stock, and have killed and issued ot the troops not less than 3,000 sheep.

“This destruction embraces the Luray Valley and Little Fort Valley, as well as the main valley. A large number of horses have been obtained, a proper estimate of which I cannot now make.”

Sheridan not only had to deal with livestock and wheat, but people as well. From Harrisonburg along, 400 wagons of refugees were sent north to Martinsburg, “most of these people were Dunkers, and had been conscripted.” The Dunkers were a pacifist sect akin to Mennonites. Originally, the Confederate army passed them by as conscientious objectors, but this late in the war, they were counted among the draftees.

“The people here are gettins sick of war,” Sheridan continued, no doubt taking some of the credit, “hithertofore they have had no reason to complain, because they have been living in great abundance.”

By this date, Sheridan had no idea that Early’s forces, apart from some cavalry, were following him. But then, by this date, Early’s infantry was stopped in New Market. With this freedom, he vowed that “tomorrow I will continue the destruction of wheat, forage, &c., down to Fisher’s hill. When this is complete the Valley, from Winchester up to Staunton, ninety-two miles, will have but little in it for man or beast.”1



  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 43, Part 2, p307-308; A Memoir of the Last Year of the War For Independence by Jubal A. Early; Make Me a Map of the Valley by Jedediah Hotchkiss; Personal Memoirs by Philip Sheridan. []
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Sheridan to Render the Shenandoah Unfit for Man or Beast by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International

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