American Civil War: The Shenandoah Valley

American Civil War: The Shenandoah Valley

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American Civil War: The Shenandoah Valley

Back: The Eastern Front: Washington and Richmond



The Shenandoah Valley was the second main battle ground in Virginia. Separated from the rest of the state by the Blue Ridge Mountains, its crops were a key part of the Confederate supply chain, especially for the crucial army of North Virginia. After flowing north east from the centre of old Virginia, the Shenandoah River joined the Potomac at Harpers Ferry, on the border between Virginia and Maryland. It gave the Confederacy a potential launching point for invasions of the North that gave them the chance to cut off Washington, vulnerable at the southern end of Maryland. All of the major battles on Lee’s invasions of the North were to happen north of the Federal Capitol.


While the Shenandoah Valley didn’t see any important battles in the first year of the war, the decisions made by the Union commander in the valley were to have a significant impact on the outcome of the First Battle of Bull Run. The Federal commander, General Robert Patterson, slightly outnumbered his Confederate opponent, Joseph E. Johnston, but many of his men were 90 day volunteers who were about to leave the army.

Although Patterson was expected to prevent Johnston from leaving the valley, his orders could be interpreted as giving him the choice to follow the Confederate force. He decided this was the better option, but Johnston was able to give him the slip. The railways were to play a major part in the American Civil War. They now had their first starring role. Johnston’s army moved by railway to Manassas, where they arrived just in time to ensure the Confederate victory at First Bull Run (21 July 1861).


1862 saw the most dramatic Confederate victories in the Shenandoah Valley. In the main Virginia theatre, McClellan was threatening Richmond from the Peninsular, while a second major Union army was poised at Fredericksburg under McDowell, ready to move on Richmond from the north. If this had happened, even Lee would have struggled to save the Confederate capitol.

The key to this appeared to be ‘Stonewall’ Jackson, now commanding Confederate forces in the valley. On 23 March, Jackson had attacked the Union army in the valley, mistakenly thinking he had isolated the rearguard while part of the army was being transferred to McClellan (First Battle of Kernstown). Although he lost the battle, Jackson succeeded in stopping the transfer and also pinned McDowell at Fredericksburg, partly because Union commanders became convinced that Jackson must have a sizable army.

Inspired by this, Lee decided to reinforce Jackson. With 10,000 men from Ewell’s Division, Jackson now had 17,000 men to oppose two Union forces. General Banks had 20,000 men in the middle of the valley, while part of the Union army of West Virginia (under Frémont) was threatening Staunton, towards the southern end.

Jackson dealt with this threat with a masterful campaign that took full advantage of the railway system. At the start of May, he marched east across the Blue Ridge Mountains to Charlottesville. The Union commanders assumed that he was heading east to reinforce Richmond. Instead, he was heading west, using the railway to reach McDowell, where with 9,000 of his men he defeated the vanguard of Frémont’s army (8 May). This defeat stopped Frémont in his tracks, and allowed Jackson to march back to the valley to deal with Bank’s single division (the rest of his army having been sent east).

Banks had realised that he was in danger and had retreated to Strasburg, in the main valley. Between Harrisonburg to the south and Strasburg the valley is split in two by the Massanutten Mountains. The main road travels up the western part of the valley. Jackson started up that road, but half way to Strasburg (at New Market) he crossed over the mountains with most of his army to head up their eastern side (The Luray Valley), while his cavalry continued up the main road, hoping to fool Banks into stopping at Strasburg until Jackson could hit him from the rear.

Unfortunately for Jackson, Banks had not entirely neglected the Luray Valley, and had placed a small force at Front Royal, near to the junction of the two valleys. While Jackson was able to brush the force aside (battle of Front Royal, 23 May), it did serve to warn Banks of the threat. Banks retreated north to Winchester, with Jackson hot on his heels. Banks’s outnumbered troops reached the town first, but were then defeated in battle (First Battle of Winchester, 25 May) and fled back to the Potomac.

Jackson had succeeded in preventing reinforcements reaching McClellan, but now he had to survive the Federal response. Frémont had been ordered to cross the mountains to Harrisonburg, while two divisions from McDowell’s army were ordered west. If these orders had been followed, Jackson would have been in a great deal of trouble, but luckily for him, Frémont was deterred by a small Confederate force in the passes west of Harrisonburg, and rather than attack them, he marched forty mile north and crossed into the valley near Strasburg.

This diversion allowed Jackson to escape the trap. His men earned the nickname ‘Jackson’s Foot Cavalry’ because of their rapid movement in this campaign. To escape the Union trap they had marched at twice the speed of their opponents, just passing through Strasburg in time. Nevertheless, they were still in danger. Frémont’s 15,000 men were chasing them down the western valley, while 10,000 men from McDowell’s army (under General Shields) were on a parallel course across the Massanuttens.

The three armies came together in the vicinity of Port Republic, at the southern end of the Massanutten Mountains. Jackson turned to face his pursuers. On 8 June he inflicted a defeat on Frémont (Battle of Cross Keys), before turning to deal with Shields’s advance force on 9 June (Battle of Port Republic). Although a planned final attack on Frémont had to be abandoned after unexpectedly stubborn resistance by Shields’s men, Jackson had caused enough damage to cause Lincoln to order both of his commanders to withdraw.

Jackson’s Valley campaign is deservedly one of the most admired of the entire civil war. Outnumber heavily by the total Union forces he faced, he had managed to move in such as way as to make sure that in four of the five battles he outnumbered his enemy. At the end of the campaign, the Union forces withdrew from the area, leaving Jackson free to head east to Richmond (where he was to play a less impressive role in the Seven Days Battles). More important to the outcome of the Peninsular Campaign was that Jackson’s actions in the Shenandoah Valley had probably kept as many as 60,000 Union soldiers away from Richmond.


The Shenandoah Valley saw less combat in 1863 than in any other year. Union defeat at the Battle of Chancellorsville handed the initiative to Lee, who decided to launch his great invasion of Pennsylvania. His invasion route passed through the valley. The northern part of the valley was back in Union hands, so Lee’s invasion began with a victory on home soil, when the Confederate vanguard captured the garrison of Winchester (2nd Battle of Winchester, 14-15 June). After that, the centre of attention moved north.


1864 saw Ulysses S. Grant arrive in Washington as commanding general of the Union armies. While his main campaign was aimed at Richmond, he also planned a series of diversions intended to prevent the Confederates shifting troops to reinforce Lee. The army in West Virginian and the Shenandoah was commanded by General Franz Sigel, a political general who had performed well in several battles. His role was to campaign in the valley and deny its resources to Lee.

The forces involved in Sigel’s campaign were tiny. He had 6,500 men to oppose a Confederate army of 5,000 commanded by John C. Breckinridge (another political general and a former vice-President). While Sigel moved south up the valley, Breckinridge attacked him at New Market, and inflicted an embarrassing defeat that ended Sigel’s time in command.

His replacement, General David Hunter, started well. He marched down the entire length of the valley, winning a minor victory at Piedmont (5 June) and reaching Lexington, where he burnt the Virginia Military Institute. From there he crossed out of the valley to attack Lynchburg. There, he found 8,000 men under Jubal Early sent by Lee to stop Hunter’s destruction in the valley, and after a brief attempt to attack (18 June) decided to retreat.

Extraordinarily, he decided to retreat west, into West Virginia. Despite his best attempts to justify this move, it soon cost Hunter his command. It also provided the Confederates with one of their best moments of 1864. Early marched north down the Shennandoah Valley, and on 5 July crossed into Maryland. The last Confederate invasion of the North had begun.

Early even managed something Lee did not – he won a clear victory on Northern soil, against a hastily gather Union army at the Monancy River (9 July). The next day (a Sunday), Early’s 10,000 men approached the defences of Washington. His army was not big enough to actually occupy Washington, but the garrison had been massively reduced to help Grant’s offensive, and there were only 9,600 men (mostly invalids or militiamen) in the defences of the federal capitol. If Early had attacked on the morning of 11 July, it is quite possible that he could have broken into the city, and caused incalculable damage to Lincoln’s chances in the upcoming Presidential elections.

Sadly for the Confederacy, Early did not take his chance. While he pondered, veteran Union soldiers of the Sixth Corp began to arrive in the city. As they appeared on the ramparts, Early realised that his chance was lost and that he had better retreat before he was overwhelmed by the Union response. After a brief attack on 12 July, he turned back towards the Shenandoah.

Early’s raid was an acute embarrassment to Lincoln. Grant’s great offensive against Richmond had failed to take the city and had lost 65,000 men. Public opinion in the North can be forgiven for not seeing how badly weakened Lee’s army had been by the same fighting, and now a tiny Confederate army had approached the gates of Washington!

Grant decided to try a different approach to the Shenandoah Valley. Grant realised that the Union gained no real benefit from occupation of the valley, and that the numerous gaps through the Blue Ridge Mountains made any Federal army in the valley vulnerable to being attacked in its rear by troops from the rest of Virginia. In contrast, the Confederates could use the valley both to feed their armies in Virginia and to launch embarrassing attacks into the north.

At the beginning of August, General Sheridan was put in charge of Union efforts in the Shenandoah (On 1 August he was given command of the field army, and on 8 August was given overall control of the area). Grant gave him two missions. First, he was to ‘put himself south of the enemy’ to destroy Early’s army, preferably by outmanoeuvring him.

Second, he was to take or destroy anything that might be of use to the enemy, especially the food that was supplying the Confederate armies and raiders in the valley. This was harsh warfare, but Grant’s aim was to win the war as quickly as possible. More lives would be lost if the war was prolonged by supplies from the valley than would be lost in the valley itself if Sheridan was able to turn the valley into a desert. While Sheridan’s devastation of the valley was to cause much hardship, his aim was to destroy the surplus crops that could feed an army, not to cause starvation amongst the population.

To do this, he had an army of 34,000 infantry and 6,400 cavalry, made up of units from a variety of different armies. As had happened so often in the past, Union intelligence overestimated the size of the Confederate army. Early’s army had been reinforced up to a strength of 23,000 men, but was estimated to be at least 40,000 strong. Accordingly, Sheridan prepared carefully for his campaign. An early August thrust down the valley reached Strasburg before retreating after receiving exaggerated news of Confederate reinforcements.

After this, Sheridan settled down close to the Potomac, and waited for his chance. This inactivity worried Lincoln, and eventually even Grant, who made two visits to the valley to prod Sheridan into action. On his second visit he found Sheridan about to move anyway. Some of Early’s reinforcements had left, while the rest of the army was spread out around Winchester. Sheridan planned to attack the town from the east, cutting Early off from the rest of the valley.

The attack did not go to plan. On 19 September (3rd Battle of Winchester), Sheridan’s 30,000 men jammed up the available roads, and the attack was chaotic. However, Early could only bring 12,000 men into the battle, and after a hard days fighting Sheridan’s superior numbers appeared to have caused a rout.

This was misleading. Early’s army had fled the battlefield, but it soon reformed. This time Early took up a position on Fisher’s Hill, twenty miles south of Winchester. Although potentially a strong position, Early did not have enough men to defend the four mile long position, and on 22 September (Battle of Fisher’s Hill), Sheridan was able to inflict another defeat on Early.

By now, Early had lost over 5,000 men. Grant was confident that he was beaten, and began to plan to move Sheridan’s army back to the Richmond theatre. However, Early demonstrated just how vulnerable Union armies could be in the Shenandoah Valley. His lost reinforcements were returned to him, and on 19 October he launched an attack on the Union camp at Cedar Creek.

The initial attack was spectacularly successful. Early’s army crashed into the Union camp, breaking two Corps almost without a fight. A third veteran Corp was also surprised, and was forced to pull back, but did not break. While this was happening, Sheridan was absent at Winchester, fourteen miles from the camp. Riding towards the noise of battle, he found large chunks of his army fleeing the scene. Sheridan’s greatest attribute was his ability in a crisis. As he rode south, he was able to rally his fleeing men, so that when he reached the battlefield he came with reinforcements. A well planned counterattack followed, and Early’s army shattered. His attack had always been a gamble – he was outnumbered two to one – and although he inflicted nearly twice as many casualties as he suffered, after Cedar Creek his army was effectively destroyed.

They were finally eliminated in the closing days of the war. On 2 March 1865, General Custer defeated the remains of the Confederate army of the Shenandoah at Waynesborough. Sheridan’s entire army was now available to take part in the final campaign around Richmond and Petersburg.

Next: Invading the North

Stonewall Jackson’s Early Masterpiece – The Shenandoah Valley

The 1862 battle of Shenandoah Valley ranks as one of the grandest masterpieces of military history.

The Shenandoah Valley situated in Virginia and bounded to the north by Blue Ridge and to the south by the Allegheny Mountains offered strategic shielding and transportation advantages to the Confederate forces, and with its fertile soil and farming communities, provided food for them during the American Civil War (which lasted from July 1861 to March 1865).

General Jackson’s “Chancellorsville” Portrait, taken at a Spotsylvania County farm on April 26, 1863, seven days before his mortal wounding at the Battle of Chancellorsville.

Not only is the Shenandoah Valley remembered for hosting dozens of intense, blood-spilling engagements between the hostile Confederate Forces who battled the intimidating Union Forces for control of the region, the campaigns at the Shenandoah Valley (alongside the events of First Manassas, or Bull Run) remains significant in Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s rise to fame.

During the campaign of Shenandoah Valley, Jackson marched with a troop of 17,000 men across 650 miles in 48 days, in confrontation with about 40,000 Union Forces led by General Nathaniel P. Banks and General John C. Frémont.

His ‘foot cavalry’ fought five battles (The battles of McDowell, Front Royal, Winchester, Cross Keys, and Port Republic.), which resulted in a heavy depletion of Federal forces, threatened the fall of Washington D.C., and forced a retreat of the awe-struck Northern troops from the southern capital, saving her from capture.

Jackson’s Valley Campaign: Kernstown to McDowell. Red – Confederate, Blue – Union. Map by Hal Jespersen / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Following the hostilities at First Manassas which turned out in favor of the Confederates, the odds turned against the confederate forces, stacking high against them as the Union forces moved with fierce determination, making significant progress in the battles of Fort Donelson and Shiloh in the Western Theater, and approaching Richmond (the southern capital) from both north and southeast.

The troops of General Nathaniel P. Banks were surging forth in a bid to take over the Shenandoah Valley it is in the light of this that Stonewall Jackson wrote to a staff member saying, “If this valley is lost, Virginia is lost.”

Banks in his military uniform, c. 1861

While the battle seemed desperately unfavorable for the Confederates, Jackson who had taken command of Confederate troops in the valley, had an objective from Gen. Joseph E. Johnston: to protect the valley and prevent the Union troops from leaving.

This was key as part of the Union troops under Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks had been dispatched to join Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign against Richmond, while another part was sent to aid Maj. Gen. Irvin McDowell at Fredericksburg.

This had drastically shrunk Bank’s numerical strength, and seizing this opportunity, Jackson surged after them at Kernstown with his 4,600 men. Although they were still substantially outnumbered and suffered a technical defeat, Jackson’s troop struck Banks so hard that he had to recall some of his units that he had dispatched to McClellan and McDowell.

The battle of Kernstown produced about 590 casualties for the Union forces and about 718 casualties from the Confederates with most of those wounded or captured.

First Battle of Kernstown – Hal Jespersen CC BY 3.0

While the McClellan Peninsula campaign was well in progress, Joseph E Johnston sent most of his troops to aid in the protection of Richmond. However, he reinforced Jackson with 8500 men under the command of Maj. Gen. Richard S. Ewell with orders to prevent Banks from capturing Staunton, Virginia and the Tennessee Railroad.

Jackson had planned for Ewell to head on with his troops to Swift Run Gap to disorient Banks’ flank while he joined Brig. Gen. Edward “Allegheny” Johnson at Staunton. He wanted defend it against attack from Brig. Gen. Robert H. Milroy who was the leading figure in Maj. Gen. John C. Frémont’s forces.

General Jackson – Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau CC BY-SA 3.0

This plan had been strictly to prevent Banks’ troops and Fremont’s troops from joining forces. Jackson was concerned that if this were to be allowed, the confederate’s troop would be overwhelmed.

When Jackson joined Johnson at Staunton, Johnson’s army numbered about 2800 men, facing Fremont’s force of around 20000 men. However, with the aid of Jackson’s boisterous army, they overwhelmed Fremont’s army near McDowell, chasing them more than 30 miles up the South Branch Valley to Franklin.

On May 22, Jackson rejoined Ewell, and then he sent General Ashby north to make Banks believe that there was an attack coming to Strasburg. But his first plan was to defeat the smaller Union detachment at Front Royal.

General Irvin McDowell (left) with General George B. McClellan

Ashby’s troops met a small force of Union infantry who briefly defended the Union depot and railroad base at Buckton Station. Ashby’s troops overpowered them, destroyed the depot and cut all telegraph wires available, eliminating Front Royal communication with Banks who was at Strasburg.

Jackson Valley Campaign – Front Royal to Port Republic – Hal Jespersen CC BY 3.0

Jackson meanwhile was on his on journey towards Front Royal and eventually captured it. Union forces at Front Royal suffered about 773 casualties of which 691 were captured. The Confederates lost about 36 men in all and captured a huge amount of Federal supplies.

The event at Front Royal troubled President Lincoln enough to recall about 20000 men under Maj. Gen. Irvin McDowell from their initial move to join George B. McClellan on the Peninsula campaign.

Front Royal Va. – The Union Army under Banks entering the town, May 20, 1862.

Following the news of the loss at Front Royal, Banks ordered for his men to retreat to Winchester. This information got to Jackson who immediately gave the Federals a hot chase. The Union army raced about 35 miles in 14 hours, crossing the Potomac River eluding Jackson’s forces.

The escape is due largely because Ashby’s cavalry was not available when they were needed. In the end, this event resulted in about 2000 casualties from the Union forces and 400 casualties from Jackson’s.

News of Jackson’s exploits rang through to Washington where President Abraham Lincoln was concerned about the possibilities of the Jackson surging up to Washington. In response, Lincoln ordered that Fremont march from Franklin to Harrisonburg to engage Jackson to help remove the pressure being exerted on Banks from the enemy forces.

He also called off McDowell’s march to Richmond, ordering him to march to Shenandoah with 20000 men with the objective of capturing Jackson and Ewell’s forces. This drastic change of plan was intended to trap Jackson’s army using three Union armies from three different approaches.

Historical marker marking the end of Gen. Stonewall Jackson’s pursuit of the Federals after the Battle of McDowell, May 12, 1862. Photo: Jarek Tuszyński / CC-BY-SA-3.0 & GDFL

Fremont would surge upon his supply line from Harrisonburg while Banks would move back across the Potomac and attack Jackson if he moved up the valley. McDowell’s troops would be poised at Front Royal lying in wait for Jackson’s fleeing troops and would crush them with Fremont at Harrisonburg.

Although the plan seemed sound, it required synchronous operations from the three different Union generals. Moreover, McDowell was not quite enthusiastic about his role, and instead of going as ordered, he sent the division of Brig. Gen. James Shields (which just came from Banks’ army). Fremont on his own part would ignore Lincoln’s directives and take the route north of Moorefield.

On May 30 th , Shields succeeded in recapturing Front Royal, and Jackson’s army began heading to Winchester.

Confederate general Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson.

On June 2 nd , Jackson’s army was on the run as the Union armies approached from various angles. General Ashby later died in an engagement with Fremont’s cavalry at Chestnut Ridge. Jackson’s men marched 40 miles in 36 hours and slipped by the Union Forces who were impeded by the rains and muddy roads.

Chasing after Jackson separately was a big error on the Federal’s parts, and Jackson was quick to grab this opportunity. Jackson moved his troops across the North River bridge at Port Republic, where the North and South rivers joined to become the South Fork of the Shenandoah. He knew the small town of Port Republic was crucial and by destroying the bridge at the confluence, he would be able to keep Shield and Fremont apart.

He set Ewell on his way to a ridge 7 miles from Cross Keys, to engage Fremont. On June 8 th , Fremont marched to meet Ewell with a force of 11,500. Ewell’s troop numbered just 5800 after detaching Richard Taylor’s brigade to join Jackson.

The battle of Cross Keys by Edwin Forbes, June 7, 1862

Fremont struck first, but he had been mistaken about Ewell’s ‘strategic flank’. While he engaged the Confederates in heavy bombardments, he ordered 5 regiments under Brig. Gen. Julius Stahel to find Ewell’s flank, but in the course of executing his orders, Stahel was met by Confederate general Isaac R. Trimble’s brigade.

Trimble’s men sent fiery volley, raining down on Stahel’s men. This resulted in over 200 casualties as Stahel’s men retreated in haste. When Fremont received the news, he ordered his forces to retreat to Keezletown Road. Ewell and his troops pursued and recovered more ground, but they did not aggressively engage the retreating Union units.

Meanwhile, Jackson had been thoroughly engaged as Union horsemen surged unexpectedly into Port Republic wherein he made his headquarters. He narrowly escaped being captured while running down across the North River Bridge to join his units on the crest beyond. His men later reentered the city and sent the cavalry units back across the South River. The incident also announced the presence of Shield’s column.

General Erastus B. Tyler during the Civil War.

Later in the day Brig. Gen. Erastus B. Tyler marched two brigades of Union infantry in a sunken lane that stretched across the fields between Lewiston and the South Fork. Here, Tyler mounted six cannons, ready to bring hell to the confederates.

Jackson, not intimidated by Tyler’s threats, ordered rig. Gen. Charles S. Winder across the South Fork with the Stonewall Brigade to attack Tyler’s line, but this was not successful.

Battle of Port Republic.

Jackson ordered Ewell’s forces back to Port Republic, and they poured through the Southern River. Jackson also ordered Taylor’s Louisiana brigades to go through the woods and disrupt Winder’s attack.

Taylor went with his men, flanking Winder’s cannons. They captured the cannons from the rear, turning them against the Union. Simultaneously, Jackson’s forces surged forward from Port Republic, driving the Union forces on their heels once again.

Jackson and Little Sorrel, painting by David Bendann

The battle at Port Republic marked the end of Jackson’s 1862 campaign. He had marched against an enemy far greater in numbers and had consistently outmaneuvered them. Although the level of casualties in the campaign was much smaller compared to later campaigns, Jackson’s Valley Campaign was instrumental in securing Richmond’s protection.

Through these fierce battles, he had drawn the Northern troops away from Richmond, saving it from ultimate capture. With only a force of about 17000 men, he had proven that sometimes just when numbers seem to be beyond you, your determination to keep fighting is enough to turn the battle in your favor.

American Civil War: The Shenandoah Valley - History

Into little more than four years, from April 1861 to June 1865, were compressed the passions, the violence, the hopes, and the agonies of generations. More than 600,000 American soldiers of North and South died of battle or disease. Nearly 300,000 others were scarred by shot and shell but lived to return home at war's end, to begin their lives anew in a country now indissolubly united. The American Civil War, in the words of historian Shelby Foote, ``was the crossroads of our being.'' Former Poet Laureate of the United States Robert Penn Warren once wrote:

The Civil War is, for the American imagination, the great single event of our history. Without too much wrenching, it may, in fact, be said to be American history. Before the Civil War we had no history in the deepest and most inward sense. There was, of course, the noble vision of the Founding Fathers articulated in the Declaration and the Constitution--the dream of freedom incarnated in a more perfect Union . But the Revolution did not create a nation except on paper and too often in the following years the vision of the Founding Fathers, which men had suffered and died to validate, became merely a daydream of easy and automatic victories, a vulgar delusion of manifest destiny, a conviction of a people divinely chosen to live on milk and honey at small expense. The vision had not been finally submitted to the test of history. There was little awareness of the cost of having a history. The anguished scrutiny of the meaning of the vision in experience had not become a national reality. It became a reality, and we became a nation, only with the Civil War. The Civil War is our only ``felt'' history--history lived in the national imagination. This is not to say that the War is always, and by all men, felt in the same way. Quite the contrary. But this fact is an index to the very complexity, depth, and fundamental significance of the event. It is an overwhelming and vital image of human and national experience.

Fully one-third of the recorded events of armed conflict of the Civil War occurred in Virginia , where the proximity of Washington , D.C. , and Richmond --capitals of the opposed camps--spurred campaign after campaign. The passing of the armies in Virginia left an indelible impression upon the American cultural landscape, endowing posterity with the resonance of such names as Manassas and Bull Run, Malvern Hill, Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg , Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, Petersburg --and others less well rehearsed--Seven Pines, Gaines' Mill, Cedar Run, Chantilly , North Anna, and Yellow Tavern.

Few places associated with the Civil War in Virginia evoke more recognition or response among students of the time than the Shenandoah Valley, where a Southern VMI professor-turned-general named Thomas J. Jackson defeated three Northern armies in a single month. The battles of Jackson 's Valley Campaign of 1862 are known to students of the war, not only in the United States , but across the world. General Norman Schwarzkopf recently credited Jackson 's campaign in a televised interview as one of the guiding lights behind his strategy in the Middle East . Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the ``Desert Fox,'' is said to have been well versed in Stonewall's maxims, and an apocryphal story has Rommel visiting the Valley and following in Jackson 's footsteps. To this day, the U.S. Army regularly conducts ``staff rides'' in the Valley for its officers, following the course of Jackson 's famed ``Foot Cavalry.''

Less romantic, less well known than the 1862 campaign, but no less significant, were the events of the war's later years as the North tried to exorcise the ghost of Jackson and gain control of the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia's most important agricultural region. The war acquired a dark and desperate edge. In October 1864, Union general Philip Sheridan introduced total warfare to the Valley, a concept that Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman introduced in Mississippi and would bring to Georgia in November and December, during his ``March to the Sea.'' In Sheridan's words: ``I have destroyed over 2,000 barns, filled with wheat, hay, and farming implements over 70 mills, filled with flour and wheat. When this is completed, the Valley from Winchester up to Staunton , ninety-two miles, will have but little in it for man or beast.'' This bitter month became known to Valley residents as ``The Burning.''

Few regions in the United States have experienced the horrors of systematic destruction, and the memories are still close to the surface for many long-time Valley residents. Family histories are filled with stories that relate to the hardships of that time. It took a generation to repair the ravages of ``The Burning'' and another generation before life in the Valley returned to its pre-war condition. There can be found there today a fierce pride in ancestors who survived the war and who struggled to rebuild all that was lost.

Official chronologies record 326 incidents of armed conflict in the Shenandoah Valley during the Civil War: 6 battles, 21 engagements, 21 actions, and 278 skirmishes, on the average one conflict every 4-5 days. This reckoning does not include many of the raids, ambushes, and partisan affairs that made warfare in the Valley a daily dance with death. More than half of the recorded armed conflicts occurred in the final year of the war. Map 6 shows how these events plot out in terms of frequency with the reddest areas showing most frequent fighting and the bluest areas showing least frequent fighting.

The total numbers of killed and wounded in these conflicts has never been tallied, nor do the records exist to allow it. Thousands more died in hospitals of disease than in battle. The Confederate and National cemeteries at Winchester alone account for nearly 7,500 dead, and it is difficult to locate a city or private cemetery in the Valley that does not comment silently on the commitment and valor of the Valley's soldiers.

The history of the Civil War in the Shenandoah Valley bears witness to the devastation and waste of warfare, but more importantly, it underscores the irrepressible human will to survive, to rebuild, to carry on. These lessons will continue to have relevance for generations to come. The historic events and the human players of the Valley--the heroic and the tragic alike--have contributed significantly to the texture of our American cultural heritage.

Shenandoah Valley Campaign History

Shenandoah Valley and the Civil War

Geography and Strategic Importance of the Valley

The Shenandoah Valley is that portion of the Great Valley of Virginia that is drained by the Shenandoah River and its affluents. The Valley extends on a southwest to northeast bearing, from its headwaters north of Lexington to the Potomac River , a distance of about 140 miles. For convenience, the Valley can be said to extend from Lexington to the Potomac River, although the watershed in the immediate vicinity of Lexington drains south to the James River .

The Shenandoah Valley is bounded on the northwest by North Mountain , the first range of the Allegheny Mountains, and on the southeast by the Blue Ridge, which separates the Valley from the Piedmont region and coastal plain of eastern Virginia . The distance from Washington to the Blue Ridge at Snickers Gap is about fifty-five miles from Richmond to the Blue Ridge is about a hundred. At its widest, the Valley is nearly twenty-five miles across. North of the Potomac River, the Valley continues into Maryland and Pennsylvania with a similar configuration, but there it is called the Cumberland Valley , and the Blue Ridge is named South Mountain .

The Shenandoah Valley encompasses two counties in West Virginia : Berkeley and Jefferson and seven counties in Virginia : Frederick , Clarke, Warren , Shenandoah, Page, Rockingham, and Augusta . Highland County has been included in the study region because of its intimate association with Jackson 's 1862 Campaign, even though it is beyond North Mountain . Berkeley , Jefferson, Frederick, Clarke, and Warren counties are referred to as the Lower (downstream) Valley while the counties south of Strasburg are called the Upper Valley .

The Shenandoah Valley's unique feature is Massanutten Mountain , a complex ridge that extends for some fifty miles through its middle, from Strasburg southwest to Harrisonburg . Throughout its length, the Massanutten divides the Valley into two smaller valleys, the main or Strasburg Valley , which is drained by the North Fork Shenandoah River , and the narrower Page or Luray Valley , drained by the South Fork Shenandoah River . Just south of Strasburg, the main Valley is only about five miles across, while on the far side of the Massanutten, the Luray Valley funnels down to a width of less than a mile and a half at the town of Overall (antebellum Milford ).

From the general vicinity of Lexington , a series of small streams flows northerly these combine to form the South River near Waynesboro , the Middle River near Staunton , and the North River near Bridgewater . The North and Middle rivers conjoin west of Grottoes, and the South River merges a few miles downstream at Port Republic to form the South Fork Shenandoah River . Port Republic marked the upstream limit for seasonal navigation of the river, hence its name. The South Fork flows down the Luray or Page Valley to Front Royal.

The North Fork Shenandoah River arises from the many small streams that spring from Shenandoah and North Mountain west and south of Timberville. The river's largest tributary--Smith Creek--joins near Rude's Hill at Mt. Jackson . Two other important tributaries join farther downstream--Stony Creek at Edinburg and Narrow Passage Creek near Woodstock . From here the river meanders northeast through a series of incised meanders, known as ``Seven Bends.'' At Strasburg, the North Fork turns abruptly east across the head of the Massanutten, where it is joined by Cedar Creek. At Front Royal the North and South forks conjoin, forming the Shenandoah River proper, now several hundred yards wide. From Front Royal, the Shenandoah flows steadily to the northeast along the flank of the Blue Ridge to empty into the Potomac River at Harpers Ferry . At the time of the Civil War, locks on the Potomac River allowed access to the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal, which carried canal boat traffic to Georgetown .

For the last forty miles of its journey to the Potomac, the Shenandoah River is paralleled on the west by a meandering, high- banked stream called Opequon Creek, or simply the Opequon (Oh- PECK-n) which arises in the vicinity of Winchester and drains the western portion of the Lower Valley , emptying into the Potomac River .

Shenandoah Valley Civil War Map of Battles

Shenandoah Valley Civil War Map of Battles

Valley Turnpikes, Roads, and Gaps

The Valley Map of cartographer Jedediah Hotchkiss (produced 1862- 1863) reveals an intricate web of turnpikes and farm roads within the Valley, reflecting its densely settled agricultural character at the time of the Civil War. In most places, the modern network of State and county roads is congruent with the historic network. The primary historic Valley highways and roads are in use today.

The major northeast-southwest thoroughfare of the Shenandoah Valley at the time of the Civil War was the Valley Turnpike, which extended from the Potomac River at Williamsport via Martinsburg, Winchester, Middletown, Strasburg, New Market, Harrisonburg, Staunton, and Fairfield to Lexington. This road is one of the oldest and most historic transportation routes in America . In prehistoric times, Indians followed buffalo herds along its route. Later it was referred to as the Warrior Trace. The first settlers entered the Valley from Maryland , crossed the Potomac River at Williamsport , Shepherdstown, and Harpers Ferry , and followed the road south. In the 18th century, it was part of the Great Wagon Road , which ran from Philadelphia to the back country of the Carolinas and the Cumberland Gap . When it was incorporated as the Valley Turnpike (a toll road) in the 19th century, it had already contributed mightily to the settlement of the American frontier. In the 20th century, first US 11 and then I-81 were laid out to follow its course.

In the 19th century, the Valley Turnpike was part of a fledgling State transportation network of turnpikes, local roads, railroads, and canals. It boasted a macadamized surface that enabled travel in wet weather. The army that controlled this road had the advantage of being able to move swiftly up or down the Valley, while its enemies bogged down on the muddy side roads. Not surprisingly, most of the Shenandoah Valley 's battles and smaller engagements were fought somewhere along the Valley Turnpike. Two dirt roads ran parallel with the Turnpike for most of the distance between Winchester and Staunton , and these roads were used extensively in conjunction with troop movements along the Turnpike. The Back Road , which skirted the flank of Little North Mountain, was known for years as the Cattle Road after the herds that were once driven north along its route to market. The Middle Road traced a meandering course between the Back Road and the Valley Turnpike. These routes today are followed by paved county roads.

The placement of the major east-west routes through the Valley depended on the location of gaps through the Blue Ridge on the east and through the Alleghenies on the west. The Blue Ridge gaps were low and relatively numerous, while only a few natural gaps in the North Mountain of the Alleghenies allowed settlers to penetrate farther into the interior. Roads were built through these gaps to carry traffic into West Virginia and to the Ohio River . The modern road network utilizes many of these natural gaps.

Winchester was a vital transportation hub in the Lower Valley . Including the Valley Turnpike (sometimes known as the Martinsburg Turnpike north of town), nine important roads or turnpikes radiated from the city. North of town, the Old Charles Town Road (rte. 761) diverged from the Valley Turnpike at Stephenson's Depot, leading to Harpers Ferry via Summit Point and Charles Town. The ``Berryville'' turnpike (modern VA 7 east) led through Snicker's Gap to Bluemont (antebellum Snickersville) where branches continued to the seaport of Alexandria via Leesburg (Leesburg and Snicker's Gap Turnpike, Leesburg and Alexandria Turnpike) and through Aldie (Snicker's Gap Turnpike) to Fairfax Courthouse on the Little River Turnpike. From Winchester , the Winchester and Berry 's Ferry Turnpike ( US 50 east) ran southeast through Ashby's Gap. The Front Royal and Gaines's Crossroads Turnpike ( US 522 south) led south to the town of Front Royal . Middle Road (rte. 628) led south to Strasburg and Cedar Creek Grade or Cedar Creek Turnpike (rte. 622) led southwest to Cedar Creek Gap. The North Western Turnpike ( US 50 west) left the Valley by Petticoat Gap on its way to Romney. Just beyond the gap, the Hardy and Winchester Turnpike (rte. 608 south) diverged southwest to Moorefield in Hardy County via Wardensville. The North Frederick Turnpike ( US 522 north) led west and north to Hancock , Maryland .

Because of its strategic location in the Lower Valley , Winchester changed hands an estimated 72 times during the war, as the armies repeatedly advanced and receded. Five major battles (three at Winchester , two at Kernstown) and many smaller engagements (including Rutherford 's Farm and Abrams Creek) were fought in the vicinity.

Front Royal, situated at the confluence of the North and South forks of the Shenandoah River at the head of the Massanutten, was a second important transportation node. In addition to the turnpikes leading north to Winchester and Berryville, roads ran west to intersect the Valley Turnpike at Strasburg (VA 55 west), east through Manassas Gap to join the Warrenton Turnpike at Gainesville (VA 55 east), and southeast through Chester Gap to Massie's Corner (US 522 south). The Luray and Front Royal Turnpike ( US 340) led southwest through Page County along the course of the South Fork to Luray.

From Luray, the New Market and Sperryville Turnpike ( US 211 east) crossed Thornton 's Gap to Sperryville, where roads branched northeast to Warrenton and southeast to Culpeper Courthouse. Heading west from Luray, the turnpike crossed Massanutten Mountain to New Market, from where it continued (VA 211 and 259) to Brock's Gap in Little North Mountain. The Luray Road ( US 340) continued south to Waynesboro via Shenandoah, Elkton, and Port Republic .

Harrisonburg , situated on the Valley Turnpike near the base of Massanutten Mountain , was an important crossroads. The Swift Run Gap Turnpike ( US 33 east) passed along the base of the Massanutten via Elkton over Swift Run Gap to Gordonsville. From Harrisonburg , a road ( US 33 west) led into the Alleghenies through Dry River Gap to Franklin , West Virginia . The Warm Springs Turnpike (VA 42) led southwest into Bath County . An important Blue Ridge crossing in this area, which led from Port Republic through Brown's Gap (rte. 663) to Charlottesville , no longer carries modern traffic.

From Harrisonburg , the Valley Turnpike ( US 11 south) continued to Staunton where it intersected the major east-west thoroughfare of the Upper Valley --the `` Parkersburg Road '' (US 250). This road actually comprised three turnpikes on its course from central Virginia to Parkersburg , West Virginia . From Charlottesville , the Rivanna and Rockfish Gap Turnpike led to the gap where it entered the Staunton and Scottsville Turnpike, leading to the city. From Staunton west, the Staunton and Parkersburg Turnpike passed through Buffalo Gap to reach Parkersburg via McDowell and Monterey . Staunton 's location at the intersections of the Valley Turnpike, the Parkersburg Road , and the Virginia Central Railroad, made it the most vital transportation center of the Upper Valley . It was an important supply and staging area for Confederate armies operating in the Valley until the summer and fall of 1864, when it was repeatedly ravaged by Union forces.

Deserving notice are several other Blue Ridge gaps, which are sometimes mentioned in historic accounts. Seven miles south of Harpers Ferry is Keyes Gap, crossed by VA 9 from Charles Town into Loudoun County . Six miles farther south is Gregory's or Wilson Gap, which is no longer in use. Between Chester Gap and Thornton 's Gap above Luray, were two minor gaps, which are not in use today--Gravelly Spring and Beham's gaps. East of Waynesboro near Rockfish Gap is a cluster of little-used gaps--Turk's, Jarman's, and Beagle. Farther south are Howardsville Gap, Reed's Gap (rte. 664), and Indian or White's Gap ( US 60 east), which carries the road from Lexington and eventually to Richmond .

Of these many gaps, Snickers, Ashby's, Manassas , Chester , Swift Run, Brown's, Thornton 's, and Rockfish gaps are most often mentioned in Civil War literature.

Crucial for understanding military operations in the Shenandoah Valley were the railroads. By 1860, about 1,600 miles of railroads had been built in Virginia . The Baltimore & Ohio (B&O), Winchester & Potomac (W&P), and Manassas Gap railroads traversed the Lower Valley while the Virginia Central served the Upper Valley . The most important of these railroads in terms of volume of traffic was the B&O Railroad, which ran from Baltimore to Wheeling , West Virginia , via Harpers Ferry , Martinsburg, and Grafton. The B&O served as a major east-west transportation artery for the North and remained in Federal hands on-and-off for most of the war.

As a vital rail, river, and canal junction, Harpers Ferry was occupied by the Confederacy early in the war and later served as Union general Philip H. Sheridan's principal base of operations for his 1864 campaign. The Confederates raided the B&O throughout the war at Harper's Ferry, Duffield's Depot, Martinsburg, and elsewhere. The B&O was severed repeatedly, but the North's ability to repair damage and keep the trains running outstripped the South's ability to disrupt the railroad. When West Virginia was admitted into the Union in 1863, the West Virginia Panhandle (Jefferson, Berkeley, and Morgan counties) was added to the new State in a bid to maintain control of the B&O Railroad, even though most of the citizens of those counties supported the Southern cause.

The W&P Railroad ran from Winchester to Harpers Ferry via Charles Town, a distance of 32 miles. Farther south, the Manassas Gap Railroad ran 78 miles from near Mt. Jackson via Strasburg, Front Royal, and Manassas Gap to Manassas Junction where it joined the Orange & Alexandria Railroad (O&A). Before the war, these railroads carried the produce of the Lower Valley to the markets of Baltimore and Washington. By 1862, both the W&P and the Manassas Gap had been thoroughly dismantled. The Union army made some attempt to repair these railroads in 1864 but abandoned the effort because of the activities of Col. John S. Mosby and his partisan rangers.

Serving the Upper Valley , the Virginia Central Railroad ran more than 195 miles from Jackson 's River Depot near Covington to Richmond --via Buffalo Gap to Staunton and via Rockfish Gap Tunnel to Charlottesville and beyond. Between Charlottesville and Gordonsville, the Virginia Central used the same tracks as the O&A, enabling connections to Lynchburg and points south, or Culpeper, Manassas , and Alexandria to the north. From Gordonsville, the Virginia Central continued east via Hanover Junction to Richmond . This railroad carried vital supplies from the Valley to the Confederate capital (with disruptions) well into 1864.

Although not geographically part of the Shenandoah Valley, Lynchburg served as a major rail and canal center, supply depot, and hospital complex for the Confederacy. Produce from the Upper Valley could be shipped there by road or stream and thence to Richmond on the James River Canal , the Southside Railroad, or the O&A Railroad via Charlottesville and Gordonsville. The Southside Railroad linked Richmond with the western Confederacy through its connections with the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad. The Southside Railroad continued to supply Richmond , with interruptions from Federal raiders, until the Battle of Five Forks (1 April 1865).

Overview of Military Strategy in the Shenandoah Valley

Throughout the Civil War, Confederate armies used the Shenandoah Valley as a natural corridor to invade or threaten invasion of the North. Because of its southwest-northeast orientation, Confederate armies marching down the Valley approached Washington and Baltimore, while Union armies marching up the Valley moved farther away from Richmond . The Blue Ridge served as a natural screen for the movement of troops. By defending the gaps with cavalry, Confederate armies could move swiftly north behind the protective wall of the Blue Ridge into Maryland and Pennsylvania General Robert E. Lee did this in the Gettysburg Campaign in 1863, as did Jubal Early in 1864. The Blue Ridge offered similar protection to Lee's army during its retreats from Antietam and Gettysburg .

When the need arose, Confederate defenders could hold the gaps in reverse against a Union army operating in the Valley. By withdrawing to the Blue Ridge near Brown's Gap to protect Charlottesville and eastern Virginia , the Confederates could threaten the flank and rear of any Union forces intent on penetrating the Upper Valley . The western gaps in the Allegheny chain were defended by Confederates against sporadic Union feints and incursions from West Virginia .

On the whole, Confederate armies succeeded in preventing deep Union penetration of the Upper Valley until late in the war, and Valley geography cooperated with the defense. Where the Massanutten Mountain rises abruptly between Front Royal and Strasburg, the width of the Valley is greatly decreased. With strong infantry at Fisher's Hill in the main valley south of Strasburg and cavalry at Overall (antebellum Milford ) in the Luray Valley , a Confederate general could effectively hold the Upper Valley against a numerically superior enemy. Fisher's Hill astride the Valley Turnpike was an important strategic ``choke point'' throughout the war.

If Confederate generals chose to withdraw up the Valley Turnpike from Fisher's Hill, any pursuing Union general was forced to split his forces at the Massanutten in order to cover an advance up both the main and the Luray valleys. Once divided, he could not again reunite his forces for more than fifty miles because of the intervening mountain. Only a single rough road crossed the Massanutten--running from New Market to Luray through the New Market Gap.

Thomas Jonathon “Stonewall” Jackson used Massanutten Mountain to screen his offensive movements in the 1862 Valley Campaign. Crossing from New Market to the Luray Valley in May, he advanced on Front Royal and then on Winchester , forcing the Union army, then at Strasburg, into abrupt withdrawal. Later in the campaign, he prevented two Union columns advancing against him up the main and Luray valleys from reuniting and defeated each separately in the climax of his campaign at the battles of Cross Keys and Port Republic .

The Shenandoah Valley was referred to as the ``Granary of Virginia.'' It was the richest agricultural region in Virginia , and its abundance supplied the Confederate cause. Because a large number of the inhabitants of Frederick, Shenandoah, Rockingham, and Augusta counties were pacifist Quakers or Dunkers who refused to fight in the war, the Valley continued to produce horses, grains, and livestock even after other portions of Virginia were made barren by the flight of slaves or the enlistment and conscription of the farmers. As the war continued, the City of Richmond and the Army of Northern Virginia, pinned down in the trenches at Richmond and Petersburg , came to depend more heavily on produce shipped from the Valley on the Virginia Central Railroad. Capturing the supply depot of Staunton and severing this railroad became a major objective of the Union armies in 1864.

As the war progressed, Lynchburg , too, became an important objective of Union campaigns in the Valley. In 1864, several expeditions--up the Valley from Winchester , and north from Bulls Gap, Tennessee --were devised to capture Lynchburg , but the city remained in Confederate hands until the end of the war.

For the Union, defending the vulnerable B&O Railroad and the line of the Potomac River were essential considerations for any operations in the Shenandoah Valley . Because of implicit threats against Washington , a small Confederate army in the Valley could pin down three to five times its number in Union defenders, threaten vital Union transportation and communication lines, and carry the war to the North, if opportunity presented itself.

As the war dragged on, the Shenandoah Valley increased in importance to the Southern cause, and correspondingly it became more urgent that the Northern armies succeed there after dramatic failures in 1862, 1863, and May 1864. Ultimately, the Northern army was forced to lay waste to the agricultural abundance of the Valley in order to destroy support for the Southern war effort.

Five regional programs fill in the gaps between the National Parks and highlight some of the less-known but no less interesting stories Virginia has to offer. Hundreds of Trails&apos interpretive signs give visitors the chance to explore Virginia&aposs back roads, learning some history while driving and walking through some of the most beautiful landscapes anywhere. Each regional Trail is outlined in free full-color maps available at state welcome centers and local/regional visitor centers. Find out more about Virginia&aposs Civil War Trails program!

Drive the tour of the Peninsula Campaign, beginning at Fort Monroe in Hampton and ending on the bloody battlefields near Richmond. Several interpreted stops relating to the March 1862 Battle of Hampton Roads - the first action between two ironclad ships, the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia - are available.

Additional sites of interest:

    , Newport News , Newport News
  • USS Monitor and The Mariners&apos Museum, Newport News
  • Fort Monroe Casemate Museum, Hampton

HISTORY CORNER: The Historic Shenandoah Valley

As the climate warmed during the last part of the Ice Age, large mammals such as the Mastodon migrated into the Shenandoah Valley and were hunted by the Indians.

This re-creation of frontier life in the Shenandoah Valley by the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton, Va., depicts early settlement in the valley mostly by English, Irish and Germans starting in the 1700s.

Tennessee rifleman heading from Strasburg through Winchester in the Shenandoah Valley to join the Virginia Army early in the Civil War (1861).

The 1864 Battle of Cedar Creek effectively ended the Shenandoah Valley Campaigns when Union Major General Philip Sheridan routed Confederate Lieutenant General Jubal A. Early, thus preventing any further threat to Washington, D.C., and eliminated a major source of food for the Confederacy.

Artist Charles Hoffbauer's epic mural depicts Confederate General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson and his troops marching 650 miles to the north through the Shenandoah Valley in 1862.

The Federal victory at the Battle of Fisher’s Hill on Sept. 22, 1864, led by Union General Philip Sheridan was followed by the Union forces “scorched earth” burning of the Confederacy’s crops and food sources in the Shenandoah Valley.

Confederate prisoners captured at the Battle of Fisher’s Hill in Virginia being guarded by Union troops.

Late in the Civil War, Union General Philip H. Sheridan, shown here, led his troops in a series of battles that took back control of the Shenandoah Valley and cut off a major source of the Confederacy’s food supply.

Frontier Culture Museum of Virginia in Staunton, Va., exhibit of replica of typical frontier cottages of original immigrants to Shenandoah Valley.

General “Stonewall” Jackson (1803-1863), riding Little Sorrel in this painting, led victorious battles by Confederate forces in the Shenandoah Valley.

Stonewall Jackson had only two portrait photographs taken during the Civil War, one in Winchester, Va., in November 1862 and the other near Fredericksburg, Va., this photo may be a third, Jackson on left leaning on rail.

General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson on his deathbed in 1863 after his left arm was injured in battle by friendly fire and amputated, with the wound leading to pneumonia and possible pulmonary embolism.

Staunton, Va., in the Shenandoah Valley today.

The Civil War played a big role in Shenandoah Valley’s history, but less known history is that it didn’t pay to be a stylish-looking con-man in Staunton, Va., as “F.T. Wister” found out in 1878 when he was caught after bilking several hotels and boarding houses — earning five lashes in a public whipping.

The Shenandoah Valley shared by both Virginia and West Virginia is truly a natural wonder, with velvety mountain ridges looking down on bucolic meadows, farm lands, forests and rivers teaming with life and feeding a nation.

Native Americans knew about the valley 10 millennia ago — maybe longer. They were hunters and gatherers — and among the hunted were mastodons with 10-foot-long ivory tasks, their bodies protected with 3-foot-long hair.

Just who was living there when the Europeans first arrived is a bit hazy. There are historical documents that claim that the Shenandoah was inhabited by primitive tribes “who were massacred by a mysterious tribe of ‘Southern Indians.’”

One report says that “By the seventeenth century, conflicts over trade and territory among the Indian nations inhabiting the Shenandoah forced them to abandon the land, leaving it seemingly deserted.”

A 1671 expedition journal by Johann Lederer exploring the Blue Ridge Mountains mentions the Rickohocken Tribe in southwest Virginia later called the “Cherokees.”

And to this day there are mounds, large indigenous town sites and pre-European ruins that can be seen in Western Virginia.

In 1760, travel writer Andrew Burnaby crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains and was awed by the beauty of the Shenandoah Valley.

“I could not but reflect with pleasure on the situation of these people and think if there is such a thing as happiness in life, that they enjoy it,” he wrote. “Far from the bustle of the world, they live in the most delightful climate, and richest soil imaginable… in perfect liberty: they are ignorant of want, and acquainted with but few vices…

“They possess what many princes would give half their dominions for — health, content, and tranquility of mind.”

Much of that would change around the early 1700s. European settlers came from England, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland and elsewhere. Quakers and Mennonites arrived from Pennsylvania.

There were some Native Americans in the Shenandoah at that time, and soon trouble brewed between the competing cultures.

That lasted until 1736, when Virginia Governor Sir William Gooch settled the turmoil by paying the Iroquois £100 for any settled land that they were claiming, and another £200 in gold the following year to stop any further claims.

Rich in agricultural resources, the Shenandoah Valley runs 140 miles northeast to southwest between the Allegheny Mountains in Virginia and the Blue Ridge Mountains in West Virginia — which in those early days was considered America’s Western Frontier.

Locals say “going up” the Shenandoah Valley means heading southwest to higher parts of the valley, while going northeast would be “down the valley,” to lower elevations.

During the ensuing century and a half, the valley sprouted farms and towns as the population grew.

Then in the middle of the 1900s, dark clouds of Civil War began gathering. After it started in 1861, both the Union and Confederacy battled for control of the Shenandoah for its food resources and strategic importance — especially for the South.

During the war, the valley was subjected to many battles in what became known as the Shenandoah Valley Campaigns.

For the first two years, the Confederates dominated then after that it was the Union for the rest of the war.

In the spring of 1862, Confederate morale was low. They’d been defeated at Fort Henry, Fort Donelson and Shiloh by General Ulysses S. Grant, and the South’s prospects seemed bleak.

In the East, Union forces were making important footholds, while in the South, Union gunboats had captured New Orleans.

Then Confederate General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson came into the scene.

He’d fought in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) with distinction, and then spent 10 years teaching physics and artillery tactics at Virginia Military Institute.

He was an excellent teacher but the students didn’t like him much because of some quirky habits.

Nevertheless, he earned a reputation as an honest and dutiful man of devout faith, who didn’t drink, gamble or smoke.

When Virginia seceded from the Union in 1861, Jackson joined the Confederate cause and accepted a commission as a colonel in the Confederate army.

He quickly established his reputation as a brilliant military tactician in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign.

His genius was embodied in two maxims: “Always mystify, mislead, and surprise the enemy” and “never fight against heavy odds” if you can “hurl your own force on the weakest part of your enemy and crush it.”

Jackson put both strategies to use when he was given the daunting assignment of defending the Shenandoah Valley, while at the same time preventing Union troops there from being sent to either Fredericksburg or Richmond.

Jackson’s creative battle tactics constantly baffled the Union commanders.

His finest hour was from March to June 1862 when he won a series of five swift battles in the Shenandoah Valley by leading 17,000 Confederate troops 650 miles through the valley for 48 days and threatened Washington, D.C.

“We made a forced march … that resulted in aching limbs, sore feet and empty stomachs,” wrote Cleon Moore of the Second Virginia. “For one day and a half we marched — as only Jackson’s men could march.”

Jackson’s victories included the battles of Kernstown, McDowell, Front Royal, Winchester, Cross Keys and Port Republic.

The Battle of Port Republic was particularly significant, because it helped stop the Union plan during the Peninsula Campaign to capture Richmond, Va., the heart of the Confederacy.

Stonewall Jackson become a Confederate hero, while Robert E. Lee’s star was still yet to rise.

After Jackson’s Shenandoah Campaign — Confederate General Jubal A. Early continued driving out the remaining Union forces, and then proceeded to raid Maryland, Pennsylvania and D.C.

However, his successes ended in the autumn of 1864 when General Ulysses S. Grant ordered General Philip Sheridan to remove the Confederates once-and-for-all from the valley. He said to use the “scorched earth” tactic of burning the mills, crops and barns — like William Tecumseh Sherman did in Georgia.

“Do all the damage to railroads and crops you can,” he said. “If the war is to last another year, we want the Shenandoah Valley to remain a barren waste.”

Sheridan obeyed the order, declaring, “The people must be left nothing but their eyes to weep with over the war,” promising that the valley “from Winchester to Staunton will have but little in it for man or beast.”

He attacked from Winchester in the north to Harrisburg in the south, and the Shenandoah Valley battles became some of the most pivotal and memorable campaigns of the American Civil War.

Sheridan’s Shenandoah Campaign of 1864 included the battles of Guard Hill, Berryville, Winchester, Fisher’s Hill, Tom’s Brook and Cedar Creek — all Union victories that gave the Union forces control of the strategic valley, that they held for the rest of the war.

The last battle in the Shenandoah Valley was on March 2, 1865, when General George Armstrong Custer’s 3rd Cavalry Division destroyed Jubal A. Early’s troops at Waynesboro.

The final battle that ended the Civil War was a Union victory at the Battle of Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865, when Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Grant at a gentlemanly ceremony in a farmhouse owned by Wilmer and Virginia McLean.

Stonewall Jackson’s last hurrah was at the Battle of Chancellorsville on May 2, 1863, when he attacked Union General Joseph Hooker's Army of the Potomac from the rear, inflicting heavy casualties. Within days, Hooker pulled his troops out.

During that battle, Jackson was on a scouting mission when a North Carolina Confederate regiment mistook his band as the enemy and fired on them by mistake.

His left arm was shattered below the shoulder and had to be amputated.

While trying to recover, he developed pneumonia and possibly a pulmonary embolism and started to fade.

His bedside was surrounded by his wife, Anna, baby daughter Julia and several surgeons holding a vigil as he lapsed in and out of consciousness.

When he awoke and noticed the others, he said, “I see from the number of physicians that you think my condition dangerous, but I thank God, if it is His will, that I am ready to go. I am not afraid to die.”

Stonewall Jackson died on May 19, 1863, at age 39, and his body returned to Lexington in a casket for burial.

He was a true hero of the Confederacy.

Contact Syd Albright at [email protected]

Saving sovereignty — not Slavery…

“It was not for the defense of slavery that these men left their homes and suffered privation and faced the peril of battle. Bred in whatever school of American politics, these men believed, to a man, in the integrity and sovereignty of the commonwealth, and, men like Robert E. Lee, they laid down everything and came to the borders to resist invasion at the call of the Mother. The troops that Stonewall Jackson led were like him, largely, in principle and in aim, and he rode among them as one of themselves – a war genius of their own breeding.”

— James Power Smith, Confederate officer, writing in 1920

Nickname “Stonewall” …

At the First Battle of Bull Run in July 1861 — also called the First Battle of Manassas — Jackson boldly charged his army into the defensive line to shore up a hole and stop a Union attack. Confederate General Barnard E. Bee, who was later killed in the battle, was watching all this and was impressed with Jackson’s quick thinking and told his men to take heart and to look at Jackson standing there “like a stone wall.” The nickname stuck.

Sheridan’s “scorched earth” tactic…

“We burnt some 60 houses and all most of the barns, hay, grain and corn in the shocks for 50 miles (south of) Strasburg… It was a hard-looking sight to see the women and children turned out of doors at this season of the year… the burning does not seem real soldierly work. We ought to enlist a force of scoundrels for such work.”

— Union soldiers in Shenandoah Valley (1864)

Shenandoah Valley attractions…

Rivaling California’s Napa Valley, the Shenandoah Valley has 14 wineries scattered throughout the valley, and interesting attractions include Civil War battelfields, the Luray limestone caverns, a 105-mile skyline drive with incredible vistas of the picturesque valley, a limestone arch called Natural Bridge, worshipped by the Monacan Indians, owned by Thomas Jefferson, and defaced by a young George Washington, and the valley is home to Black Bears and endangered salamanders.


As the climate warmed during the last part of the Ice Age, large mammals such as the Mastodon migrated into the Shenandoah Valley and were hunted by the Indians.

This re-creation of frontier life in the Shenandoah Valley by the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton, Va., depicts early settlement in the valley mostly by English, Irish and Germans starting in the 1700s.

Tennessee rifleman heading from Strasburg through Winchester in the Shenandoah Valley to join the Virginia Army early in the Civil War (1861).

The 1864 Battle of Cedar Creek effectively ended the Shenandoah Valley Campaigns when Union Major General Philip Sheridan routed Confederate Lieutenant General Jubal A. Early, thus preventing any further threat to Washington, D.C., and eliminated a major source of food for the Confederacy.


Artist Charles Hoffbauer's epic mural depicts Confederate General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson and his troops marching 650 miles to the north through the Shenandoah Valley in 1862.


The Federal victory at the Battle of Fisher’s Hill on Sept. 22, 1864, led by Union General Philip Sheridan was followed by the Union forces “scorched earth” burning of the Confederacy’s crops and food sources in the Shenandoah Valley.

Confederate prisoners captured at the Battle of Fisher’s Hill in Virginia being guarded by Union troops.

Late in the Civil War, Union General Philip H. Sheridan, shown here, led his troops in a series of battles that took back control of the Shenandoah Valley and cut off a major source of the Confederacy’s food supply.


Frontier Culture Museum of Virginia in Staunton, Va., exhibit of replica of typical frontier cottages of original immigrants to Shenandoah Valley.

General “Stonewall” Jackson (1803-1863), riding Little Sorrel in this painting, led victorious battles by Confederate forces in the Shenandoah Valley.

Stonewall Jackson had only two portrait photographs taken during the Civil War, one in Winchester, Va., in November 1862 and the other near Fredericksburg, Va., this photo may be a third, Jackson on left leaning on rail.

General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson on his deathbed in 1863 after his left arm was injured in battle by friendly fire and amputated, with the wound leading to pneumonia and possible pulmonary embolism.

The Battle at Lacey Spring

George Armstrong Custer, and Thomas L. Rosser, Senior, had been roommates at West Point. Their close relationship, however, would be severed on April 22, 1861, when Rosser left West Point, two weeks prior to graduation, to join the Confederate Army. On opposite sides in the Civil War, Generals Custer and Rosser would cross paths numerous times, often fighting in the same battles, and frequently encountering each other face to face.

A happenstance of this type had occurred at the Battle of Tom’s Brook (also known as Woodstock Races) in October 1864. In this instance Custer defeated his schoolmate, forcing him to retire quickly from the field. In the process he managed to capture Rosser’s wardrobe wagon. Rosser quickly responded to his defeat by sending Custer a note and a gift.

Dear Fanny. “You may have made me take a few steps back today, but I will get even with you tomorrow. Please accept my good wishes and this little gift – a pair of your draws captured at Trevillian Station.” Tex. (Note: The battle at Trevillian is also known as Custer’s First Last Stand.)

Custer later responded to this gesture by shipping a gold lace Confederate grey coat to Rosser’s wife.

Dear Friend, “Thanks for sending me up so many new things, but would you please direct your tailor to make the coat tails of your next uniform a trifle shorter.” Best Regards G. A. C.

These two rivals were destined to confront each other once again in the winter of that same year. At 7 A.M. on the morning of December 19, 1864, Brigadier General George Armstrong Custer’s division had departed from Kernstown. With him were two brigades of cavalry. The 1 st Brigade was commanded by Colonel Alexander Pennington. The second was led by Brigadier General George H. Chapman. The cavalrymen carried with them three days rations and one day’s forage for their horses. When these provisions ran out, they intended to live off the land. Their assignment was to sever the Virginia Central railroad lines at the south end of the Shenandoah Valley.

Meteorological conditions, though, were working against Custer and his men. Heavy rains and snow had turned the roads into a muddy soup. Winchester diarist Cornelian McDonald had reported as early as July 1863 that even the Valley Pike was “something to be avoided. It had originally been a beautiful macadam turnpike, but three years of heavy traffic of both armies had cut through the road metal until it was impassible. So the wagons, cannon, caissons, cavalry, and foot soldiers made roads on either side, and as soon as they got too bad, new ones were made.”

Upon arriving at Strasburg General Custer learned that a force of about fifty Confederate Cavalry, having ridden in from Front Royal, had passed through Strasburg and continued on up the valley. When they were within six miles of Woodstock two enemy scouts were detected ahead of their advance. Several unsuccessful attempts were made to affect their capture. Custer believed “they continued in sight of the column until the command had reached Woodstock, when, my impression is, they conveyed the intelligence of our approach to the force stationed near New Market, from which point the report was forwarded by telegraph to Staunton and Waynesborough.”

While in Woodstock Custer learned “there was no force of the enemy north of Staunton, except a picket force of three companies, which were posted so as to watch the three roads—pike, Middle and Back roads the right of the line resting near Edinburg, the left extending to Little North Mountain.” With so lean a force opposing him Custer believed the path to his objective was clear.

General George A. Custer

At daylight on the morning of the 20th Custer’s command continued its advance into Woodstock. “A small force of the enemy continued to annoy the advance, but without causing any damage to be inflicted.” From the information ascertained by his troopers, Custer believed the enemy had retired all his forces beyond Staunton. He believed if the enemy permitted his “command to reach Staunton without serious opposition, I could, with reasonable hope of success, continue my movement to Lynchburg, trusting to the supplies in the country beyond Staunton upon which to subsist my command.”

Somewhere near the town of Mt. Jackson General Custer halted his division, and drawing them up close to him, disclosed that “Maj Gen. George H. Thomas was thrashing the rebels in the West and Jefferson Davis had attempted suicide as a result of the dire straits facing the Confederacy.” His men erupted with “three cheers” and the advance was continued toward Harrisonburg.

General Custer’s command, after leaving Woodstock at daybreak, “moved without serious molestation to Lacey’s Springs, nine miles from Harrisonburg,” where they camped for the night. The encampment was at the junction of the roads leading to Keezletown in the east, and to Timberville in the west. It was a prudent choice for a bivouac, and one readily defended.

“Pennington’s brigade encamped in front, and on the left of the pike, one regiment, the Third New Jersey, was posted one mile and a half in advance on the pike to picket in the direction of Harrisonburg. Another regiment of the same brigade, the First Connecticut, was sent out on the road leading to the Keezletown road and picketed the country to the left of the pike. The First New Hampshire, of General Chapman’s brigade, was posted on the Timberville road to picket in the direction of the latter point. One battalion of the Fifteenth New York, about 200 strong, was ordered to its support. The Eighth New York picketed the country in front and between the Timberville road and the pike, while the two remaining battalions of the Fifteenth New York, numbering upward of 400 men, were posted on the pike about one mile and a half in rear of the camp of the division.” In his defense of what would happen at Lacey Springs Custer related: “It will thus be seen that of the nine regiments composing my command five were on picket.”

General Custer established his headquarters at the Lincoln Inn in the center of the small hamlet of Lacey Springs. The establishment, over the war years, had hosted several distinguished commanders, both North and South, including General Stonewall Jackson in April of 1862. The owners of the establishment shared a common ancestry with President Abraham Lincoln and were, by now, used to the intrusion of the war into their lives.

Mapmaker Jedediah Hotchkiss reported in his diary that the weather on the night of December 20, had taken a turn for the worst. The day “was quite chilly and before midnight a severe storm began of sleet, hail, and snow.” Five inches of snow covered the ground and more was still accumulating.

General Thomas L. Rosser

General Thomas Rosser, and the Laurel Brigade, had been camped at Timberville. On the morning of December 16, they had relocated to Swoope’s Depot which was seven miles west of Staunton. When word was received of Custer’s expedition General Rosser was ordered to move “to the front with all the cavalry he could collect.” Taking “what could be mounted of his own and Payne’s Brigade,” he pushed on to deflect the advance on the Virginia Central Railroad.

A large number of the men in Rosser’s Laurel Brigade were “either on furlough, on horse detail, or without leave.” Still, General Rosser drove on in the rain and mud toward Harrisonburg, arriving about 10 P.M. on the evening of the 20 th . “Three hours later the bugle called the sleepy troopers to horse. Mounting their half-starved and jaded horses, the Laurel Brigade rode in search of the enemy.”

General Custer retired on the evening of the twentieth in an optimistic mood. He had sent a message to headquarters which Phil Sheridan had forwarded on to General Grant. In it he detailed that Custer “was in fine spirits, and says he will, he hopes, spend his Christmas in Lynchburg.” Christmas in any part of the upper Shenandoah Valley, however, would prove to be an optimistic goal for this or any other Union troop.

Hotchkiss reported on the morning of the battle “the weather to be a blinding storm, cold and biting, but most of the men in a good humor, though in no plight for a battle.” Still, General Rosser had his cavalrymen up and moving with just three hours rest. He had every intention of wreaking revenge upon Custer, in retaliation for his recent embarrassment at Tom’s Brook.

Rosser, ever anxious to do battle with Custer, felt there “was nothing to do but to have it out before morning.” The roads his men were traveling on, “muddy from recent rains, was rendered more so by additional showers a cold wind blew and the rain froze as it fell. The hats and clothes of the troopers soon became stiff with ice while the horses were enveloped in frosty garments the small icicles hanging from their bodies rattled as they staggered along. The roads soon became icy smooth, and the horses not being rough shod, traveled with much difficulty.”

Custer had notified his brigade commanders, soon after reaching camp, that “reveille was ordered at 4 o’clock and the command was to move promptly at 6.30, Chapman’s brigade taking the advance. In conformity with these instructions, General Chapman called in his pickets at the proper time and the Eighth New York, the regiment farthest in advance in the direction of the Middle road, having formed in columns of squadrons and mounted, had begun to move off by fours.”

“Not fearing any enemy activity in such inclement weather,” Federal soldiers went about their morning assignments at a leisurely pace before daybreak on the twenty-first. Some of the men saddled their horses while others prepared breakfasts over the campfires. Some even attempted to get a few extra minutes of sleep.

It was about 5:30 AM, just as Custer’s men were beginning to form up, when “the shots and whoops” of Rebel Cavalrymen “coming from the north side of the division” could be heard. Custer recalled: “A brigade of the enemy (Payne’s) which, under cover of the darkness and the withdrawal of our pickets, had advanced to within a very short distance of the regiment, charged in the direction of the camp-ground of the Second Brigade. The attack was heard by the entire command, and although Pennington’s brigade was the rear in the order of march, it was at once mounted and placed in position to receive the enemy.”

Rosser’s men, outnumbered five to one and shivering from the cold, came charging in upon the rear of Custer’s command with sabers swinging and the rebel yell upon the lips of every cavalryman. Their attack came in just as many of the Federal troopers were eating breakfast. They quickly overwhelmed the Federal picket which had been posted about three hundred yards from the Union camp. Chapman’s brigade was completely surprised, as Rosser pushed his attack south toward the remaining units.

One account indicates that “when the Rebel brigades struck the Second Brigade they encountered only one vedette some three hundred yards from the main body.” It is apparent Custer did not ensure his pickets were alert and ready while so deep inside enemy territory, even though he knew his advance had been detected. There are indications that pickets had been pulled in sometime after reveille at 4 A.M. and before they were scheduled to depart at 6:30. True or not, Custer’s official report would state that “many of his troopers were in the saddle at the time of the attack.”

Hotchkiss Map of the Battle of Lacey Springs

General Custer was himself just rising when the Confederates attacked. Luck was with him, though, as he narrowly escaped capture. Perhaps it was the darkness and poor visibility which contributed to his escape, or possibly it was just plain luck. “Only half dressed and riding a bandsman’s horse” Custer was able to join the struggle sporting only a pair of socks to protect his feet.

Gregory J. W. Urwin actually asserts that: “Custer made his escape from the inn by wearing a Confederate officer’s coat, captured from Brigadier General Thomas L. Rosser at the earlier battle of Tom’s Brook.” He supposedly discarded the coat as soon as he was able to find a horse and rejoin his troopers. If this is true then it is proof that Custer was, as always, quick to think on his feet, demonstrating he “was always best in combat situations such as this.” His presence on the battlefield helped to rally the scattered troopers of his division, averting a Union disaster.

The Eighth New York, although somewhat astounded by this attack, behaved well under the circumstances and opened an effective fire upon the enemy. “At the same time an attack was made upon the First New Hampshire, which regiment was mounted and had a line of skirmishers in advance. The enemy did not attempt to engage either of the regiments with determination, but acted as if the intention was to surprise a sleeping camp. Charging past the Eighth New York and First New Hampshire, they moved at the top of their speed in the direction of the pike and to our rear.”

Custer reported that “the enemy, after his first attack upon the Eighth New York and First New Hampshire, was completely bewildered and acted as if his only object was to get safely away. He did not attempt to engage any of my troops, although by the cheering kept up by my command he could easily have determined their locality. One regiment, the Sixth Virginia Cavalry, charged Pennington’s brigade, but was met by one of his regiments which was already advancing and repulsed, with little or no fighting, in which Pennington suffered no loss, while the enemy suffered a loss of several in killed, wounded, and missing. Ten of the enemy were left dead on the ground. Chapman attacked the enemy wherever he could be found, and with one regiment, the First Vermont, drove him over a mile in the direction from which the attack had come.”

Jed Hotchkiss would re-count that the attack resulted in the capture of “35 prisoners and getting their wagons and ambulances, but they rallied on their third brigade and (Rosser) had to fall back, but at once retreated down the valley. Rosser did not get all his men up in time for the attack.” Federals were able recapture the wagon train, undoubtedly saving Custer from some future embarrassment with regard to his wardrobe.

General Custer would report his “loss in prisoners, although not officially reported to me yet, will not, I think, reach twenty. I have thirty-two of the enemy taken in the fight. My loss in wounded is twenty-two most, if not all, are saber cuts, as the enemy had orders to charge with the saber. As my men used the carbine alone, and at short range, I am confident, from the number of dead left on the ground by the enemy, and from the verbal reports of brigade and regimental commanders, that the enemy’s loss in wounded was more than treble my own. I do not think that more than one or two of my command were killed.”

The bulk of this story is based on the official report submitted by General Custer. Word has it, though, that Custer’s reports were usually a little one sided, always showing his actions in a favorable light. James Harvey Kidd wrote after the war that: “No one could be more willing than myself to suspect that General Custer was the man to wittingly do an injustice to any command that served under him. Yet, there are in his official reports many inaccuracies, not to employ a stronger term.” Kid was a member of the 6 th Michigan Wolverines and fought closely by Custer’s side throughout the war.

Rosser testified “the firing at the first camp roused the rest of Custer’s command and a sharp engagement followed. The Federals were forced back and Rosser pursued a short distance.” Though the battle was a Union victory, as they held the ground after the fight, strategically, the incident caused Custer to retire back down the valley.

General Custer was never able to celebrate Christmas, or any other holiday, at Lynchburg. The fighting here in the Valley was destined to go on until March 2, 1865, ending with the Battle of Waynesboro. This story, however, including Custer’s remarkable escape from capture, may go a long way in explaining his request of Rosser that the “coat tails of your next uniform” need be “a trifle shorter.” He was, after all, able to extricate himself from a tight situation on the “coat tails” of someone else.

Sign on Battlefield at Lacey Springs

Armstrong, Richard. 7 th Virginia Cavalry. H. E Howard, Inc. Lynchburg, Va. 1992.

Hotchkiss, Jedediah. Make Me a Map of the Valley. The Civil War Journal of Stonewall Jackson’s Topographer. Southern Methodist University Press. Dallas, Tx. 1973.

Landis, Steven E. Custer at Lacey Spring: Custer’s failure to consider Confederate intentions cost him victory at Lacey Spring. Columbiad: A Quarterly Review of the War Between the States. Winter 1999.

Official Records of the War of the Rebellion. Series I – Volume XLIII Part 1. Pg 674 to 677 and pg. 588.

McDonald, William N. A History of the Laurel Brigade. The Johns Hopkins University Press. Baltimore, Md. 2002.

American Civil War: The Shenandoah Valley - History

&ldquoWe know remarkably little about how the Shenandoah Valley&rsquos African Americans negotiated the vexing uncertainties of secession, civil war, and Reconstruction. This compelling and accessibly written narrative foregrounds the struggles of freedom-seeking enslaved persons in America&rsquos most turbulent era.&rdquo&mdashBrian Matthew Jordan, author of Marching Home: Union Veterans and Their Unending Civil War

&ldquoA groundbreaking study that demonstrates how African Americans shaped the Civil War era. Noyalas systematically dismantles the old myth that the Shenandoah Valley did not have enslaved populations and instead weaves a compelling story of African American resistance and perseverance in a region deeply contested by war.&rdquo&mdashJames J. Broomall, author of Private Confederacies: The Emotional Worlds of Southern Men as Citizens and Soldiers

This book examines the complexities of life for African Americans in Virginia&rsquos Shenandoah Valley from the antebellum period through Reconstruction. Although the Valley was a site of fierce conflicts during the Civil War and its military activity has been extensively studied, scholars have largely ignored the Black experience in the region until now.

Correcting previous assumptions that slavery was not important to the Valley, and that enslaved people were treated better there than in other parts of the South, Jonathan Noyalas demonstrates the strong hold of slavery in the region. He explains that during the war, enslaved and free African Americans navigated a borderland that changed hands frequently&mdashwhere it was possible to be in Union territory one day, Confederate territory the next, and no-man&rsquos land another. He shows that the region&rsquos enslaved population resisted slavery and supported the Union war effort by serving as scouts, spies, and laborers, or by fleeing to enlist in regiments of the United States Colored Troops.

Noyalas draws on untapped primary resources, including thousands of records from the Freedmen&rsquos Bureau and contemporary newspapers, to continue the story and reveal the challenges African Americans faced from former Confederates after the war. He traces their actions, which were shaped uniquely by the volatility of the struggle in this region, to ensure that the war&rsquos emancipationist legacy would survive.

Jonathan A. Noyalas is director of the McCormick Civil War Institute at Shenandoah University. He is the author or editor of several books, including Civil War Legacy in the Shenandoah: Remembrance, Reunion and Reconciliation.

A volume in the series Southern Dissent, edited by Stanley Harrold and Randall M. Miller

Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District

Fisher's Hill Witness Tree

Ninja Pix, courtesy of Shenandoah Valley Battlefields NHD

During the Civil War, control of the Shenandoah Valley was critical to the fate of Virginia and the Confederacy. The Valley witnessed Stonewall Jackson’s adept 1862 Valley Campaign, General Robert E. Lee’s advance to the Confederate “high tide” at Gettysburg, the Virginia Military Institute Cadets’ valiant charge at New Market, and U.S. General Philip H. Sheridan’s final campaign to crush Confederate ambitions for the Valley—which included "the Burning," the fiery destruction of the region’s agricultural bounty.

Today, the Valley’s historic towns and preserved landscapes offer a wealth of sites where you can experience the region’s dramatic Civil War story. You can also explore the spectacular natural beauty of the Valley via historic roadways, winding mountain roads, leisurely walking tours, or challenging hiking trails to spectacular overlooks. And you can enjoy the wide variety of other experiences that the Valley has to offer: natural wonders, history and heritage sites, arts and culture, and dining and lodging in the Valley’s historic towns.

In 1996, Congress designated eight counties (Augusta, Clark, Frederick, Highland, Page, Rockingham, Shenandoah, and Warren) in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia as the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District. The purpose of this National Heritage Area is to preserve and interpret the region’s significant Civil War battlefields and related historic sites. That effort is led by the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, which works with partners to preserve the hallowed ground of the Valley’s Civil War battlefields, to share its Civil War story with the nation, and to encourage tourism and travel to the Valley’s Civil War sites.

The Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District is home to the following NPS units:

American Civil War: Jackson’s Valley Campaign

The Confederates planned a daring counter to the Union’s Peninsula campaign, with Stonewall Jackson given charge and tasked to tie down all the troops of Nathaniel P. Banks and John C. Frémont in the Shenandoah Valley. (Image: La Citta Vita/CC BY 2.0/Public domain)

Stonewall Jackson Led the First Aggressive Confederate Response

The Confederates would respond in another way. One way they responded to McClellan’s campaign was by shifting this strength to the Peninsula. The other way they responded was by giving Stonewall Jackson more troops in the Shenandoah Valley, and asking him to tie down a number of Federals.

This is really the first aggressive response. Joseph Johnston’s counter to McClellan amassing over 100,000 soldiers in Virginia is a defensive one, in a sense. He’s falling back toward Richmond. Jackson is going to take the offensive.

General Lee, who is operating as Jefferson Davis’s chief military advisor, is the real architect of the strategy that was going to be put in place now. Lee told Jackson that what he wanted him to do was use these reinforcements he’d get and tie down all the troops of Nathaniel P. Banks and John C. Frémont.

Make enough of a commotion in the valley so that all of those troops will be held in the valley and won’t be used to reinforce the forces that are coming against Richmond. Those were the marching orders that Stonewall Jackson got.

How he accomplished that would be left up to him, and he would show his true brilliance as an independent field commander now in what has come to be called the 1862 Shenandoah Valley campaign or more typically just Jackson’s Valley campaign.

Jackson was reinforced to a level of about 17,000 troops. He looked at the strategic board, knew what his instructions were, and then put together a campaign that remains a model for what an officer using interior lines, the lay of the land, and the geography to his advantage using fast movements and having a willingness to fight could accomplish in a difficult strategic situation.

He had a brilliant cartographer who was with him through the whole campaign, a New Yorker named Jedediah Hotchkiss, who’d gone south in the 1840s and then cast his lot with the Confederacy. Hotchkiss helped Jackson immensely in the Shenandoah Valley by helping him understand the geography and providing wonderful maps for him.

Who Was Stonewall Jackson?

As a military leader, Stonewall Jackson was decisive with a killer instinct. (Image: Nathaniel Routzahn/Public domain)

Jackson is the opposite kind of personality from the cautious McClellan. The two really couldn’t be more different.

Born in western Virginia, he was secretive with his subordinates, but his strongest characteristics as an officer were an aggressiveness, a willingness to take risks, and a sense that you had to inflict the greatest possible damage on your enemy.

Just hit them and hit them and hit them and don’t give them a chance to get up if it’s possible for you to do that. He believed that war was a very hard thing, and that’s how he would conduct it.

He’s one of the great bizarre characters from the civil war, just a bundle of oddities and eccentricities as a person. He was a hypochondriac. He had all kinds of worries about his body.

He would often hold his right hand up in the air—not because he was praying. He was extremely religious, but he didn’t hold his hand up because he was praying, as some people thought, but because he thought he didn’t have an equilibrium of blood in his body and if he held his right hand up, then the blood would flow down and reestablish equilibrium, as he put it.

He wouldn’t eat pepper because he thought it weakened his left leg—not his right leg, just his left leg—if he ate pepper. He wouldn’t let his back touch the back of a chair because he said it jumbled his organs and it was important to sit upright so that your organs were naturally atop one another. He’s a very odd fellow.

This is a transcript from the video series The American Civil War. Watch it now, Wondrium.

The Jackson’s Valley Campaign

The Jackson’s Valley campaign started with the Battle of McDowell on May 8, 1862, in which Stonewall Jackson pushed back the advance guard of John C. Frémont’s army. (Image: Jedediah Hotchkiss/Public domain)

He’s in his late thirties early in the war and about to embark on a campaign that will make him the most famous Confederate military leader. He’s decisive, with a killer instinct. He began his campaign on May 8 at the little Battle of McDowell, west of Staunton, Virginia, where he pushed back the advance guard that’s part of John C. Frémont’s army. He then marched rapidly back into the Shenandoah Valley proper.

The valley is divided in one 50-mile stretch by the Massanutten Mountain range. There’s the valley proper to the west and then the Page Valley or the Luray Valley to the right. Jackson marched into the valley proper, crossed over to the Luray Valley, and swept against Front Royal, marching rapidly down the valley. He won a little battle there on the 23rd of May.

Two days later Jackson won the Battle of First Winchester against Nathaniel P. Banks and went all the way to the banks of the Potomac River.

Many in the North were panicked by this. Lincoln saw it as an opportunity to trap Jackson’s army in the lower valley, and he tried to get Frémont to come out of the Alleghenies and some troops from McDowell to come from the direction of Fredericksburg and cut Jackson off in the valley, and then Banks would push against him from the North, and they would destroy him.

But Jackson simply pushed his men harder than the Federals did. He marched them back southward, up the valley, escaped the trap that the Federals were trying to set for him, and marched all the way to the southern terminus of the Massanutten Range.

Federals followed, both in the Page Valley or Luray Valley and in the valley proper, and Jackson turned against them on June 8 and 9. He defeated Frémont’s troops, who’d been coming along the valley proper, in the Battle of Cross Keys on the 8th of June, and defeated Federals, who’d been in the Luray Valley, on the 9th of June at the Battle of Port Republic.

He had accomplished everything that he’d been asked to do. He tied down those Federal troops. Not only had they stayed where they were, but McDowell’s troops were kept at Fredericksburg, as well, because no one was sure what Jackson was going to do. So upwards of 60,000 Union troops are not defeated by Jackson, but they’re kept in place, which is what Lee’s goal had been all along.

Confederate Morale Got a Much Needed Boost

Jackson had marched 350 miles, and he’d captured an enormous amount of material. He had done everything that he’d been asked to do, and, at the end of this campaign, he marched out of the valley to reinforce the Confederate troops defending Richmond, while all those thousands of Federal troops remained in place.

It was an absolutely brilliant campaign, militarily, but also very important in terms of morale for the Confederate people. The Confederates had been starved for good news from the battlefield.

All that bad news from the west, a Union army almost in Richmond, and now, finally—as if after a very long drought you finally get some rain—here comes good news from the valley, from McDowell and Front Royal and Cross Keys and Port Republic and First Winchester.

These are small battles, but they made a great impact in the Confederacy, because the people were so desperate for good news from the battlefield. They responded by making Jackson their great military idol.

At the end of the campaign, Jackson was successful but the larger picture remained dark, because McClellan’s approaching Richmond with 100,000 men. McDowell is still up there at Fredericksburg. Banks and Frémont could still come back into the picture. No one knew what they would do. And Joseph Johnston seemed unable to do anything but retreat.

Common Questions about Stonewall Jackson and Jackson’s Valley Campaign

The Jackson’s Valley campaign or the Shenandoah Valley campaign was won by the Confederates, by defeating the Union armies in several battles.

The Shenandoah Valley was a strategic location that both the Federals and the Confederates wanted to control. As a response to George McClellan marching toward Richmond with an army of over 100,000 men, the Confederates came up with a plan. They gave Stonewall Jackson an army of 17,000 men and tasked him with keeping all the troops of Nathaniel P. Banks and John C. Frémont tied up in the Shenandoah Valley. So, Jackson came up with a strategy and executed it successfully, and that’s known as the Jackson’s Valley campaign.

Stonewall Jackson’s greatest achievement was successfully executing the military operation that’s known as the Jackson’s Valley campaign. He won a succession of battles against Union armies, starting with the Battle of McDowell against John C. Frémont’s army, followed by the Battle of First Winchester against Nathaniel P. Banks, and then the Battle of Cross Keys and the Battle of Port Republic in quick succession.

Shenandoah Valley

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Shenandoah Valley, part of the Great Appalachian Valley, chiefly in Virginia, U.S. It extends southwestward from the vicinity of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, on the Potomac River and lies between the Blue Ridge to the east and the Allegheny Mountains to the west. Drained by the Shenandoah River, it embraces nine counties—Berkeley and Jefferson in West Virginia and Frederick, Clarke, Shenandoah, Warren, Rockingham, Page, and Augusta in Virginia. The valley, approximately 150 miles (240 km) long and about 25 miles (40 km) wide, is often considered to extend southward to the James River and thus to include Rockbridge county. Massanutten Mountain extends northeastward from a point east of Harrisonburg for some 50 miles (80 km), rising to more than 3,000 feet (914 metres) and dividing the north and south forks of the Shenandoah River. Historic passes through the Blue Ridge include Swift Run Gap and Rockfish Gap, the latter now the route of a U.S. interstate highway.

The route of the famous 19th-century Valley Turnpike (also now an interstate highway) was early used by Native Americans and later became a main artery for westward expansion. The lower valley was explored by the Frenchman Louis Michelle in 1707, and in 1716 the British colonial governor Alexander Spotswood led an expedition over the Blue Ridge to the Shenandoah River. White settlement began about 1730. During the American Civil War, Confederate General Thomas J. (“Stonewall”) Jackson won renown in 1861–63 for his actions during the Shenandoah Valley campaigns.

Tourists are attracted by George Washington National Forest, Shenandoah National Park, the Natural Bridge near Lexington, and the area’s many limestone caverns. Skyline Drive through the national park and the Blue Ridge Parkway to the south—both running along the crest of the Blue Ridge—parallel the valley on the east. The Museum of the Shenandoah Valley, which opened in 2005, highlights the region’s art, culture, and history. Located in Winchester, Virginia, it is part of a complex that also features gardens and a historic house.

Watch the video: The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864


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