The American Civil War Overview

CHAPTER XVII
THE EASTERN THEATER: SHERIDAN'S SHENANDOAH VALLEY CAMPAIGN

       As a result of the embarrassment of Early's Washington Raid, the Federal authorities set up the Middle Military Division and placed it under Major General Phil Sheridan who took command on August 7, 1864. Sheridan reorganized the various forces under his command to include a cavalry corps of three divisions. His effective strength was about 48,000 men.
       Meanwhile, Early's Army of the Valley, with four infantry divisions and a division of cavalry, was to be reinforced by mid-August with Kershaw's infantry division and Fitz Lee's cavalry division. These reinforcements, under the command of Richard Anderson, were to support Early's operations east of the Blue Ridge. With these additional troops, Early's strength was about 23,000 infantry and cavalry, although the Federal estimates were that he might have as many as 40,000 men. Therefore, Sheridan was ordered to assume the defensive for the time being.
       A time span of about five weeks were spent in maneuvering by both sides before Sheridan and Early finally met in battle. Because of lack of activity on Sheridan's part, Anderson's forces were ordered to return to Lee. However, Fitz Lee's cavalry remained in the Valley, leaving Early with about 12,000 infantry and 6,500 cavalry.
       The return of Anderson to Lee was what Sheridan had been waiting for. This, coupled with overconfidence on the part of Early, led to his defeat at Winchester on September 19. Early fell back to Fishers Hill where Sheridan again defeated the Confederates on September 22. The demoralized Southerners reached Browns Gap where they were again reinforced by Kershaw's division. Sheridan reorganized his cavalry with Brigadier General George Custer and Colonel William Powell as division commanders following the dismissal of Averell for lack of aggressiveness and Wilson's transfer to Sherman.
       Sheridan believed he had ridded the Valley of any threat by Early, and was in the process of transferring troops to reinforce Grant. These troops had to be recalled when Sheridan learned that Early was still in the area.
       In a brilliant dawn surprise attack, Early's numerically inferior forces struck the Federals in camp at Cedar Creek on October 19. Despite initial success in driving the Federals from their positions, Sheridan arrived on the scene and helped rally his men to counterattack and rout Early's command. This was the last major action in the Valley.
       Sheridan detached most of his infantry to rejoin Grant and Sherman, but kept his excellent cavalry corps in the divisions of Custer and Devin (about 10,000 troopers). Meanwhile, Early was left with only two brigades under Wharton (about 2,000 men) and two artillery battalions. Sheridan decided to eliminate this remaining Confederate force. At Waynesboro on March 2, 1865, Custer's division overran and annihilated these remaining troops. Early managed to escape with several others, but his military career was ended.

This Page last updated 11/13/01

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CHAPTER XVIII, The Western Theater: The Atlanta Campaign