The American Civil War Overview
THE EASTERN THEATER: EARLY'S WASHINGTON RAID
If Lee could only divert some of Grant's strength from his front, he might still be able to find a way to destroy him by offensive action. With this in mind, he detached Lieutenant General Early with four infantry divisions and a cavalry division to undertake an offensive in the Shenandoah Valley. With this new Confederate "Army of the Valley", Early moved out on June 7, 1864. On June 18, David Hunter's Federal forces were defeated at Lynchburg, and on June 27, Early reorganized his forces for a thrust into the North at Staunton. He carried with him about 10,000 infantry and 4,000 cavalry.
He crossed the Potomac on July 5 into Maryland. Upon learning that the Confederates seemed to be making a serious movement, reinforcements from the Army of the Potomac were ordered by Grant to Baltimore and arrived on July 7. Rickett's division joined a scratch brigade of infantry and cavalry under Major General Lew Wallace near Frederick, Maryland. Here was fought the battle of Monocacy on July 9. Wallace was forced to fall back to Baltimore after delaying Early.
Early utilized some of his cavalry to protect his line of communications, and sent a cavalry brigade to threaten Baltimore. With the remainder of his forces, he marched on Washington, D.C. He reached the outskirts of the capital on July 11 about midday. He saw that its defenses had been reinforced but spent the rest of the day looking for a weak point to launch an assault to take place the following day. That night Early learned that the Federal VI corps had arrived to strengthen the capital's defenses, and delayed his planned attack. After heavy skirmishing around Fort Stevens, Early concluded he lacked the necessary strength for a successful assault and withdrew that night.
The Federal pursuit was disorganized and Early took advantage of the situation to renew his offensive operations. He met and defeated Crook's forces at Kernstown on July 23-24 and moved two cavalry brigades to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania and burned the town in reprisal for Federal depredations on July 30.
Early's raid convinced Grant that he would have to take more drastic action to eliminate Confederate use of the Shenandoah Valley for strategic diversions. He made plans to put Phil Sheridan in command of newly reorganized and consolidated Federal forces in the area.
This Page last updated 11/13/01
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CHAPTER XVII, The Eastern Theater: Sheridan's Shenandoah Valley Campaign