Even as Southerners tried to come to grips with the disasters at Mobile Bay and Atlanta, Confederate misfortunes spread into the Shenandoah Valley, a longtime rebel stronghold. The Confederate Army had used the Shenandoah Valley to their advantage ever since the war began. Stretching across northern Virginia between the Blue Ridge and Appalachian mountains, the valley's abundant farmlands had been tapped by Robert E. Lee and other Southern commanders to feed their armies. In addition, rebel armies had often traveled through the heavily
forested valley on their way to conduct raids of Northern farms, towns, and supply centers. Finally, the valley had twice been used by the Confederates as an invasion route into the North.
The Confederates made skillful use of the Shenandoah Valley during the summer of 1864 as well. After conducting a series of raids on Union positions, a rebel army under the direction of Lieutenant General Jubal Early retreated into its dense woodlands to hide. A Federal force of forty-five thousand men spent a good part of the summer chasing Early around the valley, but with little success.
Grant then ordered General Philip H. Sheridan to take command of the Union troops and pursue Early until his army was destroyed. In addition, he instructed Sheridan to demolish the fields and farms of the valley so that they would be of no use to future Confederate forces. This grim order, which Sheridan executed with cold efficiency, marked the beginning of the "total warfare" phase of the Civil War.
"Total warfare" was a phrase used to describe the Union's emerging military philosophy, which called for the destruction of Southern fields, factories, and supplies. It reflected the
Excerpt from a Confederate Soldier's Diary
On the whole, Confederate soldiers fought under more difficult conditions than their Union counterparts during the Civil War. Widespread shortages of food, medicine, clothing, and other supplies often left Confederate troops desperately cold and hungry. This situation sometimes determined the outcome of battles.
In October 1864, Confederate troops under Lieutenant General Jubal Early fought Union troops under General Philip H. Sheridan for control of the Shenandoah Valley in northern Virginia. When it appeared certain that Sheridan's forces would defeat the rebels, Sheridan rode off to Washington to report on his progress. Early's troops launched a surprise attack during Sheridan's absence and overtook a Union Army camp, sending the Union soldiers running into the woods in a disorganized retreat. But rather than pressing their advantage, the Confederate forces gave in to their basic human needs. Private John Worsham described the scene in his diary:
The world will never know the extreme poverty of the Confederate sol dier at this time. Hundreds of men who were in the charge were barefooted. Every one of them was ragged. Many had on everything they had, and none had eaten a square meal for weeks. As they passed through Sheridan's camp, a great temptation was thrown in their way. Many of the tents were open, and in plain sight were rations, shoes, overcoats, and blankets. The fighting continued farther and farther, yet some of the men stopped. They secured well-filled haversacks [knapsacks] and, as they investigated the contents, the temptation to stop and eat was too great. Since most of them had had nothing to eat since the evening before, they yielded. While some tried on shoes, others put on warm pants in place of the tattered ones. Still others got overcoats and blankets—articles so much needed for the coming cold.
The Confederate troops were not able to enjoy these items for long. Sheridan met his fleeing Union troops on his way back from the capital and quickly reorganized them for a counterattack. They destroyed the unsuspecting Confederate forces and claimed the Shenandoah Valley for the Union.
North's growing belief that the South could not carry on the fight if its civilian population lost the will to continue.
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