Operations in the Shenandoah Valley may june 1864

The Shenandoah Valley was a thorn in General Grant's side: the Confederates had used the Valley repeatedly as an invasion route into Maryland and Pennsylvania, and the fertile region had also served as the breadbasket of the Confederacy. Grant wanted Federal troops in the Valley to work in conjunction with Meade's Army of the Potomac.

General Franz Sigel led 8,900 Federals up the Valley until Major General John C. Breckinridge's Confederates challenged their advance at New Market on May 15, 1864. Breckinridge attacked with 5,300 troops, including 247 cadets from the Virginia Military Institute. The Confederates battered the Federals, compelling them to retreat and Breckinridge took advantage of the lull to reinforce Lee's army at the North Anna River.

Grant replaced Sigel with Major General David Hunter, who pushed up the Valley with 12,000 soldiers. The Confederates attempted to halt the Federal drive with a small force of 5,600 men under Brigadier General William E. "Grumble" Jones. Hunter savagely attacked the Confederate barricades at the town of Piedmont on June 5. When Jones was killed, the Confederate defense disintegrated. The Confederacy lost 1,600 men; the Union 875. Without meeting any resistance, Hunter pressed on to Lexington, where he set alight the Virginia Military Institute, before starting for Lynchburg.

Breckinridge's command hurried back to Lynchburg, and General Lee sent General Early's Confederate corps after it. Hunter tested the city's defenses on June 17 and 18.

Maj. Gen. David Hunter (above), who was given the task of subjugating the Shenandoah Valley. Hunter's despoliation of the valley's riches was ferocious, and the general tended to express pride in his achievements rather than regret them as military necessities.

Threatened by Sigel's advance up the Shenandoah Valley, Breckinridge attacked Sigel north of New Market. By late morning Sigel was falling back, retreating to Strasburg. The Confederates bad eased the pressure on their forces in the valley and inflicted a sharp and humiliating defeat on the Federals (above).

Finding himself outnumbered by Early's 14,000 troops, Hunter decided to retreat. The Federal force fell back to the Kanawha Valley, leaving the Shenandoah Valley clear for Early to advance northward. Early marched down the Valley, intending to menace the Washington defenses and force Grant to transfer Federal forces from the Richmond-Petersburg front. The veteran Confederates of Stonewall Jackson's command, now under Early, hoped their return to the Valley would be attended with the spectacular success that had blessed their famous 1862 campaign.

In an attempt to stop Gen. Hunter's destructive raids on civilian property in the Shenandoah Valley, Gen. Jones met Hunter's large Federal force at Piedmont, (see map below). In a series of charges and countercharges, Hunter's larger force eventually overran the Confederates. Gen. Jones was killed, and over a thousand of his men captured.

Gen. J.E.B. Stuart reporting to Lee on the actions of Col. J.S. Mosby.


Col. John Singleton Mosby (above), commander of the 43rd Battalion of the Virginia Cavalry. A brilliant guerrilla leader, Mosby continually harassed Hunter by disrupting his supply lines and communications, and by capturing unwary stragglers. So great was Mosby's control of Northern Virginia that the area became known as 'Mosby's Confederacy'.

His exploits are not surpassed in daring and enterprise by those of .. any age. Unswerving devotion to duty, self-abnegation, and unflinching courage... are the characteristics of this officer.. The Gallant band of Captain Mosby shares his glory, as they did the danger."

Gen. J.E.B. Stuart reporting to Lee on the actions of Col. J.S. Mosby.


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