On this day in History, the Union appoints General Philip Sheridan commander of the Army of the Shenandoah. It was to prove to be one of the best appointments of the war and Sheridan would inflict many defeats on the Confederates. Sheridan drove a Southern army from the Shenandoah Valley and this was to prove the beginning of the end for the Confederacy.
In the summer of 1864, Robert E. Lee sent a large force, to harass Federal units in the area of the Shenandoah and menace Washington, D.C. This was part of a strategy to divert the Union from pressing home their advantage in the Richmond V.A. area. Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy.
In July, a Confederate army marched up the Shenandoah Valley to the outskirts of Washington. This relieved Lee at Petersburg as Grant had to withdraw forces to counter the move of Lee. The Confederates, under General Early, had some initial success in the Shenandoah. Grant increasingly concerned turned to Sheridan, a skilled general who served with him in the west. In this theater of the war, Sheridan had been able to contain and defeat the Confederates.
Grant knew him well and rated him highly. Grant handed Sheridan command of the Army of the Shenandoah, numbering some 30,000 troops that included unseasoned recruits and disillusioned veterans.
Sheridan managed to whip the army into shape and soon it was a formidable army. One that was ready to take on the Confederates. He used his superior numbers to contain the Confederates in the Valley.
Sheridan wasted little time, he began an offensive in September. He kept up the pressure on Early and the Confederate forces. Sheridan routed Early’s army and then destroyed much of the Confederate army’s supply lines, in a series of skirmishes and battles. He effectively cleared the Shenandoah Valley of Confederates for the first time since the start of the war.
Although this victory is not as famous as Sherman’s march through Georgia, which took place at the same time, it was very important for the Union. The Shenandoah Valley, so important throughout the war, was no longer available to the Confederacy by the start of the Winter.
This had important implications for the war as a whole. It meant that the Confederacy could no longer threaten Washington D.C. Crucially, it also meant that Grant could concentrate all its forces on the attack of Petersburg. This meant that the Union was in a position to threaten Richmond, the Confederate capital.