Author: Paul Christopher Anderson

associate professor and alumni master teacher at Clemson University

Shenandoah Valley during the Civil War

The Shenandoah Valley in western Virginia stretches about 140 miles north to south between the Allegheny Mountains on the west and the Blue Ridge Mountains on the east. During the American Civil War (1861–1865), the strategically important Valley was the site of two major campaigns and numerous battles and represents, in microcosm, many of the military, social, and cultural factors that ultimately explain why the Union won and the Confederacy lost the war. Confederate control of the Shenandoah helped prolong the Confederate war effort until 1864, while the region provided sustenance to Confederate stomachs and succored Confederate nationalism. When those connections were destroyed by Union general Philip H. Sheridan and his Valley Campaign in the autumn of 1864—a campaign that culminated in what residents called “the Burning,” and that also helped U.S. president Abraham Lincoln win re-election—victory for the Union and defeat for the Confederacy were all but assured. The Valley, meanwhile, was largely stripped, but for years it had been steeped in mythology—known as the “Granary of the Confederacy,” it was considered the very heart of the South. That mythology would survive Sheridan and even the war.


Turner Ashby (1828–1862)

Turner Ashby was a Confederate cavalry general who served under Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862 during the American Civil War (1861–1865). An expert horseman whose dead mounts were kept as romantic relics, Ashby was arguably the Confederacy’s most renowned combat hero before his death in 1862. His competency for high command and potential for growth are still debated among military historians, but it’s clear that his presence in the Shenandoah Valley was a powerful catalyst to the Confederate military effort there during the war’s first year. Indeed, his presence resonates even now, as many Shenandoah localities celebrate Confederate Memorial Day on June 6, the day of his death.