Originally organized as the Second Corps in Lee’s army, Early’s Army of the Valley numbered approximately 14,000 soldiers. The infantry, totaling near 9,000, was organized into two corps, each consisting of two divisions. The First Corps was commanded by Robert E. Rodes, agraduate and one of the highest-ranking Confederate officers not to have attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. The Second Corps, meanwhile, was led by John C. Breckinridge, the former U.S. vice president under James Buchanan and a Democratic candidate for . The North Carolinian Robert Ransom commanded roughly 4,000 cavalrymen, organized into four brigades. Approximately sixteen artillery batteries supplemented the army.
The Shenandoah Valley held considerable strategic and logistical promise that attracted the attention of both Union and Confederate forces. The 1864 Valley Campaign far exceeded Confederate general‘s famed in scope and impact. Early’s Army of the Valley engaged in systematic marching maneuvers up and down the Valley, engaged Union forces in numerous battles, offered resistance to Union general Philip H. Sheridan‘s policies, invaded Maryland and Pennsylvania twice, and also ransomed and burned Northern cities in hard-war tactics of its own.
Early’s forces moved towardto protect the Confederate supply base from the invading Union troops under the command of David Hunter. On June 17 and 18 Early’s forces defeated Hunter’s command outside Lynchburg then pursued the Union troops toward . Once successfully removing any Union threat from the Valley, the Confederates moved north to invade Maryland and threaten Washington, D.C. The Army of the Valley crossed the on July 5 and 6. Three days later, on July 9, Early’s forces engaged Union troops commanded by Lew Wallace at the Battle of Monocacy, fought just outside Frederick, Maryland.
The Army of the Valley defeated Wallace’s small contingent of forces and by July 11 reached the outskirts of Washington, D.C. Though extensive fortifications surrounded the capital, a mere 23,000 Union troops protected the city, many of whom were local militia. The Army of the Valley was knocking at the gates of Washington. As the Confederates approached the city, Union reinforcements—the Army of the Potomac’s Sixth Corps, which had been on siege duty outside—arrived at Fort Stevens in time to stop Early’s advance. On July 14 the Army of the Valley re-crossed the Potomac into Virginia, with Union troops in hot pursuit. Early’s forces regrouped around Strasburg and on July 24 defeated Union troops at the Second Battle of Kernstown.
After routing the Union soldiers at Kernstown, Early prepared his army for another Northern invasion. On the morning of July 30, Early’s cavalry, commanded by, entered Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and demanded a ransom of $100,000 in gold or $500,000 greenbacks. When the town’s people did not produce the ransom, Confederates burned the town. Hundreds of buildings were destroyed, with thousands of dollars in property damage. Early, and many Confederates, saw such hard-war practices on Northern soil as fair retribution for the destruction of Confederate property that occurred earlier in 1864 in Virginia.
Within six weeks Early’s Army of the Valley drove Union forces out of Lynchburg and the Shenandoah Valley, defeated Union forces at Monocacy, threatened Washington, and executed damaging hard-war tactics in several Northern cities. By the end of July, Early’s success caught the attention of Grant, who ordered Sheridan, commanding the newly formed Army of the Shenandoah, into the Valley to prevent further Confederate gains.
The Army of the Valley’s success was short lived, and it eventually was routed at Fisher’s Hill on September 21–22, suffering more than 1,000 casualties, including Early’s chief of staff,. Strategically, the defeat at Fisher’s Hill left the Valley open to Union cavalry and Sheridan’s hard-war tactics. On October 9, Union cavalry decisively defeated Confederate troopers at Tom’s Brook, establishing the supremacy of Union cavalry in the Shenandoah Valley. By mid-October, as Sheridan’s soldiers implemented “The Burning,” which systematically destroyed crops and food stocks, the Army of the Valley was soon underfed and in short supply of needed material. On October 19 the Army of the Valley made its last major stand at Cedar Creek. Early’s men launched a surprise dawn attack and enjoyed initial success, but the Confederate soldiers, desperate for food and supplies, broke discipline to plunder Union camps, and consequently lost their momentum. Sheridan rallied the Union soldiers, and the Confederate defeat marked the end of any further resistance in the Shenandoah Valley. The Army of the Valley continued to exist, albeit malnourished, poorly supplied, and increasingly demoralized, through the winter of 1864–1865. On March 2, 1865, Sheridan’s forces defeated the remnants of Early’s command at the Battle of Waynesboro and captured more than 1,500 soldiers. Lee relieved Early of command. The Army of the Valley finally ceased to exist.
, the well-known Confederate cartographer, estimated that between June and early November of 1864 the Army of the Valley marched 1,670 miles. The campaign resulted in more than 25,000 casualties. The Army of the Valley initially achieved its goals by opening a second front in Virginia and diverting attention away from the Army of Northern Virginia. The Confederate invasion into Maryland and Pennsylvania heightened hysteria among Northerners, while the burning of Chambersburg brought the harsh reality of war to the Northern home front. Sheridan’s appointment to command the Army of the Shenandoah, however, proved to be the turning point in the 1864 Valley Campaign. His relentless pursuit and systematic implementation of hard-war tactics finally overwhelmed, exhausted, and ultimately destroyed the Army of the Valley.