Army of the Valley


The Army of the Valley was a detachment of Confederate forces, commanded by Jubal A. Early, which Robert E. Lee ordered to the Shenandoah Valley in 1864 for independent operations. As Union general-in-chief Ulysses S. Grant and the Army of the Potomac pressed Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia in the Overland Campaign, Lee desperately needed to relieve pressure on his dwindling Confederate forces, divert attention away from the capital at Richmond, and open a second front in Virginia. This newly created Army of the Valley broke camp with Lee’s main army on June 13, 1864, and moved toward the Valley to begin one of the most critical campaigns of the American Civil War (1861–1865).

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, a Virginia Military Institute graduate 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 president in 1860. 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 Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson‘s famed 1862 Valley Campaign 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 hard-war policies, invaded Maryland and Pennsylvania twice, and also ransomed and burned Northern cities in hard-war tactics of its own.

Early’s forces moved toward Lynchburg to 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 West Virginia. 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 Potomac River 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 Petersburg—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 John A. McCausland, 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, Alexander “Sandie” Pendleton. 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.

Jedediah Hotchkiss, 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.

May 21, 1864
Union general David Hunter assumes command of the Army of the Shenandoah.
June 11—14, 1864
Union general David Hunter's forces shell Lexington and burn the Virginia Military Institute before occupying the town for several days during the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864.
June 12, 1864
Confederate general Robert E. Lee orders Jubal A. Early to march the newly created Army of the Valley into western Virginia.
June 17, 1864
During the Battle of Lynchburg, Confederate troops under the command of Jubal A. Early drive off the forces of Union general David Hunter, whose retreat cedes control of the Shenandoah Valley back to the Confederates.
June 18, 1864
Confederate forces under John A. McCausland turn Union general David Hunter back from Lynchburg, saving the city. A month later, McCausland receives a golden sword as a token of thanks from Lynchburg's citizens.
July 3, 1864
Confederate troops under General John B. Gordon occupy Martinsburg.
July 4, 1864
Confederate forces under General Jubal A. Early attack and capture Harpers Ferry.
July 6, 1864
Confederate forces under General Jubal A. Early cross the Potomac River and move into Maryland. Early's cavalry, commanded by John A. McCausland, enters Hagerstown, Maryland, and demands a $20,000 ransom.
July 9, 1864
The Confederate Army of the Valley under General Jubal A. Early defeats Union general Lew Wallace's command at the Battle of Monocacy, just outside Frederick, Maryland.
July 11, 1864
Union forces under the command of General David Hunter occupy Martinsburg.
July 11—12, 1864
The Confederate Army of the Valley under General Jubal A. Early advances east toward Washington, but is stopped at Fort Stevens by the Union Sixth Corps, just transferred from Petersburg. As the infantry presses the Union position, Confederate cavalry threatens Baltimore, Maryland, and raids the B&O rail line.
July 14, 1864
The Army of the Valley withdraws across the Potomac River at Leesburg and regroups near Strasburg.
July 24, 1864
The Confederate Army of the Valley under General Jubal A. Early defeats Union troops under George Cook at the Second Battle of Kernstown. This victory removes any significant Union opposition from the Shenandoah Valley, allowing Early's troops, once again, to invade Maryland and Pennsylvania.
July 25, 1864
The Second Battle of Martinsburg is fought as part of Confederate general Jubal A. Early's Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864. Confederate forces under General John C. Breckinridge win a victory and seize Martinsburg.
July 28, 1864
Confederate general Jubal A. Early orders John A. McCausland to raid Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.
July 30, 1864
When the citizens of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, cannot produce the demanded ransom, Confederate general John A. McCausland burns the town.
August 6, 1864
Union general Philip H. Sheridan takes command of the newly created Middle Military Division. Harpers Ferry becomes the base of operations for Sheridan's campaign against Confederate general Jubal A. Early in the Shenandoah Valley.
September 18, 1864
Confederate forces under General John B. Gordon occupy Martinsburg but later that day are driven out by Union general Philip H. Sheridan's Army of the Shenandoah. Martinsburg remains in Union hands for the remainder of the Civil War.
September 19, 1864
At the head of the Army of the Valley, Confederate general Jubal A. Early is defeated by Union forces under Philip H. Sheridan at the Third Battle of Winchester.
September 21—22, 1864
At the head of the Army of the Valley, Confederate general Jubal A. Early is defeated by Union forces under Philip H. Sheridan at the Battle of Fisher's Hill.
September 26, 1864
Union forces begin "The Burning," destroying crops, barns, and mills in Augusta County, which lasts for nearly two weeks.
October 9, 1864
Union troops under Philip H. Sheridan end their campaign of destruction throughout the Shenandoah Valley—what has come to be called "The Burning"—by defeating Confederate forces under Jubal A. Early at the Battle of Tom's Brook.
October 19, 1864
In a last desperate bid to drive Union forces commanded by Philip H. Sheridan from the Shenandoah Valley, Confederate forces commanded by Jubal A. Early are defeated at the Battle of Cedar Creek. Sheridan's victory marks the end of conventional operations in the Shenandoah Valley.
March 2, 1865
At the head of the Army of the Valley, Confederate general Jubal A. Early is defeated by Union forces under Philip H. Sheridan at the Battle of Waynesboro.
  • Cooling, Benjamin Franklin. Jubal Early’s Raid on Washington, 1864. Baltimore, Maryland: Nautical & Aviation Publishing Company, 1989.
  • Gallagher, Gary ed. The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006.
  • Grimsley, Mark. The Hard Hand of War: Union Military Policy Toward Southern Civilians, 1861–1865. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
  • Wert, Jeffry D. From Winchester to Cedar Creek: The Shenandoah Campaign of 1864. Carlisle, Pennsylvania: South Mountain Press, 1987.
APA Citation:
Murray, Jennifer. Army of the Valley. (2020, December 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/army-of-the-valley.
MLA Citation:
Murray, Jennifer. "Army of the Valley" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Dec. 2020). Web. 22 May. 2024
Last updated: 2020, December 07
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