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[402] those threatening Richmond and Petersburg on the east, finally reached a total development of about forty miles. The catastrophe came when Lee's army grew insufficient to man his defensive line along this entire length, and Grant, finding the weakened places, eventually broke through it, compelling the Confederate general and army to evacuate and abandon both cities and seek safety in flight.

The central military drama, the first two distinctive acts of which are outlined above, had during this long period a running accompaniment of constant underplot and shifting and exciting episodes. The Shenandoah River, rising northwest of Richmond, but flowing in a general northeast course to join the Potomac at Harper's Ferry, gives its name to a valley twenty to thirty miles wide, highly fertile and cultivated, and having throughout its length a fine turnpike, which in ante-railroad days was an active commercial highway between North and South. Bordered on the west by the rugged Alleghany Mountains, and on the east by the single outlying range called the Blue Ridge, it formed a protected military lane or avenue, having vital relation to the strategy of campaigns on the open Atlantic slopes of central Virginia. The Shenandoah valley had thus played a not unimportant part in almost every military operation of the war, from the first battle of Bull Run to the final defense of Richmond.

The plans of General Grant did not neglect so essential a feature of his task. While he was fighting his way toward the Confederate capital, his instructions contemplated the possession and occupation of the Shenandoah valley as part of the system which should isolate and eventually besiege Richmond. But this part of his plan underwent many fluctuations. He had scarcely reached City Point when he became aware

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