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Chapter 28:

  • Early's Lynchburg and Valley campaigns.

Considering the great disparity of forces engaged and the results accomplished, the Shenandoah Valley campaigns of 1864, by Lieut.-Gen. Jubal Anderson Early against the forces of Gen. David Hunter at and beyond Lynchburg, including the advance on Washington and the subsequent numerous contentions with the large army commanded by General Sheridan, were among the most remarkable and brilliant of the Confederate war in Virginia and Maryland. Unfortunately the record of these campaigns, as officially published, is a very meager one, as scarcely any reports concerning its operations were sent in to the Confederate government, and consequently few were found among the archives that were captured by the Federal forces during the retreat from Richmond, and since so impartially published. The Confederate portion of the story of these campaigns is mainly told by the maps and accompanying brief report and personal diary of the writer of this volume, which were furnished to the United States war department and are published in serial No. 90 of the War Records of the Union and Confederate armies, and in part 17 of the great Atlas accompanying these records. Aided by these, General Early wrote and published his brief, truth-telling narrative of the events of these campaigns. The Federal reports of these campaigns, as published in the Official Records, are voluminous, and numbers of the officers connected with the portion of the Federal army that Early contended with, have published narratives and magazine articles concerning these unique and but little understood campaigns.

The Second corps of the army of Northern Virginia, after participating in all the battles and engagements of the Wilderness campaign, from the 3d of May until the 8th of June, 1864, was resting, in reserve, in a camp to the west of Gaines' mill, until the morning of the 13th [477] of June. Just preceding this date, two Federal armies—one under Hunter, coming up the Shenandoah valley, and another, under Crook, coming from the Kanawha from the west by way of the White Sulphur Springs—had made a junction at Staunton and moved up the valley to Lexington. Hunter had, on the 5th of June, encountered and defeated a small Confederate force, under Jones and Imboden, at Piedmont, a hamlet some fourteen miles northeast of Staunton, on the road leading to Port Republic. The force that was there defeated fell back to and held Rockfish gap, of the Blue ridge, where the Virginia Central railroad runs through a tunnel, and thus diverted Hunter's army from going in that direction toward Richmond to join Grant, and decided him to follow up the Valley to Lexington, where he had skirmishes with the cadets of the Virginia military institute and with a small force of Confederates that had fallen back as he advanced. Thence, after burning the Virginia military institute and committing other deeds of barbaric vandalism, he moved on to Buchanan, where he had another skirmish, June 14th, after which he turned across the Blue ridge toward Lynchburg, in front of which he appeared on the 17th of June; thus menacing not only Lee's communications with one of his principal bases of supplies, but also the rear of his army.

On the 13th of June, Lieut.-Gen. Jubal A. Early, who had been promoted and put in command of the Second corps, was detached from the army of Northern Virginia, and marched, at 3 a. m., by way of the Mountain road, to Auburn mills, on the South Anna, where he encamped that night. On the 14th, he marched to Gardiner's cross roads; on the 15th to the vicinity of Trevilian's, and on the 16th to the vicinity of Charlottesville. Thence, on the 17th, a portion of his command was taken by the trains of the Orange & Alexandria railroad to Lynchburg, and a portion of it marched to North Garden depot, whence, later, it was carried to Lynchburg by rail. Arriving at Lynchburg with Ramseur's and Gordon's divisions at 1 p. m., of the 17th, Early at once marched out on the Salem road, and taking command, put his men in position with those of General Breckinridge's command, consisting of Wharton's division of infantry, King's artillery, and Jackson's, Imboden's, McCausland's and Jones' brigades of cavalry, which he found holding [478] and constructing a line of defenses in front of that city.

On the 18th, Rodes' division arrived, brought by rail from North Garden. Early, his command now concentrated, formed a line of battle some three miles west and in front of Lynchburg; in the afternoon met and repulsed Hunter's attack, and compelled him to retreat that night by the Salem road. The next morning the ‘army of the Valley District,’ which the Second corps had again become, promptly pursued Hunter, over a hot and dusty road, and attacked his rear in a skirmish at Liberty, and there encamped for the night. On the 20th, Early continued the pursuit to the entrance to Buford's gap, where he had another skirmish with Hunter's rear guard. From Liberty he had sent most of his cavalry across the Blue ridge, by way of the Peaks gap, to Buchanan, to hold the Valley and prevent Hunter from retreating in the direction of Lexington. This force turned from Buchanan toward Salem, and was ready to fall on Hunter's right flank and co-operate with Early's pursuit, on the 21st, to Big Lick, and then across to Hanging Rock, a gap in the North mountains, on the Salem and Sweet Springs turnpike. There it struck the flank of Hunter's retreat, which had been expedited by Imboden's cavalry, which had marched to the left and crossed the Blue ridge southwest of Buford's gap and fallen upon Hunter's rear and left flank at Big Lick (now Roanoke) and forced him in rapid retreat through Salem, harassing and damaging his rear and capturing a portion of his train at Hanging Rock, as he escaped into the mountains west of the Valley. Imboden followed the rear of Hunter's retreating army across to New Castle, on the 21st and 22d.

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