Chapter 25:

  • General view of situation after fall of Atlanta
  • -- defences of Richmond and Petersburg -- national entrenchments -- depression of public spirit at the North–Political situation -- approach of Presidential election -- difficulties in drafting troops -- anxiety about Washington -- Grant's strategy covers the capital -- Early reinforced by Anderson -- Sheridan's manoeuvres in the Valley -- relations between Grant and Sheridan -- Anderson recalled to Richmond -- Gran t's visit to Sheridan -- confidence of both commanders -- battle of Winchester -- blunder of Early -- Sheridan's plan -- Sheridan's attack -- original success of rebels -- Sheridan restores the day -- Torbert's cavalry charge -- victory of national forces -- retreat of Early, ‘whirling through Winchester’ -- pursuit by Sheridan -- battle of Fisher's Hill -- Second defeat of Early -- further retreat of rebels -- effect of success at the North -- Grant's orders to Sheridan -- Early abandons the Valley -- censures of Lee -- disappointment in Richmond.

Atlanta had fallen, the Weldon road was carried, and Early's exit from the Valley had been barred, but the end was not yet. A long and tedious prospect still stretched out before the national commander. Hood's army was not destroyed, the rebels were in force in Sheridan's front, and Lee had not abandoned Richmond. Grant looked the situation full in the face, and lost no time in adapting his plans to the actual emergencies. On the 8th of September, Sherman had entered Atlanta in person, and on the 10th, he was instructed: ‘As soon as your men are sufficiently rested, and preparations [2] can be made, it is desirable that another campaign should be commenced. We want to keep the enemy constantly pressed till the close of the war.’ To Sheridan Grant said: ‘If this war is to last another year, we want the Shenandoah Valley to remain a barren waste;’ and to Meade: ‘I do not want to give up the Weldon road, if it can be avoided, until we get Richmond. That may be months yet.’ Accordingly he ordered a railroad to be built, to bring supplies from City Point to the national front at Petersburg, and the entire line of entrenchments to be strengthened from the James river on the right to Warren's left beyond the Weldon road.

The system of field-works which at this time encircled both Richmond and Petersburg, and covered the surrounding country, was complicated in the extreme, and in some respects unprecedented in war. Both cities were embraced in what may be termed besieging operations; both were the object of incessant menace and attack for nearly a year; both were defended with vigor, skill, and gallantry; yet neither was completely invested, nor was either regularly approached by parallels, and only one important sortie was ever made against the assailants' works by the beleaguered garrison. The siege of Richmond was conducted at a distance of twenty miles by an army which retrenched itself, while owing to the intervening rivers, and forests, and swamps, as well as to the complexity of the manoeuvres—the extensions and retractions, the advances and withdrawals, on the right and left—the hostile works stretched out hundreds of miles.

On the north side of the James, Richmond was [3] defended by a triple line of fortifications. First of all, at an average distance of a mile and a half from the centre of the city, a series of detached fieldworks was constructed, so placed as to command the principal avenues of approach. These works were twelve in number, five of them complete redoubts, and all arranged for either siege or field artillery, while some were provided with magazines. They had been built by slave labor in the first year of the war, every proprietor in the neighborhood having been compelled to furnish from one-sixth to one-third of his entire slave force for their erection.

Exterior to these was a continuous line completely encircling the town, at a distance of three miles. It consisted of epaulements, arranged generally for field artillery, sometimes in embrasure, sometimes in barbette, and connected by rifletrench. These works were not extended to the southern bank until after Butler's attack on Drury's Bluff in May, 1864, when the rebels, fearing another advance from the same direction, completed the line. It was never attacked except by reconnoitring forces in 1864 and 1865.

The third line, starting from the river above the town, and crossing the country at a general distance of six miles from Richmond, reached to the bluffs overlooking the valley of the Chickahominy, the crests of which it followed for a while, and then took an easterly course, striking the James again, at the strong entrenched position on Chapin's Farm, opposite Drury's Bluff. This was the line occupied by the rebel armies during the last year of the war, and attained a high stage of development. It consisted of a series of strong forts, with ditches and [4] palisadoed gorges, connected by infantry parapet. The batteries of course were the vital points, commanding the entire line; the ditches here were deep, and several rows of abatis and chevaux de frise were planted in close musket-range along the front. Outside the connecting parapet, shallower ditches were dug and obstacles placed, and a line of loaded shells was laid at intervals among the entanglements, at the points confronted by national troops. Splinter and bomb shelters were erected, and to increase the amount of fire, high mounds were built behind the breastworks, which served as bomb-proof shelters underneath, while the top was arranged for infantry fire. Listening galleries were dug to prevent successful mining operations; dams were constructed to flood the ground where streams ran towards the rebel lines, and every appliance of the defensive art was called in play to render the fortifications impregnable.

On the opposite side of the James, the main rebel line started from Drury's Bluff, and then ran south to the Howlett House, on the high commanding ground that overlooks Dutch Gap; here the river in its windings intervened again, and the peninsula of Bermuda Hundred was crossed, the line still running almost due south, till it struck the Appomattox, north-east of Petersburg. From this point the works extended south-westerly to the Weldon road, when they turned to the north, and completed the circuit of the town. In front of Butler, on Bermuda Hundred, the rebel line was extremely strong, and like that north of the James, was intended to be held with a comparatively small [5] force, until in an emergency reinforcements could arrive; but south and east of Petersburg, Lee kept his main army, and here he relied for defence on men rather than works, though here also the fortifications were elaborate and formidable.

When the national forces crossed the James, in June, and Smith advanced against Petersburg, although Beauregard came up in time to save the town, the defences on the south and east were captured. Breastworks were thrown up in the night, in rear of the former position, and these were held until Lee's army arrived; but the original works were never regained. For about a mile and a half the new rebel line followed a ridge a quarter of a mile outside the town, and was made exceedingly strong. At intervals of two or three hundred yards, or more, according to the nature of the ground, were batteries, thrown forward as salients, and traced originally either as bastions, demi-bastions, or lunettes. These were united by a line of parapet running from the flank of one to that of the next; ditches were dug along the entire front, and two and sometimes three rows of chevaux de frise and other obstructions were laid. The batteries in time became elaborate forts, the profile was strengthened, they gave each other good flanking fire, and the approach was everywhere commanded. They were generally armed with Napoleon guns and small columbiads, many of the latter taken from arsenals of the United States at the beginning of the war, by men who wore the uniform of the government they betrayed; others came from the Richmond foundries.

Behind this main line was still another parapet [6] with occasional detached works, or keeps, sometimes redoubts, to which the troops might retire in the event of the principal line being carried; while in front of all were the rifle-pits for the pickets, these also connected by a parapet affording good cover, and forming in fact a field fortification in all but relief; they were even furnished at many points with rude but effective obstructions in the shape of slashed timber, which made a sort of abatis or fraise. These obstructions, however, were sometimes carried away for fuel by the troops on either side, under the tacit understanding so often witnessed between advanced forces in the field.

Besides the works in front of Petersburg, there were two more lines between that city and Richmond, upon which the rebel army might fall back, if those south of the Appomattox should be forced; but the position at Petersburg was the important one, as any line nearer Richmond would not enable Lee to keep open his communications by the Southside railroad. The whole series of works around Petersburg thus became a part of the defences of Richmond; and, confronted from the middle of June by the entire army of the Potomac and a part of Butler's force, it acquired that character which the presence of a large body of defenders alone made practicable. Forts with very strong relief; a connecting parapet assuming the profile of regular field works, and protected in front by two and even three rows of entanglements; the whole line well flanked, and its approaches everywhere swept by artillery—these constituted a position, which, when held by only one rank of good troops with breech-loading [7] weapons—it is the universal testimony of modern war, can hardly be carried by direct assault.

In September, 1864, the national entrenchments extended no further north of the James than the tete de pont at Deep Bottom; on the south bank the lines ran parallel with the rebel works across Bermuda Hundred, from the James to the Appomattox river. Beyond the Appomattox, starting at a point opposite the rebel left, they followed the defences of Petersburg, and until they struck the Jerusalem plank road, ran extremely close to the enemy's works, approaching at times within a few hundred yards. At the Jerusalem road they diverged to the left, and the distance between the entrenchments widened to more than two miles. On the 1st of September, the national left rested on the Weldon railroad, Warren's skirmishers reaching to the Vaughan and Squirrel level roads; but before long the main works extended to these roads; then running south about a mile and a half, they turned to the east and completely encircled the national camps, striking the Blackwater river, in the rear of Meade's right wing. There were also strong entrenched works at City Point, to protect the base of the army, and batteries were established at intervals on the James, from Chapin's Bluff to Fort Monroe. Each army was thus completely surrounded by its own entrenchments, and one fortified camp was in reality besieged by another.

The national lines, like those of the rebels, consisted of infantry parapet connecting a series of more important works, by which the intermediate entrenchment was enfiladed. These larger works varied very much in magnitude and tracing, but were [8] generally redoubts, built with a view to containing garrisons strong enough to hold their own, in case the connecting parapet was abandoned and the infantry force withdrawn. In this they differed from the rebel batteries south of the Appomattox, which with few exceptions were open to the rear, and could not be held if the line was broken at any one point. The entrenchments on both sides were built of the red loamy clay found in the eastern parts of Maryland and Virginia, a soil peculiarly adapted for earthworks, as it is easily dug, and stands well when formed into slopes. The parapets were several feet thick and ten or twelve feet high; the faces were carefully traversed, and some of the guns had shields for protection against rifle-shots, made of three thicknesses of plank nailed together, and fitted over the breech in front of the sight, a slit being cut in the shield, in which the gun was laid.

The revetments were almost always of logs, laid horizontally, and parallel with the crest of the parapet. The chevaux de frise were constructed of square logs, with holes through which the spikes were passed, after which the lengths were lashed together. Covered ways, starting from tunnels under the parapet, gave access to the line of rifle-pits, which was sometimes only twenty-five or thirty yards outside. Immediately in front of Petersburg, where the hostile pickets were very close, and the riflefiring was continuous day and night, the men laid large logs of wood along the top of the parapet or rifle-pits, and out of the under side a small hole was cut, through which they were able to keep up a sharp fire without being often hit. [9]

One of the principal features of the works was the extensive use made of bomb-proofs. Owing to the great length of the lines, the same troops were often kept in the trenches for weeks, and it was necessary to give them ample protection from the weather as well as from the hostile bombardment. The bomb-proofs were long trenches cut in the ground just behind the parapets and parallel with them; the sides of these trenches were lined with rough wooden slabs, the roof was supported by uprights bearing plates, on which the cross-pieces were laid; and over these, earth was heaped to the depth required. The cross-pieces were laid close, not only for strength, but to prevent the earth from crumbling and falling through. Fireplaces and chimneys were also constructed. According to the shape of the ground, and the site, the bomb-proofs were either sunken, half sunken, or elevated; if the last, the top was sometimes used as a cavalier. In one or two places the very parapet of the main line was converted into a bomb-proof.

The general character of the fortifications was thus the same in both commands, the only important point of difference being that the batteries on the national side were absolute redoubts, while those of the enemy, south of the James, were for the most part open at the rear—a singular oversight. In all other respects the works of either army resembled those to which they were opposed. The lines of each, when seen from the advanced positions of the enemy, showed a parapet of strong profile, supported at intervals by batteries having a flanking fire to the right and left, while in front was a ditch with several rows of abatis. For months the two armies [10] thus confronted each other on the banks of the Appomattox, like mailed champions armed to the teeth, while Richmond, the prize of the struggle, waited apart, till her fate should be decided.123 The people of the North entirely failed to appreciate the importance of the seizure of the Weldon road. The disaster of Burnside had left an impression that could not easily be effaced, and all the subsequent manoeuvres on the right and left were, to the multitude, unintelligible. It was only perceived that Hancock had twice been moved to the north bank of the James, and twice withdrawn. Not only was the fact unnoticed that by these manoeuvres the extension on the left had been made practicable; but that extension itself was looked upon as of no especial consequence. Hancock's check at Ream's station more than balanced, in the public mind, all the advantages of Warren's advance. In the same way Sheridan [11] as yet appeared to have accomplished nothing in the Valley; in fact he had retired, and Early had followed him; so that on the Potomac also, the prospect was gloomy. Even Sherman's success, gratifying as it was, seemed isolated; the country had no idea that it had been facilitated by the very movements at the East which were deemed so unfortunate; and although the campaign in Georgia had been ordered by Grant, and formed an essential part of his schemes, its immediate result, so far as he was concerned, was to lessen his hold on the country, and make many declare that the right man for commander-in-chief was the general who had captured Atlanta, not the one who still lay outside of Richmond.

Until the fall of Atlanta, indeed, the gloom at the North was overshadowing. The most hopeful had become weary, the most determined were depressed and disappointed. It was forgotten that Grant had warned the country he might have to fight ‘all summer’ on one line; it was not known that he had ordered a siege train when he started from Culpeper, and had arranged for the crossing of the James while he was still north of the Rapidan. Soldiers indeed saw the immense advantages that had been gained, the definite progress made towards the end;4 but soldiers alone. The New York Tribune, the great loyal newspaper [12] of the North, openly advocated concession; the Secretary of the Treasury resigned his place in the cabinet; gold was sold in the market at a premium of 290 per cent.; and during Early's raid Halleck reported to Grant that ‘not a man responded to the President's call for militia,5 from New York, Pennsylvania, or the North.’

This dissatisfaction was steadily fostered by those who preferred disunion to war. No one can appreciate the difficulties of the national commanders at this critical period who fails to remember the malignant detraction they suffered at home; the persistent efforts to blacken their reputations, to misrepresent their movements, to belittle their successes, and magnify their losses—in order to depress the spirit of the North. A continuous battle was thus carried on at the rear while the soldiers were fighting at the front; and the enemies of the nation at home did it nearly as much harm as Lee. They stimulated the South in its resistance, they invited foreign sympathizers to active interference, and did their best to hinder recruiting, to withhold supplies, to damage the financial credit of the country, and to discourage the armies in the field.

The near approach of the Presidential elections reminded this party that it had still another [13] chance; and, when Lincoln was renominated by the Republicans, General McClellan became the candidate of the Democrats, who openly declared the war for the Union a failure, and demanded an immediate cessation of hostilities.6 The success of the Peace party indeed would secure all that the rebels were fighting for; a fact very well understood by the Richmond government and its generals. It was worth while to hold out a little longer in the field while their allies in the Northern states went to the polls. The elections would occur on the 8th of November, and until that date every military movement had an immediate political effect. If the rebels could by some transient success still further discourage the weak-hearted at the North; if by protracted resistance they could even temporarily exhaust the endurance of those who had persisted so long—they would exert an influence directly favorable to McClellan.7 With this view they redoubled their efforts, and with this view the Democrats continued theirs, while a chorus of foreign aristocrats [14] assisted to proclaim the downfall of the republic which they naturally hated and feared.

Grant, however, appreciated the situation as fully as his opponents. On the 16th of August, he wrote: ‘I have no doubt the enemy are exceedingly anxious to hold out until the Presidential election. They have many hopes from its effects. They hope a counter-revolution. They hope the election of a Peace candidate.’ Accordingly, he renewed his preparations for a vigorous and, if necessary, protracted series of campaigns. But the enlistment of the Volunteers had been for three years only, and the term of many of the men was now expiring. It was necessary to provide at once for this emergency. On the 18th of July, Grant telegraphed to the President, direct: ‘There ought to be an immediate call for, say, three hundred thousand men, to be put in the field in the shortest possible time. . . The enemy have their last man in the field. Every depletion of their army is an irreparable loss. Desertions from it now rapid. With the prospect of large additions to our force their desertions would increase. The greater number of men we have, the shorter and less sanguinary will be the war.’ These representations were heartily seconded by Halleck, and had their proper effect. A call for five hundred thousand troops was issued by the President.8

The response, however, was slow, and if volunteering [15] flagged, the draft must be resorted to. But, when the conscription was ordered, a year before, the enemies of the government had broken out into absolute riot and resistance, burning the houses of prominent citizens, murdering defenceless negroes, and shooting down national officers on duty and in their uniform, in the greatest city of the North. A renewal of these scenes was now threatened,9 and, naturally enough, was dreaded by the government. Grant, however, remained urgent, and on the l3th of September, he wrote to Stanton: ‘We ought to have the whole number of men called for by the President, in the shortest possible time. Prompt action in filling up our armies will have more effect upon the enemy than a victory. They profess to believe, and make their men believe, there is such a party in favor of recognizing Southern independence that the draft cannot be enforced. Let them be undeceived. Deserters come into our lines daily, who tell us that the men are nearly universally tired of the war, and that desertions would be much more frequent, but that they believe peace will be negotiated after the fall elections. The enforcement of the draft and prompt filling up of our armies will save the shedding of blood to an immense extent.’ [16]

The draft was enforced, and no difficulty or disturbance occurred. Those inclined to positive resistance were, after all, few in number; and, as usual, the men who talked the loudest were laggard in action. But above all, at this crisis, the victory of Atlanta revived the drooping spirits of the nation and gave stamina to the government; and coming, as it did, the very day after McClellan's nomination, was a disastrous blow to the Democrats. Volunteering at once revived, and troops again began pouring into the armies.

Meanwhile, the country and even the government still believed that Washington was in danger. It has, however, already been seen that from the outset all of Grant's orders and plans had contemplated the complete protection of the capital. The route from the Rapidan had been selected with this view, and the expedition of Sigel was especially intended to close the avenue which the Shenandoah Valley would otherwise offer to the enemy. The movements of the Wilderness campaign, the constant retreat of Lee and the advance of Grant after every battle, had accomplished this purpose and effectually covered Washington; and up to the time of the crossing of the James there had been no apprehension in any quarter of an invasion of the North. Nor was the movement against Petersburg at all in contravention of the original design; for Hunter's campaign in the Shenandoah and Sheridan's co-operative march towards Charlottesville were conceived with the express object of destroying the rebel communications north of Richmond, and rendering it impossible for Lee to throw any large force in the direction of the Potomac. [17]

Hunter, it is true, had moved on Lexington instead of towards Charlottesville, and Sheridan, thus left unsupported, was obliged to return to Grant; while afterwards, when repelled from Lynchburg, Hunter retreated entirely away from the Valley, leaving the route to Washington absolutely open to the enemy. Nevertheless, the invasion of Early had failed, for the very reason which Grant had foreseen. Lee had been so crippled by his losses in the Wilderness that he could not detach a force large enough to endanger Washington without risking his position at Richmond; and when Early reached the capital he found troops assembled there sufficient to repel him. But had Grant moved his army in May by way of the James instead of from Culpeper, the rebels would doubtless at that time have threatened Washington far more seriously than in July. The very danger which was now averted was a justification of the strategy which had prevented its occurrence at a time when relief might have been more difficult to secure.

At this juncture, however, Lee could have had but little hope of capturing Washington, though he doubtless believed that Grant might be compelled to weaken himself in front of Richmond, and perhaps to raise the siege.10 Indeed, had the national general allowed himself to be influenced by the excited apprehensions of civilians and even soldiers at the rear, he would have abandoned all the advantages acquired by months [18] of fighting, and moved the army of the Potomac back to the fortifications of the capital. But he had his hand at the throat of the rebellion, and meant not to let go his grasp. Having perceived the vital military point, he had the courage to remain there, despite advice, and entreaties, and almost commands. Thus Lee's plan of obliging him to give up Richmond for the sake of Washington entirely failed. It was a skilful move on the military chess-board, and with some antagonists might have succeeded, but Grant had no more idea of abandoning the goal at which he was aiming because of such a distraction as Early's campaign, than he had of re-crossing the Rapidan after the battle of the Wilderness.

It had now, however, become essential to defeat the movement of Early. Disaster in the Valley would lay open to the rebels the states of Maryland and Pennsylvania for long distances before another army could be interposed to check them; while the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, as well as the Chesapeake and Ohio canal, alike indispensable to the national armies, were alike obstructed by the enemy. The moral effect of all this on the North at this political crisis was most damaging. Grant was therefore extremely anxious that whenever a blow was struck by Sheridan it should be decisive. But to secure this, caution was necessary as well as energy; and although full of confidence in his young lieutenant, the general-in-chief remembered that Sheridan had never yet handled a large command without an immediate superior: he accordingly directed him closely and constantly. Sheridan in his turn continually asked for orders and advice. [19] He was a born soldier, and joined to his theoretical knowledge a clear conception of the character and requirements of the campaign, while his pugnacity and determination made him a formidable antagonist; but he knew how much depended on success at this juncture; he knew also the importance of co-operation with the armies on the James; and though self-reliant, he was thoroughly subordinate. Thus, the relations of the two generals which at first were cordial, soon became intimate, and a military friendship sprang up between them, which in time ripened into a personal one, as close and as unselfish on both sides, as that already existing between Grant and Sherman.

The rebel government was not long in learning that a new commander had superseded the crowd of generals who previously moved up and down the Valleys of the Potomac and. the Shenandoah without concert and without success. They learned also that Sheridan was to be reinforced, and Lee at once determined to resist him. It has already been seen that Anderson was sent with Kershaw's division and FitzLee's cavalry to the neighborhood of Culpeper, to co-operate with Early. Anderson's orders were to cross the Potomac east of the Blue Ridge, while Early entered Maryland higher up the stream, and the two commanders, acting in concert, were to make a second movement against Washington.11 This plan, however, [20] had been frustrated by Sheridan's prompt advance into the Valley, and Grant's operations north of the James.12

Sheridan had moved from Halltown on the 10th of August, and Early at once fell back as far as Strasburg, to which point he was followed by the national army, both forces arriving at Cedar creek on the 12th. On the 13th, Early retired a few miles further, to Fisher's Hill. Anderson meanwhile had arrived at Culpeper, where he received a despatch from Early, calling for reinforcements. He at once set out with his whole command, and crossing the Blue Ridge at Chester's Gap, arrived on the 15th, at Front Royal, about ten miles east of Strasburg. The road between was held by Sheridan; but Masanutten mountain also intervened, and concealed the presence of Anderson. FitzLee therefore rode across the mountain in person to communicate with Early, and preparations were made for a combined attack on Sheridan. A plan of battle was actually arranged. But Sheridan had been already warned: for Grant's opportune despatch of the 12th had arrived, announcing the addition to the enemy's force;13 and on the 17th, when the two rebel columns advanced, the national [21] troops had retired. Sheridan fell back as far as Berryville, and the enemy's forces were united at Winchester, only five miles off.

At this time, if ever, the rebels should have pressed Sheridan across the Potomac, or crossing the river themselves, have either compelled him to follow, or forced Grant to despatch still further reinforcements from the James. The strength of Early and Anderson combined was at least equal to that of Sheridan, and if they were to accomplish anything at all by the campaign, now was their opportunity. Once more, however, Lee's plans entirely failed. There was some question of rank between the commanders, but this was waived by Anderson, and all the responsibility fell upon Early, who, though a stubborn fighter, and not without fine conceptions, lacked entirely the genius to execute either his own ideas, or those of others, in an emergency. As a corps commander immediately under the eye of a superior, he sometimes displayed ability, but an independent command was beyond his powers.14

But if he did no more, Early was to secure the harvests of the Valley. This was one great object of the campaign, and after Early's return from Maryland, his supplies were obtained principally from the lower Valley and the counties west of it. The wheat for nearly all his bread was thrashed and ground by details from his command, while the horses and mules were sustained almost entirely by grazing. But all this was now to end. Grant [22] had directed Sheridan: ‘Do all the damage to railroads and crops you can. Carry off stock of all descriptions, and negroes, to prevent further planting;’ and the orders were carried out to the letter. On the 20th of August, Sheridan reported: ‘I have destroyed everything that was eatable south of Winchester, and they will have to haul supplies from well up to Staunton.’ His orders were to seize all mules, horses, and cattle that might be useful, and destroy all wheat and hay. ‘No houses will be burned, and officers in charge of this delicate but necessary duty must inform the people that the object is to make the Valley untenable for the raiding parties of the rebel army.’ The destruction was not wanton, nor was the suffering inflicted by way of revenge; Grant was simply determined to prevent another invasion of the loyal states, and to render it impossible for another rebel army to subsist in the Valley. The inhabitants suffered, whether their resources were annihilated by rebel or national soldiers.

And now occurred a series of manoeuvres demanding caution and skill in both commanders. Early's object was to remain as far down the Valley as possible, in order to maintain a threatening attitude towards Maryland and Pennsylvania, and prevent the use of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad and the Chesapeake and Ohio canal, as well as to detain as many troops as possible from Grant. Sheridan, on the other hand, was watching his opportunity, and whenever Lee recalled any force from the Valley, he meant to fall upon Early and destroy him. The two armies lay in such a position—the enemy on the west bank of the Opequan, covering Winchester, [23] and the national forces between that place and Berryville,—that either could bring on an engagement at any moment; but Early was not anxious for battle at all, although reinforced;15 while an advance of Sheridan, in the event of reverse, exposed the national capital. The rebels, therefore, remained as close to the Potomac as they dared, and Sheridan waited until circumstances should give him an opportunity to pounce upon the enemy.

Meanwhile, the young commander every day reported to his superior on the James, and every day the general-in-chief replied with words of caution or encouragement. At this time every important movement made by Sheridan was either ordered or approved by Grant. ‘I have taken up a position,’ said Sheridan, ‘near Berryville, which will enable me to get in their rear, if they should get strong enough to push north.’ Again, on the 20th of August, he telegraphed: ‘Troops passing from Culpeper into the Valley. I have taken the defensive till their strength is more fully developed. . . If they cross the Potomac, they will expose their rear, and I will pitch into them.’ To this Grant replied from Petersburg: ‘Warren's corps is now entrenched across the Weldon road; I shall endeavor to stay there, and employ the enemy so actively that he cannot detach further.’ On the 20th, Sheridan reported: ‘I can now calculate on bringing into action about twenty-two thousand or twenty-three thousand infantry, and about eight thousand cavalry.’16 [24]

On the 21st, Early and Anderson advanced, and on the 22nd, Sheridan fell back as far as Halltown. ‘My position,’ he said, ‘in front of Charlestown at best was a bad one, and so much being dependent on this army, I withdrew . . . and took up a new line in front of Halltown.’ The rebels pressed forward, and on the 25th, seized Shepardstown, on the Potomac, twelve miles above Halltown; upon which Sheridan telegraphed: ‘I will not give up this place, and hope to be able to strike the enemy divided .’ On the 26th, however, the rebels fell back from his front, and returned to their former position. Early had crossed the Potomac once, and notwithstanding his orders, had no desire to try the chances again. This day Grant said to Sheridan: ‘I now think it likely that all troops will be ordered back from the Valley, except what they think the minimum necessary to detain you. . . Yielding up the Weldon road seems to be a blow the enemy cannot stand. . . Watch closely, and if you find this theory correct, push with all vigor. Give the enemy no rest, and if it is possible to follow to the Virginia Central road—follow that far.’ On the 26th of August, Lee made his last attempt, at Ream's station, to regain possession of the Weldon road. Unsuccessful there, and finding his plans frustrated in the Valley, he at once, as Grant had foreseen, directed the return of Anderson. On the 28th, Grant telegraphed to Sheridan: ‘If you are so situated as to feel the enemy strongly without compromising the safety of your position, I think it advisable to do so. I do not know positively that any troops have yet returned from the Valley, but think you will find the [25] enemy in your immediate front weaker than you are.’

Meanwhile, there were rumors that a part of Early's force had been sent west of the Alleghanies, and Grant meant to lose no opportunity. On the 29th, he ordered Sheridan: ‘If it is ascertained certainly that Breckenridge has been detached to go into Western Virginia, attack the remaining forces vigorously with every man you have; and if successful in routing them, follow up your success with the Sixth and Nineteenth corps, and send Crook to meet Breckenridge.’ But Sheridan replied on the same day: ‘There is not one word of truth in the report of Breckenridge being in West Virginia;’ and then, with his usual spirit, he added: ‘I believe no troops have yet left the Valley, but I believe they will, and that it will be their last campaign in the Shenandoah. They came to invade, and have failed. They must leave, or cross the Potomac.’ The next day he said: ‘If Early has detached troops for Richmond, I will attack him vigorously.’ It was with words like these that the chief and the subaltern inspired each other: they were evidently made of similar stuff.

At last, on the 3rd of September, Anderson started for Richmond; but towards night he blundered upon Sheridan's lines, and was vigorously attacked, and driven back towards the Opequan after dark. For a while he was in imminent danger, and the next day Early came up to his support. The rebels, however, had no idea of attacking Sheridan, and the whole command executed a rapid retreat to the west bank of the Opequan; but had Sheridan been aware [26] of Anderson's intention, he would doubtless have facilitated, rather than interrupted, his march. As it was, he waited now to be certain that troops had started for Richmond. Indeed, for a fortnight this was the whole policy of Grant; but of course the country could not be apprised of the plan, and failing to understand the delay, became impatient again.

On the 8th, the general-in-chief said to Sheridan: ‘If you want to attack Early, you might reinforce largely from Washington. Whilst you are close in front of the enemy, there is no necessity for a large force there. This is not intended to urge an attack, because I believe you will allow no chance to escape which promises success.’ But Anderson still remained in the Valley, and Sheridan telegraphed: ‘Early's infantry force and mine number about the same. I have not deemed it best to attack him, but have watched closely to press him hard, so soon as he commences to detach troops for Richmond. This was the tenor of your despatch to me after I took up the defensive.’ To this Grant replied, on the 9th: ‘I would not have you make an attack with the advantage against you, but would prefer the course you seem to be pursuing; that is, press closely upon the enemy, and when he moves, follow him up, being ready at all times to pounce upon him, if he detaches any considerable force.’

Meanwhile, the enemies at home were making the most of the delay and proclaiming Sheridan to be another failure. Not only the loyal people, but the government, were anxious; the continuous threat of invasion was intolerable, and the use of the railroad [27] and canal had become indispensable. Still, Grant hesitated about allowing the initiative to be taken. The condition of affairs throughout the country required great prudence, and defeat in the Valley could be ill afforded. He was unwilling to telegraph the order for an attack without knowing the personal feeling of Sheridan as to the result. He indeed always took into consideration the temper and mood of his generals, and often in actual battle went to the front, not only to observe for himself the condition of the field, but to discover the spirit and inclination of commanders. In the same way he left City Point on the 15th of September, to visit the Valley, and decide, after conference with his lieutenant, what order should be made. He travelled direct to Charlestown, not stopping at Washington on the way.

That night, Sheridan learned that Anderson was moving through Winchester, on his way to Front Royal. He felt then that the time for battle had come, and had almost made up his mind to fight at Newtown, in the rear of Winchester, giving up his own line, and throwing himself on that of the enemy. He was, however, a little timid about this movement, until the arrival of Grant;17 but then he pointed out so distinctly how each army lay, what he could do the moment he was authorized, and expressed such confidence of success, that the general-in-chief declared the only instructions Sheridan [28] needed were to advance. This was on Friday, and the supply trains were waiting at Harper's Ferry for forage. Grant asked if the teams could be brought up in time for an attack on the following Tuesday; and Sheridan replied that he could be ready before daylight on Monday. Grant gave him the orders, and felt so confident of the result, that he left the front, and went to New Jersey, to put his children at school.18

On the 17th of September, Early, with inexcusable folly, still further divided his command. Though weakened already by the loss of Anderson, he marched with two divisions of infantry and a large force of cavalry, to Martinsburg, twenty-two miles away, to do what damage he could to the railroad, leaving the remainder of his force in front of Winchester. Sheridan at once detected the blunder of his antagonist, and instead of moving to Newtown, as he had intended, determined to attack the enemy in detail, fighting first the two divisions left near Winchester, and then the two that had been moved to Martinsburg. Accordingly, on the afternoon of the 18th, his whole army marched from Berryville towards the Opequan. But at Martinsburg Early learned that Grant had been with Sheridan, and anticipating some movement of importance, he at once [29] set out to return.19 At daylight on the 19th, there was one rebel division immediately in front of Sheridan, and another only five miles to the north, while two, still nearer, were marching rapidly up on the road from Martinsburg. Sheridan was promptly informed of these dispositions of the enemy, and understood that he now must fight the entire command of Early.

His plan was to attack the rebels with the Sixth and Nineteenth corps, holding Crook's division in reserve, to be used as a turning column when the crisis of the battle occurred. His cavalry he placed on the right and left of the infantry. The approach to Winchester by the Berryville road is through a difficult gorge, and it was nine o'clock before an advance in line could be effected. The attack was then made in handsome style, without cover; but by this time Early's two divisions from Martinsburg had come upon the ground, and the rebels were not only able to hold their own, but made a countercharge, and the national centre was forced back for a while. Sheridan, however, threw forward Upton's brigade and struck the attacking column in flank, when the rebels in turn were driven back, and the national line was re-established.

The enemy's principal strength was opposite Sheridan's right, where the Martinsburg road comes in, and Crook was now directed to find the left of the rebel line, strike it in flank or rear, and break it up, while Sheridan made a left half wheel of the main line of battle to support him. Crook [30] advanced with spirit, forcing the enemy rapidly from his position, and at the same moment Torbert's. cavalry came sweeping up the Martinsburg road, overlapping Early's left, and driving the rebel cavalry before them in a confused mass, through the broken infantry. Sheridan now rode rapidly along the line of the Sixth and Nineteenth corps, to order their advance, and at the same time directed Wilson to push to the left with a division of cavalry, and gain the roads leading south from Winchester. Then returning to the right, where the battle was still raging, he ordered Torbert to charge with the remainder of the cavalry. Torbert advanced simultaneously with the infantry. The country was entirely open, and the movement could be distinctly seen by the enemy. Unable to resist any longer, crowded on both flanks, and fearful of being surrounded, the rebels everywhere broke, and as Sheridan said in his famous despatch, he ‘sent them whirling through Winchester.’ Night alone saved Early from complete destruction. He lost, by his own account, forty-five hundred men, of whom twenty-five hundred were prisoners. Two general officers were killed, several others wounded, and five guns and nine battle-flags were captured. The engagement lasted from early morning until five in the afternoon. After that time it became a rout. Sheridan's loss was forty-five hundred men; five hundred killed, three thousand five hundred wounded, and five hundred missing.20

It was of this battle that Grant declared in his [31] official report: ‘The result was such that I have never since deemed it necessary to visit General Sheridan before giving him orders.’

Early fell back in the night as far as Newtown, and next day to Fisher's Hill, four miles south of Strasburg; and at daylight on the 20th, Sheridan moved rapidly up the Valley in pursuit. Fisher's Hill is immediately south of a little stream called Tumbling river, and at this point the rebels had erected breastworks reaching across the Valley, here only three and a half miles wide. So secure indeed did Early now consider himself that his ammunition boxes were taken from the caissons and placed behind the breastworks. On the [32] evening of the 20th, Sheridan went into position on the heights of Strasburg, and at once determined to use Crook as a turning column again, and strike the enemy in left and rear, while the remainder of the army made a left half wheel in his support. This manoeuvre, however, demanded secrecy, and the rebels had a signal station in the mountains, from which every movement of national troops by day could be observed. Crook was therefore concealed in the forest on the 21st, while the main national line moved up in front of the rebel position. At the same time Torbert, with the greater part of the cavalry, was sent up the Luray valley on the left, and ordered to cross the mountains, and intercept the enemy at Newmarket, twenty miles in Early's rear.

Before daylight on the 22nd, Crook marched to Little North mountain, the western boundary of the Valley, and massed his troops in the heavy woods along its face. The Sixth and Nineteenth corps were then moved up opposite the rebel centre, while Ricketts's division with Averill's cavalry ostentatiously advanced towards Early's left. The enemy's attention was thus attracted, and when a general firing had begun, Crook suddenly burst from the woods on the hillside, striking the rebels in flank and rear, doubling up their line, and sweeping down behind the breastworks. Sheridan's main line at once took up the movement, first Ricketts swinging in and joining Crook, and then the remainder [33] of the Sixth and Nineteenth corps; the works were everywhere carried, and the rout of the enemy was complete. Many of the rebels threw down their arms, abandoning their artillery. Sixteen guns and eleven hundred prisoners fell into the national hands, and Early reported two hundred and forty killed and wounded in the infantry and artillery. Sheridan lost less than a thousand men.21 It was dark before the battle ended, but the rebels continued their flight through Woodstock, and as far as Narrow Passage, a gorge in the Blue Ridge. Sheridan pursued them during the night, only halting at Woodstock, to rest his men and issue rations.

On the 23rd, he drove the enemy to Mount Jackson, and found the country and small towns filled with their wounded; on the 24th, he followed Early to a point six miles beyond Newmarket, but without being able to bring on an engagement. The rebels moved fast, and Torbert had not arrived with the cavalry in time to check them. He had been detained at a gorge in the mountains, [34] where a small rebel force was able for a while to hold his two divisions. Had he succeeded in reaching Newmarket in time to intercept the broken and flying fragments of Early's command, the whole rebel army must have been destroyed. On the 25th, Early abandoned the main Valley road to his victor, and fell back by Port Republic to Brown's Gap, one of the south-eastern exits from the Blue Ridge. The national infantry advanced as far as Harrisonburg, and the cavalry was sent to Port Republic, Staunton, and Waynesboroa, to burn bridges, drive off cattle, and destroy all property that might be serviceable to the rebel army. The Valley of Virginia was in the possession of Sheridan.

These important successes electrified the country, revived the courage of the weak-hearted, amazed the government, and of course delighted Grant. The authorities at Washington, although they highly appreciated Sheridan's executive ability, had been somewhat unwilling to entrust him with an independent command. Halleck in particular had declared that he was too inexperienced, and had urged this view upon Grant. But these victories established Sheridan in the confidence of the President and the Secretary of War, who were afterwards always ready to allow him full discretion in the management of all the troops under his command.22 As for his soldiers, they declared, referring to the Democratic desire for compromise, [35] that Sheridan was the bearer of Peace propositions to Jefferson Davis from the North.

Grant had returned to City Point on the 19th of September, and on the 20th, at two P. M., he telegraphed to Sheridan: ‘I have just received the news of your great victory, and ordered each of the armies here to fire a salute of one hundred guns in honor of it. . . If practicable, push your success and make all you can of it.’ He was anxious that the full effect of the victory should be reaped at the West as well as the East, and inquired of Halleck: ‘Has the news of General Sheridan's battle been sent to General Sherman? If not, please telegraph him.’ Neither did he forget that his forces on the Shenandoah were co-operating with those on the Potomac and the James. On the 21st, he said to Butler: ‘Further news from Sheridan is better than the first we had. In pursuing the enemy up the Valley, they may be induced to detach from here. Put every one on the look-out for any movement of the enemy. Should any force be detached, we must either manage to bring them back, or gain an advantage here.’ To Halleck he explained: ‘When Sheridan commenced his movement, I thought it possible, though not probable, that Early might turn north, or send his cavalry north; and in that case, wanted troops in Washington, so that a force might be thrown suddenly into Hagerstown, to head them off. I think now it will be safe to send all new organizations here.’ [36]

Sheridan himself Grant left at first entirely to his own resources, to reap the harvest of his own victory. After each battle he congratulated him and his army, but gave no detailed orders. On the 23rd, he said: ‘I have just received the news of your second great victory, and ordered a hundred guns in honor of it. Keep on, and your good work will cause the fall of Richmond.’ On the 24th, however, Sheridan reported: ‘I am now eighty miles from Martinsburg, and find it exceedingly difficult to supply this army. The engagements of Winchester and Fisher's Hill broke up my original plan of pushing up the Valley with a certain amount of supplies, and then returning. There is not sufficient in the Valley to live off the country.’ To this Grant replied: ‘If you can possibly subsist your army at the front for a few days more, do it, and make a great effort to destroy the roads about Charlottesville, and the canal, wherever your cavalry can reach it.’ Sheridan accordingly pushed on to the head of the Valley, and from Harrisonburg, a hundred and four miles from Harper's Ferry, he telegraphed: ‘The destruction of forage from here to Staunton will be a terrible blow to them. All the grain and forage in the vicinity of Staunton was retained for the use of Early's army. All in the upper part of the Valley was shipped to Richmond, for the use of Lee's army. The country from here to Staunton was abundantly supplied with forage and grain.’ On the 26th, Grant telegraphed to Sherman: ‘I have evidence that Sheridan's victory has created the greatest consternation and alarm for the safety of the city.’ [37]

In fact, everything showed the moral effect of these successes on the enemy. Sheridan not only found hundreds of rebel wounded scattered in the houses as he advanced, and wagons and caissons burned or abandoned by Early in his flight; but he captured many unhurt soldiers, hiding in the forests or making their way to their homes. The rebel commander himself described his condition very graphically to Lee: ‘My troops are very much shattered, the men very much exhausted, and many of them without shoes. . . I shall do the best I can, and hope I may be able to check the enemy, but I cannot but be apprehensive of the result.’ ‘In the affair at Fisher's Hill the cavalry gave way, but it was flanked. This would have been remedied, if the troops had remained steady; but a panic seized them at the idea of being flanked, and without being defeated, they broke, many of them fleeing shamefully. The artillery was not captured by the enemy, but abandoned by the infantry.’23 Lee fully appreciated the disasters of his subordinate. ‘I very much regret,’ he said, ‘the reverses that have occurred in the Valley. . . You must do all in your power to invigorate your army. . . It will require the greatest watchfulness, the greatest promptness, and the most untiring energy on your part to arrest the progress of the enemy in their present tide of success.’ These orders were themselves an implied rebuke, but more direct censure was not spared. Lee added words which coming [38] from him were significant: ‘As far as I can judge at this distance, you have operated more with divisions than with your concentrated strength. Circumstances may have rendered it necessary, but such a course is to be avoided, if possible.’ The Richmond mob also expressed its views, and painted on the fresh artillery ordered to the Valley: ‘For General Sheridan, care of General Early.’

1 The map of the battle of Five Forks shows the fortifications around Petersburg, and that of the Appomattox campaign those around Richmond.

2 On the 31st of October, 1864, there were one hundred and fifty-three pieces in position on the national lines, of which twenty were field artillery; and at the fall of Richmond, in April, 1865, one hundred and seventy-five guns were captured, of which forty-one were either 6 or 12 pounders. This does not include the artillery found in the city, nor that taken in the field.

3 In my account of the works around Richmond and Petersburg, I have made free use of papers by Major-General Wright, Chief of Engineers, United States Army, and Lieutenant-Colonel Michie, also of the Engineers, published in the ‘Report on the Defences of Washington,’ by Major-General Barnard, of the same corps; as well as of a paper on the ‘Fortifications of Petersburg,’ by Lieutenant Featherstonaugh, of the Royal (British) Engineers. I am also indebted for valuable assistance to Major-General Humphreys, late Chief of Engineers, United States Army.

4 During the month of July, 1864, 1 was sent to the North, and had several interviews with the old commander of the army, Lieutenant-General Scott. He expressed the greatest admiration for Grant's achievements, and complete confidence that his operations would result in entire success. I was especially charged by him to congratulate General Grant upon the manoeuvres and tactics of the Wilderness campaign, and on the strategy which employed all the armies constantly against the enemy. This was immediately after Early's movement against Washington, and the veteran appeared delighted that his younger successor had not allowed himself to be distracted from his original design, but despite the apparent danger at the North, remained firm in his position before Petersburg.

5 The militia, it may be necessary to say, were state troops, summoned for a particular emergency, and entirely distinct from the Volunteers, who were enlisted for definite periods.

6 See resolutions passed by Democratic Nominating Convention, September 1, 1864.

7 ‘We have already referred to the great consideration which attached to the Presidential contest in the North which was now to take place; we have stated that it gave a new hope for the South in 1864; and we have indicated that the political campaign of this year was, in the minds of the Confederate leaders, scarcely less important than the military. Indeed, the two were indissolubly connected; and the calculation in Richmond was, that if military matters could even be held in a negative condition, the Democratic party in the North would have the opportunity of appealing to the popular impatience of the war, and bringing it to a close on terms acceptable to the great mass of the Southern people.’—Pollard's ‘Lost Cause,’ pp. 556 and 557.

8 The call was for five hundred thousand men, but from this number were deducted those already raised, under previous calls, in excess of demand; so that in reality only about three hundred thousand were summoned at this time.—See Report of Provost-Marshal General Fry.

9 ‘The people in many parts of the North and West now talk openly and boldly of resisting the draft, and it is believed that the leaders of the Peace branch of the Democratic party are doing all in their power to bring about this result. The evidence of this has increased very much within the last few days. It is probably thought that such a thing will have its effect upon the next election by showing the inability of the present administration to carry on the war with an armed opposition in the loyal states.’—Halleck to Grant, August, 1864.

10 McCabe's ‘Life and Campaigns of General Lee;’ a work containing more trustworthy information from rebel sources than any other I have seen.

11 This statement of Lee's orders to Early and Anderson is taken from McCabe, who gives it still more minutely. Early, however, says not a word to indicate that he was expected a second time to cross the Potomac, for if he admitted this, he would have to admit that he was foiled.

12 ‘The intention, so far as I can learn, was to send a column direct from Culpeper to the Potomac, and Early to advance at the same time from Martinsburg. This was frustrated by Early being compelled to fall back, and your operations on the north side of the James.’—Sheridan to Grant, August, 20.

13 See Vol. II., pp. 507 and 510. ‘The receipt of this despatch was very important to me, as I possibly would have remained in uncertainty as to the character of the force coming in on my flank and rear, until it attacked the cavalry.’—Sheridan's Official Report.

14 * This was McCabe's opinion, as well as the general one at the South; but Early himself entertained a very different one.—See his Memoir, passim.

15 This is Early's own statement, although, according to McCabe and Pollard, he had been ordered to cross the Potomac.

16 See Appendix for remarks on the subject of Sheridan's numbers in this campaign.

17 ‘I was a little timid about this movement until the arrival of General Grant.’—Sheridan's Official Report. Sheridan was never timid afterwards. He learned to confide in himself, and to know his own genius. Grant knew it too, and was never anxious about Sheridan again.

18 ‘You may recollect that, when I visited Sheridan at Charlestown, I had a plan of battle with me to give him. But I found him so thoroughly ready to move, so confident of success when he did move, and his plan so thoroughly matured, that I did not let him know this, and gave him no order whatever except the authority to move. . . . I was so pleased that I left, and got as far as possible from the field before the attack, lest the papers might attribute to me what was due to him.’—General Grant to Author, June, 1878.

19 ‘At Martinsburg . . I learned that Grant was with Sheridan that day, and I expected an early move.’—Early's Memoir, page 84.

20 The exact figures reported are 558 killed, 3,759 wounded, and 618 missing; but this return includes a part of the loss at Fisher's Hill, three days afterwards. At least half of the wounded returned to the ranks, so that the actual loss to Sheridan's command did not exceed 3,000.

Early, in his Memoir, pronounces this battle a series of blunders on the part of Sheridan, who, ‘instead of being promoted, ought to have been cashiered,’ for his ‘incapacity;’ while his own generalship was supreme. ‘A splendid victory had been gained.’ ‘The enemy's attacking columns were thrown into great confusion and driven from the field.’ ‘It was a grand sight to see this immense body hurled back in utter disorder before my two divisions;’ and so on: nothing but gallant charges and wonderful repulses by the rebels, all, strangely enough, resulting in ‘great confusion, for which there was no remedy;’ and ‘nothing was left for us but to retire through Winchester.’ They retired ‘whirling.’ It would, indeed, have been better for Early if Sheridan had been ‘cashiered’ before the battle.

Early asserts, page 87, that he took into this action 7,000 muskets and 2,000 cavalry only; and at the close, declares ‘the main part of my force and all my trains had been saved.’ But in his official report to Lee, written at the time, he gives his loss in infantry and artillery alone at 3,611; that of the cavalry is not reported, but he admits a loss of 318 in killed and wounded in this and the succeeding battle, and adds ‘but many were captured;’ so that his loss at Winchester, by his own showing was 4,500—half of what in the Memoir he declares to have been his entire command. Either he had many more men than he declares, or the ‘main part of his force’ was not saved.

21 Sheridan's return shows 85 killed, 677 wounded, and 9 missing, but this does not include the losses in Crook's command or the cavalry. Early wrote to Lee on October 9th: ‘The loss in the infantry and artillery was 30 killed, 210 wounded, and 995 missing; total, 1,235. I have been able to get no report of the loss in the cavalry, but it was slight.’ If this is true, the demoralization of the rebels must have been extreme: for an army of the size of Early's to yield after a loss of only 240 killed and wounded is disgraceful beyond anything in the war. Beaten commanders, however, are often willing to sacrifice the reputation of their troops in order to save their own; and in this instance it is possible that Early's soldiers made a more gallant defence than their general describes.

22Sheridan is entitled to all the credit of his great victory; it established him in the confidence of the President and the Secretary of War, as a commander to be trusted with the fullest discretion in the management of all the troops under him. Before that, while they highly appreciated him as a commander to execute, they felt a little nervous about giving him too much discretion.’—General Grant to Author, June, 1878.

23 The language in the text quoted from Early will not be found in his Memoir; a fact which shows how necessary it is for commanders to have access to their own records when they attempt to compile a history of their campaigns.

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