In the summer of 1864, General Robert E. Lee sent General Jubal A. Early up the Shenandoah River Valley to threaten Washington, D.C. in an attempt to force General Ulysses S. Grant to move some of his troops from the siege of Richmond to protect his capital. Early’s raid was successful; Washington was lightly defended and was a bit vulnerable to attack. Early’s army got close enough to Washington - the Confederates could see the capitol dome - to shell some of the forts protecting the capital. The Confederate sharpshooters kept the Federals ducking for cover; President Abraham Lincoln went to see the action from the forts and came under fire, but was not harmed.
Early’s attack on the capital threw the Federal leadership and army into confusion and fear. Lincoln had Grant send some corps back to Washington from the Richmond siege. This relieved the Confederates besieged in Richmond for a time, but it was not a long-lasting relief. Early did not know it, but had he tried harder, he could have captured part of the capital and caused a great deal of trouble for Lincoln and Grant.
Early thought it more prudent to leave the Washington area and return south via the Shenandoah Valley. The Union army was sent after him to make sure he did not return to Washington. The withdrawal was a constant attack by the Federals, and Early was on both the defensive and the offensive. His army tricked the Federals into thinking at times they were only fighting his rear guard, when in fact they were fighting his front. More and more Union troops were sent into the Valley to try to control or eliminate Early, but Early had succeeded in his assignment: helping to relieve Richmond from overwhelming siege and causing General Grant to worry where Early was and what he was up to.
Patchan uses states’ nicknames for the various regiments; the West Virginians are also referred to as Mountaineers, and soldiers from Massachusetts as Bay Staters. The narrative is interesting and readable, with chapters of a digestible length covering many of the battles of the campaign. There are black-and-white illustrations with many well-produced photographs from the time period. The maps by George Skoch are very good, showing the topography and where the various armies were. Appendix B is the order of battle, and there are endnotes, a bibliography and an index. This book is recommended to Civil War enthusiasts, especially those interested in the 1864 Shenandoah Campaign.
Scott C. Patchan is a Civil War battlefield guide and historian. He is the author of Forgotten Fury: the Battle of Piedmont (1996) and a consultant and contributing writer for Shenandoah, 1862 (1997).