September 19, 1864
….Heard news this evening of the falling back of our army. Oh! me I feel so very very sad this evening. Uncle John is here and a Mr. Taylor stayed all night.
September 20, 1864
The advance guard of Wickham’s brigade passed here on picket this morning. Our army reported on the retreat and the enemy in hot pursuit. Poor broken-down soldiers constantly coming for something to eat. Nellie, Laura and I went without our dinners that there might be the more for them. A little before noon there was rapid firing at the river and we could see the enemy very distinctly on Guard Hill. They had a battery there and shelled across this side of the river—some of the shells passed quite near us—some talk of our leaving tome till it was over but Nellie and I bitterly opposed the move. Grandma had to go over to Oakley as Uncle Tom sent us word he must leave home with Allie in case the Yankees caused our army to retreat as they must do, for our force is a mere handful compared with that of the enemy. She took Nannie with her. Firing ceased about three o’clock. Busy baking bread for the soldiers. We thought, of course.
….While I write the hostile armies confront each other at the river in a menacing attitude but everything seems unnaturally still—the quite so dull and dead broken only at intervals by the distant beating of the tattoo or the wail of a bugle. It is the calm preceding the storm. We shall not undress tonight for there’s no knowing when we may be aroused to a renewal of strife. How I dread the morning no tongue can tell….
September 21, 1864
Well the close of this most miserable day is at last here and we breathe again. They commended fighting at the river by the dawn of day. Our little handful of men retreated and the Yankees with a terrific yell charged them down the hills north of town and under cover of the fog there was such an incessant firing we thought our poor boys must be murdered by the wholesale. The Rebels retreated through the woods in the rear of town and the Yankees passed directly up the Luray pike only about a regiment remaining in town. Expected the Yankees would have commenced pillaging and burning first thing upon their entrance but on the contrary they behaved quite decorously.
Boys went out to the scene of the conflict. Heard that there were few if any men lost on either side in the fight this morning. Everyone uneasy about Early for this evening two divisions of cavalry passed through town en route for Luray and if they cannot in some way be checked they will flank him. I believe though it will all turn out right yet. We had numbers of the Yankees for milk and bread. Some were rude and broke.
Lucy Rebecca Buck, private journal, September 1864
(Source: Sad Earth, Sweet Heaven: The Diary of Lucy Rebecca Buck; Lucy Rebecca Buck, 1973, pages 283-285)
Into The Valley
Beginning in August 1864 but gaining intensity and success as the autumn months wore on, Union General Philip Sheridan took an army into the Shenandoah Valley once again. Battles occurred along his route as Confederate General Jubal Early attempted to defend the “breadbasket of the Confederacy.”
The battles in the Autumn 1864 Valley Campaign included:
- Summit Point, August 21
- Smithfield Crossing, August 25-29
- Berryville, September 3-4
- Third Winchester, September 19
- Fisher’s Hill, September 21-22
- Tom’s Brook, October 9
- Cedar Creek, October 19
The Battle of Third Winchester on September 19 forced the Confederates to fall back farther south of the most important, gateway town in the lower (northern) Shenandoah Valley. This opened the way for roaming and raiding cavalry and other military detachments to move farther into the region. The Battle of Fisher’s Hill prompted a further retreat of Confederate forces.
The town of Front Royal sits at the northern entrance to Luray Valley, on the east side of the larger Shenandoah Valley. It had seen its fair share of military action, raiders, and marching infantry in the previous years. In fact, Confederate General “Stonewall” Jackson had even fought a battle near the town during his 1862 defense of the valley.
Lucy Buck described the military action that finally brought the village and surround houses and farms under direct contact with the Union soldiers and started their occupation in 1864.
Lucy’s journal entry breaks off suddenly, and she did not write again until February 1865. Clearly, interactions with Union soldiers and the occupations of the lower Valley had a strong effect on her. When she did begin writing again, she wrote brokenly, referring back to the autumn period of 1864 as a turning point in her life and the region’s war.
“Those sad autumn days my heart too sad. There was too much that…to record I had not the spirit to write.”
Many of the Shenandoah Valley’s citizens invested in the war – materially and emotionally. The autumn campaign of 1864 and the intentional destruction of food supplies, mills, and other things that supported the Confederate war effort, preyed on the minds of the civilians. Their goals and hopes had been pinned on Confederate victory and they were aware of their regions role in that possible success; like others in the Southern cause in late 1864, they felt their hopes crushed and their stability torn away.