1864: “Exaggerated Harshness”

August 7, 1864

The war is taking on features of exaggerated harshness. Hunter when he re-entered the Valley caused a number of private residences of the finest character to be burned… Early burned Chambersburg to enforce a refractory town into paying a requisition. The Yankees have had the unutterable meanness to make an expedition up the Rappahannock for the purpose of burning the house of Mrs. May Seddon, the widow of Major John Seddon, the brother of the Secretary. Her condition was perfectly well known to them, and the fact of her connection with the Secretary of War was avowed as the reason!! Somebody over the border will smoke for this outrage. I am satisfied that this thing which they have been doing now for three years in Florida (Jacksonville), Mississippi (Jackson), South Carolina on the Combahee, and all through Virginia on the Northern border can be stopped by deliberate and stern retaliation. They are in more of our territory but their people live so much more in towns that one expedition can burn more houses than they can destroy in a campaign. That they are amendable to the influences of retaliation is plain for the well known fact that when they have to deal with a man who they know will be as good as his word they are awed.

Continue reading

Shenandoah Autumn News Report (1864)

Welcome to the morning news report on the Shenandoah Valley 1864. (No they didn’t have radio back then, but let’s play along just for the fun of it…) The Union army has successfully driven back the Confederates and now have access to the entire Northern half of the valley. Some Confederate guerilla cavalry are proving a bit troublesome, but nothing the blue-clad troops can’t manage.

The Union Cavalry played a significant role in "The Burning" (Photo by Miss Sarah at Moorpark Re-enactment 2012)

The Union Cavalry played a significant role in “The Burning” (Photo by Miss Sarah at Moorpark Re-enactment 2012)

1. The Burning

And so the systematic work of destruction begins. The Valley has been feeding the Confederate armies, and now it’s time to cut this supply line. Union cavalry has been turned loose in the farm land and are destroying the ripe crops in the fields and barns. These are the orders which General Grant gave General Sheridan when Sheridan was first sent to the Valley:  “The people should be informed that so long as an army can subsist among them recurrences of these raids must be expected, and we are determined to stop them at all hazards. … Give the enemy no rest … Do all the damage to railroads and crops you can. Carry off stock of all descriptions…prevent further planting. If the war is to last another year, we want the Shenandoah Valley to remain a barren waste.”

5,000 cavalry and a brigade of infantry take part in this organized destruction. Livestock are slaughtered; fields, barns, or mills with crops are systematically burned. Sheridan has issued orders that no property of single women, widows, or orphans is to be destroyed, but, unfortunately, looting is common among the soldiers. In retaliation for the supposed civilian bushwhacker ambush near the town of Dayton, Virginia, Sheridan ordered the surrounding homes to be burnt, forcing about 400 civilians – mostly women and children- to refugee, looking for shelter or a place to stay during the coming winter.

Sometimes the flames accidentally spread to the nearby houses. In total over 1400 barns were burned. Someone counted 168 burning structures at one time. The valley is flame and smoke.

“Military necessity” demanded the destruction of the crops. But we shall be honest reporters and admit that un-necessary atrocities have been committed against the civilian population. It will be years – if not eternity – before the residents of the Shenandoah forget the destruction caused by the Union troops; in their annuals of local history they will simply call this time “The Burning.” Think solemnly of the two words and all that it represents.

2. Military Response

This following broadcast is brought to you by Confederate Cavalry Morning Report (yes, this radio stuff is still just for fun – not at all authentic.)

John Mosby Confederate Cavalry and Partisan Leader in the Shenandoah Valley during 1864 (Public Domain)

John Mosby
Confederate Cavalry and Partisan Leader in the Shenandoah Valley during 1864 (Public Domain)

Colonel John S. Mosby has been leading his daring scouts and guerilla fighters and is harassing the Yankee cavalry. He has recovered from a rather serious wound received in mid-September and is once again causing great annoyance at Yankee headquarters. Supply lines are cut, couriers are captured, and the Yankees have hung several of Mosby’s men. In an exclusive interview with CCMR (Confederate Cavalry Morning Report) Mosby admitted that in November he hopes to arrange with Union commanders for more humane treatment of prisoners on both sides.

3. Battle of Cedar Creek

This is Yankee News in Washington and I’m Mr. Reporter. This is morning edition on October 19, 1864, and we have a flash news report from General Sheridan’s army in the Shenandoah Valley. It seems that Confederate General Early moved quietly northward to the Fisher’s Hill area and has surprise attacked the Union army at Cedar Creek. General Sheridan is en route to the battlefield from his Winchester headquarters and he expresses full confidence that a Union counterattack will be successful. Stay tuned for the outcome –

This is Yankee News in Washington and I’m Mr. Newsman. We have a full and complete report on the Battle of Cedar Creek. Despite a Confederate surprise attack and great disorder among the Union troops, when General Sheridan arrived, the tide began to turn. Sheridan rallied the Union men. In the meantime the Confederates made a providential (or unfortunate, depending on your point of view) halt to plunder captured camps. Thus, when the Union counterattack began, it was quite successful and they drove the Confederates from the battlefield. It is believed that the Rebels will try to reorganize at Fisher’s Hill and then retreat. There will probably not be any significant fighting in the Valley in the coming months.

Artist's Depiction of Sheridan's Ride at Cedar Creek  (Public Domain)

Artist’s Depiction of Sheridan’s Ride at Cedar Creek
(Public Domain)

General Sheridan’s actions of courage and gallantry upon arriving at the Cedar Creek battlefield are the stuff of legends. Already we have been notified that a famous poet is working on a patriotic tribute. The tale of Sheridan’s arrival and rallying of the troops will become a defining and glorious moment in Civil War history.

4. Conclusion

This is Gazette665 and I’m Miss Sarah – I’d like to make sure you realize that there wasn’t radio during the Civil War era. I was a little bored while writing this and couldn’t tolerate the idea of a “typical” information post! So I hope you enjoyed the serious history shared in a light-hearted way.

Join us next week for a solemn discussion about how the events of the Shenandoah 1864 conflict directly affected civilians. And, as always, please leave any comments or questions below…

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Don’t forget – less than two weeks left in the Historical Snowmen Creative Writing Contest