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In Pāce Decus, In Bellō Praesidium – “In Peace a Glorious Asset, In War a Tower of Strength”

The Virginia Military Institute played a valuable part in the training of the Southern armies and fought as a unit in actual battles. VMI cadets were called into active military service on 14 different occasions during the American Civil War and many cadets, under the leadership of General Stonewall Jackson, were sent to Camp Lee, at Richmond, to train recruits. VMI alumni were regarded among the best officers of the South and fifteen graduates rose to the rank of general in the Confederate Army. Just before the Battle of Chancellorsville Stonewall Jackson [a former professor] looked at his division and brigade Commanders, noted the high number of VMI graduates and said, “The Institute will be heard from today.” Three of Jackson’s four division commanders at Chancellorsville, Generals James Lane, Robert Rodes, and Raleigh Colston, were VMI graduates as were over twenty of his brigadiers and colonels.

The first Shenandoah campaign was conducted for the South by General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson in 1862 where his superiority of tactical maneuver allowed him to overwhelm numerically superior union forces in 1862. By 1864 Jackson was dead, Lee was occupied with the siege of Petersburg and Grant had replaced McClellan who had been replaced by Lincoln – possibly for comments like, “I went to the White House shortly after tea where I found ‘the original gorilla,’ about as intelligent as ever. What a specimen to be at the head of our affairs now!” – and  was running against Lincoln for the presidency.

Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel was sent to invade the Shenandoah Valley and destroy Lee’s supply lines. Sigel was intercepted by troops and cadets from the Virginia Military Institute under Confederate Maj. Gen. John C. Breckenridge and defeated. He retreated to Strasburg, Virginia, and was replaced by Maj. Gen. David Hunter, who later burned VMI as a yankee tribute in retaliation for the conspicuous gallantry in the actions of the VMI cadets. Lieutenant General Jubal Early, C.S.A., arrived in Lynchburg on the 17th of June, 1864 at 1 o’clock in the afternoon and assumed command of the South’s forces.

Just in case you believe that fighting wars with no clear-cut strategy for victory is a post World War II  phenomena allow us to assure you it is not. The goal of the campaign of 1864 from the union perspective was to lift the siege of Washington while not losing the war.  A string of indecisive battles decided nothing but did occupy the Southern forces for the most part. Ironically it was the failure to maintain discipline after a surprise attack routed the union army at Cedar Creek that allowed Sheridan to regroup his forces, counterattack and defeat Early’s forces who were hungry and exhausted and fell out of their ranks to pillage the Union camp.

With Early damaged and pinned down, the Valley lay open to the Union. And because of Sherman’s capture of Atlanta,  the press relented in their attacks on Lincoln’s incompetence and his re-election now seemed assured – just to be sure every serving soldier was recorded as having voted for Lincoln [sic]. Sheridan pulled back slowly down the Valley and conducted a scorched earth campaign which served as a model for  Sherman’s March to the Sea in November. The goal  to deny the Confederacy the means of feeding its armies and citizens in Virginia, and Sheridan’s army did so ruthlessly, burning homes, farms, crops, barns, mills, and factories leaving the people to starve through the coming winter in this exercise of total war.

Jubal Anderson Early, an officer-turned-lawyer, argued strongly against disunion at Virginia’s 1861 convention, and even after Lincoln’s call for troops, he was among fifty-five delegates who voted against disunion on April 17. Many Virginians shifted allegiance once the state convention voted to secede. Others shifted when the state’s voters ratified the ordinance of secession on May 23. Jubal Early accepted the majority’s decision. He gave his full energy to fighting the Union he had previously struggled to save, and when the war ended, he chose exile to Mexico and then Canada. When he returned to Virginia, he became a leading spokesman for “The Lost Cause” and was an unreconstructed rebel until his death.

From Winchester to Cedar Creek : the Shenandoah Campaign of 1864    Carlisle, Pa. : South Mountain Press, 1987  Jeffry D. Wert Shenandoah Valley Campaign, 1864 (August-November) Hardcover. 1st ed. viii, 324 p., [1] leaf of plates : ill., maps, ports. ; 24 cm. Ill. on lining papers. Bibliography: p. 291-307. Includes Index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text.  VG/VG  

The summer of 1864, the fourth in a long conflict, brought little promise of resolution in this War Between the States. A crippled South resolutely continued to resist in spite of defeats at Gettysburg, Vicksburg and Chattanooga.

Lincoln, the man whose 1860 election with less than 40% of the vote pre­cipitated secession of Southern states, now faced the fall reelection campaign. His oppo­nent: General George B. McClellan, former chief of the Army, dismissed by Lincoln in the president’s effort to find a more effective leader. The adversarial posture of McClellan, coupled with the growing public weariness of strife and loss, made the need for military suc­cess even more urgent. For the South their whole cause was at stake.

In that summer the focus again turned to the strategic Shenandoah Valley where the vital food supplies of the Confederacy were situated. The valley was a conduit for Jubal Early‘s raids. Confederate intrusions into Maryland and Pennsylvania and such events as the burning of Chambersburg and the demands for tribute of $100,000.00 in gold.

The New York Times editorialized that it was “the old story over again. The back door, by way of the Shenandoah Valley, has been left invitingly open.” The Republican admin­istration in Washington was feeling the heat and again tried to marshal the seemingly un­controllable bureaucracy of the Union Army Corps.

The response to these conditions is the story told here by Jeffry D. Wert in this complete and fully-docu­mented account. Accompanied by critical situation maps, drawn by Mark Pfoutz, this volume is the first full exposition of the detail and significance of that fateful summer in the valley — the last for the Confederacy.


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