September 16, 2019 by Lee
The Shenandoah valley with its rich farming was known as the breadbasket for the Confederate Army of Northan Viginia. The reason it is known as the breadbasket is that the predominant farming in the area was wheat. This is confirmed in a quote by Brig. Gen. Richard Taylor of the Confederate army in 1862 “Fields of wheat spread far and wide, interspersed with Woodlands….quaint old mills, with turning wheels, were busily grinding the previous year’s harvest….”.
From the very early stages of the American Civil War, the Confederate forces had relied on the rich farming to supply the army. So after the first battle of Bull Run (or Manasses if your from the South), both sides realised that one battle will not sort out the issue and so both armies regrouped. The Union army withdrew back to Washington DC and the Confederate army withdrew back to Richmond. Their were smaller clashes in the east between the two armies, but no major battle. In 1862 the Union army invades Virginia in an attempt to capture Richmond, but they get beaten in the peninsula campaign by the Army of Northan Virginia new commander General Robert E Lee. The Union army again withdraw back to Washington and Lee orders Stonewall Jackson and his corps to secure the Shenandoah valley as the army will need to be supplied. Jackson’s campaign is largely a success and manages to tie down a lot of Union forces.
From 1862 to 1864 the Shenandoah valley becomes a hot bed of fighting as the south are fighting to hold on to their supply chain and the North are trying to force the Confederates back to Richmond and out of the valley altogether. But in 1864 Confederate General Jubal Early invades the Shenandoah valley once more with about 15,000 men he wins a stream of battles that Abraham Lincoln instructs General Grant to do something about it as he has an election due later in November of that year. Grant recruits General Philip Sheridan to command all Union forces in the Shenandoah valley and Sheridan receives a letter from president Lincoln upon accepting his new command. President Lincoln explains three requirements to Sheridan :-
- Destroy all Confederate forces in the Shenandoah Valley
- Burn and destroy all farmers crops and livestock
- Untimely do not lose this battle
Both armies clashed a number of times the Union with around 32,000 and the Confederates with 15,000 men through the summer and fall, until the Confederate forces were beaten and pushed back at Cedar Creek (I will briefly discuss this battle after this). After this, started the scorched earth policy known as “the burning”. Union Brigadier General George Armstrong Custer led the way in this policy burning crops, farms and livestock. The name George Armstrong Custer is spit upon here in the Shenandoah and they will never forgive him. Irrelevant of your aligence be it mennonite, northern or a southern sympathiser the farms were burned.
The Battle of Cedar Creek
October 19, 1864
Morning Phase –
In the early foggy dawn, Confederate General Jubal Early led his soldiers in a three pronged attack across Cedar Creek and the North Fork of the Shenandoah River to surprise the sleeping Union soldiers at the Belle Grove Union headquarters.
By 7am, Union leaders abandoned the post and retreated towards Middletown. After a hour-long fight at the cemetery overlooking the town, the Union soldiers retreated further north. They eventually stopped to rest north of Middletown.
Meanwhile, after the Union forces retreated, the Confederate forces went back to pillage the Union camp. After all they hadn’t eaten properly for days and they were also lacking clothes and shoes.
Afternoon Phase –
General Sheridan woke in the morning at Winchester to the sound of gunfire in the distance. He received despatches from his commanders at Cedar Creek stating that his men are prepared to withdraw back to Winchester. Angry at this despatch, Sheridan orders all commanders to hold their current positions and he was on his way to direct the battle.
Sheridan leaves Winchester at 10.30 and gallops as fast as he could to take command. Upon arriving Sheridan rallies the Union forces for an afternoon counterattack. In the late afternoon the Union forces begin their counterattack, the Confederates hold their ground, until they slowly begin to retreat. Seeing this, Sheridan orders the cavalry to attack and the Confederates flee to Strasburg.
Over 8,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were killed, wounded or captured that day in one of the bloodiest battles in the Shenandoah Valley.
The Union victory at Cedar Creek helped Abraham Lincoln’s reelection as president three weeks later and within six months the Civil War will be over.
While we were exploring the Cedar Creek battle, we took a look around the Belle Grove plantation. This plantation was owned by a German settler by the surname of Hite. The main house had been built and designed by the son Isaac Hite, to house his wife and 3 children. He was assisted in the building by Thomas Jefferson.
As was typical of the wealthy of the time, the house was built and furnished to impress and show off their wealth to anyone who came to the house.
As part of the plantation, Hite owned the local lyme stone quarry, a heritage orchard and 7,500 acres of farming land to which was wheat grain.
In order to maintain such a wast amout of land, Isaac Hite owned around 100 slaves of mainly under the age of 45 men, women and children. It was noted that the Belle Grove plantation was successful due to the acknowledged needs of the Hites needing the slaves and the slaves needing the Hites.
Not long after the birth of the third child, Nelly died as did his first born child. Isaac then remarried to Ann who bore him 10 children. As time past, the number of slaves dwindled which Isaac Hite leaving 44 slaves at the time of his death to his wife and she on,y leaving 4 slaves to her children.
Today was more finding out about the area as we have done a lot of travelling up to this point. It was nice to just take it easy and really enjoy the surroundings.
I hope you have liked today’s post, if so please Like, Comment and Share and if you are enjoying our tour then stay tuned to tomorrow and see where we end up.
By the way, in case you were wondering, no ghosts have so far been seen at the Wayside Inn, so far………..