150 Years Ago This Week: Sheridan in the Shenandoah

August 1864

Furious at President Abraham Lincoln for his pocket veto of their punitive reconstruction bill, which outlined that the Congress — and not the president — would control reconstruction of the South after the war, Radical Republicans Rep. Henry Winter Davis of Maryland and Sen. Benjamin Wade of Ohio issued what became known as the Wade-Davis Manifesto on Aug. 7.

In response to the president’s proclamation of the pocket veto, Mr. Wade and Mr. Davis said, “it is their right and duty to check the encroachments of the Executive on the authority of the Congress.” They accused Lincoln of personal ambition in refusing to sign the Wade-Davis bill, and charged the president with attempting to make, not execute, the laws; they claimed that “the authority of the Congress is paramount and must be respected.”

Union Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan was assigned command of the new Middle Military Division on Sunday, Aug. 7, which included the Middle Department and the three departments of Washington, the Susquehanna and West Virginia. His army was to become known as the Army of the Shenandoah, and its main objective was to coordinate operations against Lt. Gen. Jubal Early’s Confederate forces in the Shenandoah Valley.

The same day, at Mobile Bay, Col. Charles Anderson surrendered Fort Gaines to Federal troops; he was censured by his superiors for raising the white flag. They believed he should have continued fighting and overruled his surrender. On Aug 9, while Gen. Sheridan prepared to move toward Winchester from Harpers Ferry, Federal troops began building up siege lines around Fort Morgan, completely cut off from Confederate Mobile.

The same day, at about noon, a tremendous explosion rocked the huge Union supply and command base at City Point, Va., killing 43 men and seriously injuring another 126; there was vast property damage. Sitting in front of his tent, Lt. Gen. Ulysses Grant was showered by flying debris but otherwise uninjured. Two Confederate secret agents had smuggled a small box of explosives aboard a Union transport at the wharf, and had gotten away.

“The Gray Ghost” Col. John S. Mosby and his partisan rangers became more active in his raids around Union-held sections of Virginia in the month of August, including attacking the Federal garrison at Fairfax Station, Va.

The situation in Georgia was marked with almost daily skirmishes and fights around Atlanta; and President Jefferson Davis was concerned with personality conflicts going on in Georgia between the commander of the Army of Tennessee, Gen. John Hood, and one of his corps commanders, Lt. Gen. William Hardee.

The cavalry under Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler began a series of raids against Federal rail lines and other communications in north Georgia and east Tennessee. Off the coast of Sandy Hook, N.J., the Confederate raider CSS Tallahassee took seven Union ships as prizes of war.

From Richmond, President Davis wrote to General Robert E. Lee at Petersburg about obtaining an adequate supply of soap for the army. The president also said, “it is thought idle to attack your entrenchments, but feasible to starve you out.”

In the Shenandoah Valley, Gen. Early’s troops headed south toward Winchester, followed from a distance by the leading elements of Gen. Sheridan’s army. There was a brief skirmish south of Winchester at Cedar Creek as the two armies tested the strengths and weaknesses of the other. Alarm spread along the mid-Atlantic and New England coasts when the CSS Tallahassee attacked and took six more Union vessels off New York.

In Washington, a number of politicians including Thurlow Weed of New York told President Lincoln that he was in danger of being defeated in the elections in November. It was even whispered that Gen. Grant might be induced to become a candidate for president.

Gen. Early’s forces were along Cedar Creek and the area south and east of Winchester. There was some fighting on Saturday, Aug. 13, when Gen. Sheridan’s troops met stiffening Confederate resistance near Berryville and near Strasburg.

At mid-month, fighting by Union forces against Indians and Indian depredations occurred near Sand Creek and near Fort Garland in the Colorado Territory, near the San Andreas Mountains in the New Mexico Territory and in the Nebraska Territory.

Arthur Candenquist
About Arthur Candenquist 193 Articles

A long-time historian, researcher, lecturer and author, Arthur Candenquist serves as secretary-treasurer of the Rappahannock County Sesquicentennial Committee. He can be reached at AC9725@cs.com.