150 Years Ago This Week: The Great Beefsteak Raid

September 1864

In Atlanta, Ga., on Sunday, Sept. 10, Maj. Gen. William Sherman received a wire from Lt. Gen. Ulysses Grant in Virginia, urging him to leave Atlanta and begin a new drive against Gen. John Hood’s Confederate Army of Tennessee.

The next day, Gen. Sherman and Gen. Hood entered into a truce to allow the Atlanta citizens to evacuate the city. A delegation of city officials met with Gen. Sherman to protest the evacuation on humanitarian grounds. Gen. Sherman was unmoved. “You might as well appeal your case to the thunderstorm,” he told the delegation. “These are the terrible hardships of war.”

In Washington, President Abraham Lincoln and Gen. Grant exchanged telegrams about the lack of accomplishments by Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley. The president was disturbed about “the deadlock out there.”

On Sept. 14, Lt. Gen. Richard Anderson and his Confederate divisions left the Shenandoah Valley to return to Gen. Robert E. Lee’s army at Petersburg, where they were sorely needed. Depleting Lt. Gen. Jubal Early’s Army of the Valley did not help the Confederate cause in the Valley.

Gen. Grant left Petersburg and traveled to Charles Town, W. Va. to meet with Gen. Sheridan; they discussed Federal strategy against the Confederate forces and the necessity to clear the Valley and destroy it as a source of supply to the Confederate Army.

South of the James River, in eastern Virginia, Maj. Gen. Wade Hampton (who had succeeded Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart as Gen. Lee’s cavalry commander upon Gen. Stuart’s death in May) led a raid on Sept. 16 to Coggins Point and Sycamore Church, where his unit skirmished with Federal troops acting as cowboys.

The Confederate horsemen succeeded in capturing 4,500 head of cattle and 300 prisoners (with a loss of 61 Confederates) in what has become known as the Great Beefsteak Raid. The cattle were a welcome addition to the meager food supplies of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Also on Sept. 16, in Tennessee, Maj. Gen. Nathan B. Forrest and 4,500 Confederate cavalry began operations from Verona, Miss., into northern Alabama and Tennessee against Gen. Sherman’s supply lines and lines of communications. These operations lasted through the remainder of September and most of October. Gen. Forrest was a leader much feared in the North, and his operations against the Union lines proved quite successful.

As the third week of September closed, instead of placing his numerically weakened army in a better defensive position with adequate lines of retreat against Gen. Sheridan, Gen. Early sent a portion of his command from Stephenson’s Depot, north of Winchester, down the Shenandoah Valley toward Martinsburg, W. Va., and operated against the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad there.

On the way, the Southerners effectively drove away Union cavalry near Bunker Hill. At this time, Sept. 17, Gen. Early’s Army of the Valley numbered some 12,000 troops in four divisions against Gen. Sheridan’s Army of the Shenandoah, numbering some 40,000 troops.

At the same time, former Maj. Gen. John C. Fremont informed a committee of Radical Republicans (who supported harsh treatment of the South when the war ended) of his intent to withdraw from the presidential election contest. Pledging his support of a “radical Democracy,” he stated that he withdrew from the contest to prevent the election of Maj. Gen. George McClellan, as the election of a Democrat would mean “either separation or re-establishment of slavery.”

Gen. Fremont still considered President Lincoln a failure, but urged a united Republican party to save emancipation. Sen. Zachariah Chandler and other Radical Republicans had offered a bargain with Gen. Fremont in order to help the Lincoln cause. Part of this agreement was to include the removal of Postmaster General Montgomery Blair (he had long been unpopular with the Radical Republicans) from the Lincoln Cabinet, the possible removal of War Secretary Edwin Stanton and another active army command assignment for Gen. Fremont. Gen. Fremont apparently refused these inducements.

Arthur Candenquist
About Arthur Candenquist 194 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.

1 Comment

  1. Back in the early to mid ’60s there was a movie made starring William Holden and Richard Harris titled “Alverez Kelly” that recounted “The Great Beefsteak Raid”. I believe it is still avaiable on DVD thru many online stores.

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