Prepping for a “Bloody Autumn” in the Shenandoah

Church

The road to St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church

Back home in northwestern Pennsylvania, the mountains have begun to calico, but here in the Shenandoah Valley, everything still overflows with green. The early autumn sun bathes it all in a soft glow. The corn is high. The harvest is ready. It’s as verdant as I have ever seen it.

My attention this month has thus far been focused on northwest Georgia, on the Battle of Chickamauga. I’d been focused on getting coverage of the sesquicentennial ready for the blog and getting Lee White’s new book on the battle ready to hit bookshelves. Copies arrived just two days ago, just in time for the influx of visitors. Mission accomplished.

But there’s not rest for the wicked, as the old saying goes, so now it’s time to turn my attention to the Shenandoah Valley and the next volume in the Emerging Civil War Series. Daniel T. Davis and Phillip Greenwalt’s Bloody Autumn: The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864, is slated for release in November, so it’s time for me to kick production into high gear.

Layout 1At the moment, I’m following a gravel driveway up to St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church, where a rolling view will let me see Spiker’s Hill and, running through the treeline at its base, Tom’s Brook. On the evening of October 8, 1864, Tom Rosser’s Virginia cavalry had perched atop the hill. The following day, Federal troops swept the Confederates from the field in an engagement that came to be known as the Battle of Tom’s Brook.

Dan Davis loves this little engagement, in particular, because he’s a huge fan of George Armstrong Custer, and this is the spot where Custer came into his own after a meteoric rise. Custer earned his stars there. During part of the Federal attack, Custer personally led the 5th New York in a charge up Spiker’s Hill. With the New Yorkers and Keystoners pressing his left and Kidd’s Michiganders his right, Rosser’s line collapsed and Custer won the day. During the manuscript editing process, I teased Dan about it by subtitling the Tom’s Brook chapter “The Love Ballad of Daniel T. Davis and George A. Custer” (alas, the subtitle did not make the final manuscript cut).

Dan and Phill have laid out several fantastic driving tours of the various battlefields from the ’64 campaign: Third Winchester, Fisher’s Hill, Tom’s Brook, and Cedar Creek, along with a couple out-of-the-way spots for hardcore Civil War buffs.

Meanwhile, the narrative they’ve written about the campaign is absolutely top-notch. I have to admit, I didn’t know a whole lot about the ’64 campaign before I started the book, so I was a bit of a novice coming into the manuscript. They really gave me an outstanding, easy-to-understand overview of the whole shooting match, and in places, it even read like a good novel—I didn’t want to put it down.

So here I am, following their driving tours, double-checking directions and mileage and, in the process, enjoying one of the nicest September days I can imagine. “They have called me a visionary,” said former Virginia Governor Alexander Spotswood when he first saw the Shenandoah Valley, “but what imagination ever conjured up a vision like that?” On days like today, I know exactly what he’s talking about.

Spiker Hill, with Tom's Brook running through the trees at the base

Spiker’s Hill, with Tom’s Brook running through the trees at the base

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