The ’64 Valley Campaign: Solidifying Lincoln’s Election but Not a Turning Point

TurningPoints-logoIn the midst of our ongoing ‘Turning Points’ discussion last week, someone asked me last week if I thought Sheridan’s 1864 Valley Campaign was a turning point. I gave this very question a lot of thought when Phill Greenwalt and I were working on our book Bloody Autumn: The 1864 Valley Campaign. After giving it a lot of thought, I decided that the Valley Campaign of ’64 was not a turning point. 

BloodyAutumnReleasedI do believe there was a danger that if Sheridan failed—or stumbled, for that matter—those events could have offset Sherman’s gains in Georgia, similar to the way Rosecrans’ disaster at Chickamauga and subsequent siege of Chattanooga negating Grant’s victory at Vicksburg.

I do think the victory in the Valley helped reinforce and solidify Lincoln’s re-election, but it was Sherman’s capture of Atlanta that really made the difference.

Additionally, for it to be a turning point, I think Sheridan would have had to turn in a great performance. Instead, it’s far below average. He can barely get out of his own way, and what saves him are the Crooks, Custers, Merritts, Gettys and Russells of his army—not really his own performance.

For more on the impact of Sheridan’s victory on the Election of ’64, check out “The Valley Campaign for Memory,” one of the appendices in Bloody Autumn.

“Sheridan’s Ride,” a popular poem written in the wake of the battle and which was even set to music, was circulated widely by Lincoln’s supporters in the days before the election. While it bolstered their optimistic outlook and served as great political propaganda, it probably had little significant impact on its own.

For more on the Election of 1864, read Rea Redd’s essay “The Point of No Return: Turning Points within the 1864 Presidential Election and the Doom of the Confederacy” in Turning Points of the American Civil War, part of the “Engaging the Civil War” Series.

5 Responses to The ’64 Valley Campaign: Solidifying Lincoln’s Election but Not a Turning Point

  1. Totally agree with your view that the seizure of Atlanta was far more important. In the public eye of the 19th Century the taking of a city would have more eclat than just another damn battle. In political terms, it was essential, because Lee had brilliantly stymied the MeadeandGrantasaurus! But Sheridan, however tactically maladroit at time, did have flair. Any other commander’s troops might have flown apart without hope of reconstitution at Cedar Creek. They hung tough, and he was able to redeem his earlier negligence. Sometimes an indifferent tactician can inspire his troops to save his bacon! Stonewall had the same skill on the Confederate side. As far as the Valley Campaign’s importance, it was just the gravy on the main course.

    1. Hi John! I totally agree with your assessment. Sheridan had an unique ability to inspire the men under him. But by the time that he arrived on the field, the army had already rallied and reformed north of Middletown thanks to a stand made by George W. Getty’s VI Corps division. It was another instance in the campaign where Sheridan’s subordinates made up for his inefficiencies.

      1. Thank God for the iron men of the old Sixth Corp! It was amazing what Early was able to accomplish earlier in the day with his vastly outnumbered command. He probably should have just done a hit and run.

  2. When I first started reading about various Civil War battles I had a hard time following the campaign in the valley in 1864 the first time I read it, I think probably because it was not long after I read about Jackson in the valley. After your book came out Dan it really hit on the major points, had pictures of the lesser-known generals that helped stick in my mind, and had a lot of maps which explained the various movements in a easy format. Even when I went back and reread the various large volume books on the 64 Valley campaign I would thumb through your book for a reference. Great book Dan it helped immensely!

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