Union Gen. David Hunter's retreat into West Virginia after his defeat at Lynchburg on June 17-18, 1864, had left the Shenandoah Valley virtually undefended, and Confederate Gen. Jubal A. Early moved swiftly north, reaching Winchester by July 2.
Gen. Franz Sigel, commanding a reserve division, withdrew to Maryland Heights at Harpers Ferry, offering little resistance. On July 4, Early confronted Sigel but then determined to turn the position by crossing the Potomac and moving over South Mountain to Frederick, Maryland. On July 9, Early defeated a hastily organized Union force under Gen. Lew Wallace at the Monocacy. Wallace retreated toward Baltimore, leaving open the road to Washington, but his defeat had bought valuable time.
On the afternoon of July 11, Early’s command, numbering no more than 12,000 infantry, demonstrated before the Washington fortifications, which were weakly manned by garrison troops. Veteran reinforcements, diverted from Grant’s army to meet the threat on the capital, began arriving at mid- day, and by July 12, fully manned the Washington entrenchments. After a brief demonstration at Fort Stevens, Early called off an attack on the capital.
The Confederate army withdrew that night, crossing the Potomac into Virginia near Leesburg and thence to the Valley, followed by Federals under Gen. Horatio G. Wright. The Confederates confronted their pursuers along the western base of the Blue Ridge, defeating them at Cool Spring (July 17-18) on the Shenandoah River. On July 20, Union Gen. William Averell’s mounted command, backed by infantry, moved south from Martinsburg on the Valley Turnpike and routed the infantry division of Gen. Stephen D. Ramseur at Rutherford’s Farm near Winchester. In response to this setback and converging threats, Early withdrew to Fisher’s Hill south of Strasburg.
Wright, believing that Early was departing the Valley to rejoin Lee, began to move some of his units to join Grant at Petersburg, leaving a small force at Winchester under Gen. George Crook. Early attacked Crook just south of Winchester at Second Kernstown (July 24) and then his cavalry moved north and burned Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, in retaliation for the burning of Lexington. The July battles would be the Confederacy’s last major victories in the region and would pave the way for a new, more destructive level of war in the Shenandoah Valley.
|Monocacy (July 9)|
|Cool Spring (July 17-18)|
|Rutherford’s Farm (July 20)|
|Second Kernstown (July 24)|