3rd Battle of Winchester

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3rd Battle of Winchester
Battle of Opequon, VA

Third Battle of Winchester

Name(s): Battle of Winchester; 3rd Battle of Winchester; Battle of Opequon
 
Date(s): 19 Sep 1864
 
Location: Frederick County, Virginia, US
 
Outcome: Union victory
 
Principal Commanders: Confederate: Jubal A. Early; Union: Philip H. Sheridan 
 
Forces Engaged: Sheridan had almost 40,000 men against Early’s 15,000.

Casualties: Union losses were just over 5,000, while the Confederates lost about 3,600.

Description: Even after Lee recalled Kershaw’s division to Petersburg, Early continued his raids on the B&O Railroad. He hoped by keeping the pressure on to deceive Sheridan about how weak he was, but a civilian spy smuggled the news to the Yankees. Instead of keeping the Union off balance, Early was the one at who was caught on the wrong foot. The 3rd Battle of Winchester, part of Sheridan's Valley Campaign, was Grant's response to Early's relentless pressure throughout the Shenandoah Valley.

Sheridan's Valley Campaign [August-October 1864] witnessed the following battles: Guard Hill – Summit PointSmithfield CrossingBerryville3rd Winchester – Fisher's Hill – Tom's Brook – Cedar Creek.

3rd Battle of Winchester Map
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Civil War Battle of Winchester

3rd Battle of Winchester
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3rd Battle of Winchester Map

Sheridan planned to hit Early’s one division with his own three corps, smashing the Rebels and trapping the rest of Early’s men in the upper Valley. But he moved too slowly. Wright’s VI Corps made the dawn attack, but because Wright had dragged his baggage train along, it delayed Emory’s XIX Corps until mid-morning. (Sheridan himself had to sort out the tangle of wagons blocking the infantry.)

In those hours, Early not only got his divisions back together, he did it fast enough to have a temporary numerical advantage and counterattack. The time was won by a splendid delaying action from Ramseur’s infantry and Fitz Lee’s cavalry, but those troops were fought out and John Gordon and Robert Rodes led the counterattack. The Rebel attack failed to break between Wright and Emory, but their pressure sucked in the Union reserves, so that Sheridan couldn’t get around Early’s flank and trap the army.

3rd Battle of Winchester Battlefield Map
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Third Battle of Winchester

But after that attack the initiative passed to the Union. Sheridan had all his men on the field, and that meant about a 3:1 advantage. Weight of numbers told, and the Confederates had to give ground. Crook’s men and the Union cavalry pushed hard at the Confederate left. The cavalry did their job and protected the retreating infantry.

Early pulled back twenty miles to Fisher’s Hill into a strong position just south of Strasburg, and Sheridan sent Grant a telegram datelined Winchester, reporting 2500 prisoners, 5 guns, and 9 regimental flags. A more picturesque report had the Rebels “whirling through Winchester”.

The casualties were heavy; Early lost about a quarter of his total strength, and while Sheridan lost more men it was a much smaller part of his army. He could afford more battles than Early could. Advance to 3rd Battle of Winchester: A Civil War History.

Sources: American Battlefield Protection Program, Heritage Preservation Services, National Park Service.

Recommended Reading: From Winchester to Cedar Creek: The Shenandoah Campaign of 1864. Amazon.com Review: Virginia's Shenandoah Valley was a crucial avenue for Confederate armies intending to invade Northern states during the Civil War. Running southwest to northeast, it "pointed, like a giant's lance, at the Union's heart, Washington, D.C.," writes Jeffry Wert. It was also "the granary of the Confederacy," supplying the food for much of Virginia. Both sides long understood its strategic importance, but not until the fall of 1864 did Union troops led by Napoleon-sized cavalry General Phil Sheridan (5'3", 120 lbs.) finally seize it for good. He defeated Confederate General Jubal Early at four key battles that autumn. Continued below…

In addition to a narrative of the campaign (featuring dozens of characters, including General George Custer and future president Rutherford B. Hayes), this book is a study of command. Both Sheridan and Early were capable military leaders, though each had flaws. Sheridan tended to make mistakes before battles, Early during them. Wert considers Early the better general, but admits that few could match the real-time decision-making and leadership skills of Sheridan once the bullets started flying: "When Little Phil rode onto the battlefield, he entered his element." Early was a bold fighter, but lacked the skills necessary to make up for his disadvantage in manpower. At Cedar Creek, the climactic battle of the 1864 Shenandoah campaign, Early "executed a masterful offensive against a numerically superior opponent, only to watch it result in ruin." With more Confederate troops on the scene, history might have been different. Wert relates the facts of what actually happened with his customary clarity and insightful analysis.

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Recommended Reading: LAST BATTLE OF WINCHESTER, THE: Phil Sheridan, Jubal Early, and the Shenandoah Valley Campaign, August 7 - September 19, 1864. Description: The Last Battle of Winchester: Phil Sheridan, Jubal Early, and the Shenandoah Valley Campaign, August 7 - September 19, 1864 is the first serious study to chronicle the Third Battle of Winchester. The September 1864 combat was the largest, longest, and bloodiest battle fought in the Shenandoah Valley. Continued below...
What began about daylight did not end until dusk, when the victorious Union army routed the Confederates. It was the first time Stonewall Jackson's former corps had ever been driven from a battlefield, and their defeat set the stage for the final climax of the 1864 Valley Campaign. The Northern victory was a long time coming. After a spring and summer of Union defeat in the Valley, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant cobbled together a formidable force under Phil Sheridan, an equally redoubtable commander. Sheridan's task was a tall one: sweep Jubal Early's Confederate army out of the bountiful Shenandoah, and reduce the verdant region of its supplies. The aggressive Early had led the veterans of Jackson's Army of the Valley District to one victory after another at Lynchburg, Monocacy, Snickers Gap, and Kernstown. Five weeks of complex maneuvering and sporadic combat followed before the opposing armies ended up at Winchester, an important town in the northern end of the Valley that had changed hands dozens of times over the previous three years. Tactical brilliance and ineptitude were on display throughout the day-long affair as Sheridan threw infantry and cavalry against the thinning Confederate ranks and Early and his generals shifted to meet each assault. A final blow against Early's left flank finally collapsed the Southern army, killed one of the Confederacy's finest combat generals, and planted the seeds of the victory at Cedar Creek the following month. Scott Patchan's vivid prose, which is based upon more than two decades of meticulous research and an unparalleled understanding of the battlefield, is complimented with numerous original maps and explanatory footnotes that enhance our understanding of this watershed battle. Rich in analysis and character development, The Last Battle of Winchester is certain to become a classic Civil War battle study. About the Author: A life-long student of military history, Scott C. Patchan is a graduate of James Madison University in the Shenandoah Valley. He is the author of many articles and books, including The Forgotten Fury: The Battle of Piedmont (1996), Shenandoah Summer: The 1864 Valley Campaign (2007), and Second Manassas: Longstreet's Attack and the Struggle for Chinn Ridge (2011). Patchan serves as a Director on the board of the Kernstown Battlefield Association in Winchester, Virginia, and is a member of the Shenandoah Valley Battlefield Foundation's Resource Protection Committee.

 

Recommended Reading: The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864 (McFarland & Company). Description: A significant part of the Civil War was fought in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, especially in 1864. Books and articles have been written about the fighting that took place there, but they generally cover only a small period of time and focus on a particular battle or campaign. Continued below...

This work covers the entire year of 1864 so that readers can clearly see how one event led to another in the Shenandoah Valley and turned once-peaceful garden spots into gory battlefields. It tells the stories of the great leaders, ordinary men, innocent civilians, and armies large and small taking part in battles at New Market, Chambersburg, Winchester, Fisher’s Hill and Cedar Creek, but it primarily tells the stories of the soldiers, Union and Confederate, who were willing to risk their lives for their beliefs. The author has made extensive use of memoirs, letters and reports written by the soldiers of both sides who fought in the Shenandoah Valley in 1864.

 

Recommended Reading: The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864 (Military Campaigns of the Civil War) (416 pages) (The University of North Carolina Press). Description: The 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign is generally regarded as one of the most important Civil War campaigns; it lasted more than four arduous months and claimed more than 25,000 casualties. The massive armies of Generals Philip H. Sheridan and Jubal A. Early had contended for immense stakes... Beyond the agricultural bounty and the boost in morale to be gained with its numerous battles, events in the Valley would affect Abraham Lincoln's chances for reelection in November 1864. Continued below...

The eleven essays in this volume reexamine common assumptions about the campaign, its major figures, and its significance. Taking advantage of the most recent scholarship and a wide range of primary sources, contributors examine strategy and tactics, the performances of key commanders on each side, the campaign's political repercussions, and the experiences of civilians caught in the path of the armies. The authors do not always agree with one another, but, taken together, their essays highlight important connections between the home front and the battlefield, as well as ways in which military affairs, civilian experiences, and politics played off one another during the campaign.

 

Recommended Reading: Field Armies and Fortifications in the Civil War: The Eastern Campaigns, 1861-1864 (Civil War America) (Hardcover). Description: The eastern campaigns of the Civil War involved the widespread use of field fortifications, from Big Bethel and the Peninsula to Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Charleston, and Mine Run. While many of these fortifications were meant to last only as long as the battle, Earl J. Hess argues that their history is deeply significant. The Civil War saw more use of fieldworks than did any previous conflict in Western history. Hess studies the use of fortifications by tracing the campaigns of the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia from April 1861 to April 1864. He considers the role of field fortifications in the defense of cities, river crossings, and railroads and in numerous battles. Continued below... 

Blending technical aspects of construction with operational history, Hess demonstrates the crucial role these earthworks played in the success or failure of field armies. He also argues that the development of trench warfare in 1864 resulted from the shock of battle and the continued presence of the enemy within striking distance, not simply from the use of the rifle-musket, as historians have previously asserted. Based on fieldwork at 300 battle sites and extensive research in official reports, letters, diaries, and archaeological studies, this book should become an indispensable reference for Civil War historians.
 

Recommended Reading: Reveille in Washington, 1860 - 1865. Description: Winner of the 1942 Pulitzer Prize in History, it is an authentic, scholarly description of life in Washington during the Civil War, written in a highly readable style. The "star" of the book is, indeed, the city of Washington D.C. Many players walk across the D.C. stage, and Leech's research paints vivid portraits not seen before about the Lincolns, Walt Whitman, Andrew Carnegie, Winfield Scott, John Wilkes Booth, and many others. It's the "Capitol" that you have never really seen or heard that much about… Continued below...

It's a scrappy, dusty, muddy, unfinished city, begging for respect. Washington City, as it was called then, was both a respite for Union soldiers, as well as the Union Army’s “prostitution headquarters.” From the so-called 'highlife to the lowlife', the politician to the pauper, all receive their respectful, or rightful, place in this delightful but candid prose.
 

Recommended Reading: Shenandoah Summer: The 1864 Valley Campaign. Description: Jubal A. Early’s disastrous battles in the Shenandoah Valley ultimately resulted in his ignominious dismissal. But Early’s lesser-known summer campaign of 1864, between his raid on Washington and Phil Sheridan’s renowned fall campaign, had a significant impact on the political and military landscape of the time. By focusing on military tactics and battle history in uncovering the facts and events of these little-understood battles, Scott C. Patchan offers a new perspective on Early’s contributions to the Confederate war effort—and to Union battle plans and politicking. Patchan details the previously unexplored battles at Rutherford’s Farm and Kernstown (a pinnacle of Confederate operations in the Shenandoah Valley) and examines the campaign’s influence on President Lincoln’s reelection efforts. Continued below…

He also provides insights into the personalities, careers, and roles in Shenandoah of Confederate General John C. Breckinridge, Union general George Crook, and Union colonel James A. Mulligan, with his “fighting Irish” brigade from Chicago. Finally, Patchan reconsiders the ever-colorful and controversial Early himself, whose importance in the Confederate military pantheon this book at last makes clear. About the Author: Scott C. Patchan, a Civil War battlefield guide and historian, is the author of Forgotten Fury: The Battle of Piedmont, Virginia, and a consultant and contributing writer for Shenandoah, 1862.

Review

"The author's descriptions of the battles are very detailed, full or regimental level actions, and individual incidents. He bases the accounts on commendable research in manuscript collections, newspapers, published memoirs and regimental histories, and secondary works. The words of the participants, quoted often by the author, give the narrative an immediacy. . . . A very creditable account of a neglected period."-Jeffry D. Wert, Civil War News (Jeffry D. Wert Civil War News 20070914)

"[Shenandoah Summer] contains excellent diagrams and maps of every battle and is recommended reading for those who have a passion for books on the Civil War."-Waterline (Waterline 20070831)

"The narrative is interesting and readable, with chapters of a digestible length covering many of the battles of the campaign."-Curled Up With a Good Book (Curled Up With a Good Book 20060815)

"Shenandoah Summer provides readers with detailed combat action, colorful character portrayals, and sound strategic analysis. Patchan''s book succeeds in reminding readers that there is still plenty to write about when it comes to the American Civil War."-John Deppen, Blue & Grey Magazine (John Deppen Blue & Grey Magazine 20060508)

"Scott C. Patchan has solidified his position as the leading authority of the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign with his outstanding campaign study, Shenandoah Summer. Mr. Patchan not only unearths this vital portion of the campaign, he has brought it back to life with a crisp and suspenseful narrative. His impeccable scholarship, confident analyses, spellbinding battle scenes, and wonderful character portraits will captivate even the most demanding readers. Shenandoah Summer is a must read for the Civil War aficionado as well as for students and scholars of American military history."-Gary Ecelbarger, author of "We Are in for It!": The First Battle of Kernstown, March 23, 1862 (Gary Ecelbarger 20060903)

"Scott Patchan has given us a definitive account of the 1864 Valley Campaign. In clear prose and vivid detail, he weaves a spellbinding narrative that bristles with detail but never loses sight of the big picture. This is a campaign narrative of the first order."-Gordon C. Rhea, author of The Battle of the Wilderness: May 5-6, 1864 (Gordon C. Rhea )

"[Scott Patchan] is a `boots-on-the-ground' historian, who works not just in archives but also in the sun and the rain and tall grass. Patchan's mastery of the topography and the battlefields of the Valley is what sets him apart and, together with his deep research, gives his analysis of the campaign an unimpeachable authority."-William J. Miller, author of Mapping for Stonewall and Great Maps of the Civil War (William J. Miller)

Try the Search Engine for Related Studies: 3rd Battle of Winchester Civil War History, Battle of Opequon Virginia Battlefield History Map, Casualties, Pictures, Photographs, Union Confederate Army Order of Battle Civil War Shenandoah Valley

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