The Battle of Fisher’s Hill: Breaking the Shenandoah Valley’s Gibraltar
By Jonathan A. Noyalas, The History Press 2013, $19.99
Jonathan Noyalas’ new book on one of the war’s lesser-known battles is a fitting addition to The History Press’ “Civil War Sesquicentennial” series, a recent collection of studies that, while not truly authoritative, provide short, readable and solidly researched accounts of specific military engagements and related topics. This is an admirable study of the operations that immediately followed the Union victory at Third Winchester on September 19, 1864, and culminated three days later in the rout of Confederate forces at the Battle of Fisher’s Hill.
The battle was a straightforward affair, predetermined perhaps because of significant Federal advantages in morale and numbers. After his hard-fought victory at Third Winchester, Maj. Gen. Phil Sheridan pushed his Army of the Shenandoah south until it came upon Lt. Gen. Jubal Early’s Confederates occupying a strong defensive position in the vicinity of Fisher’s Hill. But though Early’s men had the terrain advantage, their line was by no means impregnable. Sheridan pressed in from the north with Gens. Horatio Wright’s and William Emory’s corps and then shifted Gen. George Crook’s force into position to threaten the Confederates’ left flank. By the end of the fighting on September 22, the Confederates were in full retreat up the Shenandoah Valley, which gave Sheridan the opportunity to begin putting the region’s vast agricultural resources to the torch.
To be sure, the operations that shaped and decided the outcome of the fight at Fisher’s Hill lacked the shifts of momentum and moments of contingency in which the fate of the nation (or at least the battle) seemed to rest on a razor’s edge—the drama that make engagements such as Gettysburg, Shiloh or Cedar Creek so compelling. Nevertheless, Fisher’s Hill was important in that it demonstrated just how much the balance of power in the Shenandoah Valley had shifted in favor of the Federals in the late summer and fall of 1864. Although a few more maps to help readers follow the action would have been good to see, Noyalas has produced a study of the battle that merits praise for both its efficiency and effectiveness.
Originally published in the March 2014 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here.