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The Last Battle of Winchester: Phil Sheridan, Jubal Early, and the Shenandoah Valley Campaign, August 7- September 19, 1864

 Scott C. Patchan, Savas Beatie

When Phil Sheridan took command of Union forces in the Shenandoah Valley late in the summer of 1864, things (once again) looked glum for the Federal war effort in that region. Generals Franz Sigel and David  Hunter had failed miserably in their efforts to—in Abraham Lincoln’s words—“hold a leg” in the Valley and allowed Confederate forces commanded by Jubal Early to launch a bold offensive across the Potomac River that reached Washington’s outskirts. Although Early’s raid was turned back, the Confederates retained enough power to strike into Pennsylvania, alarm those responsible for keeping the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad running, and inflict an  embarrassing tactical defeat on Brig. Gen. George Crook’s Federals at the Second Battle of Kernstown.

As Scott Patchan chronicles in The Last Battle of Winchester, Sheridan’s first few weeks in command  initially offered little comfort to those who despaired that the North could ever achieve success in the Valley. Then, however, Confederate military authorities determined that the situation around Richmond and Petersburg left them no choice but to reduce Early’s command. Sheridan struck, and crushed Early’s army in what became known as the Third Battle of Winchester, the first in a  series of struggles that decisively turned the tide of the war in the Valley in favor of the Union.

The product of decades of research, Patchan’s book provides as good an account of not just the battle of September 19, 1864, but also the weeks of maneuvering that led up to it, as anyone could wish for. His compelling narrative is thorough, clearly written and enhanced by high-quality maps that make it easy to follow the sometimes complex troop movements and tactical actions described, as well as the terrain that shaped them.

There’s probably no such thing as a “final word” on any major battle, but it’s difficult to see a future  scholar of Third Winchester exceeding the standard for research, attention to detail and level of analysis set by Patchan. Readers with an interest in the war for the Valley in 1864 will find his book a most welcome addition to their libraries.


Originally published in the February 2014 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.