Lee's Endangered Left: The Civil War in Western Virginia Spring of 1864

Lee's Endangered Left: The Civil War in Western Virginia Spring of 1864

by Richard R. Duncan
     
 

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In the spring of 1864, Ulysses S. Grant as general-in-chief of the Union armies devised a plan of concerted action to bring down the Confederacy. As part of that strategy, Grant aimed to destroy General Robert E. Lee's supply source for his Army of Northern Virginia in western Virginia and to use military activity there as an extended turning movement to threaten

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Overview

In the spring of 1864, Ulysses S. Grant as general-in-chief of the Union armies devised a plan of concerted action to bring down the Confederacy. As part of that strategy, Grant aimed to destroy General Robert E. Lee's supply source for his Army of Northern Virginia in western Virginia and to use military activity there as an extended turning movement to threaten Lee from the west. In this outstanding study, Richard R. Duncan offers a riveting overview of these military operations as well as their impact on the civilian population, shedding light on an often overlooked chapter of the Civil War in Virginia.

Initially, Duncan explains, Grant proposed a three-pronged pincer movement to strike at the depots and transportation system in southwest Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley's breadbasket. The Army of the Kanawha, under General George Crook, struck at the New River Bridge to cut the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, while a subordinate cavalry expedition lead by General William Averell moved against the saltworks and lead mines in southwestern Virginia. Meanwhile, General Franz Sigel advanced up the Shenandoah Valley to threaten Staunton and form a junction with Crook. If all went well, the combined army was then to advance on Lynchburg.

As Duncan shows, these Federal operations proved only partially successful. Despite a victory at the battle of Cloyds Mountain and the destruction of the New River Bridge, Grant's pincer movement faltered in the Shenandoah Valley at the battle of New Market. A renewal of the initiative by General David Hunter in late May and early June briefly secured Federal objectives and dominance over western Virginia. But General Jubal Early stopped the Army of West Virginia at the gates of Lynchburg, and Confederate forces went on to regain the Shenandoah Valley and even to threaten Washington.

Unlike most works on the eastern theater, Lee's Endangered Left emphasizes the high price civilians paid for these campaigns. The Federal troops' need for food and horses and the Union objective of crippling the South's ability to wage war brought serious losses to Confederate and Unionist civilians alike, reflecting the increasingly destructive nature of the war. The devastation civilians experienced in western Virginia, Duncan asserts, would later reverberate in the burning of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, by Confederate troops and in the sufferings inflicted upon Georgians by William T. Sherman.

Providing a much-needed overview of the first part of the Virginia campaign, Lee's Endangered Left thoroughly integrates the military operations in western Virginia into the larger canvas of the entire eastern theater. Civil War historians and buffs alike will welcome Duncan's work.

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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
In the spring of 1864, Ulysses S. Grant devised a plan of action to bring down the Confederacy. He aimed to destroy General Lee's source of supplies in western Virginia and to use military activity there as an extended turning movement to threaten Lee from the west. This study offers an overview of military operations in western Virginia during the period and their impact on the civilian population, shedding light on an overlooked chapter of the Civil War. Includes b&w maps. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Kirkus Reviews
A competent, well-executed addition to the ever-growing horde of Civil War literature, by Duncan (History/Georgetown Univ.). The author reconsiders Union General Ulysses S. Grant's attempts to destroy the Confederates, led by General Robert E. Lee, at their traditional stronghold in western Virginia and his efforts to threaten Lynchburg during the spring and summer of 1864. The writing here is crisp; refreshingly, our chronicler pays sharp attention to the effects of the campaign on civilians as the Union army penetrated beyond its supply lines and came to live off the countryside in one of the Confederacy's richest agricultural regions, bringing home the harsh realities of war to civilians. The campaign swung back and forth, with Northern victories at Cloyd's Mountain and New River Bridge and Confederate routs at New Market, followed by a Union failure to seize Lynchburg. Though the campaign proved costly to the South, overall the Union's hope to capture the Shenandoah Valley foundered-and the Confederates then went on to threaten Washington, D.C. Duncan sensitively employs a wide variety of sources, military and civilian, to add to the coherence of his account. Still, the book's scope remains narrow, focusing on a not terribly glamorous period in the war's history; then, too, we'd do well to have the volume trimmed by a third. Duncan's contention that the Union's severity in dealing with civilian populations was directly reciprocated when the Confederates took Chambersburg, Penn., creatong a chain of vengeance that culminated when Sherman marched through the South, is insightfully argued, offering a fresh analysis to the historical debate. Casual readers of the Civil War genre (andmany die-hard buffs, as well) may want to leave this superbly researched yet ultimately too specialized study for the historians to ponder. (20 photos) .

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780807130186
Publisher:
Louisiana State University Press
Publication date:
10/28/2004
Pages:
346
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

Meet the Author

Richard R. Duncan is associate professor of history at Georgetown University.

Richard R. Duncan is associate professor of history at Georgetown University.

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