150 years ago this month
At dawn on October 19, 1864 the final great battle for the Shenandoah Valley began with a surprise attack out of a dense fog. Twice defeated, badly outnumbered and thought to be finished, Jubal Early's Confederate Army of the Valley made a daring night march around the foot of Massanutton Mountain to outflank and overrun Crook's Eighth Corps. They continued on to defeat the rest of the Union army in detail, and by midmorning the Federals had lost 24 guns and thousands of fugitives were trudging north along the Valley Pike.
But as the now disorganized Confederates rested or looted the rich Union camps Federal commander Phil Sheridan reached the field. Returning from a meeting in Washington, he had missed the beginning of the fight but was determined to finish it. By midafternoon he had rallied his men and established a powerful battle line.
At four the Union line attacked, the men eager to avenge the morning's rude awakening. After heavy fighting the Confederate line began to crumble, and it became a race between the fleeing Confederates and the powerful Union cavalry. The destruction of a bridge on the Valley Pike south of Strasburg blocked the retreat of anything on wheels, and the captured Union guns and most of the Early's were left behind.
It was the end of Early's army and of the Confederate threat from the Shenandoah that had haunted Washington since the days of Stonewall Jackson in 1862. And it was the final boost that gave Lincoln victory in the November election.