The campaign of destruction, misunderstood from the very beginning, continues to be little understood today. It is often referred to as a “raid,” although it was well planned and involved 5,000 cavalrymen and a brigade of infantry doing the actual destruction, while thousands of additional soldiers in blue were called upon to drive off or kill livestock. To an individual farm family watching hogs slaughtered in the pens and barn and other outbuildings going up in smoke, it must have seemed a random orgy of destruction. In reality, Sheridan had given specific orders: barns and mills containing grain or forage were to be reduced to ashes; but, the properties of widows, single women, and orphans were not to be molested and private homes were not to be harmed. Evidence shows that most of the soldiers followed orders, though there were a number of instances of looting.
The order did not preclude the Anabaptist Mennonites and Brethren; members of pacifist sects who opposed the killing of other human beings and rebellion against established authority as a part of their religious beliefs. They were also some of the finest farmers in the Shenandoah Valley. While Sheridan sympathized with their plight he told their representatives that they would all have to suffer a bit longer if the war was to end.Collective punishment resulted in burned homes and large refugee outflow from the valley. However, after the end of the war most residents returned and by 1870 the valley was back to full agricultural production. People in the Blue Ridge Mountains and in the valley close to the mountains thought the worst was over. However, progressivism and the effort to bring the enjoyment of nature to the people would result in another terrible era of sadness to those in the valley.