Thursday, August 08, 2013

Shenandoah: The Valley of Sadness - The Burrning

This month's travel photo is of the Shenandoah Valley from Hawksbill Mountain.  While beautiful the valley and mountain range have been the sights of sadness.  This is the first part of the series.

1864: Total War Reaches the Civilians of Virginia

In 1862 the valley was the scene of Confederate General "Stonewall" Jackson's victory against three larger Union armies.  After that short campaign the valley was peaceful as the war left the area as quickly as it came.  The valley became one of the key agricultural areas for the South due to northern Virginia's farm fields becoming a constant battleground between the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia.  

The war was different when it returned to the valley in 1864.  Union leaders realized that total war against the civilian infrastructure was needed in order to force the Confederate forces to surrender.  Union cavalry General Phillip Sheridan conducted "The Burning", a campaign of targeted destruction against civilian property and local infrastructure.  Shenandoah at War describes it as
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.

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