“it won’t appear in history!”: Early’s Raid on Washington D.C. and return to the Shenandoah Valley

Confederate Gen. Jubal Early’s time in the Shenandoah Valley in 1864 was extensive. From his first appearance near Lynchburg on June 17th to the crippling defeat at Cedar Creek on October 19th. His tenure is marked by both blistering defeats and remarkable victories. One of these victories took place 150 years ago as he pushed towards the Union capital, Washington D.C.

Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early. West Point graduate of 1837 and lawyer before the Civil War.

Native Virginian Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early. West Point graduate of 1837 and lawyer before the Civil War.

By July 12th 1864, Early’s command was on the outskirts of Washington D.C. Debate ensued whether to push into the city, as Union reinforcements filed into the city’s defenses. When Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant heard of the threat to D.C. he quickly sent the Union 6th and 19th Corps to the capital. By doing this, the number of men threatening Lee in Richmond depleted by nearly 15,000. This loss of men proved detrimental to Grant’s grand strategy in the summer of 1864. By July 14th, knowing he could push no farther, Early headed back west towards the Valley of Virginia. Major Henry Kyd Douglass simply recalled Early’s reaction to this maneuver, “Major, we haven’t taken Washington, but we’ve scared Abe Lincoln like hell!”

Early’s Confederate veterans crossed the Potomac at White’s Ford on July 14th and made his headquarters around Berryville. A Georgian in Early’s command, G.W. Nichols breathed a sigh of relief, “We were all glad to back to Dixie land, for we never loved to cross the Potomac going north.” The Union 6th Corps under Maj. Gen. Horatio Wright followed the Confederates.

However the question stands was Early successful up to this point? Originally, Lee dispatched the Second Corps and Early to secure the rail lines in Lynchburg, which he did. Then, Early quickly marched down the Shenandoah Valley, captured Harpers Ferry, threatened Washington D.C. and forced Grant to pay more attention the Valley. Early did more than what was asked of him. His job in the Valley was similar to that of Stonewall Jackson’s two years prior. Be a distraction and keep Union forces away from Richmond. Early had done just that by threatening Washington D.C., and forcing Grant to send two Union corps from Petersburg. Early however, was not done.

Stay tuned as we follow his actions as he re-enters the Shenandoah Valley 150 years ago. To commemorate these events, Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park will be conducting special “On This Day” Battlefield Tours. These tours will occur exactly 150 years after certain actions took place in the Valley. Tours include The Battle of Cool Spring on July 18th, Battle of Rutherford’s Farm on July 20th and the Battle of Second Kernstown on July 24th. All of these tours are free and we encourage visitors to walk in the footsteps of these soldiers some 150 years later. For more information, visit our website at www.nps.gov/cebe. Or call us at 540-869-3051. Also, like our Facebook page at, https://www.facebook.com/CedarCreekNPS.

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