(Left Side): The Third Battle of Winchester - September 19, 1864
Bloodiest Battle of the Shenandoah Valley
Gen. Jubal Early assuming that Gen. Phil Sheridan was yet another cautious Union commander, divided his roughly 14,000 troops on a wide front north from Winchester. Sheridan planned to use his army of 39,000 men to attack the portion of Early's force near Winchester. Early, however, learned of the impending attack and raced to concentrate his army at Winchester.
The Third Battle of Winchester, or the Battle of Opequon, occurred in four phases:
1) Berryville Canyon (dawn until 11 a.m.): One small division of Confederates delayed most of Sheridan's army allowing Early's remaining troops to reach the battlefield.
2) The Middle Field (11:40 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.): Union troops tried unsuccessfully to dislodge the Confederates from their positions.
3) Red Bud Run and the Valley Pike (late afternoon): Union cavalry and infantry pushed the Confederates closer to Winchester.
4) Outskirts of Winchester (dusk): Southerners made determined but ineffective stands north and east of town at Fort Collier, Star Fort, and other positions.
By nightfall, Winchester was securely in Union hands and the Confederates were in full retreat. Total casualties for the Union and Confederacy numbered almost 9,000. The walking tour that commences here will focus on the second and third phases of the battle.
Soon after the Third Battle of Winchester, Confederate domination of the Shenandoah Valley came to an end. During the 1864 Valley Campaign, the Confederacy suffered a series of four major defeats over a thirty-day period, including a devastating loss at Cedar Creek on October 19th.
(Right Side): The Third Battle of Winchester - September 19, 1864
The Civil War in the Shenandoah Valley
With rich farmland that earned it the name "the breadbasket of the Confederacy," the Shenandoah Valley formed a natural corridor for military movements. Throughout the Civil War, 1861-1865, Union and Confederate armies fought over this strategic valley.
In 1862 Confederate Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson (right) led the best-known Valley Campaign. Although usually outnumbered, his forces defeated Federal troops, under different commanders, in several engagements, including the First Battle of Winchester (May 25). The 1863 campaign, which included the Second Battle of Winchester (June 13-15), cleared the Valley of Union troops and let the Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee slip into Pennsylvania, resulting in the Battle of Gettysburg.
The summer of 1864 found Abraham Lincoln pitted against Democratic presidential candidate Gen. George McClellan. Lincoln's largest force, the Army of the Potomac, was mired in a siege of Petersburg, Virginia. Northern hopes were revived on September 2, however, when Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's army captured Atlanta.
In an effort to seize the initiative, Lee sent a force under Gen. Jubal A. Early on a campaign through the Shenandoah Valley. Lee hoped that Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, fearing a raid on Washington, D.C., would divide his army to meet the threat. Grant did so; charging Gen. Philip Sheridan and his new Army of the Shenandoah with rendering the Valley useless to Confederates.
On September 19, Early's Army of the Valley and Sheridan's Army of the Shenandoah clashed at the Third Battle of Winchester, also called the Battle of Opequon. Third Winchester was the first of a series of Union victories that ended Confederate domination of the Valley.