— 1864 Valley Campaign —
The Federal offensive in the Shenandoah Valley began in May 1864 faltered in the summer with Confederate victories and Gen. Jubal A. Early's Washington Raid in July. Union General Philip H. Sheridan took command in August, defeated Early at Winchester in September and Cedar Creek in October, burned mills and barns, and crushed the remnants of Early's force at Waynesboro on March 2, 1865. Sheridan's victories contributed to President Abraham Lincoln's reelection in November 1864 and denied Gen. Robert E. Lee's army much needed provisions from the "Breadbasket of the Confederacy."
This house belonged to Thomas and Mary Rutherford in 1864, when a historic meeting occurred here on September 17 between Union Gens. Ulysses S. Grant and Philip H. Sheridan. Grant was eager for Sheridan to drive the Confederates under Gen. Jubal A. Early from the Shenandoah Valley, to protect Washington and the North from another invasion, and also to keep open both the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. He decided to visit Sheridan in person rather than send orders through channels in Washington, fearing delays. He left Petersburg, Virginia, on September 15 and avoided the capital.
Grant was waiting when Sheridan strode up to the porch at noon. They retired to the east parlor. Sheridan revealed that a Unionist Quaker schoolmistress, Rebecca Wright, had informed him that Early's army had just been reduced by a division detached to defend Richmond. The time was right to launch an offensive. Grant reiterated his earlier directive to destroy foodstuffs in the Shenandoah Valley and then verbally issued the shortest order of his career: "Go in!"
Grant hoped that Sheridan could move in four days; instead, he moved in three, attacking Early's army at Winchester on September 19 and defeating it soundly. A month later, on October 19, when Early counterattacked at Cedar Creek, Sheridan turned a morning defeat into an afternoon victory. In between the two battles came "The Burning," as Sheridan carried out Grant's orders and brought devastation to a large part of the lower Valley.
Thomas and Mary Rutherford were reluctant hosts to the Federal commanders on September 17. Their situation was precarious. The house of their neighbor Andrew Hunter was burned only weeks before for his Confederate sympathies, which they shared. Their daughter, Virginia, had earlier bought a Virginia state flag for presentation by "The Ladies of Jefferson County" to the 2nd Virginia Infantry regiment in Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's brigade. Jackson eventually returned the flag to Virginia Rutherford, who secreted it in the house until the end of the war. It is now on display at the Virginia Military Institute.