The plans of General Grant did not neglect so essential a feature of his task. While he was fighting his way toward the Confederate capital, his instructions contemplated the possession and occupation of the Shenandoah valley as part of the system which should isolate and eventually besiege Richmond. But this part of his plan underwent many fluctuations. He had scarcely reached City Point when he became aware that General Lee, equally alive to the advantages of the Shenandoah valley, had dispatched General Early with seventeen thousand men on a flying expedition up that convenient natural sally-port, which was for the moment undefended.
Early made such speed that he crossed the Potomac during the first week of July, made a devastating raid through Maryland and southern Pennsylvania, threatened Baltimore, and turning sharply to the south, was, on the eleventh of the month, actually at the outskirts of Washington city, meditating its assault and capture. Only the opportune arrival of the Sixth Army Corps under General Wright, on the afternoon of that day, sent hurriedly by Grant from City Point, saved the Federal capital from occupation and perhaps destruction by the enemy.
Certain writers have represented the government as panic-stricken during the two days that this menace lasted; but neither Mr. Lincoln, nor Secretary Stanton, nor General Halleck, whom it has been even more the fashion to abuse, lacked coolness or energy in the emergency. Indeed, the President’s personal unconcern was such as to give his associates much uneasiness. On the tenth, he rode out as was his usual custom during the summer months, to spend the night at the Soldiers’ Home, in the suburbs; but Secretary Stanton, learning that Early was advancing in heavy force, sent after him to compel his return to the city; and twice afterward, intent on watching the fighting which took place near Fort Stevens, he exposed his tall form to the gaze and bullets of the enemy in a manner to call forth earnest remonstrance from those near him.
The succeeding military events in the Shenandoah valley must here be summed up in the brief statement that General Sheridan, being placed in command of the Middle Military Division and given an army of thirty or forty thousand men, finally drove back the Confederate detachments upon Richmond, in a series of brilliant victories, and so devastated the southern end of the valley as to render it untenable for either army; and by the destruction of the James River Canal and the Virginia Central Railroad, succeeded in practically carrying out Grant’s intention of effectually closing the avenue of supplies to Richmond from the northwest.
Sherman’s Meridian Expedition—Capture of Atlanta—Hood Supersedes Johnston—Hood’s Invasion of Tennessee—Franklin and Nashville—Sherman’s March to the Sea—Capture of Savannah—Sherman to Lincoln—Lincoln to Sherman—Sherman’s March through the Carolinas—The Burning of Charleston and Columbia—Arrival at Goldsboro—Junction with Schofield—Visit to Grant