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"The Lynchburg Campaign" Topic

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©1994-2020 Bill Armintrout
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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP15 Oct 2020 9:26 p.m. PST

"While Grant pressed Lee in the Overland Campaign, he sent Major General David Hunter to threaten the Bread Basket of the Confederacy, the Shenandoah Valley with an army composed of two infantry divisions and two divisions of cavalry. Hunter's actions in the valley between May 15 and June 18, 1864 are known as the Lynchburg Campaign. After a brief clash at Port Republic on June 4, Hunter met the main Confederate force of about 4,000 infantry and cavalry under Brigadier General William "Grumble" Jones at Piedmont on June 5 and broke the Confederates, leaving Jones dead on the field. Occupying Staunton on June 8 with only minor skirmishing against Confederate forces, Hunter destroyed everything of possible military value including bridges, depots, workshops and factories. On June 10 Hunter began moving up the valley towards Lexington. There a small Confederate force under Brigadier General John McCausland retreated after being outflanked and Lexington fell to the Union force. The Federals burned much of the town. On June 12 Hunter's men burned the buildings of the Virginia Military Institute and later the home of Governor John Letcher. Hunter set out for Lynchburg, clashing with McCausland at New London on June 16. On June 17 they clashed with the main Confederate force under Lieutenant General Jubal Early outside Lynchburg. On the night of June 17-18 Early in an effort to create the illusion that he was being strongly reinforced had empty trains run up and down the track, whistles blowing. The local populace was recruited to raise a cheer every time one of these "troop trains" arrived. Bands struck up martial airs and marching drums were beat, all within the earshot of the Union line. Prostitutes were allowed to pass through the lines to help spread the tale of the great influx of troops to their Yankee customers. Hunter was completely taken in. He eventually believed that he was facing a force twice the size of his own when actually the sides were roughly even. In the fighting on June 18 Hunter was so convinced that he was facing a superior force and inevitable defeat if he remained that he decided to throw in the towel and withdrew under cover of darkness. Finding Hunter gone on the morning of June 19 early pursued him until June 21, never catching up, and Hunter continued into West Virginia leaving Early alone in the Shenandoah Valley. The failure of the Union Lynchburg Campaign resulted from a combination of poor leadership, insufficient logistical support and lack of motivation of the Federal troops many of whom were at the expiration of their enlistments…"
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Bill N15 Oct 2020 9:58 p.m. PST

I've got a number of issues with this, but will stick to one.

Early didn't call of his pursuit of Hunter after Lynchburg because he couldn't catch up with Hunter. Early did in fact catch up with Hunter at Hanging Rock in Roanoke County on June 21. Using better knowledge of the area Early sent troops over to to the Valley Pike, a much better road which allowed them to move faster than Hunter's retreating forces. Early was also aided by Confederate militia that was cutting trees to slow Hunter down. At Hanging Rock the advance elements of Early's troops were able to attack the rear of Hunter's column, cutting off a number of Union troops.

Continuing the campaign beyond Hanging Rock would have meant campaigning in the mountains of western Virginia/West Virginia. It was an area where, had he wanted to, Hunter could have sacrificed small bodies of troops in rear guard actions to buy his army time to make its escape. It would have tied up Early's army for some time.

The alternative was to do what Early did. He assumed that Hunter was no longer a threat and would be out of action for some time, and to turn his command to achieve other goals. Hunter's army, now under Crook was effectively out of action for several weeks. During that time Early was able to launch his attack on Washington.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP16 Oct 2020 12:33 p.m. PST



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