Tuesday, November 06, 2007

CWL---The Confederacy's Self-Inflicted Wound: Cleaning Out the Shenandoah in 1861

The Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, Michael Mahon, in Virginia At War, 1861, William C. Davis and James I. Roberston, Jr., University of Kentucky, 2005, pp. 131-148.

With the Blue Ridge Mountains on the east and the Allegheny Mountains on the west the Shenandoah River runs from the southwest and towards the northeast. Lynchburg lies at the southwest end and Harper's Ferry lies at the northeast end. Long but narrow, the valley was and still is an agriculturally very productive region of Virginia.

During the secession crisis of December 1860 through April 1861, most Valley citizens opposed secession and sent like-minded representatives to the secession convention in Richmond during the February through April meeting. Only four secessionists were among the 19 representatives from the Valley's voting districts. Lincoln's election and the secession of the lower South did not have the impact in the Valley districts as the events had in the Tidewater districts. The Republicans refusal to compromise on the extension of slavery became the wedge issue employed by the pro-secession delegates to nudge the state towards secession and were confident that Virginians would not move away from support of the new Confederacy.

Two major factors were responsible for unionism being so wide spread in the northern counties of the valley. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was the largest employer in this part of the valley and the politicians of Martinsburg guarded its regional economic impact. In addition, Winchester had a significant minority of Unionists and did northeastern (lower valley) counties of Berkeley, Clarke, Frederick and Jefferson counties had Unionist slight majorities or strong minorities.

The ascendancy of the Confederacy in these counties is directly related to the presence of Confederate forces. Troops under the command of Jackson during April, May and June. During this time 6,500 Valley men were organized into the 2nd, 4th, 5th, 27th, and 33rd Virginia regiments which later were recognized as the Stonewall Brigade. Though all state politicians in Richmond believed that the lower (northeastern) valley should be held by the Confederacy, Johnson and other military leaders believed it was indefensible. Tactically, the Winchester area was the further point of practical military defense. The fear that Union occupation of the Valley propelled Richmond leaders, Samuel Cooper in particular, ordered Johnson to strip the Valley of foodstuffs in 1861.

Wells J. Hawks, lifelong resident of the region and former mayor of Charlestown, became the chief commissary officer of Jackson's troops. By May, Hawks and his staff denuded the Winchester region of corn, oats, wheat and flour, as well as beef, pork and vegetables. By the end of 1861, Hawks reported to his superiors that he had purchased 1,300 barrels of flour and could obtain another 5,000 barrels during the winter months. Also in December Adjutant General Cooper telegraphed Major John Harmon, Jackson's quartermaster, that the Virginia Central railroad would be unable to transfer troops from the Valley to Manassas because all its cars and engine were transferring supplies.

In addition to selling the agricultural produce of their community, Valley citizens generated income by offering clothing, medical care, and horses to the Confederacy. The economic prosperity of the region increased as prices increased. Businesses not related to military demands took downturns in their gross sales and net profits; furniture and cabinet makers, jewelers and clothing retail stores suffered. Local residents realized both economic advantages and disadvantages; any business relating to taking care of soldiers was profitable and any business unrelated to taking care of soldiers was prostrate. Ironically, the cost of farm labor increased in the summer of 1861 which in turn diminished net returns on agricultural goods. There were less than 200 adult slaves in Shenandoah County, and local residents complained to state representatives that soldiers must be sent home to harvest the July, August and September crops.

Farm families struggles became acute when not only labor was scarce but also the heavy livestock used in the harvest became rare. Military impressment of teams of horses and oxen caused resentment toward the military. Even teams that were needed to transports those Southerners fleeing from Harper's Ferry, Martinsburg, Shepardstown, Charlestown, and Berryville were hard to find and when available they were costly. As the war progressed, coffee, tea, sugar and salt were in shortage supply and their prices spiraled upward. The price of coffee doubled in August, rising from 25 cents to 50 cents a pound; the price of salt nearly quadrupled from 8 to 30 dollars a pound. "Our winter will, I fear, will be rather a hard one," wrote Julia Chase of Winchester. From the firing on Fort Sumter to the fall of 1861, economic prosperity and depression, and rising prices and rising costs, as well as the emotional shock of losing adult males on the battlefields and campgrounds, Southerners in the Valley were being afflicted by shortages of commodities and heartaches of losing kin. The empty cupboard and the vacant chair were becoming common in Valley households.

No comments: