I am touching base with one of my favorite subject’s in history – the Civil War. Scott Patchan’s The Last Battle: Phil Sheridan, Jubal Early, and the Shenandoah Valley Campaign August 7 – September 19, 1864 is a wonderful look at a pivotal battle for control of the Shenandoah Valley.
The Shenandoah Valley – a beautiful and yet tortured area during the Civil War. It was a primary source of food for the Confederacy and it was used many times as an avenue to attack the North or threaten Washington D.C. I say tortured because the people of the Valley knew no rest because of the constant military activity, including battles and skirmishes.
Patchan provides a balanced account of the events prior to, during, and after the Battle of Winchester. He equally praises and criticizes both sides. Many authors do not go into the mistakes made by the winning side. However, Patchan credits General Phil Sheridan for his excellent generalship, but he also fairly criticizes Sheridan for several mistakes (both tactically and strategically) For example, Sheridan did not plan well for the movement of the Sixth and Nineteenth Corps prior to the battle because he had both corps travelling through the narrow Berryville Canyon – this caused a delay in the deployment of the Union troops.
Patchan’s brief biographies of the major players are helpful in understanding their actions and motivations during the fighting. For example, his biography on General Emory of the Nineteenth Corps gives a good indication of his fighting abilities and his leadership. Emory served mainly in the western area of operations. As Patchan writes, Sheridan could expect “dutiful performance and old army obedience to orders … Initiative, dash, and flexibility, however would be provided by others.” This was true in the final Battle of Winchester.
The book gives an excellent account of the battle and all of the participants. Patchan uses various sources, both primary and secondary, to describe the flow of the battle. He captures the mix of emotions that the combatants experienced – from the highs of the Union in the initial assault to their terror when reinforcements for the Confederates smashed into them.
The book is 517 pages with seven appendixes and photographs and maps sprinkled throughout the text. This book is an excellent summary of the final Battle of Winchester.