The Final Toll of Destruction in the Valley

This entry is part 12 of 12 in the series Sheridan's 1864 Valley Campaign
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The Final Toll of Destruction

in the Valley

Four years of hard war took a terrible toll of destruction on the Shenandoah Valley. The once productive agricultural granary of the Confederacy was a shell of itself by the end of 1864. The Lower Valley from the Potomac River to the Staunton-Waynesboro east-west line was particularly devastated. Further south in the Upper Valley, the destruction had been more sporadic although there were areas that suffered just as badly.

The sapping of the agricultural assets of the Valley began with the drain on the manpower of the Valley farming communities. It started at the beginning of the war with the voluntary enlistments of young men and continued with the forced drafting of men as the Confederate armies needed ever-increasing numbers to match the North’s greater population.

Eventually, all of the healthy men of the Shenandoah Valley were conscripted into the army leaving only women and children to carry on the farming. This was compounded by the forced removal of horses and mules by the Confederate Commissary Department. Without their draft The Burning of the Valleyanimals, the farmers were unable to efficiently work their fields, either with planting or harvesting.

Based on records from counties to the east of the Valley (because the Valley’s records were destroyed during the war), the drop in wheat production from 1860 to 1863 dropped by an average of 53%. Production in corn in the same time period dropped an average of 42% and oats went down an average of 69%. This are truly staggering drops in agricultural production.

With the army requisitioning large quantities of produce and livestock, the Valley farmers were hard pressed to feed their families and the local populations. As the war went on, farmers began to evade army requisitioning by hiding their livestock and underestimating their production yields.

By the winter of 1864-65, the situation had reached crisis levels. One Union soldier who was encamped on a farm outside of Winchester wrote about the farmer’s plight, “He had a good crop of corn & hay, but the rebels took considerable of both, our men took the rest & now he has nothing to feed his cows & horses but little he can beg or borrow from soldiers; not a fence rail is left on his farm.” In the days that followed, all of the boards from his barn disappeared for firewood and the troopers even tore down his privy for firewood.

In his official report to the Army on the property captured or destroyed during his campaign, Philip Sheridan reported the following:VMI after it was burned

  • Horses captured…3,772
  • Flour mills destroyed …71
  • Barns burned…1,200
  • Wheat taken…435,802 bushels
  • Corn taken…77,176 bushels
  • Oats taken…20,000 bushels
  • Flour taken…874 bushels
  • Bacon and hams…12,000 pounds
  • Hay taken…20,397 tons
  • Fodder taken…500 tons
  • Straw taken…450 tons
  • Beef cattle taken…10,918
  • Sheep…12,000
  • Swine…15,000
  • Calves…250
  • Mules…545

All this was done in about six months!

For those who are interested in a comparison of Augusta County, Virginia and Franklin County, Pennsylvania, the University of Virginia has a comprehensive web site with excellent resources at: http://valley.lib.virginia.edu/.

 

 

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