In the midst of our ongoing ‘Turning Points’ discussion last week, someone asked me last week if I thought Sheridan’s 1864 Valley Campaign was a turning point. I gave this very question a lot of thought when Phill Greenwalt and I were working on our book Bloody Autumn: The 1864 Valley Campaign. After giving it a lot of thought, I decided that the Valley Campaign of ’64 was not a turning point.
I do believe there was a danger that if Sheridan failed—or stumbled, for that matter—those events could have offset Sherman’s gains in Georgia, similar to the way Rosecrans’ disaster at Chickamauga and subsequent siege of Chattanooga negating Grant’s victory at Vicksburg.
I do think the victory in the Valley helped reinforce and solidify Lincoln’s re-election, but it was Sherman’s capture of Atlanta that really made the difference.
Additionally, for it to be a turning point, I think Sheridan would have had to turn in a great performance. Instead, it’s far below average. He can barely get out of his own way, and what saves him are the Crooks, Custers, Merritts, Gettys and Russells of his army—not really his own performance.
For more on the impact of Sheridan’s victory on the Election of ’64, check out “The Valley Campaign for Memory,” one of the appendices in Bloody Autumn.