The Battle of Piedmont and Hunter’s Raid on Staunton: The 1864 Shenandoah Campaign
By Scott C. Patchan
(July 2011 Civil War News Book Review)
Reviewer: Jonathan A. Noyalas
Illustrated, photos, notes, appendices, bibliography, index, 192 pp., 2011, History Press, http://www.historypress.net, $21.99 softcover.
Following the crushing blow suffered by Union Gen. Franz Sigel at New Market in the Shenandoah Valley on May 15, 1864, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant determined to change the course of the conflict in the Confederacy’s breadbasket by replacing Sigel with Gen. David Hunter.
Although Hunter is most popularly known for his destruction in the upper Shenandoah in the spring of 1864, few understand what allowed Hunter to perpetrate his destruction — the Battle of Piedmont. Fortunately, Scott Patchan has rectified that problem with this latest volume in the History Press’ Sesquicentennial Series.
Readers familiar with Shenandoah Valley literature know that Patchan, author of several other works related to operations in the Valley, published a volume on this battle in 1996 — The Forgotten Fury: The Battle of Piedmont.
This newest rendition is superior to the earlier volume. This fine book, including 15 maps, an order of battle and detailed casualty lists, is a product of Patchan’s continuing research.
Using an impressive array of both archival and published primary material, he has pieced together a fast-paced narrative about the oft-forgotten but highly significant events of late May and early June 1864 in the Shenandoah.
In the book’s first three chapters, he sets the stage for the June 5, 1864, fight at Piedmont by examining how Hunter reorganized and brought discipline to an army that had little under Sigel.
Patchan also scrutinizes how Confederate war-planners adapted to meet the new challenges Hunter’s force posed after New Market. Additionally, the author provides numerous biographical sketches of the personalities on both sides — affording an opportunity for the reader to understand the character traits and flaws that manifested themselves at Piedmont.
In the following five chapters, Patchan addresses the circumstances of the battle itself, beginning with the strategic decision of Gen. William “Grumble” Jones to block Hunter at Piedmont in an effort to prevent the Union force from getting to the vital rail and supply center of Staunton and ending with the battle’s grisly aftermath. It is in these chapters that the author is at his best as he examines the fight’s tactical flow.
While discussions of tactical minutiae in most battle histories tend to become cumbersome, Patchan writes with a flair that allows the reader to clearly envision troop movements and experience the emotion of troops on both sides as the battle raged.
Following his discussion of the Union victory at Piedmont, Patchan devotes a chapter to the main objective of Hunter’s operation, Staunton. It is in this chapter that Civil War historians interested in the impact of total war will find useful information.
Here the author discusses not only the reaction of Confederate civilians in Staunton to Hunter’s presence, but the reaction of African Americans in that community, who for the first time in the conflict saw their chance to achieve freedom.
Perhaps the book’s most significant chapter is its last. Here the author offers a “retrospective” on how the battle altered the strategic course of the conflict in the Shenandoah Valley and how this battle — because it lacked a “big name” general — has fallen into obscurity and been cast aside as a minor skirmish.
For those interested in the Civil War’s course in the Shenandoah Valley, this highly readable, cogently crafted and meticulously researched work is highly recommended.
It illustrates the toll of war in this war-torn region and shows how the Battle of Piedmont, as the author argues, “served as the catalyst” for more aggressive operations in the Shenandoah.
Jonathan A. Noyalas is assistant professor of history and director of the Center for Civil War History at Lord Fairfax Community College in Middletown, Va., and the author or editor of eight books on Civil War era history.