Tag Archives: Scott C. Patchan

Battle of Winchester is heart-racing history in Shenandoah Valley

By Scott Patchan. Savas Beatie. 576 pages. $34.95


Michael L. Ramsey | Michael L. Ramsey is president of the Roanoke Public Library Foundation.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The 1864 battle of Winchester in Virginia marked a seminal point in the War of Rebellion and became a proving ground for United States Gen. Philip H. Sheridan’s field leadership.

Leading the enemy army was Jubal A. Early, former prosecuting attorney and General Assembly delegate from Franklin County who also argued in the General Assembly against secession (as his constituents wanted).

Shenandoah Valley native and Civil War historian Scott Patchan offers a fresh account of that battle in his new book, “The Last Battle of Winchester.”

Most of the book is filled with descriptions of troop movements and battles. You would expect that. What you might not expect is vibrant prose and clear descriptions that are engaging in a way not usually found in books about warfare.

Patchan tells about the troop movements as if he were a journalist witnessing the action. There is nothing dry or academic in this narrative. It will transport you to the lower Shenandoah Valley in 1864.

And there are maps . No book about battlefields and the movement of two armies and their many divisions should be without maps — lots of maps.

Another distinction of Patchan’s book is his use of the prose style of the Cult of the Civil War.

Sheridan is often referred to as “the Ohioan ” or “Little Phil” or the “little Irishman from Somerset, Ohio.” George Armstrong Custer is sometimes called the “blond cavalry officer.” And Confederate soldiers are called “butternuts,” a reference to the color of their uniforms.

The use of sobriquets is common among Civil War enthusiasts. It shows a level of familiarity and camaraderie that one soldier feels for another. It establishes “street cred” among the true believers, and it provides a kind of charm distinctive to the genre. The use of contemporaneous slang also enhances the descriptive power of the author by re-creating the atmosphere of the time.

If there is a fault in the book, it is the Monday-morning quarterbacking that also is a characteristic of people who study war. After any battle, everybody is a better general than the man in the field — especially if the battle is almost 150 years old.

To deflect some of Patchan’s criticism of Sheridan, consider this defense: Sheridan was developing a new means of using the disparate units of his army as a solidified force, not as separate units fighting in the field, but as a cohesive fighting force. This new use of an army was pioneered by Sheridan during the campaign from Winchester in 1864 until Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender in April 1865.

The “missed opportunities” for complete defeat and the resulting prolonged war also appears to be part of the overall philosophy of utter and total defeat which would discourage soldiers and citizens from trying to restart the war.

As Sheridan said to Prussia’s Otto von Bismark in 1870, “the people must be left nothing but their eyes to weep with after the war.” One way to accomplish that is to drive an army to the point that it begs for the opportunity to surrender.

What matters with “The Last Battle of Winchester” is that this book is an excellent account of the facts of the battle. It evokes emotions associated with the warfare. At times, Patchan’s descriptions of battle will make your heart race as if you were in the field yourself. The plentiful graphics help you keep your bearings.

One strong benefit for local readers is the depiction of Early, especially when Patchan exposes his sense of humor. One such incident involved Maj. Gen. John Breckinridge — a Kentuckian — who, having heard many references to first families of Virginia, asked what happened to the state’s “second families.”

Early overheard the questions and offered an answer : “They all moved to Kentucky.”

Patchan always finds time to clearly explain the overall strategies of both sides of the conflict as each tried for decisive victories in the field while protecting their respective capital cities and their valuable railways. Strategy for the United States included a need for significant victory in the Shenandoah Valley in order to support efforts to re-elect President Abraham Lincoln.

Read this book. If you are a Civil War buff, the battlefield action will excite you. If you are interested in history, knowing more about a campaign that helped the survival of the United States will enlighten you. If you are neither, the prose will delight you. If you travel through the Shenandoah Valley, the vivid description of the scenery and what happened there 150 years ago will ignite your imagination so you will have a new appreciation for ground over which you travel.


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The Battle of Moorefield

As part of my Thanksgiving break, I had the opportunity to stop in Moorefield, West Virginia and films some takes for filmmaker Jon Averill. He is a distant relative of Brig. Gen. William Woods Averell, the Department of West Virginia’s great cavalry raider in 1863 and 1864.

In August of 1864, Brig. Gen. John McCausland’s force of two brigades of Confederate cavalry camped near Moorefield to rest after his infamous raid which resulted in the burning of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. While McCausland had about 2,600 men in his force, Averell tracked him down with no more than 1, 500 Union horsemen, from West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York.  Averell’s scouts dressed in Confederate uniforms and relieved Confederate pickets and captured a southern patrol heading out of Moorefield early on the morning of August 7. Then they charged into the Confederate camps and routed Brig. Gen. Bradley Johnson’s command encamped around Willow Hall, driving it back across the South Branch of the Potomac River.

At the river the 14th Virginia Cavalry charged out of McCausland’s camp on the south bank of the river and a wild saber and pistol fight occurred in mid-stream. Averell’s horsemen soon put McCausland’s brigade to flight and the entire force was routed. Averell captured more than 400 prisoners and four pieces of artillery. The defeat shattered the core of Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early’s Cavalry at the very time that U. S. Grant was sending Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan to the Shenandoah Valley.

Prior to Moorefield, McCausland’s brigade had rendered good serv

ice at the battles of

Jon Averill, Scott Patchan, Nick Korolev, and Rick Byrd at Reynold’s Gap. Averell’s Cavalry passed through this narrow gap on its way to attack McCausland’s Cavalry at Moorefield. (Photo courtesy of Jon Averill)

Monocacy and Second Kernstown. Johnson’s brigade had previously improved itself under its former commander, Brig. Gen. William E. Jon

es who was killed at the Battle of Piedmont on June 5, 1864. What progress these troops had made, was lost in the demoralizing defeat at Moorefield. I

n many ways, Moorefield was a preview of what was to come in the Shenandoah Valley. There is one significant qualifier – Sheridan’s Cavalry in the Valley

overwhelmed their Southern counterparts through sheer force of numbers. Averell had used stealth and lightning quick strikes to achieve victo

ry not only at Moorefield, but also at Rutherford’s Farm (Stephenson’s Depot) on July 20, where he routed Confederate Gen. Stephen D. Ramseur. Ramseur had more

than 4,000 men in his force while again Averell was outgunned, having only 2,600 to take into the fight.


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My New Book has Been Released: The Battle of Piedmont and Hunter’s Raid on Staunton

Finally, after many years of continued research, my work on the Battle of Piedmont is in print. I have updated it based upon new research and spent a lot of time improving the writing. The maps are great and there are a lot of them as well as pictures of the battlefield and important sights in the Valley. Hannah Cassilly and Ryan Finn, my editors at the HistoryPress, are to be commended for their assistance in breathing new life into this project. I recommend it for all, even if you have Forgotten Fury. It is available at Amazon:


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The 1864 Valley Campaign – St. Patrick’s Day Post – Col. James A. Mulligan

Welcome to my blog on the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign. My name is Scott Patchan and I have studied this topic in intricate detail for nearly twenty-five years. Over the course of that time, I have written three books on the topic, The Forgotten Fury: The Battle of Piedmont; Shenandoah Summer:  The 1864 Valley Campaign; and Opequon Creek: The Last Battle of Winchester. I also served as an historical consultant for Time-Life’s Voices of the Civil War: Shenandoah 1864 and have written dozens of articles and led dozens of tours on Valley Topics, not to mention my scores of visits to Valley battlefields. I have served on the Kernstown Battlefield Association Board of Directors for nearly ten years now.

My purpose in writing this blog is to move beyond the bounds of traditional publications and share aspects of my research with fellow Civil War enthusiasts that might not otherwise see the light of day. Having met so many good friends over the years in the course of my research, I hope to make many more through this blog. With my inaugural post coming on Saint Patrick’s Day, I thought it appropriate to delve briefly into the life of Colonel James A. Mulligan who gave his life for the Union Blue on the green fields of Kernstown on July 24, 1864.

Mulligan was born to Irish parents in Utica, New York on June 25, 1830, but the family moved to budding frontier town of Chicago, Illinois in 1836. His father died while he was still young but his mother subsequently married a successful Irish farmer

Col. James A. Mulligan

whose largess later allowed Mulligan to attend college. Of his youth in Chicago, Mulligan looked back fondly upon his “halcyon days when we hunted pigeons and hoed corn, [and] sparked the girls in mellow sunshine.” Mulligan also grew up to be a devout and practicing Roman Catholic, graduating from the University of Saint Mary’s of the Lake in 1850, quite an accomplishment for the son of immigrants in those days.

After graduation he studied law in Chicago, but yearned for adventure. He found it in 1851 when he joined an expedition that was surveying the path for a railroad across the Isthmus of Panama, serving as clerk for the project. When he returned home in 1852, he resumed his legal studies. In 1855, he became the editor of The Western Tablet, a Catholic newspaper published out of Chicago. The following year, Mulligan gained admission to the Illinois Bar and began practicing long. He soon became a rising star on Chicago’s Democratic political scene, becoming associated with the powerful Senator Stephen A. Douglas. Mulligan moved to Washington and spent a year clerking at the Department of the Interior but determined he had had “enough” of Washington and went home to Illinois.

In 1857, Mulligan met the beautiful Marian Nugent and made her his “Darling Wife” after two year courtship. In 1860, Mulligan used his powerful oratorical skills to campaign for Douglas in the presidential election. When the Southern States began to secede from the Union upon Lincoln’s election, Mulligan wrote, “ Dare now to preserve this government, vindicate its strength and the republic passed through this crisis will stand with such assured dignity and firmness through all the coming centuries, that no foe without, no Judas within shall ever dare raise an armed hand against her.” He then used his powerful personae to raise “Mulligan’s Irish Brigade” from Northern Illinois with one company of Detroit Irish thrown in for good measure.

The unit subsequently was designated the 23rd Illinois Volunteer Infantry and saw its first action at the Siege of Lexington, Missouri in September of 1861. When the firing briefly ceased, Confederate General Sterling Price sent note asking Mulligan why the firing stopped. Although vastly outnumbered, Mulligan coyly replied, “General, I hardly know unless you have surrendered.” Although Mulligan ultimately surrendered his outgunned forces, he became a symbol of hope against long odds at a time the north had endured shameful defeats at Bull Run in Virginia and Wilson’s Creek in Missouri.

After being exchanged, Mulligan and his men spent the next two years guarding the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in West Virginia. Although he longed to join the Army of the Potomac’s famed Irish Brigade, it was not to be. Nevertheless, in the spring of 1864, Mulligan and his men signed up for another tour of duty when their enlistments expired, lured no doubt by the opportunity for a thirty-day furlough home.

Mulligan returned to action in time to resist the General Jubal Early’s Confederate raid on Washington, D.C. and assist in the pursuit back to the Virginia. On July 24, 1864, Mulligan led his command at the Second Battle of Kernstown. Although he warned his commander, General George Crook, that the Confederate army was in full force, Mulligan received orders to attack. Mulligan questioned the orders through a staff officer but was told in no uncertain terms to advance immediately. He complied and the results were disastrous. Mulligan rallied his Irish Brigade and 10th West Virginia infantry behind a fence lining a lane on the Pritchard Farm. As he rode behind his battle line urging the men to stand firm, a Rebel bullet struck his leg. His men lowered him from his horse but he was struck in the torso by two more bullets before they placed him on the ground. His 19-year old brother in law, Lieutenant James Nugent came to his aid only to be shot and killed instantly. Mulligan’s men refused to leave him so he ordered them to “Lay me down and save the flag.” He died in the Pritchard House two days later.

His pregnant wife Marian left their two young children with a Unionist family in Cumberland, Maryland and rushed to Winchester but by the time she arrived he had already died. Thousands of people awaited the arrival of Mulligan’s remains at the Chicago Rail Station and even more attended his wake and funeral.

For all of Mulligan’s popularity while he was alive, he quickly vanished from the pages of history. Yet his devotion to God, Family and Country like that of so many who have given their lives for American liberty lives on to this day in the daily lives of millions of Americans as they go about their daily lives.

For further reading see:
Shenandoah Summer: The 1864 Valley Campaign by Scott C. Patchan


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