early 1862, Southern morale was low. The Union had won significant battles at
Shiloh and Fort Donaldson under Ulysses S. Grant, and pressure was mounting on Richmond
as McClellan approached from the southeast and McDowell approached from the
north. This pressure on Richmond and loss of Confederate morale were some of
the reasons why the valley campaign occurred – the Confederacy needed a boost
in morale if the war was to continue, and it also needed to take the “heat” off
of Richmond, lest the Union capture it and bring the war to a conclusion.
these weren’t the only reasons why General Jackson chose to campaign in the
Shenandoah valley. Shenandoah valley offered a few advantages to invading
Confederates. First, a Northern army invading through the valley could be easily
attacked. Confederate forces controlled the area around the valley (Virginia)
and could make attacks on invading Northern armies through mountain passes into
the valley. Second, the valley provided a protected path for Confederate
troops, placing them only 60 miles from Washington D.C., the Union capitol. But
the valley was not so advantageous for Union armies. Not only would a Northern
army be susceptible to ambush, but the valley also put Union armies farther
away from Richmond.
taking the Valley from the Confederacy would be a significant tactical victory
for the Union. The Valley was also rich in livestock, which were used to supply
Virginia’s and the Confederate capital of Richmond. Furthermore, if Union
forces reached the southern end of the valley, they would threaten the Virginia
and Tennessee railroad, which brought vital resources to Richmond from the Mississippi
short, whichever side controlled the valley had a significant advantage.
Nathaniel P. Banks, progressing through the valley, was dangerously close to
achieving these strategic advantages for the Union, and the Confederacy
couldn’t afford to give the Union that advantage if it was to survive. Thus,
the stage was set for General Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley campaign.