The Shenandoah Valley
| The Shenandoah Valley was important strategically for a number of reasons. Running in a northeast southwest direction, it was a natural avenue of approach for the Confederates to threaten Washington. Protected by the Blue Ridge Mountains on the east and the Alleghenies on the west with cavalry guarding the few passes or gaps, an invading force could make its way without difficulty northward to Harpers Ferry, 60 miles from Washington. On the contrary, it would work to the disadvantage of a Union force seeking to capture Richmond, for the farther south the Yankee invaders went, the greater distance would intervene between them and the Confederate capital. Should the Confederates desire to bypass Washington and invade the North, the Valley offered a well-protected supply line. Two railroads, the Manassas Gap and Virginia Central, pierced this region from the east, thus facilitating the movement of men and supplies. At the northern end of the Valley the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal served the Union. Vitally important communications for the Federals, these arteries were continually exposed to hit-and-run attacks. Finally the productivity of the rich limestone soil furnished the Southerners with so many foodstuffs that the Valley became appropriately dubbed the “Grainery of the Confederacy”. In the early stages of the war the farmers of the Valley were called upon for large quantities of supply,which they gave heartily. Grain, orchards, and livestock were in great abundance. The Confederates came to be all but totally dependent upon the produce of the area.|
The Shenandoah River, which gives the region its name, is divided into its north and south Forks. Flowing parallel for about 50 miles, these two streams unite near Front Royal, where they become known jointly as the Shenandoah. Continuing its northerly direction, this stream unites with the Potomac at Harpers Ferry. Under the latter name, the waters continue their relentless march to the sea after passing the Federal capitol at Washington. One important geographical feature is a mountain range called Massanutten which splits the Valley for a distance of 50 miles. The western valley retains the name Shenandoah while the eastern one is usually called the Luray or Page Valley. The existence of the Massanutten in particular, was to enable Jackson to play hide-and-seek with his adversaries who were generally strangers to the region and unfamiliar with with its topographical features.
In the spring of 1862 the Valley was the scene of one of the most brilliant campaigns in history. It was a campaign that made Confederate General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson the hero of the South and a legend in his own time.