Document Type

Honors Project

First Advisor

Dr. Stephen Longenecker

Degree Award Date

Spring 2009


Civil War, Shenandoah Valley, total war, war tactics


History | Military History | United States History


During the devastating four years of the American Civil War, there was a shift from the traditional approach of war tactics to the all-encompassing strategy of total war. Total war tactics were used throughout the Northern and Southern states but a clear demonstration of total war took place in the Shenandoah Valley. Both on the home front and the battlefields the practice of total war could be seen among soldiers and civilians. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's Valley campaign in 1862 included mostly traditional tactics of warfare involving a relatively small number of men and few encounters with civilians. As the war progressed, there was evidence of changing attitudes towards the prolonged war. Most people in the North and South grew weary of the wartime struggle, and commanders altered their tactics to bring a swifter end to the fighting. Both the Northern and Southern armies went to great lengths to push forward to victory. Philip Sheridan's 1864 Valley campaign confirmed the North's desire to end the war through methods such as burning the Valley to counteract the South's use of guerrilla warfare. The campaign called for both Sheridan and Jubal Early to campaign with large numbers of men, which triggered massive battles and caused severe casualties. Throughout the two campaigns, total war was pursued by not only the armies but also by the government. Through strict conscription laws, creation of a new currency, and overriding the local administration, the Confederate government inflicted total war on the Valley. Citizens faced constant oppression from the invading armies and the constant interference of the government. The survival of the armies depended on civilian involvement, but civilian participation blurred the line between the home front and the war, causing total war to destroy the Shenandoah Valley. The progression of war created desperation in both the North and South, which initiated the desire to enact total war, causing the Shenandoah Valley to be devastated.