Confederate general Jubal Early had a mission in the summer of 1864. It was to keep Union troops in the northern Shenandoah Valley sufficiently occupied to prevent their being sent to the Richmond-Petersburg area where Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee stood at a stalemate. It would also keep the fertile valley in rebel hands, allowing its bountiful crops and livestock to continue to feed Lee’s besieged troops.
General Grant found these policies unacceptable and charged Philip H. Sheridan, his Federal cavalry commander, with removing Early from the Valley. Sheridan would also remove anything that could be used to sustain Lee’s army in eastern Virginia.
Edgar Peirce, a member of Pennsylvania’s 14th Cavalry Regiment, writes in his memoirs of “driving off all cattle, sheep, and horses.” On October 2, his regiment, driving “a number of thousand of sheep and a large drove of very fine cattle and hogs,” crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains from the Shenandoah Valley into the Luray Valley. When they reached the east branch of the Shenandoah River, the sheep “concluded not to cross.”
Following an hour of futile attempts to initiate ovine aquatics, the men of the 14th literally took matters into their own hands. “We put a line of men clear across the river and tossed the sheep from one to another until the whole drove was across,” writes Peirce.
Needless to say, the cavalrymen did not enjoy this experience. Perhaps the sheep didn’t think much of it either. Peirce records that four days later, when faced with another crossing, his regiment “had no difficulty with our sheep this time in crossing the river.”
Thanks to Fred and Carol Lockard for sharing Edgar Peirce’s Civil War Journal with me.
Peirce was Fred’s great, great grandfather.