The first Army of the Shenandoah is an unofficial designation given to troops who served in the Shenandoah Valley in 1861 and 1862 during the Civil War. The army traces its roots to General Orders No. 12 issued by the U.S. War Department on April 27, 1861. The order created three military departments, including the Department of Pennsylvania, commanded by Major General Robert Patterson. Most of Patterson’s troops comprised three-month enlistments from the states of Pennsylvania and New York.
A few months later, on July 19, 1861, the War Department issued General Orders No. 46, announcing that it would honorably discharge Patterson from service on July 27, when his tour of duty expired. The order also stated that Major General Nathaniel Banks, “will proceed to the Valley of Virginia and assume command of the Army now under Major General Patterson, when that department will be called the Department of the Shenandoah.” Banks took command on July 25, 1861.
The Department of the Shenandoah was short-lived. On August 20, 1861, Major General George B. McClellan issued General Orders No. 1, Department of the Potomac, stating:
In accordance with General Order, No. 15, of August 17th, 1861, from the Headquarters of the Army, I hereby assume command of the Army of the Potomac, comprising the troops serving’ in the former Departments of Washington and Northeastern Virginia, in the valley of the Shenandoah, and in the States of Maryland and Delaware.
Despite persistent entreaties from President Lincoln for action, McClellan spent the next several months drilling the troops under his command. After six months of inactivity, Lincoln attempted to shake things up, on March 8, 1862, by issuing President’s General War Order No.2, directing that the reorganization of Army of the Potomac into five army corps. Banks’ previous command comprised the 5th army corps. On March 13, McClellan issued General Orders No. 151, Army of the Potomac, implementing Lincoln’s directive.
Soon thereafter, the War Department reorganized the Department of the Shenandoah. On April 4, 1862, it issued General Orders No. 34, stating, “That portion of Virginia and Maryland lying between the Mountain Department and the Blue Ridge, shall constitute a Military Department to be called the Department of the Shenandoah and be under the command of Major General Banks.”
Merged with the Army of Virginia
This iteration of the Department of the Shenandoah was also short-lived. On June 26, 1862, President Lincoln issued a presidential proclamation creating the Army of Virginia, commanded by Major General John Pope. Lincoln’s directive specified that “the troops of the Shenandoah Department, now under General Banks, shall constitute the Second Army Corps” of the Army of Virginia.
During the several brief histories of the first Department of the Shenandoah, there is no evidence that either Patterson or Banks ever officially referred to the troops under their command as the Army of the Shenandoah.