Battle of Fisher’s Hill Summary
The Battle of Fisher’s Hill was a military engagement between the United States of America and the Confederate States of America from September 21–22, 1864, near the town of Strasburg, Virginia. The United States won the battle, which was part of Philip Sheridan’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign. The victory led to the “The Burning” of the Shenandoah Valley by Sheridan’s Union forces.
Quick Facts About the Battle of Fisher’s Hill
- Date Started: The battle started on Wednesday, September 21, 1864.
- Date Ended: The fighting ended on September 22, 1864.
- Location: The battle took place near Strasburg, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley.
- Civil War Campaign: The Battle of Fisher’s Hill was part of the Shenandoah Campaign of 1864.
- Who Won: The United States of America won the Battle of Fisher’s Hill.
Events that Led to the Battle of Fisher’s Hill
Grant’s Umbrella Strategy
On March 12, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln appointed Ulysses S. Grant as General-in-Chief of the Armies of the United States. Upon his arrival in Washington, Grant drafted a plan to have the various Union armies in the field to act in concert and strike the Confederacy from several directions. Grant would travel with Major General George Meade and the Army of the Potomac in pursuit of General Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia in the Richmond, Virginia area; Major General William T. Sherman would march three Federal armies south from Chattanooga, Tennessee to capture Atlanta, Georgia; and Major General Franz Sigel would invade western Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley to cut off supplies to Lee’s army and to prevent any Confederate attempts to attack Meade’s flank.
Early Invades the Shenandoah Valley
As Grant pressed Lee in Eastern Virginia during the spring and summer, the Confederate general devised a plan to divert Union forces away from his army. Lee designated Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s corps as the Army of the Valley and in June he ordered Early to re-deploy his army from Petersburg to the Shenandoah Valley. On June 17–18, Early’s army defeated Major General David Hunter’s Union forces at the Battle of Lynchburg, leaving control of the valley in Confederate hands. Early then launched his own offensive, invading Maryland and eventually threatening Washington, DC before being forced to retreat to the Shenandoah Valley.
Early’s successes in Maryland threatened President Lincoln’s re-election bid in November. Coupled with Grant’s mounting casualty totals in Eastern Virginia, Southerners had good reason to hope that the Northern electorate might opt for a peace candidate and a negotiated settlement with the Confederacy to end the war.
Grant Sends Sheridan into the Valley
On August 1, Grant sent Major General Philip Sheridan to the Shenandoah Valley to deal with Early. A week later, on August 8, Grant placed Sheridan in charge of the newly created Army of the Shenandoah. Grant ordered Sheridan to destroy Early’s army and to:
Do all the damage to railroads and crops you can. Carry off stock of all descriptions… so as to prevent further planting. If the war is to last another year, we want the Shenandoah Valley to remain a barren waste.
Sheridan succeeded at both.
Battle of Opequon, The Third Battle of Winchester
Initially, Sheridan was slow to act because false intelligence reports led him to believe that Early’s army was much larger than it really was. After receiving more accurate information regarding the size and deployment of Early’s army, Sheridan attacked the Rebels near Winchester, Virginia. On September 19, Sheridan’s army dealt the Confederates a severe blow at the Third Battle of Winchester, which is also known as the Battle of Opequon, forcing Early to retreat south.
Confederate Defenses at Fisher’s Hill
Early halted his retreat on September 20 and established a defensive line at Fisher’s Hill, south of Strasberg. At Fisher’s Hill, the Shenandoah Valley narrows to a width of about four miles. Protected on each side by mountains, the hill features a high slope that faces north. Early believed that the site’s natural features gave his small army the best chance to check Sheridan’s movement up the valley. With enough soldiers, Early may have been correct, but his army was not large enough to defend a four-mile front. As one Rebel defender later reminisced, “The position was a very strong one, but our army was too small to man it.”
Union Forces Attack Fisher’s Hill
Sheridan grasped Early’s dilemma and determined to move against the Confederates while they were vulnerable. On the night of September 20, Sheridan and Major General George Crook devised a plan to crush Early’s army. The next day, most of Sheridan’s army advanced on the Rebel center, feinting a frontal attack.
With Early’s attention focused on the center, Crook marched two divisions (5,000 soldiers) undetected around the Confederate left flank. At about 4 p.m. on September 22, Crook’s soldiers smashed into the Rebels who quickly fell back in confusion. As the left end of Early’s line collapsed, Sheridan advanced the rest of his army, spurring a general Confederate retreat.
Confederates Withdraw from Fisher’s Hill
With his army now decimated and demoralized by two overwhelming defeats within three days, Early had no choice but to get his army away from Sheridan or face annihilation. He retreated south nearly 100 miles to Rockfish Gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Outcome of the Battle of Fisher’s Hill
The result of the Battle of Fisher’s Hill was a Union victory and the defeat was a crushing blow to the Confederacy. Early’s small army suffered over 1,200 casualties (killed, wounded, and captured/missing), which it could ill-afford. The Federals suffered just over 500 casualties.
The Burning of the Shenandoah Valley
After Early’s army retreated, Sheridan had control of the Shenandoah Valley. Starting on September 26, 1864, Sheridan conducted an operation that laid waste to the valley for 13 days. Known as “The Burning,” Sheridan claimed to have slaughtered thousands of sheep, hogs, and cattle and to have burned “2,000 barns filled with wheat, hay, and farming implements [and] over seventy mills filled with flour and wheat.” Sheridan’s campaign denied the Confederacy of supplies that were much needed on other fronts. However, it was brutal, and even shocked some of Sheridan’s men. Colonel James H. Kill, who was in the brigade under the command of George A. Custer, wrote:
What I saw there is burned into my memory. The anguish pictured in their faces would have melted any heart not seared by the horrors and ‘necessities’ of war. It was too much for me and at the first moment that duty would permit I hurried from the scene.
Significance of the Battle of Fisher’s Hill
The Battle of Fisher’s Hill was important because Early’s retreat opened the central Shenandoah Valley to Sheridan’s scorched earth offensive known as “The Burning.”
Facts About the Battle of Fisher’s Hill
This section provides an overview of the important facts about the Battle of Fisher’s Hill, including key dates, commanders, casualties, and the military units that were involved.
- The battle occurred from September 21–22, 1864
- Shenandoah County, Virginia, near Strasburg
Principal Union Commanders
- Major General Philip Sheridan
Principal Confederate Commanders
- Lietenant General Jubal A. Early
Union Forces Engaged
- Army of the Shenandoah
Confederate Forces Engaged
- Army of Vallley
Number of Union Soldiers Engaged
- Roughly 29,444
Number of Confederate Soldiers Engaged
- Roughly 9,500
- 528 (51 killed, 477 wounded)
- 1,235 (30 killed, 300 wounded, roughly 1,000 captured)
- Union victory
- Confederate forces withdrew from the Shenandoah Valley
Fisher’s Hill and the Shenandoah Valley Campaign for AP US History
Timeline of the Battle of Fisher’s Hill
These are the main battles and events of the Civil War and the Shenandoah Valley Campaign that led to the Battle of Fisher’s Hill.
- May 15, 1864 — Battle of New Market
- June 5, 1864 — Battle of Piedmont
- June 17–18, 1864 — Battle of Lynchburg
- July 9, 1864 — Battle of Monocacy
- July 11–12, 1864 — Battle of Fort Stevens
- September 19, 1864 — Battle of Opequon
- September 22, 1864 — Battle of Fisher’s Hill
- October 9, 1864 — Battle of Tom’s Brook
- October 19, 1864 — Battle of Cedar Creek