On April 29, 1864 Union general Franz Sigel was ordered up the Shenandoah Valley by General Ulysses Grant during Grant’s campaign to get to the Confederate capitol at Richmond in 1864. While Grant was fighting Robert E. Lee at the Wilderness, he wanted Sigel to capture the breadbasket of the Confederacy. The movement of Sigel’s army through the valley can be described as slow at best, as it took three days to cover the twenty-two mile span between Martinsburg, West Virginia and Winchester, Virginia. The army stopped frequently and patrols were sent out at the rumor of enemy presence in the area. Once they reached Winchester Sigel stopped to drill his men for several days. While in Winchester drilling and conducting mock battles the army’s supply trains from Martinsburg were captured, most notably by the 43rd Virginia Cavalry under Lieutenant Colonel John S. Mosby, including Sigel’s personal supply train. Confederate cavalry under Captain John H. McNeill destroyed the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad’s repair shop and storage yard on May 5 while Sigel’s army sat in Winchester.
At this point Confederate general John Daniel Imboden, who was positioned on the 2,300-foot crest at the north end of Massanutten knew every movement of Sigel’s army. Imboden’s cavalry was responsible for slowing down the advance of Sigel’s army towards Staunton, Virginia, which was seventy miles southwest of Sigel’s latest stopping point at Strasburg, Virginia. Imboden knew if he could keep the Union army’s patrols busy Sigel would not advance his forces. The best strategy, according to Imboden was, “to attack these detachments as far from Strasburg as possible and delay their return as long as possible.” On May 9 Imboden’s forces set out and ambushed the Union patrols, causing 150 casualties between two armies that were thirty miles apart and further slowing the movement of Sigel’s army.
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