Gen. Early’s loss at Third Winchester opened the Shenandoah Valley to Union destruction and Gen. Sheridan lost no time in dispatching his troops south to lay waste the land and the harvest Early’s troops had been protecting.
Sheridan reported setting ablaze more than 70 mills and 2,000 barns from Staunton in the south about 60 miles north to Strasburg, in what became known to Valley natives as the “Burning,” or “Red October.” The skies were dark with smoke.
It was federal policy to destroy all subsistence, all animal forage, and all farming implements. Only dwellings were to be spared, though, inevitably, some were burned. The roads were clogged with refugees.
“Carry off stock of all descriptions, and negroes, so as to prevent further planting,” Gen. Grant reiterated to Sheridan, according to independent historian Shelby Foote. “If this war is to last another year we want the Shenandoah Valley to remain a barren waste.”
Kershaw’s Division, including the 13th Regiment, had returned from Gordonsville too late to participate in Early’s third loss to Sheridan on Sept. 21, at Fisher’s Hill, southwest of Strasburg.
The 13th regiment was well south of there, more than 65 miles away, at Port Republic, about 15 miles northeast of Staunton. But Early’s troops soon had retreated to Staunton and the 13th was subsequently involved with them in skirmishes with the Yankees near Rockfish Gap and Brown’s Gap.
Gen. Lee encouraged Early to keep trying to drive Sheridan from the Valley. In an October 12 letter, Lee told Early: “You had better move against him and endeavor to crush him. … I do not think Sheridan’s infantry or cavalry numerically as large as you suppose.”
The Yankees nevertheless outnumbered Early’s army by almost 2 to 1. Yet he was determined to avenge the Valley’s destruction and his own reputation. He would soon get his chance.