By Roy Morris Jr. Phil Sheridan had a bad feeling. The bantam-sized Union general always trusted his instincts, and now, in mid-October 1864, those instincts were telling him that trouble was brewing back at the front, where his Army of the Shenandoah was encamped near Cedar Creek, Virginia, resting and relaxing after a busy few weeks burning civilian farms and slaughtering thousands of head of livestock from Staunton north to Woodstock. The premeditated orgy of destruction, which residents of the Shenandoah Valley would remember for decades afterward as “The Burning,” was intended to deny food and supplies to the hard-pressed Confederate defenders in the valley. It had been presaged by two significant victories by Sheridan’s forces in the past month, at Winchester and Fisher’s Hill, opening the way for Union troops to devastate the region known as “the Confederacy’s breadbasket.” “When this is completed,” Sheridan had boasted to his superiors in Washington, “the Valley will have but little in it for man or beast.” While his soldiers looted and burned, Sheridan rode behind them in a jaunty two-seat wagon, waving a cigar and urging them on. Sheridan’s forces now were camped near the historic Belle Grove plantation, a colonial-era mansion that had been the home of Major Isaac Hite, brother-in-law of President James Madison and friendly neighbor of President Thomas Jefferson, who had personally designed the limestone dwelling for Hite in 1794. While the


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