The Battle of Hanover Court House

May 27, 1862 – A small engagement on the Virginia Peninsula secured Major General George B. McClellan’s right flank and increased the Federal threat to Richmond.

When Major General Richard Ewell’s division had gone to reinforce the Confederates in the Shenandoah Valley, one brigade under Brigadier General Lawrence O. Branch stayed behind. Branch’s Confederates were at Hanover Court House, a village just south of the Pamunkey River, about 15 miles north of Richmond. Their mission was to protect the vital Virginia Central Railroad, which linked eastern Virginia to the Valley.

McClellan had learned from locals that a force of 17,000 Confederates was moving toward Hanover to get into the Federal rear. He dispatched cavalry to confirm the news. The troopers reported just 3,000 Confederates there, but that could be enough to threaten McClellan’s right flank.

General Fitz John Porter, commanding V Corps on the right flank, directed Colonel Gouverneur Warren’s brigade to scout in more detail. The Federals advanced on Hanover in heavy rain and mud, unaware that Branch had pulled his pickets back. Some Federals stumbled upon the new Confederate camp and were fired on around 12 p.m.

Battle of Hanover Court House | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Battle of Hanover Court House | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Branch tried attacking the Federal front based on his cavalry’s report that it was weak. It was not. The Confederates were repulsed, as Federals in other sectors hurried to shore up that point. Both sides scrambled for cover and continued exchanging fire. The Federals began running low on ammunition when the rest of the division arrived to reinforce them.

Unable to hold off a division with his lone brigade, Branch fell back at dusk. Porter tried pursuing, but the Confederate rear guard held him off. The Federals suffered 365 casualties (62 killed, 233 wounded, and 70 captured). The Confederates lost about 1,000, including 730 taken prisoner during the withdrawal. The Federals tore up railroad tracks and burned bridges as they returned to their lines.

McClellan wrote his wife that evening:

“We are getting on splendidly. I am quietly clearing out everything that could threaten my rear and communications, providing against the contingency of disaster, and so arranging as to make my whole force available in the approaching battle. The only fear is that Joe’s (Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston) heart may fail him.”

McClellan also held high praise for this engagement after the war, calling it “one of the handsomest things of the war, both in itself and in its results.” To him, this was “a glorious victory over superior numbers,” even though the Federals vastly outnumbered the Confederates in the fight. Also, this engagement did nothing to change the situation on the Peninsula except to assure McClellan that his right flank remained secure. Meanwhile, his left (and weaker) flank remained isolated on the other side of the Chickahominy River.

Meanwhile, Johnston received intelligence that Major General Irvin McDowell’s Federals, advancing from near Fredericksburg, were now within 30 miles of reaching Porter’s flank, with advance elements within 30 miles of Hanover Court House. To the Confederates, the engagement at Hanover indicated that McClellan was extending his flank to meet McDowell’s. It seemed that the noose around Richmond was tightening.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (27 May 1862); Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 443; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 158; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3466

Federals Vulnerable on the Peninsula

May 26, 1862 – Confederate victories in the Shenandoah Valley prevented Federal reinforcements from reaching Major General George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac. This left McClellan in a vulnerable position on the Peninsula.

Gens G.B. McClellan and J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Gens G.B. McClellan and J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The right flank of General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate army stood about five miles from Richmond across the Charles City road. The Confederate defense line ran northward to the Chickahominy River, with the left flank near the capital’s northeastern outskirts. There were scattered Confederate outposts north of the Chickahominy, but none farther north than Mechanicsville. Johnston officially reported having 53,688 officers and men, which was less than half the approaching Federal Army of the Potomac.

President Jefferson Davis wrote Johnston that he was alarmed to see he had made no defensive preparations along the Mechanicsville turnpike in case the Federals decided to move “toward if not to Richmond” from that road. Davis and his top advisor, General Robert E. Lee, rode out to Johnston’s headquarters at Mechanicsville, just six miles northeast of Richmond, to discuss the matter.

Johnston explained that he had fallen back across the Chickahominy to put the river in his front rather than his rear. He also moved the troops closer to Richmond because that area provided more adequate drinking water. Davis expressed concern that if the Federals broke Johnston’s line, they could march into Richmond within two hours. Davis was also annoyed that Johnston seemed to have no plan other than just trying to hold the Federals back.

Meanwhile, McClellan continued arguing with President Abraham Lincoln over the conditions that Lincoln had placed on Major General Irvin McDowell’s Federals joining McClellan on the Peninsula. McClellan wrote:

“I desire that the extent of my authority over McDowell may be clearly defined, lest misunderstandings and conflicting views may produce some of those injurious results which a divided command has so often caused. I would respectfully suggest that this danger can only be surely guarded against by explicitly placing General McDowell under my orders in the ordinary way, and holding me strictly responsible for the closest observance of your instructions.”

While McClellan awaited Lincoln’s response, he received a dispatch from McDowell: “I have received the orders of the President to move with the army under my command and co-operate with yours in the reduction of Richmond.” McDowell could not move until reinforced by Brigadier General James Shields’s 9,000-man division. He expected Shields to arrive soon, enabling his army to begin moving toward McClellan on the 24th. McDowell also asked if McClellan could help block the retreat of the small Confederate force opposing him along the Fredericksburg & Richmond Railroad.

On the 22nd, Lincoln left Washington to confer with McDowell on the Rappahannock River. Admiral John A. Dahlgren and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton joined the president. McDowell showed the Lincoln party an 80-foot-long trestle bridge standing 100 feet above a wide ravine of Potomac Creek.

The bridge had been built from felled trees by engineer Herman Haupt’s Construction Corps. Working around the clock, it took them just 21 days to complete it. The bridge enabled trains to deliver supplies from the mouth of Aquia Creek on the Potomac River to Falmouth, 13 miles away, every hour. Lincoln walked across the bridge, but Stanton became dizzy halfway across and had to be helped back to land by Dahlgren.

Back on the Peninsula, McClellan arrayed his army along a line meant to attack Johnston’s Confederates. The new Federal V Corps under General Fitz John Porter advanced near Mechanicsville, with II and VI corps under Generals Edwin V. Sumner and William B. Franklin northwest of the Chickahominy. General Erasmus D. Keyes’s IV Corps was south of the Chickahominy at Seven Pines, about six miles east of Richmond, with General Samuel P. Heintzelman’s III Corps five miles behind Keyes. Federals on the far left and right of the line were so close to Richmond they could hear church bells ringing.

As Davis had feared, the Federals took Mechanicsville, which would enable McClellan to link his right with McDowell’s left. Johnston met with Davis in Richmond but still had no plan of action. It seemed that the capital could be saved only if either Johnston attacked preemptively or McDowell failed to join with McClellan. McClellan, still believing he was outnumbered, opted to wait for more troops before pushing forward.

To the Confederates’ good fortune, Lincoln decided to suspend McDowell’s march to join McClellan in response to the Federal defeat at Front Royal in the Shenandoah Valley. Instead, McDowell’s “object will be to capture the forces of Jackson & Ewell” by sending 20,000 Federals to support the armies of Major Generals Nathaniel P. Banks and John C. Fremont in the Valley.

Knowing that such a decision would cause great resentment among the Federal high command, Lincoln asked Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase to help explain to McDowell why this was being done. Lincoln wrote, “It will be a very valuable and very honorable service for General McDowell to cut them off. I hope he will put all possible energy and speed into the effort.” Chase replied, “General McDowell appreciates, as you do, the importance of the service he is called on to perform. All possible exertion is being made by him and the officers under him to expedite the movement.”

Lincoln then wrote McClellan explaining the necessity of withholding McDowell yet again: “In consequence of Gen. Banks’ critical position I have been compelled to suspend Gen. McDowell’s movement to join you…” Lincoln elaborated in a second message:

“Apprehensions of something like this (defeat in the Shenandoah), and no unwillingness to sustain you, have always been my reason for withholding McDowell from you. Please understand this, and do the best you can with the force you have.”

Panic swept Washington when news of the Federal defeat at Winchester arrived. Lincoln, caught up in the frenzy, urgently wrote McClellan, “I think the time is near when you must either attack Richmond or give up the job and come to the defence of Washington.” Noting the “general and concerted” crisis in the Valley, Lincoln pledged to send as many “such regiments and dribs” as he could to the Peninsula.

McClellan responded, “Telegram received. Independently of it, the time is very near when I shall attack Richmond.” But McClellan disagreed with Lincoln’s fear that the Confederates in the Valley intended to threaten Washington:

“The object of the movement is probably to prevent reinforcements being sent to me. All the information from balloons, deserters, prisoners, and contrabands agrees in the statement that the mass of the rebel troops are still in the immediate vicinity of Richmond, ready to defend it.”

McClellan then wrote his wife that Lincoln was “terribly scared. Heaven help a country governed by such counsels… A scare will do them good, and may bring them to their senses.”

Meanwhile, Keyes’s Federals, supported by Heintzelman’s corps, advanced to within five miles of Richmond on the Williamsburg road. But this put McClellan in a vulnerable position. He had two corps isolated south of the Chickahominy and three corps north of it, and now McDowell’s 40,000 men would not be joining him.

The next day, Lincoln asked McClellan, “What impression have you, as to intrenchments–works–for you to contend with in front of Richmond? Can you get near enough to throw shells into the city?” Meanwhile, Lee visited Johnston and learned that he was planning to attack and destroy McClellan’s right flank on the north side of the Chickahominy. Johnston hoped to permanently separate him from McDowell and isolate the rest of his army on the Peninsula.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., Forward to Richmond: McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 130-31; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (22 May 1862); Clark, Champ, Decoying the Yanks: Jackson’s Valley Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 146-47; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 13722, 13749-58, 13765, 13995; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 174; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7441-52; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 437, 440-42; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 156-57; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3430-42; Goolrick, William K., Rebels Resurgent: Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 14; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 215-17; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q262

The Battle of Winchester

May 25, 1862 – Confederates won a tremendous victory to gain control of most of the Shenandoah Valley and make the name “Stonewall” a legend in the South.

Major General Nathaniel P. Banks, whose 6,500 Federals had won the race to Winchester, held defensive works south of the town to face Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s oncoming Confederates. Having been soundly beaten and pursued, Banks guessed that Jackson had 25,000 men, but he actually had no more than about 10,000 effectives due to combat casualties, illness, straggling, and extreme fatigue.

Banks deployed his men on the low range of hills south of Winchester. Breaking his own rule not to fight on the Sabbath, Jackson advanced early that morning, with the Confederates probing through dense fog. Jackson sent Brigadier General Charles S. Winder’s Stonewall Brigade, supported by Colonel John A. Campbell’s brigade, against the Federal center at Bower’s Hill. They easily pushed the Federals off the ridge, but the Federals put up stronger resistance in falling back to a second ridge.

Both sides traded artillery fire, but the superior Federal guns got the best of the exchange. Meanwhile, Major General Richard Ewell’s division attacked the undersized Federal left flank. Jackson directed the brigade under Brigadier General Richard Taylor (son of former President Zachary Taylor) to attack the extreme Federal right in concert with Ewell on the left.

Battle map | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Battle map | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Taylor’s Confederates shrieked the “Rebel yell” as they charged, and the rest of the Confederate army followed suit. The Federals resisted at first, but both flanks quickly crumbled, and finally the troops broke and fled in panic toward the Potomac River. The Confederates seized their defenses and entered Winchester, where they took all the valuable supplies that the Federals left behind.

The pro-Confederate residents came out to cheer their liberators, prompting the troops to stop and take in the adulation when Jackson wanted them to continue pressing Banks all the way to the Potomac. Jackson could not find Brigadier General Turner Ashby’s cavalry, which he needed to lead the pursuit; they were busy looting the Federal camps. So he called up Ewell’s cavalry, but they did not arrive until mid-afternoon.

The Confederates started giving chase, but they dropped out from exhaustion at Bunker Hill, six miles north. Banks may have gotten away, but “Old Jack” had driven him out of the Valley and captured his supply depot. This made the battle at Winchester a resounding Confederate victory and Jackson a hero in the Confederacy.

The Confederates captured nearly 10,000 small arms, 500,000 rounds of ammunition, two rifled cannon, $250,000 worth of medical supplies, 103 heads of cattle, and almost 25,000 pounds of provisions. They had captured so many of Banks’s supplies over the past three days that they nicknamed the Federal commander “Commissary Banks.”

The Federals suffered 2,028 casualties in the chase yesterday and the battle today (71 killed, 243 wounded, and 1,714 missing, of which about 800 were taken prisoner). The Confederates lost just 400 (68 killed, 329 wounded, and three missing). Jackson now had control of most of the Shenandoah Valley and was just 50 miles away from Washington.

The Lincoln administration panicked upon learning of this latest defeat in the Valley, but the panic was somewhat calmed by news that Brigadier General James Shields’s division was moving west from Fredericksburg to reinforce Banks. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton called on the governors of the northern states to send troops to protect Washington, and President Lincoln looked to Major General George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac for the victory the Federals so desperately needed.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (25 May 1862); Clark, Champ, Decoying the Yanks: Jackson’s Valley Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 130; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 45-46; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 174; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 157; Jensen, Les D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 834; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 216; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 387; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 677

Action Intensifies in the Shenandoah Valley

May 24, 1862 – Following the Federal defeat at Front Royal, Major General Nathaniel P. Banks retreated and President Abraham Lincoln scrambled to send him reinforcements.

Federal General Nathaniel Banks | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Federal General Nathaniel Banks | Image Credit: Flickr.com

The loss of the outpost at Front Royal meant that the Confederates could now interpose themselves between Banks’s main Army of the Shenandoah and Washington. Hurrying to prevent this, Banks set out on the morning of the 24th to lead his Federals out of Strasburg to Winchester, 20 miles north. Banks, refusing to admit that this was a retreat, informed his superiors that he would “enter the lists with the enemy in a race or a battle (as he should choose) for the possession of Winchester.”

Banks estimated Confederate strength to have increased to “not less than 6,000 to 10,000. It is probably (Major General Richard) Ewell’s force, passing through the Shenandoah valley. (Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall”) Jackson is still in our front. We shall stand firm.” Banks’s assumption that Jackson was “still in our front” indicated that he was still unaware Jackson and Ewell had joined forces. Based on Federal intelligence, Banks believed that Ewell had fallen back to Front Royal, leaving the Valley turnpike to Winchester open.

Banks’s superiors replied, “Do not give up the ship before succor can arrive.” Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton asked Major General John C. Fremont, commanding a Federal army at Franklin in western (now West) Virginia, to send reinforcements to Banks if possible. Fremont replied that he could not spare any men because “the enemy seems everywhere reinforced and active.” Fremont also complained that heavy rains and dwindling supplies were demoralizing his men.

Jackson anticipated Banks’s retreat toward Winchester. After confirming that his hunch was correct, he sent Ewell’s Confederates northward down a road parallel to the Valley turnpike. Jackson then led his men toward Middletown, hoping to trap Banks between his troops and Ewell’s before the Federals could reach Winchester. Jackson would then push northward to Harpers Ferry and the Potomac River.

Jackson’s men marched seven miles to Newtown, where they placed artillery atop a hill to fire on the Federal rear guard marching below. With the Federals stuck between stone walls on either side, Jackson reported that “in a few moments the turnpike, which had just before teemed with life, presented a most appalling spectacle of carnage and destruction. The road was literally obstructed with the mingled and confused mass of struggling and dying horses and riders.”

Jackson finally ordered a halt, as Federal troops found “the bodies of men and horses so piled up that it was impossible to proceed.” Those not pinned between the stone walls or among the bodies fled toward Winchester. Jackson’s cavalry rounded up prisoners, along with large amounts of abandoned wagons and supplies. The Confederates spent time looting that could have been better spent chasing and destroying Banks’s army.

Allowing the Federals to escape mainly intact prompted Jackson to fear that they would entrench themselves on the heights southwest of Winchester, where Jackson had lost the Battle of Kernstown in March. Therefore, he drove his men on a forced march to hurry their pursuit.

At Washington, Lincoln telegraphed Fremont rejecting the general’s previous refusal to aid Banks:

“The exposed condition of General Banks makes his immediate relief a point of paramount importance. You are therefore directed by the President to move against Jackson at Harrisonberg [sic] and operate against the enemy in such way as to relieve Banks. This movement must be made immediately. You will acknowledge the receipt of this order and specify the hour it is received by you.”

Then, just after allowing Major General George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac on the Virginia Peninsula to be reinforced by Major General Irvin McDowell’s Federals near Fredericksburg, Lincoln pulled McDowell back. He explained to McClellan:

“In consequence of Gen. Banks’ critical position I have been compelled to suspend Gen. McDowell’s movement to join you. The enemy are making a desperate push upon Harper’s Ferry, and we are trying to throw Fremont’s force & part of McDowell’s in their rear.”

Lincoln then issued orders to McDowell:

“General Fremont has been ordered by telegraph to move to Franklin and Harrisonburg to relieve General Banks and capture or destroy Jackson’s and Ewell’s forces. You are instructed, laying aside for the present the movement on Richmond, to put 20,000 men in motion at once for the Shenandoah, moving on the line or in advance of the line of the Manassas Gap Railroad. Your object will be to capture the forces of Jackson and Ewell, either in cooperation with General Fremont, or, in case want of supplies or transportation has interfered with his movement, it is believed that the force which you move will be sufficient to accomplish the object alone… Reports received this morning are that Banks is fighting with Ewell, eight miles from Harper’s Ferry.”

These orders came just after Brigadier General James Shields’s Federal division from Banks’s army had arrived to reinforce McDowell. Now he would have to turn right around and go back. At this time, McDowell was within six miles of joining with McClellan on the Peninsula.

McDowell obeyed but complained to Stanton, “This is a crushing blow to us.” He then telegraphed Lincoln, “I beg to say that co-operation between General Fremont and myself to cut Jackson and Ewell there is not to be counted upon.” Explaining that the Confederates could destroy Banks before he even arrived, McDowell wrote, “I shall gain nothing for you there, and shall lose much for you here.”

McDowell also complained to General James Wadsworth, in charge of the Washington defenses: “If the enemy can succeed so readily in disconcerting all our plans by alarming us first at one point, then at another, he will paralyze a large force with a very small one.” Shields, having served under Banks, told McDowell that “the same cry was constantly heard (from Banks) … that large numbers of thousands of the enemy always coming upon them.” Except this time, it was true.

By the night of the 24th, the Federals began straggling into Winchester, having won the race and avoiding the trap set by Jackson and Ewell. Residents there, being mostly pro-Confederate, cheered for Jackson and heckled the Federals as they came into town.

Ewell arrived at Kernstown, a few miles south of Winchester, that evening and awaited Jackson’s men. Jackson continued advancing into night and early morning, finally reaching Kernstown before taking a two-hour rest at 2 a.m. on the 25th.

Despite losing the race to Winchester, “Old Jack” had the Federals on the run in the Valley and seemed to be singlehandedly turning the war’s tide in the Confederacy’s favor. However, McDowell would soon be coming to help Banks confront Jackson from the north, while Fremont started moving to cut Jackson off to the south.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (24 May 1862); Clark, Champ, Decoying the Yanks: Jackson’s Valley Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 129-30, 135; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 13815-22; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 174; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 431, 436; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 156; Jensen, Les D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 834; Klein, Frederic S, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 293; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 215-16; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 386-87; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 677

The Battle of Front Royal

May 23, 1862 – Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederates scored a major victory and threatened to position themselves between the Federals in the Shenandoah Valley and Washington.

Jackson planned to attack the Federal outpost at Front Royal, east of Massanutten Mountain in the Luray (eastern Shenandoah) Valley. The Federals there had been detached from Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Army of the Shenandoah, stationed at Strasburg. Using the mountain to screen his movement, Jackson split his 16,000-man command by sending Major General Richard Ewell’s division on a more easterly route to block a potential Federal retreat toward Manassas Junction.

Meanwhile, Brigadier General Turner Ashby’s cavalry blocked the Federals from the west and seized the railroad line to Strasburg, where Banks’s main force was located. Jackson planned to drive the Federals north toward Winchester while keeping them from burning the two important bridges spanning the North and South forks of the Shenandoah River. He was not aware of how many Federals awaited him at Front Royal.

Ewell began his eastern detour around 2 p.m., with skirmishing breaking out at various points along the way. Prominent Confederate spy Belle Boyd rode through the fighting, nearly getting killed by bullets passing through her skirt, to deliver a message to one of Jackson’s officers. It stated that “the Yankee force is very small. Tell him to charge right down and he will catch them all.”

Jackson’s Confederates conducted a grueling march up a road that gradually ascended 400 feet before reaching a point that overlooked Front Royal. Having received Belle Boyd’s message and intelligence from other scouts, Jackson learned that just one Federal regiment, the 1st Maryland (U.S.), was stationed there. He deployed his own 1st Maryland (C.S.) to attack; the men had been on the verge of mutiny because their enlistments had expired, but now they jumped at the chance to take on their fellow Marylanders. They charged ferociously on the unsuspecting enemy.

Colonel John Kenly, in command at Front Royal, thought that Jackson was 50 miles south and expected no attack. As the Confederates surged forward around 2 p.m., Kenly hurriedly fell back to Richardson’s Hill, north of town. Federal artillery briefly kept the Confederates at bay, but they soon rushed forward again, this time with Ashby’s cavalry closing in on Kenly’s rear.

Battle map | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Battle map | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Kenly ordered a retreat, slowly falling back across the South Fork to Guard Hill. Some Federals stayed back and tried burning the North Fork bridge, but the Confederates put the flames out in time to cross. The 6th Virginia Cavalry raced forward and confronted the Federals at Cedarville. The Federals fired a volley before the enemy surrounded them. Kenly had no choice but to surrender his command.

The Federals lost 904 men, 750 of which were taken prisoner. The Confederates lost 35 killed, wounded, or missing. Banks was shocked upon learning of this defeat because he thought Jackson was at Harrisonburg, 50 miles south. He reported to Washington that the Front Royal garrison was attacked by 5,000 Confederates who “had been gathering in the mountains, it is said, since Wednesday. Reinforcements should be sent us if possible.” This loss put the Lincoln administration on the verge of panic.

The Front Royal engagement resulted in Jackson taking positions on Banks’s left flank. This meant that Banks had to abandon the strong defensive works he had built at Strasburg. He had three options: 1) fall back toward Major General John C. Fremont’s Federal army at Franklin to the west; 2) confront Jackson at Front Royal; or 3) fall back toward Winchester to the north to keep his army between Jackson and Washington. Banks chose the third.

Jackson, guessing that Banks would pick the second or third option, sent Ewell toward Winchester while keeping Brigadier General Charles Winder’s division at Front Royal. The Confederate victory gave Jackson a prime opportunity to cut off Banks’s entire force, which soon began heading north on the Valley turnpike, northwest of Front Royal. The race to keep Banks from reaching Winchester was on.

Meanwhile, Jackson wrote a letter of thanks to Belle Boyd for the information she provided: “I thank you, for myself and for the army, for the immense service that you have rendered your country to-day.”

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (23 May 1862); Clark, Champ, Decoying the Yanks: Jackson’s Valley Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 122, 125-28; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 13765-73; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 174; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 431; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 156; Jensen, Les D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 834; Klein, Frederic S, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 293; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 215; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 455-56; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 677

Jackson Targets Front Royal

May 22, 1862 – Major Generals Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson and Richard Ewell joined forces in the Shenandoah Valley and moved to attack Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s isolated Federal outpost at Front Royal.

Major General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Jackson’s Confederates resumed their northward march down the Shenandoah Valley at dawn on May 21. Ewell, commanding the other Confederate force in the Valley, received intelligence that Federals troops comprising Banks’s left flank were stationed at Front Royal, east of Strasburg.

Advancing down the Valley turnpike, Jackson then turned east through the Luray Gap in the Massanutten Ridge to cross the South Fork of the Shenandoah River and enter the Luray Valley. Brigadier General Turner Ashby’s Confederate cavalry kept Banks, commanding the Federal Army of the Shenandoah, unaware of the movement.

Ewell’s Confederates joined Jackson’s that night; the combined force now totaled 16,000 men and 48 cannon. Jackson planned to attack Banks’s flank at Front Royal. The flank consisted of a small fort and just 1,000 men under Colonel John R. Kenly. Jackson hoped that destroying this force would trap Banks in the Valley and render him unable to reinforce the Federals at either Fredericksburg or the Peninsula.

The Confederates rose at 6 a.m. on the 22nd and resumed their march, with Ewell’s troops in the lead. Jackson would not divulge where they were headed, but he issued orders prohibiting no more than two men per battalion to leave a fight to tend to the wounded at a time. This strongly indicated that a battle was imminent. The men halted for the night within 10 miles of Front Royal, as Ashby’s cavalry fell back from Strasburg to join the main Confederate army.

Major General Nathaniel P. Banks | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Major General Nathaniel P. Banks | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Banks remained with his main force at New Market, 25 miles south. Unaware that Jackson and Ewell had joined forces and moved north, he believed that Ewell was still at Swift Run Gap and he had no idea where Jackson was. Banks wrote his superiors fearing that Jackson might try attacking New Market, and Ewell might try reinforcing him there.

Ironically, Banks asked Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton to send him reinforcements on the same day that Major General Irvin McDowell, commanding the Federals near Fredericksburg, reported to the War Department, “Major General (James) Shields’ command (detached from Banks’s army) has arrived here” to reinforce him.

Banks, who had previously been certain that Jackson had left the Shenandoah Valley to join the Confederates on the Peninsula, now suddenly warned:

“To these important considerations ought to be added the persistent adherence of Jackson to the defense of the valley and his well-known purpose to expel the Government troops from this country if in his power. This may be assumed as certain. There is probably no one more fixed and determined purpose in the whole circle of the enemy’s plans.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Clark, Champ, Decoying the Yanks: Jackson’s Valley Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 120-23; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 173; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 430; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 155; Klein, Frederic S, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 293; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 214

Federals Slowly Approach Corinth

May 21, 1862 – Major General Henry W. Halleck’s “Grand Army” inched its way toward Confederates under General P.G.T. Beauregard at Corinth, forcing Beauregard to decide whether to fight or flee.

Gen H.W. Halleck | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Gen H.W. Halleck | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

By this time, Halleck’s army of over 120,000 men had taken nearly three weeks to advance less than 25 miles from Pittsburg Landing in southwestern Tennessee to the vital railroad town of Corinth in northern Mississippi. Halleck was being very careful to avoid another near-disaster like Shiloh. Every time the Federals halted their advance for the day, they were required to build entrenchments and earthworks in case of a Confederate attack. Bad weather and heavily wooded country also slowed the advance.

Major General Ulysses S. Grant, who had been “promoted” to Halleck’s second in command, officially headed Halleck’s right wing and reserve. But Halleck maintained his headquarters with the right wing, so he had direct control over its movements and did not consult Grant on military matters. Brigadier General William T. Sherman, Grant’s close friend, wrote after the war:

“General Grant was substantially left out, and was named ‘second-in-command’ according to some French notion, with no clear, well-defined command or authority… he felt deeply the indignity, if not insult, heaped upon him.”

Halleck’s advance, if not already slow enough, was slowed even more by northern politicians worried about the dangerous Confederate army awaiting the Federals. Indiana Governor Oliver P. Morton inspected troops from his state and then wired Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton:

“The enemy are in great force at Corinth, and have recently received reinforcements. They evidently intend to make a desperate struggle at that point, and from all I can learn their leaders have utmost confidence in the result… It is fearful to contemplate the consequences of a defeat at Corinth.”

Halleck responded by dispatching even more scouting parties to reconnoiter the areas around nearby Iuka and Burnsville.

Gen P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Gen P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Meanwhile, Beauregard notified his superiors in Richmond that he intended to hold Corinth as long as possible. But if retreat became necessary, he would fall back to the southeast, closer to Richmond and farther from vital points on the Mississippi River such as Memphis and Vicksburg. Beauregard wrote that it was “essential to hold Corinth to the last extremity, if the odds are not too great against us, even at the risk of a defeat.”

That “last extremity” came on May 25 when Beauregard called his top commanders (Generals Braxton Bragg, Earl Van Dorn, Leonidas Polk, William J. Hardee, John C. Breckinridge, and Sterling Price) to a council of war. Beauregard explained that Halleck would not attack frontally, which the Confederates could repel, but would rather put Corinth under siege, thus trapping and starving the army into surrender. The number of effective soldiers was rapidly dropping due to illness and a lack of drinking water. The only viable options were either to preëmptively attack or abandon the town.

When Beauregard asked for advice, Hardee opined that attacking the huge Federal army “would probably inflict on us and the Confederacy a fatal blow.” The officers agreed that it was best to evacuate Corinth, fall back along the Memphis & Ohio Railroad, and live to fight another day.

Beauregard directed his commanders to begin preparations but keep the plan secret so he could fool Halleck into thinking that the Confederates intended to fight. The next day, Beauregard issued orders for evacuating Corinth. He began by sending supplies and the sick troops to Baldwin and Tupelo.

A few miles away, Halleck continued assembling his heavy guns to place Corinth under siege. The end of the Federal right wing was within four miles of the Confederate defenses outside the town. By the morning of the 28th, Halleck’s three wings under Generals George H. Thomas, Don Carlos Buell, and John Pope (right to left) were all finally within gun range of Confederate defenses outside Corinth. Halleck initiated an artillery bombardment from dawn to dusk, pausing intermittently for the infantry to probe for weaknesses in the defenses.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 13227, 13251; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 375-77, 383; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 155, 157; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982 [original 1885, republication of 1952 edition]), p. 196-97; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 416; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 157