The Second Battle of Kernstown

July 24, 1864 – General Jubal Early’s Confederates defeated a Federal force under General George Crook and drove them out of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

Confederate Gen. Jubal Early | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Confederate Gen. Jubal Early | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Following their raid on Washington, Early’s Army of the Valley returned to the Shenandoah, reaching Leesburg on July 14. President Lincoln lost patience when none of the six Federal generals in the vicinity took the lead in pursuing and destroying Early’s army. As General David Hunter’s Federals approached Early after pillaging part of West Virginia, Hunter received orders to turn field command over to General George Crook.[1]

Skirmishes ensued with Federals from both Crook’s force and the VI Corps under General Horatio Wright. On the 16th, Early eluded the pursuers and moved west past the Blue Ridge to reap one of the Valley’s richest crop harvests in years. Crook closed in as Early’s rear guard clashed with Wright’s men near Leesburg. But Early slipped through Snicker’s Gap and attacked Crook’s Federals as they crossed the Shenandoah River, inflicting 422 casualties and prompting Wright to slow his pursuit.[2]

By the 19th, William W. Averell’s Federal cavalry joined the pursuit, prompting Early to move south toward Strasburg. The next afternoon, Early attacked Averell with Stephen Ramseur’s division north of Winchester. The Confederates folded before superior numbers and fled, losing 203 killed or wounded, four guns, and 250 taken prisoner.[3]

Early’s Confederates reached Strasburg on the night of July 22. That day, General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant withdrew VI Corps and assigned the pursuit to David Hunter’s department (i.e., Crook’s Federals). Grant authorized Hunter to track Early as far south as Gordonsville and Charlottesville, where the railroad lines to the Confederates at Petersburg were to be cut. Grant wrote, “I do not mean that houses should be burned, but every particle of provisions and stock should be removed.” The Federals should “eat out Virginia clear and clean as far as they go, so that crows flying over it for the balance of the season will have to carry their provender with them.”[4]

The next day, President Lincoln telegraphed Hunter at Harpers Ferry: “Are you able to take care of the enemy when he turns back upon you, as he probably will on finding that Wright (VI Corps commander) has left?” As Lincoln predicted, Early turned from Strasburg and moved north toward Kernstown, south of Winchester. Federals assembled to block him, and sharp skirmishing ensued.[5]

At Kernstown on the 24th, Crook’s Federals assembled on the site where Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederates had been victorious in battle two years before. When Crook learned that Confederates were approaching, he believed it was merely a reconnaissance in force. The Federals charged the Confederate line around 12 p.m. before realizing they were facing Early’s whole army.[6]

As Confederates tried moving around the Federal right, General John C. Breckinridge’s troops attacked the Federal left. When the Federals broke in confusion, the Confederates attacked the center and the entire Federal force fled in panicked retreat. Crook and his officers prevented a complete rout, but the Federals fled through Winchester, all the way back to Harpers Ferry and then back across the Potomac River.[7]

The Federals suffered yet another embarrassing defeat in the Shenandoah. They sustained about 1,200 casualties, while the Confederates lost much less. Early pursued the Federals into Maryland, thus launching a second invasion of the North within the month. Local northerners began panicking once more.[8]

—–

[1] Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11055; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Kindle Locations 9611-21; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 88-89; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 538-40

[2] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9611-42; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 89; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 540

[3] Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 89-90

[4] Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 90; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 543-44

[5] Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 90; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 544-45

[6] Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 91; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 545

[7] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11299-309; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 91; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 545

[8] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11299-309; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 91; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 545

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One thought on “The Second Battle of Kernstown

  1. […] the Federal defeat at Kernstown on July 24, General George Crook’s Federal army retreated across the Potomac River into Maryland. General […]

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