Movements in the Shenandoah Valley

July 9, 1861 – The standoff between Federal Major General Robert Patterson and Confederate Major General Joseph E. Johnston continued in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, as each commander waited to see what the other would do next.

As July began, Johnston’s Army of the Shenandoah, numbering some 11,000 men, held various positions in the Valley near the Potomac River. Patterson, commanding about 13,000 troops in his Army of Pennsylvania, remained on the Maryland side of the Potomac around Hagerstown and Williamsport. Another Federal force in Maryland under Colonel Charles P. Stone prepared to leave Poolesville after their Rockville expedition and join forces with Patterson.

Major General Robert Patterson | Image Credit:
Major General Robert Patterson | Image Credit:

Patterson received a dispatch from General-in-Chief Winfield Scott on July 1 explaining the results of the military conference at the White House on June 29. Scott stated “in confidence” that the Lincoln administration sought to “move a column of about 35,000 men early next week” toward Manassas. It was understood that Patterson needed to prevent Johnston from moving east to reinforce General P.G.T. Beauregard’s Confederate Army of the Potomac at Manassas. But Patterson still needed to cross the Potomac first.

After numerous delays and objections, Patterson finally crossed the river at dawn the next morning. Johnston’s advance unit, a 2,000-man brigade led by Colonel Thomas J. Jackson at Martinsburg, spotted the Federal approach and took positions in woods at Falling Waters and Hoke’s Run.

A small skirmish of less than 30 minutes ensued, after which the Confederates slowly fell back two and a half miles from their camps. Colonel J.E.B. “Jeb” Stuart’s Confederate cavalry took 50 prisoners along the way. Federals suffered 10 killed and 18 wounded in addition to the 50 captured; Confederates lost 11 wounded and eight or nine “missing.” Patterson erroneously reported that he had captured 500 prisoners in the fight while sustaining only three casualties; he also stated that he had faced 3,500 men when he truly faced only about 350.

Back in Maryland, Colonel Stone’s Federals moved some 15 miles north of Rockville to Point of Rocks on the Potomac River. Some of his regiments farthest north were at Sandy Hook, opposite Harpers Ferry, which they reported had been abandoned by Confederates.

Meanwhile, Patterson reported that his men had passed through Martinsburg and were in “hot pursuit of the enemy.” Jackson’s Confederates withdrew farther south to Darkesville, near Inwood. Johnston withdrew to Winchester, where he called for two brigades as reinforcements and up to 7,000 men from Beauregard’s Confederates in northern Virginia.

By July 6, Jackson’s forces had joined with Johnston’s main army as it withdrew from Darkesville to Winchester. Jackson received a promotion to brigadier general after Johnston had praised Jackson’s “courage and conduct” at the Falling Waters engagement. Jackson wrote to his wife that it was “beyond what I anticipated, as I only expected it to be in the volunteer forces of the State.” He added, “I want my brigade to feel that it can itself whip Patterson’s whole army, and I believe we can do it.”

Confederate General J.E. Johnston | Image Credit:
Confederate General J.E. Johnston | Image Credit:

Johnston reported from Winchester on the 9th: “Similar information from other sources gives me the impression that the reenforcements arriving at Martinsburg amount to 7 or 8,000. I have estimated the enemy’s force hitherto, you may remember, at 18,000…” Johnston feared that Patterson would attack him, unaware that Patterson was only tasked with keeping Johnston occupied while the main Federal attack was to come against Beauregard at Manassas.

That same day, Patterson postponed his scheduled advance on Winchester; his reinforcements from the Rockville expedition were fatigued, and several of Patterson’s subordinates disagreed with his plan. Moreover, General-in-Chief Scott told Patterson that he heard Johnston was planning to destroy Patterson’s army, move southward to destroy McClellan’s army in the Kanawha Valley, and then move to join Beauregard. Unsubstantiated rumors such as these also made Patterson hesitant.

Patterson wanted to camp his army at Charlestown, not Martinsburg. Scott consented but directed him to stay on the Virginia side of the Potomac to continue threatening Johnston, “except in extreme case.” Scott asked Patterson to contact him on Tuesday the 16th; this was a code informing Patterson that Major General Irvin McDowell’s Federals would advance on Manassas on that date.

After five days of probing and scouting, Patterson reported to his superior that Johnston was “pretending to be engaged in fortifying Winchester,” but he was actually preparing to withdraw “beyond striking distance” if Patterson advanced. However, Patterson remained at Martinsburg, 25 miles from Johnston, despite receiving Scott’s permission to move to Charlestown, which could better prevent Johnston from linking with Beauregard. Federal troops began calling Patterson “Granny” for his reluctance to give battle.

Before dawn on the 15th, Patterson’s Federals finally began advancing southward on the Valley Pike toward Winchester. Federal pickets, supported by cavalry, skirmished with Confederate cavalry making a stand near Bunker Hill, eight miles north of Winchester. After finally driving the Confederates back to Winchester, Patterson halted the advance. He reported that he did not know when he would continue, “and if I did, I would not tell my own father.”

Patterson still would not move to Charlestown, which covered Leesburg and Winchester. On July 16, Patterson was informed that McDowell would attack Beauregard that day, so he planned to attack Johnston tomorrow. However, Patterson was also told that Johnston’s army numbered 42,000 men with 60 cannon, so his subordinates convinced him not to attack and instead withdraw to Charlestown, 17 miles from Winchester. This opened the path for Johnston to link with Beauregard.


Sources; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 6043-54; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 54-55, 57-58; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 45; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 2651; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 90; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 675; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 573


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