January 1, 1862 – Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederate army began moving out of winter quarters at Winchester toward the Potomac River as part of Jackson’s plan to capture Romney.
Jackson moved out with 7,500 volunteers, 2,200 militia, and 650 cavalry. He intended to attack Brigadier General Benjamin F. Kelley’s Federals at Romney, but first he led his men northwest to knock out the Federal outpost at the mineral-water resort of Bath, about 35 miles northeast of Romney. He would then take out the Federals across the Potomac at Hancock, Maryland, before turning on his ultimate objective.
The march began in unseasonably warm weather, with many soldiers shedding their coats and blankets. However, the temperature quickly plummeted to single digits, and the troops were ravaged by wind, sleet, and snow. They covered just eight miles on New Year’s Day. After a brutally cold night, the troops moved another eight miles to Unger’s Store, about 16 miles south of Bath. Jackson developed a plan of attack that would sever communications between the main Federal bases at Romney and Martinsburg. But he shared this plan with no one, not even General William W. Loring, his second-in-command.
The Confederates left Unger’s Store on the 3rd, bypassing the road through Bloomery Gap to Romney to instead attack Bath. Jackson had counted on the element of surprise, but a slave had hurried to inform the Federals of Jackson’s approach. The Confederates pushed back Federal pickets and prepared to attack the small garrison at dusk, but Loring refused to conduct a nighttime operation. After a heated exchange, Jackson relented and the men camped in the snow outside the town. His men were prohibited from starting fires.
By morning, the small Federal garrison had been reinforced to 1,400 men, but it was still too small to oppose Jackson’s force. The Confederates advanced, and even though Loring’s men moved too slow for Jackson’s liking, they easily seized Bath and pursued the Federals to the banks of the Potomac. However, darkness fell before the Confederates could stop them from escaping across the river. Jackson’s artillery fired on the Federal positions, which were being reinforced by the arrival of a division from Baltimore. This put Jackson’s plan to take both Bath and Hancock in serious jeopardy.
On Sunday the 5th, Jackson dispatched Colonel Turner Ashby to cross the Potomac under a flag of truce and inform General Frederick Lander, commanding the 4,000 Federals now at Hancock, that the Confederates would shell the town (after allowing two hours to evacuate women and children) unless Lander surrendered. Lander refused, and Jackson directed a sporadic bombardment while his men began building a bridge two miles upriver. Federal artillery responded, with neither side being particularly effective.
As heavy snow fell through the night and into January 6, Jackson decided not to invade Hancock. Lander had received a brigade from Martinsburg, and Jackson reported that the Federals had been reinforced “to such an extent as to induce me to believe that my object could not be accomplished without a sacrifice of life, which I felt unwilling to make.”
Although he did not accomplish his goal of capturing both Bath and Hancock, his men had destroyed a railroad bridge and cut Federal communication lines. This isolated the Federals at Romney, which served to accomplish Jackson’s ultimate goal of taking that village.
The Confederates disengaged from Hancock the next day and began falling back to Unger’s Store. The troops struggled through a frigid snow and ice storm, in which the temperature dropped to nearly 20 degrees below zero. Federals from Romney attacked Jackson’s detached militia and cavalry at Hanging Rock, sending them fleeing and capturing two cannon. With the road to Winchester now opened for a Federal advance, Jackson’s rush to seize Romney took on an all new importance.
CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Clark, Champ, Decoying the Yanks: Jackson’s Valley Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 50, 52, 54; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 107-09; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 95-96; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 156-58; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 226-27