January 30, 1862 – An order from Confederate Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin prompted Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson to submit his resignation from the Confederate army.
As Jackson’s superiors received word of the privations suffered by his men at Romney, they questioned the wisdom of keeping them there. Jackson’s superior, General Joseph E. Johnston, sent him a message before even learning of the hardships the troops faced, denying his request for reinforcements and urging him to concentrate his army “to oppose an enemy coming from Harper’s Ferry, Williamsport, or the northwest.” Johnston further opined that it was “imprudent… to keep your troops dispersed as they now are… The enemy might not only prevent your concentrating, but interpose himself between us, which we must never permit.”
On January 29, Johnston received the letter written by Benjamin asking him to look into the rumors about mistreatment in Jackson’s army. Johnston, who knew nothing of this beforehand, responded:
“Without being entirely certain that I understand the precise object of apprehension in the Valley District, I have dispatched the acting inspector general of the department to see and report without delay the condition of Major-General Jackson’s troops.”
That same day, Brigadier General William B. Taliaferro, a brigade commander in Brigadier General William W. Loring’s army at Romney, arrived at Richmond to deliver the protest against Jackson signed by 12 officers. Taliaferro met with President Davis, who had already heard rumors of immense suffering at Jackson’s hands. Davis legitimized Taliaferro’s breaking the chain of command by accepting the petition. Davis then asked to meet with Secretary of War Benjamin:
“It will be necessary to act promptly. Have you been notified of the return of General Jackson to Winchester and the withdrawal of the brigade with which he undertook the service from which he is reported to have retired, leaving only those who were sent to re-enforce him? Will confer with you at your pleasure.”
The men met the next day. Based on the accounts of suffering they had heard, along with rumors of a Federal effort to separate Jackson at Winchester from Loring at Romney, Davis directed Benjamin to telegraph Jackson that evening: “Our news indicates that a movement is being made to cut off General Loring’s command. Order him back to Winchester immediately.”
The rumors turned out to be false. Brigadier General Frederick Lander commanded Federal forces at Cumberland, Maryland, and although he knew that Loring was isolated and wanted badly to attack him, his superiors had ordered him to maintain a defensive posture along the Potomac River.
Jackson was shocked and outraged upon receiving Benjamin’s order on the morning of the 31st. It breached military protocol because not only should such an order have come from Johnston and not Benjamin, but it revealed that Loring had gone over his head to Richmond. Even worse, Jackson knew that rumors of Federals advancing to cut him off from Loring were false. He had considered his Romney campaign a success, and he expected Loring to hold that town as part of a larger plan to retake western Virginia. This order questioned not only his authority, but his competence as a commander.
Adhering to military guidelines, Jackson issued orders for Loring’s forces to abandon Romney and return to Winchester. This left his forward units at Bath unprotected, and they soon withdrew as well. Jackson then replied to Benjamin:
“Your order requiring me to direct General Loring to return with his command to Winchester immediately has been received and promptly complied with.
“With such interference in my command I cannot expect to be of much service in the field, and accordingly respectfully request to be ordered to report for duty to the superintendent of the Virginia Military Institute at Lexington, as has been done in the case of other professors. Should this application not be granted, I respectfully request that the President will accept my resignation from the Army. I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant, T. J. JACKSON, Major-General.”
The response was sent through Johnston, who received it the next day. Jackson then wrote to Virginia Governor John Letcher, asking for his help to return to the teaching job at V.M.I. he had held before the war. The controversy over losing such a valuable commander continued into next month.
CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Clark, Champ, Decoying the Yanks: Jackson’s Valley Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 58-59; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 8053; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 118-19; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 224; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 103; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 740-41; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 538; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 447-48