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.”



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

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