June 2, 1862 – The Federal pursuit of Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Valley army continued, with the Confederates narrowly escaping two Federal armies converging on them from opposite directions.
By midnight on Sunday the 1st, the Stonewall Brigade of Jackson’s army had arrived within four miles south of Winchester. The men had endured an exhausting, unprecedented 35-mile march to prevent two Federal commands from joining forces against them. The Confederates resumed their march that morning and joined the rest of the army at Strasburg around noon.
This gave Jackson about 16,000 men. Major General John C. Fremont’s army of 12,000 Federals was to Jackson’s west, between Wardensburg and Strasburg, unable to advance further due to rain making the roads impassable. Major General Irvin McDowell’s 30,000 men were 10 miles east of Strasburg at Front Royal. McDowell’s lead division, 9,000 men under Brigadier General James Shields, began moving to confront Jackson.
Jackson pushed his men through the torrential rain toward Fisher’s Hill, two miles south. On the way, Jackson learned that Shields was headed south, up the Luray Valley. Shields paralleled Jackson’s movement on the other side of Massanutten Mountain, trying to get ahead of the Confederates and block their escape at New Market. Shields intended to burn the bridge at Conrad’s Store, thinking Jackson needed it to get across the Blue Ridge and reinforce the Confederates on the Virginia Peninsula.
Sensing that Fremont posed the greater threat, Jackson dispatched Major General Richard Ewell’s division to oppose Fremont’s advance west of Strasburg. Skirmishing occurred near Mount Carmel as pickets and artillerists traded fire. Ewell, outnumbered two-to-one, refused to attack. Fremont, unaware of his advantage, held back in fear that Ewell was trying to lure him into a trap.
The pouring rain continued as night fell, and Fremont called a halt until morning. He reported to President Abraham Lincoln, “Terrible storm of thunder and hail now passing over. Hailstones as large as hens’ eggs.” This enabled Jackson to narrowly escape the Federal pincers, but he was still in serious danger as his Confederates resumed their southward march before dawn on the 2nd.
The Valley turnpike was almost impossible to traverse due to more rain falling through the night. Fremont’s pickets tried resuming the chase, as Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton telegraphed both Fremont and McDowell, “Do not let the enemy escape you.”
Federal cavalry under General George Bayard caught up to the Confederate rear guard, led by General George Steuart’s cavalry, and routed them at Woodstock, 10 miles south of Strasburg. Steuart’s men were so disgusted with their commander that they asked Jackson to place them under command of Brigadier General Turner Ashby. Jackson responded by placing all his cavalry under Ashby.
Ashby’s troopers tried saving what was left of Steuart’s command, but they were on the verge of being routed themselves before being saved by the Stonewall Brigade. The Confederates fell back, and Jackson continued pushing them southward as more storms raged.
Meanwhile, Shields continued paralleling Jackson to the east. His Federals reached the Shenandoah River around 5 p.m. but could not cross because Confederates had burned the White House and Columbia bridges. The river was too deep to ford, and the Federals had nothing with which to build pontoons. So Shields resumed the march 20 miles farther south, hoping to cross at Conrad’s Store. By the end of June 2, Shields’s men had marched 25 miles.
Shields wrote Lincoln and Stanton that Jackson’s force was smaller than originally thought, and there were too many Federals pursuing him. He asked them to send McDowell’s men back east to Fredericksburg, leaving just Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s 11,000 men at Winchester and Fremont’s 12,000 in the Valley.
Farther north on the Potomac River, Major General Franz Sigel arrived to take command of the 8,000 Federals stationed at Harpers Ferry and Williamsport, Maryland. They became a division in Banks’s Army of the Shenandoah. But Sigel reported that “1,200 (of the 8,000 men) are useless, and all the balance are undrilled and undisciplined.” Even so, he prepared to lead them to Winchester to support Banks.
Jackson’s Confederates crossed the North Fork of the Shenandoah River on the 3rd, burned the bridge behind them, and camped near Mount Jackson at their old site on Rude’s Hill. Meanwhile, Shields explained to McDowell that the bridges had been burned, so he would continue to Conrad’s Store:
“The bridge there I expect to find burned also, but by going higher up we may find a ford… we must cross today somehow. My next move will be to push on to Stanardsville, destroy the railroad and depot, and if possible to Staunton or Charlottesville.”
This would be a tremendously long roundabout trek, but Shields vowed to “destroy their means of escape somehow.” McDowell forwarded Shields’s message to Washington, noting that Shields offered no specifics on how he intended to stop Jackson with this long marching. McDowell wrote:
“The ‘somehow’ in which the general is to cross the river to-day, swollen as it is by the heavy rains, is not so clear, and the delay defeats the movement… and as to his preventing the enemy’s escape ‘somehow,’ I fear it will be like his intention of crossing the ‘river somehow…’ His command is not in a condition to go to the places he names.”
CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Clark, Champ, Decoying the Yanks: Jackson’s Valley Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 157; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 13849; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 178; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 438, 453-54; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 162; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 220-21; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 459