The Peninsula and the Shenandoah Valley

June 10, 1862 – As Major General George B. McClellan’s Federal Army of the Potomac remained relatively idle on the Virginia Peninsula, Confederate General Robert E. Lee sent reinforcements to Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley.

Maj Gen George B. McClellan | Image Credit:
Maj Gen George B. McClellan | Image Credit:

Since the Battle of Seven Pines, McClellan had opted to stay put and await reinforcements. The first unit to bolster McClellan’s army was Brigadier General George A. McCall’s 9,500-man division stationed on the Rappahannock River. Major General Irvin McDowell, McCall’s superior, notified McClellan, “McCall goes in advance by water. I will be with you in 10 days with the remainder by land from Fredericksburg.”

Meanwhile, Jackson informed Lee that he could have his Confederates at the railroad within a day if they were needed on the Peninsula. Lee told Jackson to rest his men for now, but “should an opportunity occur for striking the enemy a successful blow, do not let it escape you.”

Lee learned the next day that Jackson had won battles at Cross Keys and Port Republic. In keeping with his original strategy, Lee directed Brigadier General Alexander Lawton’s brigade to reinforce Jackson so he could invade Pennsylvania. But when he realized that Jackson still lacked the resources for such an operation, Lee began pondering whether Jackson should come to the Peninsula and help him defeat McClellan.

Gen James Shields | Image Credit:
Gen James Shields | Image Credit:

Back west, Brigadier General James Shields’s battered, exhausted Federal division began withdrawing to the Luray Valley on the 10th. They had endured brutal marches, drenching rains, broken supply lines, and finally defeat at Port Republic. Shields had orders to stay in the Luray Valley until the Federals at Winchester moved to Front Royal. Then, Shields was to rejoin McDowell’s men on their return to Fredericksburg.

Shields requested supplies before moving. In addition to 12,000 shoes, he asked for “4,000 blankets, 9,200 caps… 20,000 socks, 12,000 pants, 10,000 blouses, 12,000 shirts, 12,000 drawers, 5,000 haversacks, 6,100 canteens, 1,600 shelter-tents, 3,500 rubber blankets, 60 drums, 6 bugles, 300 pants (re-enforced), 300 artillery jackets,” and 80,000 rounds of ammunition. This indicated that Shields’s men were in terrible condition, something McDowell was unaware of when he promised McClellan to be on the Peninsula within 10 days.

Shields reported from the Luray Valley that half his men were barefooted. He also blamed the defeat at Port Republic on Brigadier General Samuel Carroll for failing to burn the lone bridge over the South River, even though Shields had specifically ordered him to “save the bridge at Port Republic” beforehand. Shields also falsely claimed that he and Major General John C. Fremont were just about to join forces and overwhelm Jackson when President Abraham Lincoln called it off.

Meanwhile, Fremont received orders to stay put near Cross Keys. But he was already withdrawing to Harrisonburg, fearing that he might be isolated now that Shields had pulled back. After reaching Harrisonburg, Fremont still did not feel safe enough: “Harrisonburg, however strong in a strategical point of view for an army of larger proportions, was to my small command dangerous in the extreme.”

Erroneously thinking that Jackson outnumbered his 14,000-man army, Fremont retreated another 25 miles north to Mount Jackson. Ironically, Fremont submitted triumphant reports of his “victories” at Cross Keys and Port Republic while in retreat. When his superiors directed him to fall back to Mount Jackson, he was already on his way there.

Confederate Gen R.E. Lee | Image Credit:
Confederate Gen R.E. Lee | Image Credit:

Lee wrote Jackson from the Peninsula, “Your recent successes have been the cause of the liveliest joy in this army as well as in the country.” Lee wrote that he was sending Jackson six Georgia regiments under Lawton and eight regiments under Brigadier General W.H.C. Whiting. Lee explained, “The object is to enable you to crush the forces opposed to you.” Lee was not yet aware that both Shields and Fremont were on the retreat.

After delivering the decisive blow, Lee instructed Jackson to “move rapidly to Ashland (20 miles north of Richmond)… and sweep down between the Chickahominy and Pamunkey (rivers), cutting up the enemy’s communications, &c, while this (Lee’s) army attacks General McClellan in front…”

At this time, Jackson’s Confederates were camped at Brown’s Gap on the Blue Ridge. Jackson worked with topographer Jedediah Hotchkiss on a plan to pursue both Fremont and Shields. He began by dispatching his cavalry under Colonel Thomas Munford to spread rumors that the Confederates in the Valley were being heavily reinforced.

Jackson’s men reentered the Valley on the 12th and took positions near Port Republic and Patterson’s Mill. As the Confederate reinforcements began arriving, Munford’s troopers operated near Harrisonburg, capturing 200 wounded Federals that Fremont left behind. They also seized a large amount of supplies and ammunition. As the Confederates hoped, Lincoln notified Fremont, “Jackson is largely reinforced, and is turning upon you. Stand well on your guard.”

To the east, McCall’s Federals from the Rappahannock began arriving at White House, McClellan’s base on the Pamunkey River. The rest of McDowell’s force was headed eastward from the Blue Ridge to also reinforce Federals on the Peninsula.

The next day, McClellan moved his headquarters to the south bank of the Chickahominy River, where three of his five corps were now stationed:

  • General Edwin V. Sumner’s II Corps held the railroad on the right
  • General Samuel P. Heintzelman’s III Corps guarded the Williamsburg road in the center
  • General Erasmus D. Keyes’s IV Corps was at White Oak Swamp on the left

The two corps under Generals Fitz John Porter and William B. Franklin remained on the north bank, with Porter on the right and Franklin on the left. McCall’s Federals were arriving to reinforce Porter.

Back in the Valley, General Carl Schurz, a close friend of Lincoln serving in Fremont’s army, wrote the president defending Fremont’s performance and asserting that the Federals urgently needed supplies: “Fremont’s force has dwindled down to 10,000 combatants at the outside, and these in a wretched condition.” Schurz reported that the artillerymen were “hardly able to draw their pieces.” Such a “weak and exhausted” army could not match Jackson, who had just supposedly been reinforced to 29,000 men, or double Fremont’s actual size.

All this time, the 12,000 Federals under Major General Nathaniel P. Banks remained at Winchester, 45 miles north of Fremont. Banks disagreed with Fremont’s contention that Mount Jackson was the best place to make a stand against Jackson. Banks instead preferred Middletown, 15 miles south of Winchester, because it commanded both the Shenandoah and Luray valleys.

Banks argued that the only way to defeat Jackson was for he and Fremont to join forces, especially now that McDowell’s army was returning to Fredericksburg. The maneuvering on both sides continued.


References; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 182; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 466-67; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 163, 167; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3591-3603, 3626-38; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 225-26; Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 24-25

One comment

Leave a Reply