June 20, 1862 – Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederates headed east to reinforce General Robert E. Lee on the Peninsula, while Federals in the Shenandoah Valley still did not know where Jackson was.
Screened by Colonel Thomas T. Munford’s cavalry, Jackson’s men moved across the Blue Ridge on the 19th and left the Shenandoah Valley. That same day, Major General Nathaniel P. Banks, whose Federal Army of the Shenandoah was stationed near Front Royal, expressed fears to his superiors that Jackson might attack him, especially now that only the commands of Banks and Major General John C. Fremont still remained in the Valley.
In a message to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, Banks questioned why Brigadier General James Shields was leaving the Valley to help reinforce Federals on the Peninsula: “He (Shields) ought not to move until the purpose of the enemy are more fully developed. There can be no doubt whatever that another immediate movement down the valley, is intended with a force of 30,000 or more.”
The next day, Banks repeated his fears of being shorthanded in the face of a possible Confederate attack, at the same time acknowledging “nothing new to report of the enemy.” Banks again argued against Shields leaving the Valley, stating that since Confederates posed no threat to Shields at Front Royal, then there was no reason for him to leave. But Shields’s superior, Major General Irvin McDowell, reversed this logic by arguing to Stanton that if Shields had no threat facing him, then there was no reason to stay.
The exchange was rendered pointless when Shields’s Federals left the Valley on the 21st and began arriving at Bristoe Station. As they prepared to join the rest of McDowell’s force, McDowell reported that Shields’s ranks were riddled with “officers resigning and even men deserting.” To McDowell, this was all the more reason to keep Shields under his watch rather than leaving him in the Valley.
On the Peninsula, Major General George B. McClellan’s Federal Army of the Potomac now numbered 105,825 officers and men present for duty, with a grand total of 156,838. The addition of McDowell’s force would give McClellan nearly 130,000 effectives, but McClellan still believed he was outnumbered, as he wrote his wife about the Confederates, “The rascals are very strong & outnumber me very considerably, but I will yet succeed notwithstanding all they do & leave undone in Washington to prevent it.”
Finding time to keep up with the latest gossip from Washington provided by intelligence chief Allan Pinkerton, McClellan passed along to his wife: “McDowell has deserted his friend C (Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase) & taken to S (Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton)!!” While Secretary of State William H. Seward and Postmaster General Montgomery Blair continued to “stand firmly by me–Honest A (President Lincoln) has again fallen into the hands of my enemies & is no longer a cordial friend of mine!”
“I am anxious as any human being can be to finish this war, yet when I see such insane folly behind me (in Washington) I feel that the final salvation of the country demands the utmost prudence on my part & that I must not run the slightest risk of disaster, for if anything happened to this army our cause would be lost. I feel too that I must not unnecessarily risk my life, for the fate of my army depends upon me & they all know it.”
By the 21st, most of Jackson’s Confederates had left the Shenandoah Valley and headed east to reinforce Lee on the Peninsula. They marched to Gordonsville and awaited train service to Richmond. A day later, Major General John E. Wool, commanding the Federal garrison at Fort Monroe, reported to Stanton rumors from Major General Franz Sigel in the Valley “that Jackson had 40,000 to 60,000 men and 70 pieces of artillery.”
Wool conceded that this was “probably exaggerated,” but he learned from a “person considered reliable that Jackson will in a short time attack Banks and his forces. If Jackson has the number of troops reported, I think we ought to be looking after Washington.”
Major General John C. Fremont, whose Federals were at Strasburg in the Valley, heard rumors that 4,000 Confederates under Major General Richard Ewell were advancing on his right flank toward Moorefield. Fremont stated, “These reports were most probably exaggerations, but it would be well to guard against the chance of their being true.”
While the Federal high command got bogged down with speculation, Jackson and Ewell were actually heading toward Richmond, with their men between Gordonsville and Fredericks Hall. Jackson attended Sunday church services at Fredericks Hall, and then waited until 1 a.m. on the 23rd (after the Sabbath ended) to ride ahead of his men to meet with Lee. Jackson rode on horseback rather than a train, and he removed all indications of his rank from his uniform so he would not be recognized.
Outside Richmond, Lee wrote privately, “Our enemy is quietly working within his lines, and collecting additional forces to drive us from our capital. I hope we shall be able yet to disappoint him, and drive him back to his own country.”
CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 13765; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 184; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 474; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 170-71; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3698; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 229