“Stonewall” Jackson’s Winter Offensive

General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate Army of the Potomac at Manassas Junction, had twice received orders from Richmond to send Brigadier General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson west to command forces in the Shenandoah Valley. Twice Johnston resisted. Now a third order came, and Johnston finally complied. Jackson would be going back to the Valley, but he would have to leave his beloved 1st Virginia (“Stonewall”) Brigade behind. On November 4, Jackson issued a farewell address to his men from horseback:

“… In the Army of the Shenandoah you were the First Brigade; in the Army of the Potomac you were the First Brigade; in the Second Corps of this army you are the First Brigade; you are the First Brigade in the affections of your general; and I hope by your future deeds and bearing you will be handed down to posterity as the First Brigade in our second War of Independence, and in the future, on the fields on which the Stonewall Brigade are engaged, I expect to hear of crowning deeds of valor and of victories gloriously achieved! May God bless you all! Farewell!”

Amid cheering and weeping soldiers, Jackson rode off with his chief of staff, Lieutenant Colonel John T.L. Preston, and aide Alexander “Sandie” Pendleton five miles to Manassas Junction, where they boarded a westbound train to Strasburg. From there, they rode 18 miles north on the Valley Turnpike and reached Winchester before midnight, checking into Room 23 at the Taylor Hotel.

The next morning, Jackson established headquarters at Winchester and informed Richmond that he had assumed command of the Shenandoah Valley District within the Department of Northern Virginia. He had just 1,651 men in three undersized brigades, and a token cavalry force under Colonel Turner Ashby. Although they were poorly trained and ill equipped, they were expected to cover 6,000 square miles and defend against three major threats:

  • Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s 18,000 Federals on the Potomac River in western Maryland
  • Brigadier General William S. Rosecrans’s 22,000 Federals over the Alleghenies in western Virginia
  • Brigadier General Benjamin F. Kelley’s 5,000 Federals on Jackson’s west flank at Romney
Gen “Stonewall” Jackson | Image Credit: SonoftheSouth.net

To Jackson’s advantage, the commands under Rosecrans and Kelley belonged to the Department of Western Virginia, which did not effectively cooperate with the Department of the Potomac overseeing Banks. Nevertheless, Jackson called on all troops west of the Alleghenies to concentrate at Winchester, and he sent Colonel Preston to Richmond to report that the Shenandoah Valley was “defenseless.” He asked Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin to give his Stonewall Brigade back.

Benjamin approved, and Jackson’s beloved brigade arrived at Winchester on the 11th. Benjamin also ordered the transfer of 6,000 men from Brigadier General William W. Loring’s Army of the Northwest in western Virginia to Jackson’s command. In so doing, Benjamin bypassed Adjutant General Samuel Cooper, who told Johnston that he believed the troops were being detached to reinforce the Army of the Potomac.

Jackson was still outnumbered, but the Federals were both administratively divided and not as strong as anticipated. Jackson developed a plan of action in the Valley and submitted it to Benjamin through Johnston on the 20th:

“Deeply impressed with the importance of absolute secrecy respecting military operations, I have made it a point to say but little respecting my proposed movements in the event of sufficient reinforcements arriving, but since conversing with Lt. Col. J.T.L. Preston, upon his return from General Loring, and ascertaining the disposition of the general’s forces, I venture to respectfully urge that after concentrating all his troops here an attempt should be made to capture the Federal forces at Romney.”

Jackson suggested that attacking Romney would lead the Federals to conclude that Johnston had weakened his army by sending reinforcements to the Valley. This could induce Major General George B. McClellan’s Federal Army of the Potomac to move against Johnston. If so, Jackson could hurry east to reinforce him, just like at Bull Run. Once McClellan was defeated, Jackson would return to the Valley and “move rapidly westward to the waters of the Monongahela and Little Kanawha… I deem it of very great importance that Northwestern Virginia be occupied by Confederate troops this winter.” To do this, Jackson requested that Loring’s 5,000 remaining Confederates in the western Virginia mountains be assigned to his command at Winchester.

Jackson conceded that such an effort would be “an arduous undertaking,” requiring the sacrifice of “much personal comfort. Admitting that the season is too far advanced, or that from other causes all cannot be accomplished that has been named, yet through the blessing of God, who has thus far so wonderfully prospered our cause, much more may be expected from General Loring’s troops, according to this programme, than can be expected from them where they are.”

Johnston forwarded this plan to Benjamin four days later and stated that it comprised “more than can well be accomplished in that high, mountainous country at this season.” Johnston also worried that Jackson could overextend his lines. He proposed instead that Jackson’s men raid the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad while Loring’s men attack Romney. Johnston advised, “The troops you prepare to employ farther west, might render better & more immediate service elsewhere, especially on the lower Potomac–or in this (Johnston’s) district.”

Despite Johnston’s reservations, Benjamin liked the plan and sent it to Loring to get his opinion because Loring’s military reputation was better than Jackson’s at that time. Benjamin wrote that he had “for several weeks been impressed with the conviction that a sudden and well-concealed movement of your entire command up the valley towards Romney, combined with a movement of General Jackson from Winchester, would result in the entire destruction, and perhaps capture, of the enemy’s whole force at Romney. If upon full consideration you think the proposed movement objectionable and too hazardous, you will decline to make it and so inform the (War) Department.”

Benjamin envisioned “that a continuation of the movement westward, threatening the Cheat River Bridge and the depot at Grafton, would cause a general retreat of the whole forces of the enemy from the Greenbrier region to avoid being cut off from their supplies.” If that could not be done, then “a severe blow might be dealt by the seizure of Cumberland (Maryland).” Benjamin left the final decision to Loring, and if Loring agreed the plan was sound, he was to “execute it as promptly and secretly as possible.”

Loring replied five days later: “I consider a winter campaign practicable if the means of transportation sufficient to move this army can be obtained, and especially in a country where supplies are abundant, which I am informed is the case in that section of Western Virginia where it is proposed to operate. With warm clothing, good tents, and proper attention by the regimental and company officers, there need be no suffering from the climate in that region.”

Gen William W. Loring | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

However, Loring stated that the movement probably could not be done in secrecy because “the Union men have numerous relations throughout this region and will, not withstanding the utmost vigilance, obtain information.” Loring ultimately agreed to join with Jackson, but only after adequate transportation arrived, which could take weeks. Loring concluded, “If, upon consideration of affairs on this line, you should desire the proposed campaign to be prosecuted, be assured that I shall enter into it with a spirit to succeed, and will be seconded by a command as ardent in the cause as any in the country, and who will cheerfully endure all the hardships incident to a winter campaign.”


Bibliography

  • Clark, Champ, Decoying the Yanks: Jackson’s Valley Campaign. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983.
  • Cozzens, Peter, Shenandoah 1862: Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign. The University of North Carolina Press (Kindle Edition), 2008.
  • Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes. Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889.
  • Kallmann, John D. (Patricia L. Faust ed.), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971.

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