Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederate Army of the Shenandoah had seized the village of Romney in northwestern Virginia on January 16. The troops had endured a torturous campaign that featured severe cold, rain, sleet, and snow. Despite this, Jackson planned to immediately resume the march and capture the vital Federal supply depot at Cumberland, Maryland. However, the bitterly cold weather had taken its toll on the troops; one unit reported that only 15 men could walk. In addition, Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin denied Jackson’s request for reinforcements.
Jackson then changed his plan to instead send a detachment to destroy railroad bridges west of Romney. But this also proved untenable, so Jackson reluctantly settled into winter quarters. Part of his army would be stationed at Bath and Moorefield to defend against the Federals across the Potomac River at Hancock, Maryland. The three brigades under Brigadier General William W. Loring would stay at Romney to guard the South Branch Valley. Jackson would lead Brigadier General Richard “Dick” Garnett’s Stonewall Brigade back to Winchester, the campaign’s starting point, 30 miles southeast.
The Stonewall Brigade left Romney on the 21st. Jackson sent a glowing report on his campaign to Richmond: “On the first of this month there was not a loyal citizen of Morgan County who in my opinion could remain safely at home, and the same may be said respecting the most valuable portion of Hampshire County. A kind Providence has restored to us the entire county of Morgan and nearly the entire county of Hampshire.” But in reality, Jackson’s campaign had accomplished very little. Though his men had captured Romney, the Federal high command had planned to fall back to better protect their railroad supply line anyway.
Loring, who had opposed this campaign almost from the start, resented Jackson for leaving him and his men at Romney, which they described as “a hog pen.” A Virginia private wrote that the village looked “very much as if it had been visited by an earthquake and pretty well shaken to pieces.” Another private wrote his wife, “I have not changed clothes for two weeks… I am afraid the dirt is sticking in, as I am somewhat afflicted with the baby’s complaint–a pain under the apron.”
Jackson’s refusal to divulge his plans added to Loring’s resentment. In addition, Loring believed that Romney had no strategic value, and keeping his depleted force there left them vulnerable to an attack by Federals stationed just 20 miles away. There were too many roads to defend with too few men to defend them. Federals in the area numbered about 13,000 while Loring could muster no more than 5,000.
Most importantly, the troops had suffered severe privations that caused rampant sickness and weather-related illness. Colonel Samuel V. Fulkerson, commanding the 37th Virginia under Loring, exerted his influence as a former judge to complain to two Virginia congressmen: “The terrible exposure since leaving Winchester has emaciated the force to almost a skeleton… if the men could yet be placed in a position where their spirits could be revived, many of them would reenlist for the war.”
Fulkerson asserted that Romney was worthless because “the country around it has been exhausted by the enemy, and its proximity to the enemy and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad will wear us away (already greatly reduced) by heavy picket and guard duty.” Fulkerson’s brigade commander, Brigadier General William Taliaferro, endorsed the letter.
A petition was signed by 12 officers and sent to Loring: “Instead of finding, as expected, a little repose during midwinter, we are ordered to remain at this place. Our position at and near Romney is one of the most disagreeable and unfavorable that could well be imagined.” Loring was asked to “present the condition of your command to the War Department, and earnestly ask that it may be ordered to some more favorable position.”
Loring agreed, but following military guidelines, he also sent the petition to Jackson, his immediate superior. Jackson sent the petition to his superiors after adding: “Respectfully forwarded, but disapproved.” Loring also sent a copy to Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin with a note: “I am most anxious to re-enlist this fine army, equal to any I ever saw, and am satisfied if something is not done to relieve it, it will be found impossible to induce the army to do so, but with some regard for its comfort, a large portion, if not the whole, may be prevailed upon.” A third copy of the petition was sent to Taliaferro, who was on furlough in Richmond, to personally deliver to President Jefferson Davis.
Not everyone in Richmond sympathized with the plight of the Confederates at Romney. One of the congressmen whom Fulkerson had contacted, Walter Preston of Virginia, remarked, “It’s a great pity, sir, that General Jackson has not bitten some of his subordinates on furlough and infected them with the same sort of craziness that he has himself.” But by this time, rumors were swirling around the capital about dissension in Jackson’s ranks, and it needed to be addressed.
Colonel Albert Rust directly appeared to President Davis for a transfer from “that crazy preacher who marched us up and down the icy mountains to no purpose.” Benjamin wrote to General Joseph E. Johnston, Jackson’s superior: “The accounts which have reached us of the condition of the army in the Valley District fill us with apprehension.” Benjamin asked Johnston to “take such measures as you think prudent under the circumstances, and report to the Department whether any measures are necessary on its part to restore the efficiency of that army, said to be seriously impaired.”
In the meantime, Loring directed a survey of the Romney vicinity by Seth M. Barton, one of Jackson’s engineers. Loring reported that Barton had found the area “indefensible,” writing to Richmond: “If it is the intention to keep this command here, I am compelled to say that the force is not equal to the requirements, and I therefore respectfully but earnestly request a re-enforcement of 3,000 men to meet the immediate concentration of the enemy as well as to relieve the command of the unparalleled exposure to which they have been and are now subjected.”
The Davis administration would soon address this controversial affair and cause an even greater controversy.
- 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.
- Smith, Dean E. (Patricia L. Faust ed.), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.