No Correct Knowledge of the Enemy’s Movements

By June 13, Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederate army had reentered the Shenandoah Valley and made camp at Weyer’s Cave, near Port Republic. Jackson’s objective was to chase down and destroy the Federals in the Valley. Major General John C. Fremont’s Federal army was in the process of withdrawing to Mount Jackson to the north, while Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Federals were near Winchester, farther north.

Maj Gen “Stonewall” Jackson | Image Credit:

Jackson reported the situation to General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia outside Richmond. While Jackson intended to continue the pursuit, he did not feel comfortable moving all the way to Winchester “until we are in a condition under the blessing of Providence to hold the country.” Lee initially urged Jackson to destroy the Federals, but now he believed that Jackson’s army should move east and reinforce his own. Lee was facing Major General George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac on the Peninsula, and he needed all the help he could get.

Lee forwarded Jackson’s report to President Jefferson Davis with a covering note: “I think the sooner Jackson can move this way, the better–the first object now is to defeat McClellan. The enemy in the Valley seem at a pause. We may strike them here before they are ready there to move up the Valley–they will naturally be cautious and we must be secret & quick.” Davis replied, “View concurred in.”

Jackson proclaimed June 14 to be a day of thanksgiving for his army. He joined in the observance and wrote his wife, “This evening, we have religious services in the army for the purpose of rendering thanks to the Most High for the victories with which He has crowned our arms, and to offer earnest prayer that He will continue to give us success, until, through His divine blessing, our independence shall be established. Wouldn’t you like to get home again?”

Unaware that Lee and Davis were planning to bring the Valley army east, Jackson sent a message to Lee suggesting that if he could get 40,000 reinforcements, he could easily defeat the remaining Federals in the Valley and advance northward unopposed, perhaps even into Pennsylvania. Delivering this message was Congressman Alexander R. Boteler, representing a district in the Shenandoah Valley.

Gen Robert E. Lee | Image Credit:

When Boteler arrived at Lee’s headquarters with Jackson’s message on the 15th, Lee had already decided to bring Jackson east. Boteler opposed this idea, saying it would be better for Jackson to stay in the Valley. Boteler reasoned, “If you bring our valley boys down here at this season among the pestilential swamps of the Chickahominy, the change from their pure mountain air to the miasmatic atmosphere will kill them off faster than the Federals have been doing.”

Boteler also explained, “Jackson has been doing so well with an independent command that it seems a pity not to let him have his own way; and then, too, bringing him here, General, will be–to use a homely phrase–putting all your eggs in one basket.” Lee responded, “I see that you appreciate General Jackson as highly as I myself do, and it is because of my appreciation of him that I wish to have him here.” Lee had Boteler deliver the orders for Jackson to leave the Valley and come east.

Meanwhile, the two main Federal armies in the Valley under Major Generals John C. Fremont and Nathaniel P. Banks joined forces at Middletown. They were also joined by what had been the Harpers Ferry garrison led by Major General Franz Sigel. Fremont had reported that he defeated Jackson’s Confederates at Cross Keys and Port Republic. President Abraham Lincoln was skeptical of this boast but indulged the general nonetheless: “As you alone beat Jackson last Sunday I argue that you are stronger than he is to-day.”

But Fremont expressed fears that Jackson was being heavily reinforced. Lincoln replied that “such re-enforcement could only have come from Richmond, and he is much more likely to go to Richmond than Richmond is to come to him.” As the president explained, “Jackson’s game–his assigned work–now is to magnify the accounts of his numbers and reports of his movements, and thus by constant alarms keep three or four times as many of our troops away from Richmond as his own force amounts to… Our game is not to allow this.”

Lincoln believed the Confederate reinforcements headed for the Valley were probably being sent to deceive the Federals into thinking an attack would take place there. He wrote, “I do not believe Jackson will attack you, but certainly he cannot attack you by surprise; and if he comes upon you in superior force you have but to notify us, fall back cautiously, and Banks will join you in due time.”

The president reiterated that Fremont’s objective was to cover the Shenandoah Valley while Banks guarded the Luray Valley to the east. This would allow Major General Irvin McDowell’s Federals to come down from Fredericksburg to join McClellan for the drive against Lee and Richmond. Lincoln wrote, “I have arranged this, and am very unwilling to have it deranged.”

On the 16th, Boteler returned to Jackson’s headquarters. He explained that Lee could not spare the 40,000 troops that Jackson had requested and then gave him Lee’s written orders:

“The present… seems to be favorable for a junction of your army with this. If you agree with me, the sooner you can make arrangements to do so the better. In moving your troops you can let it be understood that it was to pursue the enemy in your front. Dispose those to hold the Valley so as to deceive the enemy, keeping your cavalry well in their front, and at the proper time suddenly descending upon the Pamunkey… I should like to have the advantage of your views and to be able to confer with you. Will meet you at some point on your approach to the Chickahominy… To be efficacious the movement must be secret.”

Lee correctly guessed that the Federals were no longer a serious threat in the Shenandoah Valley. Jackson immediately began arrangements to set his men in motion for the 120-mile eastward journey to Richmond. He told nobody of Lee’s order, not even his most trusted subordinates. Irvin McDowell was in the process of moving his Federals from the Valley back east to the Peninsula. If Jackson hurried, he would get there first.

Jackson’s Confederates marched to Waynesboro and began boarding trains on the 17th. Jackson obstructed his movements to avoid both Federal detection and Confederate speculation on where they were going. Brigadier General W.H.C. Whiting’s Confederates arrived at Staunton, 20 miles south of Port Republic, to reinforce Jackson, but Jackson ordered Whiting to go back east the same way he had just come without explaining why. This infuriated Whiting, but he complied nonetheless. Moving up a pass in the Blue Ridge, topographer Jedediah Hotchkiss told Jackson, “General, I fear we will not find our wagons tonight.” Jackson said, “Never take counsel of your fears.”

Meanwhile, the Federals still in the Valley received word that Confederate reinforcements were heading there. Brigadier General James Shields, commanding the division at Front Royal that was preparing to rejoin McDowell’s command and go to the Peninsula, received word that up to 40,000 Confederates were heading his way. However, Confederate deserters told Shields that Jackson’s army was leaving the Valley.

Shields chose to believe the deserters and reported to McDowell that Jackson was heading east. At the same time, Shields warned Sigel that 8,500 Confederates were south of Luray. Sigel wrote Fremont, “General Shields has no correct knowledge of the enemy’s movements.”


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