Tag Archives: Robert C. Schenck

The Second Battle of Winchester

June 15, 1863 – The vanguard of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia attacked the supposedly impregnable Federal defenses at Winchester, precipitating a Federal disaster.

Gen. Robert Milroy | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Major General Robert H. Milroy’s division within the Federal Middle Department was assigned to protect Winchester and Harpers Ferry in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. As the Confederates approached, Milroy’s immediate superior, Major General Robert C. Schenck, as well as General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, had urged Milroy to abandon Winchester and hold Harpers Ferry. But Milroy insisted that Winchester could be held.

Schenck ultimately left it to Milroy to decide whether to abandon Winchester, and Milroy opted to stay and defend the three forts north and west of town. By the 14th, two divisions from Lieutenant General Richard Ewell’s Confederate Second Corps, led by Major Generals Edward “Allegheny” Johnson and Jubal Early, were closing in on Winchester from the south, east, and west.

Milroy’s Federals pulled back into the forts. President Abraham Lincoln, seeing the potential for disaster, wired Schenck at Baltimore, “Get Milroy from Winchester to Harpers Ferry if possible. If he remains he will get gobbled up, if he is not already past salvation.”

Johnson feinted from the south and east, while Early positioned his troops to the west. The Confederates brought up 22 guns and began bombarding the forts at 6 p.m. At 6:45, one of Early’s brigades attacked the main fort to the west, while Johnson drove against the two to the north. Early’s men captured one of Milroy’s key earthworks, and the Confederates nearly surrounded the Federals by nightfall.

Meanwhile, the rest of Ewell’s corps, Major General Robert Rodes’s infantry division and Brigadier General Albert G. Jenkins’s cavalry, attacked the 1,500-man Federal garrison at Martinsburg, behind Milroy to the north. Jenkins attacked first; the Federals initially held firm but evacuated as many supplies as possible before being overrun. By the time Rodes’s infantry arrived, many of the Federals had escaped. But the Confederates still took 700 prisoners, along with five guns and a large amount of supplies.

Back at Winchester, Milroy held a council of war at 9 p.m. Surrender was not an option since Milroy was considered an outlaw by the Confederate government and could face execution for his suppression of civilians and his liberation of slaves. The officers agreed to try escaping northeast to Harpers Ferry, via Martinsburg, along the same route Milroy had used last year to elude “Stonewall” Jackson.

The Federals were to move out at 1 a.m., but before they left, they had orders to destroy all the wagons, guns, and supplies they could not take with them. The men began moving toward Stephenson’s Depot, on the Martinsburg Turnpike four miles north of Winchester.

Confederate Lieut Gen Richard Ewell | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Ewell, who had served under “Stonewall” Jackson, anticipated Milroy’s plan and ordered Johnson to block the turnpike at Stephenson’s Depot. This maneuver, which was very difficult to execute in darkness, took five hours. Nevertheless, the Confederates reached the depot around 3 a.m., ahead of the retreating Federals.

During this time, messages were exchanged between Lincoln and Major General Joseph Hooker, commanding the Army of the Potomac. Lincoln asked incredulously, “Do you consider it possible that 15,000 of Ewell’s men can now be at Winchester?” He then asked if Hooker could somehow rescue Milroy. Hooker replied, “I do not feel like making a move for an enemy until I am satisfied as to his whereabouts. To proceed to Winchester and have him make his appearance elsewhere, would subject me to ridicule.”

Lincoln cited Hooker’s own message stating that the corps of both Ewell and Lieutenant General James Longstreet had left Culpeper Court House. If Hooker was right, then, Lincoln wrote, “I should feel sure that Winchester is strongly invested.” Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton then informed Hooker that Ewell’s corps was divided between Martinsburg and Winchester, but Hooker still would not move.

As Milroy’s Federals approached Stephenson’s Depot, they saw the Confederates blocking their path at a bridge. They tried fighting their way through, but rather than use his numerical advantage for one overwhelming assault, Milroy sent his men against the enemy piecemeal. The Confederates scattered the Federals with artillery, and as the sun rose, Milroy ordered them to disperse. They fled in all directions as the Confederates rounded most of them up.

The Federals sustained 443 casualties and lost over 4,000 taken prisoner. Milroy escaped. The Confederates also took 23 guns, 300 wagons, 300 horses, and enormous amounts of supplies while losing just 269 men (47 killed, 219 wounded, and three missing). Ewell’s victory at the Second Battle of Winchester was greater than Jackson’s victory over Nathaniel P. Banks in the first.

This, along with the victory at Martinsburg, cleared the Federals out of the Shenandoah Valley and opened the path for General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia to invade the North. Rodes’s division under Ewell became the first Confederate unit to cross the Potomac River. Jenkins’s Confederate cavalry rode on toward Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, to gather supplies.

A court of inquiry later investigated Milroy’s conduct at Winchester, including his insistence on holding the town and his claim that he could withstand any Confederate attack. The court absolved Milroy of any blame for the fiasco, but he never held a significant command again.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Gettysburg: The Confederate High Tide (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 23-25; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18985; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 294; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 440; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 310-11; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 365-66; Pritchard, Russ A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 176; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 307-08, 495-96, 834-35

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Confederates Threaten Winchester

June 12, 1863 – Part of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia drove toward Winchester on its way to the Potomac River and the North.

As the Confederates continued their march toward the Shenandoah Valley, the only substantial obstacle in their path was Major General Robert H. Milroy’s 5,100-man Federal division, which had guarded Winchester and Harpers Ferry since January. This force was part of Major General Robert C. Schenck’s Middle Department. Schenck, headquartered at Baltimore, warned Milroy to be on alert and prepare to defend Harpers Ferry against a potential attack, even if it meant abandoning Winchester.

Gen. Robert Milroy | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Milroy was extremely unpopular among the people of Winchester because of his dictatorial rule. He destroyed buildings and houses to build fortifications, he arrested anyone expressing Confederate sympathies, he freed local slaves (prompting Virginia Governor John Letcher to offer a $100,000 reward for his capture or execution), and he seized private homes to shelter his troops. Even many Unionists had turned against Milroy due to his harsh tactics.

Milroy told Schenck that abandoning Winchester would not be necessary because he had built defenses there that could withstand any Confederate assault. One of Schenck’s aides inspected the defenses and reported that the Federals “can whip anything the rebels can fetch here.” Milroy asserted, “I can and would hold it, if permitted to do so against any force the rebels can afford to bring against me, and I exceedingly regret the prospect of having to give it up…”

General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, who saw no benefit in holding Winchester, wrote Schenck:

“Harpers Ferry is the important place, Winchester is of no importance other than as a lookout. The Winchester troops, except enough to serve as an outpost, should be withdrawn to Harpers Ferry.”

The message was forwarded to Milroy with an attachment: “It must be considered an order, and obeyed accordingly. Take immediate steps. You understand this.” Milroy replied on the 11th, “I have sufficient force to hold the place safely, but if any portion is withdrawn the balance will be captured in 48 hours.”

Meanwhile, the vanguard of the Confederate army, Lieutenant General Richard Ewell’s Second Corps, continued moving toward Winchester, reaching the eastern edge of the Blue Ridge that day and crossing on the 12th. Ewell planned to divide his 13,000 men by sending part to take Colonel Andrew T. McReynolds’s 1,800-man Federal brigade at Berryville and part to take Milroy’s garrison at Winchester.

Although Halleck had urged Milroy to withdraw to Harpers Ferry, Milroy insisted that his Federals could hold Winchester. Schenck, after receiving Milroy’s assurance that Winchester could be held, wired him, “Be ready, but wait for further orders.” Milroy was to “make all the required preparations for withdrawing,” but stay put unless ordered to leave.

Of the three Federal commands in the Shenandoah Valley (Milroy’s at Winchester, McReynolds’s at Berryville, and Brigadier General Benjamin F. Kelley’s at Harpers Ferry), none had seen anything more than Confederate cavalry and therefore did not know a Confederate army was heading their way. But Milroy guessed they would come at some point, wiring Schenck, “The enemy are probably approaching in some force. I am entirely ready for them. I can hold this place.”

Milroy explained that holding Winchester was vital to secure the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, guard Unionists in the region, and protect nearby foodstuffs being harvested for the troops. The fortifications outside the town made Milroy confident that “I can hold them against five times my number.” Based on this, Milroy wrote, “I am, therefore, decidedly of the opinion that every dictate of interest, policy, humanity, patriotism, and bravery requires that we should not yield a foot of this country up to the traitors again.”

By day’s end, Ewell’s Confederates had marched through Chester Gap and camped north of Cedarville, less than 20 miles from Winchester. The next morning, Ewell’s cavalry under Brigadier General Albert G. Jenkins and one of his infantry divisions under Major General Robert Rodes struck out for Berryville, while Ewell’s other two divisions under Major Generals Edward “Allegheny” Johnson and Jubal Early headed to Winchester, 12 miles east of Berryville.

Rodes hoped to take McReynolds by surprise, but a Federal picket had already alerted him of the Confederates’ approach. Rodes dispatched Jenkins’s cavalry to pursue the withdrawing garrison, but the troopers could not catch the Federals before they joined Milroy at Winchester. McReynolds, having only seen enemy cavalry during his withdrawal, still did not know that Confederate infantry was approaching.

At Harpers Ferry, Kelley heard rumors that the Confederates had destroyed all available supplies at Berryville. He wrote, “If this is reliable, it would seem as if it was not a movement in force” because an advancing army would need those supplies.

Meanwhile, Johnson drove in Federal outposts south of Winchester, while Early moved to confront the fort west of town. Skirmishing occurred until nightfall, when Milroy learned from a Confederate prisoner that his Federals were facing Ewell’s corps. He wrote Schenck, “I can hold this place five days if you can relieve me in that time. They will surround, but can’t take, my fortifications.”

Schenck ordered Milroy to abandon Winchester, but the message did not get through due to downed telegraph wires.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Gettysburg: The Confederate High Tide (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 22-23, 32-33; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18985; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 293-94; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 439-40; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 308-09; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 364-65; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 307-08, 495-96, 834-35

Lee’s Fateful Message to Jackson

May 16, 1862 – As Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson moved back east, he received a message from General Robert E. Lee giving him free rein to operate against the Federals in the Shenandoah Valley, and even threaten Washington.

Gens R.E. Lee and T.J. Jackson | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Gens R.E. Lee and T.J. Jackson | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Following Jackson’s victory at McDowell, his cavalry under Colonel Turner Ashby briefly continued pursuing the Federals under Brigadier Generals Robert C. Schenck and Robert H. Milroy before moving further north down the Shenandoah Valley toward Harrisonburg.

Jackson’s infantry pursued Schenck and Milroy for 10 miles as the Federals fell back toward Franklin. However, the Federals’ rear guard defense and bad roads thwarted the Confederates. Jackson continued pursuing the next day, blocking Schenck and Milroy from linking with the rest of Major General John C. Fremont’s army from the Mountain Department.

Meanwhile, Jackson’s topographer, Jedediah Hotchkiss, led a cavalry detachment in felling trees and rolling rocks to obstruct the roads between Franklin and Harrisonburg that could link Fremont with the other Federal army in the Valley under Major General Nathaniel P. Banks.

Ashby’s troopers rode to Swift Run Gap, where Major General Richard Ewell’s Confederate division was camped. Ashby informed Ewell of the victory at McDowell and delivered a message from Jackson:

“I desire to follow the enemy as far as practicable to-day. My troops are in advance. Should circumstances justify it, I will try, through God’s blessing, to get in Banks’ rear; and if I succeed in this I desire you to press him as far as may be consistent with your own safety should he fall back.”

This message confused Ewell since Jackson was still near Franklin, 60 miles west. More information came from a Federal deserter, who told Ewell that one of Banks’s two divisions under Brigadier General James Shields was heading east out of the Valley while the other was advancing on Strasburg. Ewell, who had been idle at Swift Run Gap since April 30, was growing increasingly frustrated with Jackson’s refusal to divulge his plans or offer any details on strategy.

Back west, heavy rain continued slowing Jackson’s pursuit of Schenck and Milroy until he finally called it off on the 12th. By that time, the Federals had taken up defensive positions outside Franklin, and Jackson, having no desire to attack them, pulled back. Also, Jackson received word that Banks’s army was poised to leave the Valley and reinforce the Federals on the Virginia Peninsula.

Jackson directed his adjutant general to issue an order “to render thanks to Almighty God for having crowned our arms with success and to implore His continued favor.” The adjutant general, a Presbyterian minister, expanded the order to an entire day of spiritual reflection. Jackson approved and participated with his troops.

Meanwhile, Ewell wanted to stop Shields’s Federals from leaving the Valley but received no authorization from Jackson to do so. Ewell vented his fury on anyone near him, asking one colonel, “did it ever occur to you that General Jackson is crazy?” He dispatched cavalry to impede Shields’s progress and yelled that Jackson “is as crazy as a March Hare!” To another officer, Ewell hollered, “Why, I could crush Shields before night if I could move from here!… This man Jackson is certainly a crazy fool, an idiot!”

Ewell was unaware that Jackson planned to return to the Valley. The next day, Ewell received orders from Jackson to advance north toward Strasburg to confront Banks. Jackson, having held Fremont in check, would have Ashby’s troopers screen his infantrymen as they turned back east to join Ewell. Jackson issued strict orders to the troops for the return march:

  • Fall in at attention, then march on and off cadence at intervals of up to 300 yards.
  • Do not leave the march without an officer’s permission.
  • Take 10 minutes of every hour to rest in a prone position.

As Ewell prepared to move out, he told one of his brigade commanders, “General Jackson’s views may change at any moment. I won’t go too far under present instructions, as I may be wanted elsewhere.” Ewell was right. On May 16, Jackson asked him how long it would take him to get to Harrisonburg to the west and not Strasburg to the north. Jackson also asked Ewell to bring along the two additional brigades at Gordonsville that General Robert E. Lee had sent him, even though Lee had ordered them to stay east of the Valley.

As Jackson’s men observed a “fast day,” Lee learned from Ewell that Shields’s division was moving northward down the Valley toward the Manassas Gap Railroad, which would be a good position to reinforce either Fredericksburg or the Peninsula as needed. Fearing that Banks may soon withdraw his other division from the Valley, Lee wrote to Jackson:

“Whatever may be Banks’ intention, it is very desirable to prevent him from going either to Fredericksburg or the Peninsula… A successful blow struck at him would delay, if it does not prevent, his moving to either place. But you will not, in any demonstration you may make in that direction, lose sight of the fact that it may become necessary for you to come to the support of General Johnston, and hold yourself in readiness to do so if required. Whatever movement you make against Banks do it speedily, and if successful drive him back toward the Potomac, and create the impression, as far as practicable, that you design threatening that line.”

This important message empowered Jackson to advance his Confederates all the way to the Potomac.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Clark, Champ, Decoying the Yanks: Jackson’s Valley Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 114; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 168-69, 171; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 416, 421-22; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 150-53; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 208-09, 211; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 460, 677

The Battle of McDowell

May 8, 1862 – A fight for possession of a key hill resulted in a Federal withdrawal and Confederates seizing the initiative in the Shenandoah Valley.

Brigadier General Robert H. Milroy’s Federal division from Major General John C. Fremont’s army was isolated at the hamlet of McDowell. The town was virtually impossible to defend because it was surrounded by hills that attackers could use to fire down on defenders. The most formidable ridge was Sitlington’s Hill.

Brigadier General Edward “Allegheny” Johnson’s Confederates spied Milroy’s Federals from the heights outside McDowell. This 3,000-man force was several miles ahead of Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s 7,000 Confederates marching along the Staunton & Parkersburg turnpike to join them. Milroy deployed artillery and skirmishers to contest Johnson’s approach. Johnson held back, opting to wait for Jackson’s arrival.

When Jackson came up, he surveyed the situation and determined that a frontal attack would prove too costly because the Confederates would have to funnel through a narrow ravine that the Federals could cover with cannon and rifles. Thus, Jackson planned to occupy Sitlington’s Hill and launch a flank attack from there.

Meanwhile, Brigadier General Robert C. Schenck’s 1,500-man Federal brigade arrived to reinforce Milroy, giving the Federals about 6,500 men. Schenck, outranking Milroy, guessed that Jackson would not attack that day and began arranging to evacuate McDowell that night. However, Milroy received word that Jackson was placing a battery on Sitlington’s Hill that could fire down on McDowell and decimate his force. Schenck allowed Milroy to reconnoiter the hill with five regiments totaling about 2,300 men.

Although Jackson was not placing artillery on Sitlington’s Hill due to the difficulty of getting guns on the heights, he was positioning infantry there. The Confederates held the crest while Jackson, not suspecting Federal opposition, scouted for a potential flanking movement to the north.

The Federals began scaling the slope around 3 p.m. They were met by Johnson’s Confederates firing on them from above, hidden by boulders and dense woods. The Federals continued ascending, and as the ground leveled, they launched a heavy attack on Johnson’s right. Jackson deployed troops to shore up the line’s weak center, where vicious hand-to-hand fighting ensued.

Map of the fight at McDowell | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Map of the fight at McDowell | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Another two Confederate regiments took up positions on the right to prevent the Federals from flanking their line. The Confederates held firm, withstanding hours of infantry lunges and artillery barrages. As the sun began setting, the Federals ran low on ammunition. They gathered their wounded and fell back to McDowell.

Around 2 a.m. on the 9th, Schenck and Milroy agreed to withdraw across the Bull Pasture River toward Franklin, 30 miles north. The retreat began that evening, as Milroy stayed behind with a detachment to tend to the dead and wounded, and to burn any supplies they could not take with them. The Federals were gone by morning.

Plaque on the battlefield | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Plaque on the battlefield | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The Federals lost 261 men (26 killed, 230 wounded, and five missing), while the Confederates lost 532 (146 killed, 382 wounded, and four missing). Surprisingly, the defenders holding the high ground sustained more losses than the attackers, partly because the Federal weapons were more advanced and accurate, and shadows on the mountain made the Federal troops harder targets. “Allegheny” Johnson was put out of action with a serious ankle wound; Jackson absorbed Johnson’s Army of the Northwest into his new Army of the Valley. He telegraphed Richmond on the 9th: “God blessed our arms with victory at McDowell yesterday.”

Despite the heavier losses, this was Jackson’s first battle victory in the Shenandoah Valley, as it prevented the elements of Fremont’s army (i.e., Schenck and Milroy) from joining forces with Banks’s Federals at Staunton. It also ended Fremont’s pipe dream of invading eastern Tennessee and taking Knoxville. Most importantly, it enabled Jackson to seize the initiative in the Valley, and from this point forward he would not let go.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (8 May 1862); Clark, Champ, Decoying the Yanks: Jackson’s Valley Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 101-02; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 167; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 149; Jensen, Les D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 834; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 208-09; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 455; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 385; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 460, 677

The Shenandoah Valley Campaign Intensifies

May 7, 1862 – Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederates moved west to join forces with the Army of the Northwest and confront a detachment of Major General John C. Fremont’s Federal army.

Maj Gen "Stonewall" Jackson | Image Credit: SonoftheSouth.net

Maj Gen “Stonewall” Jackson | Image Credit: SonoftheSouth.net

On May 1, the Lincoln administration directed Major General Nathaniel P. Banks, commanding the Federal Department of the Shenandoah, to send Brigadier General James Shields’s division east to reinforce Major General Irvin McDowell’s Army of the Rappahannock near Fredericksburg. This left Banks with just one division in the Valley.

With Banks effectively neutralized, Jackson’s small Confederate army moved west to join forces with Brigadier General Edward “Allegheny” Johnson. General Robert E. Lee, advisor to President Jefferson Davis, had originally urged Jackson to attack Banks, but Jackson opted to confront the other Federal army in the Valley under Fremont. Lee approved on the 1st, after Jackson had already gone into motion.

Banks believed that Jackson had gone east, out of the Valley. Jackson tried to confirm that belief by planning to first head east and then suddenly turn west to meet up with Johnson near Staunton. This was rendered unnecessary by Banks detaching Shields, but Jackson pushed his men nonetheless and divulged his plan to nobody.

They slogged through pouring rain on the 1st, covering just five miles in the move from Conrad’s Store to Staunton. A new recruit, Private Joe Kaufman, wrote in his diary, “I begin to think Old Jack is a hard master from the way he is putting us through. Oh, how I wish peace would be declared!”

When the troops reached Port Republic late on the 2nd, they turned east toward the Blue Ridge and bivouacked at the western foot of Brown’s Gap that night. The men had marched just 15 miles in two and a half days. The march resumed the next day through Brown’s Gap, with their secret destination being the Virginia Central Railroad at the Mechums River. “Old Jack” drove subordinates crazy by refusing to share his plans, but he fooled both friend and foe into thinking he was leaving the Valley, which set the stage for his upcoming offensive.

Jackson’s Confederates arrived at the Mechums River Station, about 10 miles west of Charlottesville, on Sunday the 4th. As the men arrived, they were loaded onto westbound trains heading back into the Valley, having tricked the Federals into thinking they were leaving. Jackson himself rode to Staunton and met with his cavalry commander, Colonel Turner Ashby, who had been observing Banks’s Federals around Harrisonburg.

As Jackson set up headquarters at the Virginia Hotel, his troops began arriving via railroad around 5 p.m., wondering why they had marched east only to be shipped back west. The brilliance of the move was not immediately apparent.

By the following evening, Jackson’s entire force assembled around Staunton. “Allegheny” Johnson’s Confederates were six miles west and moving closer as they retreated from Brigadier General Robert H. Milroy’s division detached from Fremont’s army. While in Staunton, Jackson finally replaced his old blue major’s uniform from his teaching days at the Virginia Military Institute with a new major general’s uniform.

The next day, Jackson pushed his men west to link with Johnson. In four days, Jackson’s men had marched 92 miles and traveled another 25 by rail in a remarkable feat of logistics. Meanwhile, a Confederate detachment skirmished with Banks’s Federals and pushed them back from Harrisonburg to New Market. Banks was completely fooled as to Jackson’s location and intention. With Milroy at Monterey, Jackson and Johnson headed for McDowell, a hamlet 10 miles east of Milroy.

The two Confederate commands were still separated by about a five-hour march as they reached the eastern edge of the Alleghenies and closed in on McDowell, with Johnson’s 3,000 men in the lead. When the forces combined, they would number about 10,000. The Federals spotted the Confederates approaching along the Staunton & Parkersburg turnpike. After a quick artillery barrage, the Federals withdrew across the Bull Pasture River toward McDowell, leaving their baggage and tents.

That night, Fremont responded to Milroy’s call for reinforcements by sending Brigadier General Robert C. Schenck’s 1,500-man brigade. This would increase Milroy’s total to 6,000. If Milroy chose to attack quickly the next morning, he could have destroyed Johnson’s small force before Jackson could move up to reinforce him. But Milroy opted to stay on the defensive.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Clark, Champ, Decoying the Yanks: Jackson’s Valley Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 87-89, 99-101; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 166-67; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 145, 148; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3370; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 208; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 460, 677