Tag Archives: Turner Ashby

“Stonewall” Jackson Turns the Tables

June 7, 1862 – Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederate army continued moving south up the Shenandoah Valley and prepared to face two Federal forces approaching from both the east and west.

Federal Brigadier General James Shields, whose pursuit of Jackson had been thwarted due to burned bridges and swelling rivers, continued heading south to block the Confederates’ retreat. Shields wrote his superior, Major General Irvin McDowell, that despite the obstacles, he intended to “ascend the river, cross it and take Jackson in the rear.”

How Shields would do this was a mystery since he also reported that his men were dangerously low on supplies and “destitute of everything in the way of shoes.” But Shields felt this was the only way to destroy Jackson, as he explained to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, “I cannot now take him (Jackson) in reverse, owing to the inundation. I cannot fight against the elements, but give me bread to keep me alive and they (Jackson’s men) will never leave the valley.”

Although the other Federal commanders in the Valley had consistently guessed Jackson had about 20,000 men, Shields more accurately estimated all along that Jackson had no more than 7,000. As such, Shields told Stanton that he could “stampede them down to Richmond if you give me plenty of bread.”

Shields based his strategy on the false assumption that Jackson was trying to leave the Valley to join the Confederates on the Virginia Peninsula. Shields dispatched part of his force to Staunton, while his remaining Federals guarded the bridge to Port Republic, which Shields thought Jackson needed to escape.

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

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

But Jackson was not planning to escape. His men were in line of battle at New Market, expecting Shields to attack from the east and Major General John C. Fremont’s Federal army to advance from the west. When neither Shields nor Fremont showed, Jackson resumed his eastward march at 1 a.m. on the 5th. Jackson knew Shields would have to either return north or try crossing the Shenandoah River at Port Republic. If Shields chose the latter, Jackson would oppose him.

Jackson’s Confederates reached Harrisonburg on the morning of June 5, having marched over 100 miles in a week. The troops passed through town and then turned toward Port Republic, 11 miles southeast, with Fremont pursuing on the Valley turnpike.

The Confederate vanguard reached Port Republic near nightfall, as Jackson learned that Brigadier General Turner Ashby’s Confederate cavalry had destroyed all the bridges between Front Royal and Port Republic. This would prevent Shields from crossing the river and joining forces with Fremont. Confederate signalmen atop Massanutten Mountain reported that Shields was still in the Luray Valley, 14 miles away, and Fremont remained near New Market.

Meanwhile, General Robert E. Lee, now commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia on the Peninsula, envisioned Jackson taking the offensive in the Valley while Lee prepared to counterattack Major General George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac. Lee wrote President Jefferson Davis:

“After much reflection, I think if it was possible to reinforce Jackson strongly, it would change the character of the war. This can only be done by the troops in Georgia, S.C. and N.C. Jackson could in that event cross Maryland into Penn. It would call all the enemy from our Southern Coast and liberate those states. If these states will give up their troops I think it can be done… McClellan will make this a battle of posts. He will take position from position, under cover of his heavy guns. I am preparing a line that I can hold with part of our forces in front, while with the rest I will endeavour to make a diversion to bring McClellan out.”

Lee began working with Secretary of War George W. Randolph to gather the reinforcements Jackson had requested. Lee was aided by continuous rain on the Peninsula, which virtually assured that McClellan would not attack. McClellan’s lack of aggressiveness prompted Lee to push for Jackson to take the offensive in a message to Randolph: “His plan is to march to Front Royal and crush Shields. It is his only course, and as he is a good soldier, I expect him to do it.”

By the 6th, Jackson had beaten Shields in the race to Port Republic, while Ashby set up defenses near Harrisonburg to fend off Fremont coming from the west. As Ashby’s men pulled out to join the rest of the army, his troopers scattered a half hearted attempt by Federal cavalry to pursue. The Confederates captured Colonel Percy Wyndham, a British soldier-of-fortune, and 63 of his men.

Ashby then turned to confront Federal infantry marching through Harrisonburg, with support from Major General Richard Ewell’s Confederates. The Federals came on stronger than Ashby expected and nearly routed the Confederates; Ashby was killed leading a countercharge. Ewell took command, and the Confederates eventually drove the Federals back. Ewell then withdrew to join Jackson’s main force.

Ashby’s troopers mourned the loss of their popular commander. Jackson was informed of Ashby’s death that night, and he wrote in his report several months later:

“As a partisan officer I never knew his superior. His daring was proverbial; his power of endurance almost incredible; his tone of character heroic; and his sagacity almost intuitive in divining the purposes and movements of the enemy.”

As the day ended, Fremont moved south along one branch of the Shenandoah River, and Shields advanced along the other. Ewell’s Confederates resumed their withdrawal the next day before stopping at Cross Keys, a hamlet six miles from Harrisonburg, to make a stand against Fremont’s approaching Federals. Ewell commanded positions on a ridge overlooking several miles of open ground that the Federals would have to cross. Ewell posted four artillery batteries in the center of his line, and woods afforded him natural protection on both his flanks.

Meanwhile, Jackson’s Confederates marched another three miles and positioned themselves on high ground overlooking the confluence of rivers at Port Republic. From this point, they could see Shields’s Federals advancing. Confederate Congressman Alexander R. Boteler delivered a message to Jackson from President Davis, which congratulated the general on his success and responded to his request for more men:

“Were it practicable to send you reinforcements it should be done, and your past success shows how surely you would, with an adequate force, destroy the wicked designs of the invader of our homes and assailer of our political rights… (but) it is on your skill and daring that reliance is to be placed. The army under your command encourages us to hope for all which men can achieve.”

Jackson, knowing his command could be called to the Virginia Peninsula at any time, wrote to General Joseph E. Johnston (still unaware that Lee had replaced Johnston as army commander):

“Should my command be required at Richmond I can be at Mechum’s River Depot, on the Central Railroad, the second day’s march, and part of the command can reach there the first day, as the distance is 25 miles. At present, I do not see that I can do much more than rest my command and devote its time to drilling.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Decoying the Yanks: Jackson’s Valley Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 157-58; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 13849-67; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 181; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 457-59; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 162-63; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3591-3603; Jensen, Les D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 194; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 222-23; Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 24-25

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The Battle of Winchester

May 25, 1862 – Confederates won a tremendous victory to gain control of most of the Shenandoah Valley and make the name “Stonewall” a legend in the South.

Major General Nathaniel P. Banks, whose 6,500 Federals had won the race to Winchester, held defensive works south of the town to face Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s oncoming Confederates. Having been soundly beaten and pursued, Banks guessed that Jackson had 25,000 men, but he actually had no more than about 10,000 effectives due to combat casualties, illness, straggling, and extreme fatigue.

Banks deployed his men on the low range of hills south of Winchester. Breaking his own rule not to fight on the Sabbath, Jackson advanced early that morning, with the Confederates probing through dense fog. Jackson sent Brigadier General Charles S. Winder’s Stonewall Brigade, supported by Colonel John A. Campbell’s brigade, against the Federal center at Bower’s Hill. They easily pushed the Federals off the ridge, but the Federals put up stronger resistance in falling back to a second ridge.

Both sides traded artillery fire, but the superior Federal guns got the best of the exchange. Meanwhile, Major General Richard Ewell’s division attacked the undersized Federal left flank. Jackson directed the brigade under Brigadier General Richard Taylor (son of former President Zachary Taylor) to attack the extreme Federal right in concert with Ewell on the left.

Battle map | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Battle map | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Taylor’s Confederates shrieked the “Rebel yell” as they charged, and the rest of the Confederate army followed suit. The Federals resisted at first, but both flanks quickly crumbled, and finally the troops broke and fled in panic toward the Potomac River. The Confederates seized their defenses and entered Winchester, where they took all the valuable supplies that the Federals left behind.

The pro-Confederate residents came out to cheer their liberators, prompting the troops to stop and take in the adulation when Jackson wanted them to continue pressing Banks all the way to the Potomac. Jackson could not find Brigadier General Turner Ashby’s cavalry, which he needed to lead the pursuit; they were busy looting the Federal camps. So he called up Ewell’s cavalry, but they did not arrive until mid-afternoon.

The Confederates started giving chase, but they dropped out from exhaustion at Bunker Hill, six miles north. Banks may have gotten away, but “Old Jack” had driven him out of the Valley and captured his supply depot. This made the battle at Winchester a resounding Confederate victory and Jackson a hero in the Confederacy.

The Confederates captured nearly 10,000 small arms, 500,000 rounds of ammunition, two rifled cannon, $250,000 worth of medical supplies, 103 heads of cattle, and almost 25,000 pounds of provisions. They had captured so many of Banks’s supplies over the past three days that they nicknamed the Federal commander “Commissary Banks.”

The Federals suffered 2,028 casualties in the chase yesterday and the battle today (71 killed, 243 wounded, and 1,714 missing, of which about 800 were taken prisoner). The Confederates lost just 400 (68 killed, 329 wounded, and three missing). Jackson now had control of most of the Shenandoah Valley and was just 50 miles away from Washington.

The Lincoln administration panicked upon learning of this latest defeat in the Valley, but the panic was somewhat calmed by news that Brigadier General James Shields’s division was moving west from Fredericksburg to reinforce Banks. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton called on the governors of the northern states to send troops to protect Washington, and President Lincoln looked to Major General George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac for the victory the Federals so desperately needed.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (25 May 1862); Clark, Champ, Decoying the Yanks: Jackson’s Valley Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 130; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 45-46; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 174; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 157; 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. 216; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 387; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 677

Jackson Targets Front Royal

May 22, 1862 – Major Generals Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson and Richard Ewell joined forces in the Shenandoah Valley and moved to attack Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s isolated Federal outpost at Front Royal.

Major General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Jackson’s Confederates resumed their northward march down the Shenandoah Valley at dawn on May 21. Ewell, commanding the other Confederate force in the Valley, received intelligence that Federals troops comprising Banks’s left flank were stationed at Front Royal, east of Strasburg.

Advancing down the Valley turnpike, Jackson then turned east through the Luray Gap in the Massanutten Ridge to cross the South Fork of the Shenandoah River and enter the Luray Valley. Brigadier General Turner Ashby’s Confederate cavalry kept Banks, commanding the Federal Army of the Shenandoah, unaware of the movement.

Ewell’s Confederates joined Jackson’s that night; the combined force now totaled 16,000 men and 48 cannon. Jackson planned to attack Banks’s flank at Front Royal. The flank consisted of a small fort and just 1,000 men under Colonel John R. Kenly. Jackson hoped that destroying this force would trap Banks in the Valley and render him unable to reinforce the Federals at either Fredericksburg or the Peninsula.

The Confederates rose at 6 a.m. on the 22nd and resumed their march, with Ewell’s troops in the lead. Jackson would not divulge where they were headed, but he issued orders prohibiting no more than two men per battalion to leave a fight to tend to the wounded at a time. This strongly indicated that a battle was imminent. The men halted for the night within 10 miles of Front Royal, as Ashby’s cavalry fell back from Strasburg to join the main Confederate army.

Major General Nathaniel P. Banks | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Major General Nathaniel P. Banks | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Banks remained with his main force at New Market, 25 miles south. Unaware that Jackson and Ewell had joined forces and moved north, he believed that Ewell was still at Swift Run Gap and he had no idea where Jackson was. Banks wrote his superiors fearing that Jackson might try attacking New Market, and Ewell might try reinforcing him there.

Ironically, Banks asked Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton to send him reinforcements on the same day that Major General Irvin McDowell, commanding the Federals near Fredericksburg, reported to the War Department, “Major General (James) Shields’ command (detached from Banks’s army) has arrived here” to reinforce him.

Banks, who had previously been certain that Jackson had left the Shenandoah Valley to join the Confederates on the Peninsula, now suddenly warned:

“To these important considerations ought to be added the persistent adherence of Jackson to the defense of the valley and his well-known purpose to expel the Government troops from this country if in his power. This may be assumed as certain. There is probably no one more fixed and determined purpose in the whole circle of the enemy’s plans.”

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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. 120-23; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 173; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 430; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 155; Klein, Frederic S, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 293; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 214

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

“Stonewall” Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign Begins

April 27, 1862 – Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson launched an offensive in the Valley, while the Federals remained unaware of either his intention or location.

By this time, Major General Nathaniel P. Banks had led 19,000 men of his Federal Army of the Shenandoah to the area around New Market and Harrisonburg. Meanwhile, Major General John C. Fremont’s 20,000-man Federal army operated in western Virginia, with Fremont detaching 6,000 troops under Brigadier General Robert H. Milroy to confront Brigadier General Edward “Allegheny” Johnson’s 3,000-man Confederate Army of the Northwest at Staunton.

Banks was confident that Jackson’s Confederates had left the Valley to reinforce their comrades on the Virginia Peninsula. As such, he began planning to join forces with Fremont. But President Abraham Lincoln, not as confident as Banks, expressed concern that having Banks join Fremont would put the Federals too far south, leaving Washington exposed to a potential attack by Jackson. He had Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton notify Banks:

“You are requested to consider whether you are not already making too wide a separation between the body of troops under your immediate command and your supporting force… It is possible that events may make it necessary to transfer the command of General Shields (commanding a division under Banks) to the Department of the Rappahannock.”

Banks replied that even though there had been trouble getting supplies so far south, “our supplies are in improving condition.” Regarding the plan to join forces with Fremont, Banks wrote, “The movement is right, the force could be rapidly concentrated.”

According to Banks, Fremont reported (via Milroy) that there were “no troops of the enemy in or about Staunton.” In another message the next day, Banks reassured his superiors that his men were “entirely secure” at Harrisonburg. Completely underestimating Jackson, Banks reported, “The enemy is in no condition for offensive movements.”

However, Johnson’s Confederates still held Staunton, and Jackson summoned Major General Richard Ewell’s Confederates to leave the Rappahannock River line and move west toward the Valley. Ewell was to move as close as possible to Swift Run Gap, where Jackson’s men were secretly camped, to reinforce him if needed.

The next day, Jackson submitted three possible plans of attack to General Robert E. Lee, top military advisor to President Jefferson Davis:

  • Ewell would hold the Confederate positions at Swift Run Gap and prevent Banks from threatening Staunton while Jackson and Johnson joined forces to defeat Milroy and Fremont
  • Johnson would keep Milroy and Fremont occupied while Jackson and Ewell joined forces to defeat Banks
  • Jackson would move north toward Winchester to pull Banks farther from Fremont

Without waiting for Lee’s approval, Jackson arranged to execute the first plan. Dispatching Colonel Turner Ashby’s cavalry toward Harrisonburg, Jackson led his men out of Swift Run Gap in pouring rain on the 30th and headed toward Staunton. They took a muddy road along the east bank of the South Fork of the Shenandoah River and covered only five miles by nightfall.

This began one of the hardest forced marches of the war, during which the men traveled 92 miles on foot and another 25 by railroad over the next four days, forever earning the nickname the “Foot Cavalry.” This rapid movement would deceive the Federals even more than they already were and scare the Lincoln administration into shifting its focus from the Peninsula to the Valley.

That night, Ewell’s 8,000 Confederates marched over the Blue Ridge and took up positions near Jackson’s old camp at Swift Run Gap. Ashby’s cavalry harassed Banks’s Federals until Ewell could come up. Johnson’s 3,000 Confederates were camped at West View, seven miles west of Staunton.

Banks erroneously reported that Jackson was “bound for Richmond. This is the fact, I have no doubt… There is nothing to be done in this Valley.” Banks sent another wire on the night of the 30th requesting that his troops join either the Federals on the Rappahannock or those on the Peninsula since it was “the most safe and effective disposition possible. I pray your favorable consideration. Such order will electrify our force.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 76; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Clark, Champ, Decoying the Yanks: Jackson’s Valley Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 87, 95, 99; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 165; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 427-28; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 144-45; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 205; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 460

“Stonewall” Jackson Prepares to Move

April 1, 1862 – Federal forces moved farther into Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, while Confederate Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson began developing plans to drive them out.

Major General Nathaniel P. Banks | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Major General Nathaniel P. Banks | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

By this month, Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Federal corps in the Valley had been reinforced due to the unexpected engagement at Kernstown in late March. As the Federals resumed their advance from Strasburg, Jackson’s small Confederate army fell back southward up the Valley from Hawkinsville, screened by Colonel Turner Ashby’s cavalry.

Jackson took positions near Rude’s Hill, with the massive influx of new recruits prompting him to reorganize his force. Jackson also directed troops to round up locals who refused to answer the conscription call; these were mostly pacifists such as Mennonites or Quakers. Jackson acknowledged their refusal to fight by employing them as teamsters, laborers, and cooks. A detachment also hunted down and captured a group of deserters led by Captain William H. Gillespie, who had served on Jackson’s staff and was up for a promotion to lieutenant.

East of the Shenandoah, General Joseph E. Johnston withdrew his Confederate army beyond the Rapidan River and ordered Jackson to stop Banks from seizing Staunton, a key Valley town holding the main Confederate supply line to Richmond. Johnston also directed Major General Richard S. Ewell to lead his 8,500-man division from Brandy Station to Swift Run Gap to potentially reinforce Jackson.

The Confederates were aided by Banks’s slow, methodical pace. For over a week, Colonel Ashby’s small cavalry force blocked the Federals at Stony Creek. Banks reported on the 15th, “Ashby still here. We have a sleepless eye on him, and are straining every nerve to advance as quickly as possible.” Banks began planning to capture the crossroads at New Market.

Two days later, Federal infantry surprised Ashby by crossing Stony Creek before dawn. At the same time, Federal cavalry crossed the North Fork of the Shenandoah River on a bridge that Ashby had failed to burn before retreating. Skirmishing occurred until the Confederates fell back to Jackson’s main line at Rude’s Hill, and Jackson’s artillery slowed the Federal advance. The Confederates slowly withdrew, and Banks took both New Market and Mount Jackson to try cutting off their retreat. Jackson fell back about five miles south of Harrisonburg on the night of the 18th.

Banks’s sudden show of aggression indicated to Jackson that he must have been heavily reinforced. To counter, General Robert E. Lee, top advisor to President Jefferson Davis, directed Brigadier General Edward “Allegheny” Johnson’s 3,000-man army in western Virginia to coordinate movements with Jackson. Also, Ewell was instructed to link with Jackson.

Confederate General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson | Image Credit: Bing public domain

Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson | Image Credit: Bing public domain

Jackson’s Confederates ended their 20-mile eastward march on the rainy night of the 19th. Having covered nearly 100 miles in the past month, the men camped near Conrad’s Store, at the foot of Swift Run Gap. This spot covered both the Luray Valley and Harrisonburg. If Banks moved south of this point, Jackson could attack him from the rear.

Meanwhile, a Federal expedition dispatched by Banks seized the Luray Valley bridges across the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. They scattered some Confederate cavalry but could not find Jackson’s army. Banks notified Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, “I believe Jackson left this valley yesterday.”

But Jackson had not left. He took up positions in the Blue Ridge Mountains, hidden by the Massanutten Ridge. He then dispatched his topographer, Jedediah Hotchkiss, to lead a cavalry expedition (not Ashby, who had failed him at Stony Creek) in destroying the bridges over the South Fork.

Hotchkiss found the Confederate troopers at the Shenandoah Iron Works, with “many of them under the influence of apple-jack.” This disorganized force could only burn one of the three bridges before being driven back to Jackson’s main body by Federal cavalry. Around the same time, Major General John C. Fremont’s new Federal Mountain Department army pushed “Allegheny” Johnson’s Confederates away from the Shenandoah Mountain.

Banks continued to wrongly assume that Jackson had retreated east, presumably to reinforce Johnston’s army on the Virginia Peninsula. Banks told his superiors that Jackson’s supposed retreat “from the Valley by the way of the mountains, from Harrisonburg toward Stanardsville and Orange Court-House, on Gordonsville is confirmed this morning by our scouts and prisoners.” However, Jackson remained at Swift Run Gap; the scouts did not reconnoiter the gap and Confederate prisoners lied about his true whereabouts.

As the Federals moved southward toward Harrisonburg and occupied Luray, Banks reported that “Jackson has abandoned the valley of Virginia permanently, en route for Gordonsville, by way of the mountains.” But Federal scouts continued missing Swift Run Gap, the most logical point to move east toward Gordonsville. Meanwhile, Jackson was well aware of Banks’s movements thanks to Jedediah Hotchkiss’s close reconnaissance.

Lee sent a message to Jackson informing him that Major General Irvin McDowell’s Federal Army of the Rappahannock (formerly I Corps of the Army of the Potomac) had established a base of operations against Richmond at Falmouth, across the Rappahannock from Fredericksburg in northern Virginia. Lee wrote:

“If you can use Genl. Ewell’s division in an attack on Genl. Banks, and to drive him back, it will prove a great relief to the pressure on Fredericksburg, but if you should find Genl. Banks too strong to be approached, and your object is to hold Genl. Ewell in supporting distance to your column, he may be of more importance at this time between Fredericksburg and Richmond… I have hoped in the present divided condition of the enemy’s forces that a successful blow may be dealt them by a rapid combination of our troops before they can be strengthened themselves either in position or by re-enforcements… The blow, wherever struck, must, to be successful, be sudden and heavy. The troops used must be efficient and light.”

Jackson chose to use Ewell to attack Banks, and began planning an operation that would divert Federal attention from both Fredericksburg and the Peninsula. Meanwhile, a portion of Banks’s army advanced into New Market while the main body reached Harrisonburg. Banks had moved an unimpressive 35 miles in 10 days while completely mistaking the location and intention of Jackson’s army.

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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. 83, 86-87, 94-95; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 147; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 421; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 129-30, 140-41, 143; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3359-70; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 460; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 191-92, 200-01; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 386

The Battle of Kernstown

March 23, 1862 – Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s 3,500-man Confederate army attacked 9,000 Federals south of Winchester in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. This marked an inauspicious start to what became a legendary campaign.

Confederate General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson | Image Credit: Bing public domain

Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson | Image Credit: Bing public domain

Jackson’s Confederates, after marching 25 miles on the 22nd, covered another 15 miles the next day. Their mission was to assault the Federal force south of Winchester, which was part of Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s corps stationed in the Valley. Jackson hoped to keep Banks’s men occupied so they could not send reinforcements to the main Federal offensive on the Virginia Peninsula to the east.

However, Jackson did not know that an entire Federal division was stationed outside Winchester. According to Colonel Turner Ashby, Jackson’s cavalry commander, there were only four regiments (or roughly 4,000 Federals) in the area.

Brigadier General James Shields, commanding the Federal division, was so confident that Jackson would not attack that he had shifted one brigade north, away from the Confederate advance. The rest of Shields’s force (now under Colonel Nathan Kimball after Shields had been wounded in the previous day’s skirmish) was just north of Kernstown, a village on the Valley Turnpike about three miles south of Winchester. Not only did the Federals outnumber the Confederates nearly three-to-one, but they commanded the high ground.

Col Nathan Kimball | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Col Nathan Kimball | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Before Jackson’s infantry arrived, Ashby took up positions atop Pritchard’s Hill, where he placed artillery and deployed skirmishers on either side of the turnpike leading to Winchester. Kimball responded by deploying skirmishers of his own and training 10 guns on a potential enemy advance.

The fighting surged back and forth until Kimball committed more men around 11 a.m. Ashby’s troopers then began giving ground. Kimball also recalled the brigade that Shields had sent north to reinforce the other two on the pike. Jackson’s three infantry brigades began arriving on the Valley Turnpike around 1 p.m.

The 23rd was a Sunday, so Jackson planned to rest his men, especially after two days of hard marching. About a quarter of his force had fallen behind during the march, so stopping for a day would give the stragglers time to catch up. Ordering no reconnaissance, Jackson moved his men west and began planning to attack the Federals the next day.

However, Ashby assured Jackson that just a small force opposed them, most likely the Federal rear guard. Jackson scouted enemy positions and, taking Ashby’s word, resolved to attack immediately. Jackson planned to feint against the Federals on level ground near the turnpike while his main force moved westward and attacked the Federal right flank and rear on the high ground at Sandy Ridge. From there they would rout the enemy and retake Winchester.

Without briefing any of his subordinates on his strategy or enemy strength, Jackson deployed Brigadier General Richard Garnett’s Stonewall Brigade and two regiments from Colonel Samuel V. Fulkerson’s brigade to the Federal right around 4 p.m. They arrived at a stone wall and knocked the Federals back with a volley. Fighting surged back and forth for the next 90 minutes. Meanwhile, Ashby’s troopers joined the feint against the Federal left.

Kimball quickly saw that his right flank lay vulnerable and began transferring troops from Colonel Erastus B. Tyler’s brigade from the left to the north end of the Sandy Ridge. Garnett countered by shifting more Confederates from the Confederate right to the left, where the fighting was heaviest.

The Federals’ unexpected strength confused the Confederates, and when a scout reported that there were three times more enemy troops than originally estimated, Jackson concluded that “we are in for it.” Adding to the confusion was Jackson’s refusal to issue orders or divulge any details of his plan.

Disaster loomed for Jackson when Garnett’s brigade began running out of ammunition. As Jackson called up his reserve brigade to join the action, Garnett lost hope of breaking the Federal line and ordered a withdrawal. This created a gap in the line that the Federals rushed through, forcing the regiments of Fulkerson’s brigade to follow Garnett.

Jackson, unaware of this withdrawal, hurried the reinforcements forward with the 5th Virginia in the lead, waving his hat and shouting, “Cheer the reinforcements!” He ordered the 5th to “reinforce the infantry engaged.” But by this time, the infantry had disengaged and were falling back in the opposite direction of the 5th. The reserves could not arrive fast enough to make a difference.

Enraged by the Stonewall Brigade’s withdrawal, Jackson confronted Garnett: “Why have you not rallied your men? Halt and rally.” Jackson then shouted to the retreating Confederates to “go back and give them they bayonet!” But the men would not rally, and Garnett instead directed the 5th Virginia to cover the army’s retreat. The 5th held the Federals off as Jackson’s men conducted an orderly withdrawal.

The outnumbered Confederates had fought hard before pulling back five miles south to Newton for the night. They collected their wounded as they left, along with some artillery and wagons. Shields reported that “such was their gallantry and high state of discipline, that at no time during the battle or pursuit did they give way to panic.” The Confederates sustained 718 casualties (80 killed, 375 wounded, and 263 missing), or 21 percent of their force. The Federals lost 590 (118 killed, 450 wounded, and 22 missing), or less than 7 percent.

The Federals won a tactical victory, but Jackson succeeded in his mission to prevent Banks from sending reinforcements to the Virginia Peninsula. Upon learning of this battle, Banks recalled General Alpheus Williams’s division headed for Centreville as Shields called for more men of his own. Meanwhile, Jackson began gaining many local recruits to his small but growing army.

Jackson directed his men to fall back to the Mount Jackson area the next day. The Federals did not pursue, giving him time to develop a long-term strategy to keep them occupied in the Valley. Jackson appointed mapmaker Jedediah Hotchkiss to captain on his staff with instructions:

“I want you to make me a map of the Valley, from Harpers Ferry to Lexington, showing all the points of offense and defense. Mr. Pendleton (Jackson’s aide-de-camp) will give you orders for whatever outfit you want.”

Hotchkiss would be invaluable in supplying Jackson with detailed maps of the Valley for his upcoming campaign.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 150; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (23 Mar 1862); Clark, Champ, Decoying the Yanks: Jackson’s Valley Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 66, 71, 82; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 46; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 145; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 270-71; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 126; Klein, Frederic S., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 415; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 187-88; 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. 425; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 290-91; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 677