Tag Archives: Winchester

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

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The Battle of Front Royal

May 23, 1862 – Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederates scored a major victory and threatened to position themselves between the Federals in the Shenandoah Valley and Washington.

Jackson planned to attack the Federal outpost at Front Royal, east of Massanutten Mountain in the Luray (eastern Shenandoah) Valley. The Federals there had been detached from Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Army of the Shenandoah, stationed at Strasburg. Using the mountain to screen his movement, Jackson split his 16,000-man command by sending Major General Richard Ewell’s division on a more easterly route to block a potential Federal retreat toward Manassas Junction.

Meanwhile, Brigadier General Turner Ashby’s cavalry blocked the Federals from the west and seized the railroad line to Strasburg, where Banks’s main force was located. Jackson planned to drive the Federals north toward Winchester while keeping them from burning the two important bridges spanning the North and South forks of the Shenandoah River. He was not aware of how many Federals awaited him at Front Royal.

Ewell began his eastern detour around 2 p.m., with skirmishing breaking out at various points along the way. Prominent Confederate spy Belle Boyd rode through the fighting, nearly getting killed by bullets passing through her skirt, to deliver a message to one of Jackson’s officers. It stated that “the Yankee force is very small. Tell him to charge right down and he will catch them all.”

Jackson’s Confederates conducted a grueling march up a road that gradually ascended 400 feet before reaching a point that overlooked Front Royal. Having received Belle Boyd’s message and intelligence from other scouts, Jackson learned that just one Federal regiment, the 1st Maryland (U.S.), was stationed there. He deployed his own 1st Maryland (C.S.) to attack; the men had been on the verge of mutiny because their enlistments had expired, but now they jumped at the chance to take on their fellow Marylanders. They charged ferociously on the unsuspecting enemy.

Colonel John Kenly, in command at Front Royal, thought that Jackson was 50 miles south and expected no attack. As the Confederates surged forward around 2 p.m., Kenly hurriedly fell back to Richardson’s Hill, north of town. Federal artillery briefly kept the Confederates at bay, but they soon rushed forward again, this time with Ashby’s cavalry closing in on Kenly’s rear.

Battle map | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Battle map | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Kenly ordered a retreat, slowly falling back across the South Fork to Guard Hill. Some Federals stayed back and tried burning the North Fork bridge, but the Confederates put the flames out in time to cross. The 6th Virginia Cavalry raced forward and confronted the Federals at Cedarville. The Federals fired a volley before the enemy surrounded them. Kenly had no choice but to surrender his command.

The Federals lost 904 men, 750 of which were taken prisoner. The Confederates lost 35 killed, wounded, or missing. Banks was shocked upon learning of this defeat because he thought Jackson was at Harrisonburg, 50 miles south. He reported to Washington that the Front Royal garrison was attacked by 5,000 Confederates who “had been gathering in the mountains, it is said, since Wednesday. Reinforcements should be sent us if possible.” This loss put the Lincoln administration on the verge of panic.

The Front Royal engagement resulted in Jackson taking positions on Banks’s left flank. This meant that Banks had to abandon the strong defensive works he had built at Strasburg. He had three options: 1) fall back toward Major General John C. Fremont’s Federal army at Franklin to the west; 2) confront Jackson at Front Royal; or 3) fall back toward Winchester to the north to keep his army between Jackson and Washington. Banks chose the third.

Jackson, guessing that Banks would pick the second or third option, sent Ewell toward Winchester while keeping Brigadier General Charles Winder’s division at Front Royal. The Confederate victory gave Jackson a prime opportunity to cut off Banks’s entire force, which soon began heading north on the Valley turnpike, northwest of Front Royal. The race to keep Banks from reaching Winchester was on.

Meanwhile, Jackson wrote a letter of thanks to Belle Boyd for the information she provided: “I thank you, for myself and for the army, for the immense service that you have rendered your country to-day.”

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (23 May 1862); Clark, Champ, Decoying the Yanks: Jackson’s Valley Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 122, 125-28; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 13765-73; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 174; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 431; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 156; Jensen, Les D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 834; 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. 215; 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. 455-56; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 677