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Reminiscences of the army of Northern Virginia.

by J. Wm. Jones.

Paper no. 4.--capture of Winchester and rout of Banks's army.

We were now on the flank, and would soon be in the rear of General Banks, whose army numbered about 18,000, while ours numbered about 16,000. But he was equally on our flank, and could, by a bold movement [234] on Front Royal, have recaptured his stores and prisoners, and planted himself in our rear. Whether this would have been a wise thing for him to do is another question, and he does not seem to have long hesitated as to “entering the lists” (as he expresses it in his report) “for a race to the Potomac.” General Ewell, with Trimble's brigade and some cavalry, was sent on the morning of Saturday, May 24th, by the direct road to Winchester, while Jackson moved his main body across to Middletown, on the main “Valley pike.”

Coming in sight of Middletown, Jackson saw that the pike was filled with a rapidly retreating column, and immediately he ordered Captain Poague, of the famous Rockbridge artillery, to open on the moving mass, while General Dick Taylor was ordered to charge with his splendid Louisiana brigade. The best troops find a sudden attack on them while retreating in column a severe test, and these broke in wildest confusion, the main body hurrying on towards Winchester, while a part retreated back to Strausburg. Our brigade was hurried forward at a double quick, but only got there in time to see the rear of the retreating column, and witness the wild confusion presented by upturned wagons, dead and wounded horses and men, muskets, knapsacks, etc., scattered over the fields, while pursued and pursuers were disappearing in the distance. Our column now pressed on along the main pike to Winchester, passing along the whole route the deserted wagons of the enemy. At Newton there was a temporary check to our advance, which gave the enemy time to fire their wagons, and from that point we marched for miles (night had now set in) by the light of burning wagons, baggage and stores. Jackson was himself at the head of the column, and was frequently in great personal peril from the ambuscades of the enemy, and the fire of their rear guard. It was a very weary, tedious night march, but was enlivened by the music of our bands, the cheers that would ring out along the whole column, and the jests of the men, which would create loud bursts of laughter.

An hour before daybreak our column halted, and the men snatched a little sleep, while Jackson himself stood sentinel at the head of the column, receiving reports from the skirmishers, who pressed slowly on, and giving frequent orders to direct their movements. “At early dawn” (a favorite hour with Stonewall for beginning to march), Jackson gave the quiet order, which aroused the column from its hasty slumber, and moved it forward on the enemy, who had taken a strong. position on the hills commanding the approach to Winchester. Jackson personally reconnoitered the position, going so close to the skirmish line of the enemy, that two officers were wounded at his side, and immediately [235] made his dispositions. Gen. Ewell was on the direct road from Front Royal, fighting his way towards the town; Gen. Jackson's division and Taylor's brigade were advancing on the enemy to the left of the pike, and Elzey's brigade was held in reserve on the pike.

Jackson seemed on this occasion the very personification of the genius of battle, as he galloped from point to point on the field, and gave his sharp, crisp orders. Riding up to the Thirty-third Virginia regiment (the gallant Colonel Neff commanding) in the midst of the battle, he said to the colonel, pointing to a hill near by, “I expect the enemy to bring artillery to occupy that hill, and they must not do it! Do you understand me, sir? They must not do it! Keep a good look out, and your men well in hand, and if they attempt to come, charge them with the bayonet, and seize their guns! Clamp them, sir, on the spot!” And his clenched hand, ringing voice and energetic manner, as he gave this order, all betokened that he meant just what he said. But when the critical moment came he ordered forward his whole line, and gave to all near him the emphatic order, “Forward after the enemy!” The whole line swept gallantly onward, the brave resistance of the enemy was of but short duration, and while Ewell drove everything before him on the east of the town, Taylor and Jackson's old division swept down from the western side of the pike, Elzey moved rapidly forward on the pike, the enemy gave way at every point and we pushed them pell-mell into the streets of Winchester. The scene that ensued beggars all description. The women and children of Winchester, wild with delight, rushed out into the streets utterly regardless of the death-dealing missiles which flew thick and fast on every side. At one point we had actually to advance a guard to clear the streets of women that our men might fire on the retreating enemy. With waving handkerchiefs, exclamations of delight and tears of joy, they hailed us as their deliverers. One beautiful young lady exclaimed, “Oh! you brave, noble, ragged, dirty darlings, you! I am so glad to see you.”

A lady came up to Major Sherrard, of my regiment, (who was an acquaintance of hers,) and said: “I want you to bring some of your men and take charge of my prisoners.” He went with her and found that she had locked up in her parlor nine Federal soldiers (four of them officers) who had rushed in there for safety. Colonel W. H. S. Baylor, of the Fifth Virginia regiment, as he was hurrying his command through in pursuit of the enemy, put two prisoners in charge of a lady, and gave her a pistol to guard them. She joyfully accepted,. and faithfully fulfilled the trust — turning them over to the Provost Marshal when he had established his quarters. [236]

As the ladies, many of whom were his personal friends, crowded around General Jackson exclaiming, “Thank God we are free! Thank God we are free once more,” he is said to have waved his cap in the air, and to have joined lustily in the cheers of the soldiers and the citizens. But he did not linger amid these congratulations. He dashed on after the retreating enemy, and soon sent back the characteristic order: “Let every battery and every brigade push forward to the Potomac.” He keenly felt the absence of his cavalry at this juncture, and said in his official report: “There is good reason for believing that had the cavalry played its part in this pursuit as well as the four companies under Colonel Flournoy, two days before in the pursuit from Front Royal, but a small portion of Banks's army would have made its escape to the Potomac.”

The gallant Colonel Ashby had gone off with his cavalry in pursuit of a force in the direction of Romney, and was thus unfortunately absent at this important juncture.

It was soon found impossible for our broken down infantry to over-take the fleeing foe, who threw away guns, knapsacks, and everything which could impede their progress, and accordingly we were halted five miles from Winchester.

There were immense quantities of stores of every kind captured at both Winchester and Martinsburg, and our fellows revelled in the supplies of every description, which the sutlers had accumulated in Winchester.

It was the capture of these immense quantities of medical, ordnance, commisary, and especially quarter-master stores, which originated the soubriquet by which ever afterwards we knew General Banks, as “Stonewall Jackson's quarter-master.” I remember that at the battle of Slaughter's Mountain when we learned from a prisoner that General Banks was in command of the forces opposed to us, it rang all along our line: “Send in your requisitions, boys, for whatever you want in the way of clothing. ‘Stonewall's Quarter-master’ --General Banks--has come with a full supply to issue.” We have a kindly feeling for General Banks. He treated the people of the Valley much more leniently than his successors in command there. He has shown on occasion (not always) that he has some appreciation of the fact that the war closed with the surrender of the Confederate armies. And he certainly did make us a first rate quarter-master, and General Dick Taylor an admirable commissary. But it must be confessed that he did not seem to manage matters well either in the Valley, or on Red River. Yet we will give him a chance to be heard in his own behalf.

“It is seldom” says General Banks in his report, “that a river crossing [237] of such magnitude is achieved with greater success, and there never were more grateful hearts in the same number of men than when, at mid-day of the 26th, we stood on the opposite shore. My command had not suffered an attack and rout. It had accomplished a premeditated march of nearly sixty miles in the face of the enemy, defeating his plans, and giving him battle wherever he was found.”

An old “Rebel” must be pardoned for thinking that General Banks did not exert himself very strenuously to find his enemy on that memorable campaign, and that those were glorious days when we marched “down the Valley after ‘Stonewall's Quarter-master.’ ”

How we came back will be seen in our next Paper.

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