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Reminiscences of the army of Northern Virginia.

By J. William Jones.

Paper no. 5.

How Fremont and Shields “caught” Stonewall Jackson.

The day after the capture of Winchester we spent in resting on the green sward and reveling in the stores which we had captured from General Banks, and the large number of sutlers who had brought to Winchester supplies of every description. It was very amusing to see the relish with which our boys would discard beef and “hardtack” and feast on potted meats, pickled oysters, lobsters, genuine coffee, bakers' bread, ham, canned fruits, oranges, figs, all kinds of confectionery, and various other luxuries to which, even at that date, the Confederacy was a stranger. Clothing of every pattern was abundant, and was eagerly seized on by the “ragged rebels” until their regulation gray was fast disappearing and blue uniforms becoming the prevailing fashion. “Old Jack” soon put a stop to this transformation, however, by issuing an order to his provost guard to arrest all men in blue uniform and treat them as prisoners of war until they gave satisfactory proof that they were Confederates.

General Jackson himself was so completely exhausted that so soon as he ceased his pursuit of the enemy he rode into Winchester, secured quarters at a hotel, refused all offers of food, threw himself across a bed with his clothes, boots, and even spurs on, and was soon fast asleep.

The next day was observed, as was Jackson's custom, as a day of rest and thanksgiving for victory, and there was read to us a ringing general order which recounted the marches and victories of the past [274] four weeks, congratulated the troops on their patient endurance and splendid courage, and concluded as follows:

The explanation of the severe exertions to which the commanding general called the army, which were endured by them with such cheerful confidence in him, is now given in the victory of yesterday. He receives this proof of their confidence in the past with pride and gratitude, and asks only a similar confidence in the future.

But his chief duty to-day and that of the army is to recognize devoutly the hand of a protecting Providence in the brilliant successes of the last three days (which have given us the results of a great victory without great losses); and to make the oblation of our thanks to God for his mercies to us and our country, in heartfelt acts of religious worship. For this purpose the troops will remain in camp to-day, suspending as far as practicable all military exercises, and the chaplains of regiments will hold divine services in their several charges at 4 o'clock P. M.

It was an impressive scene as we gathered in large congregations at that thanksgiving service, and among the most devout of the worshipers in the service held at the Thirty-third Virginia regiment was the iron chief who had led us to the great victory gained. On Wednesday morning, May 28th, we were in motion for the Potomac, and having driven the enemy back from Charlestown to Harper's Ferry, were proceeding to invest this position, when the situation suddenly changed into one which would have unnerved a less determined commander, and have demoralized troops of less implicit confidence in their chief.

McClellan had been gradually closing in on Richmond, and was only waiting for McDowell's column to swoop down from Fredericksburg in order to make his grand assault. But the movements of Jackson and the rout of Banks so alarmed the authorities at Washington that the following dispatch changed the whole situation:

Washington, May 20, 1862.
General Fremont has been ordered by telegraph to move from Franklin on Harrisonburg to relieve General Banks, and capture or destroy Jackson's and Ewell's force. You are instructed, laying aside for the present the movement on Richmond, to put twenty thousand men in motion at once for the Shenandoah, moving on the line or in advance of the line of the Manassas Gap railraod. Your object will be the capture of the forces of Jackson and Ewell, either in co-operation with General Fremont, or in case want of supplies or of transportation interferes with his movement, it is believed the force with which [275] you move will be sufficient to accomplish the object alone. The information thus far received here makes it probable that if the enemy operates actively against General Banks, you will not be able to count on much assistance from him, but may even have to release him. Reports received this moment are that Banks is fighting with Ewell eight miles from Winchester.


General McDowell at once proceeded, though with a heavy heart as his dispatches show, to execute this order. Fremont put his column in motion, and while we were lingering in the lower valley two armies were closing in on our rear, while a third was concentrating to push us on our retreat.

Jackson had left at Front Royal to guard the stores and prisoners there, the gallant Twelfth Georgia Regiment, which, if rightly handled, could have held the gaps in the mountains for some time against greatly superior forces, but somehow the affair was badly managed, and the advance of Shield's dashed into the village in right gallant style, and re-captured the prisoners, the stores having been burned by an enterprising quarter-master.

The news reached Jackson just as he had posted the Second Virginia Regiment on Loudon Heights, and was preparing to attack the enemy. How he received these unpleasant tidings is best told by one of his staff (Colonel A. R. Boteler). As Jackson, on information of Shield's advance, was returning on a special train to Winchester, the following scene occurred:

At one of the wayside stations a courier was seen galloping down from Winchester, and Jackson clutched at the dispatch which he brought. “What news?” he asked briefly.

Colonel Conner is cut off and captured at Front Royal, General.”

“Good!” was the quiet reply. “What more?”

Shields is there with four thousand men.”

“Good — very good!”

And after spending some time in deep abstraction, and then slowly reading and tearing to pieces the dispatch (a common habit with him), he leaned forward on his hands and immediately went to sleep. Not long afterward he roused himself and said to Colonel Boteler: “I am going to send you to Richmond for reinforcements. Banks has halted at Williamsport and is being reinforced from Pennsylvania, Dix, you see, is in my front and is being reinforced by the Baltimore and Ohio railroad. I have a dispatch informing me of the advance of the enemy upon Front Royal, which is captured, and Fremont is now [276] advancing toward Wardensville. Thus, you see, I am nearly surrounded by a very large force.”

“What is your own, General?”

“I will tell you, but you must not repeat what I say, except at Richmond. To meet this force I have only 15,000 effective men.”

“What will you do if they cut you off, General?”

After a moment's hesitation Jackson cooly replied:

I will fall back on Maryland for reinforcements.

He evidently meant what he said, and it is a matter of curious speculation as to what would have been the result of such a movement. Whether “My Maryland” would have “come” at that time — what impetus would have been given to the panic which induced the Secretary of War to telegraph the Governor of Massachusetts to “send all of the troops you can forward immediately. Banks completely routed. Intelligence from various quarters leaves no doubt that the enemy in great force are advancing on Washington.” Whether Jackson would have captured Washington or have been captured himself all of these questions must be left to conjecture, for Jackson did not allow himself to be cut off, and his “foot cavalry” proved fully equal to the emergency.

On the afternoon of the 30th of May we “entered the lists for a race” to Strausburg. I can never forget that march. “Press forward,” was the constant order, and when the troops were well nigh exhausted, word was passed down the column: “General Jackson desires the command to push forward much further to-night in order to accomplish a very important object,” and every man bent his energies to meet the requirement of our loved chieftain, while the muddy, weary road was enlivened by jest and song and cheers. The whole of the Stonewall brigade marched that day thirty-five miles, while the Second Virginia regiment accomplished a march of more than forty miles without rations, and fairly won the sobriquet of “foot cavalry.”

Meantime the main army had hurried on to Strausburg, upon which point Fremont was rapidly advancing, while Shields was waiting to join him from Front Royal. The head of Ewell's column filed to the right at Strausburg, and was soon engaged in a sharp skirmish with Fremont's advance, to whom we offered the gage of battle, until the Stonewall brigade and the Second Virginia regiment could come up. The object of the halt having been thus accomplished, Jackson leisurely moved up the Valley with his prisoners and his immense wagon trains, loaded with captured stores of every description.

The incidents of this retreat were stirring. Shields moved up the [277] Luray Valley with the evident purpose of crossing the Massanutton by New Market Gap, and thus striking Jackson in flank if not in rear; but this purpose was defeated by our watchful chief, who sent parties to burn the White House bridge over the Shenandoah on the road to New Market, and the Columbia, some miles higher up the river. General Fremont pressed our rear with energy and gallantry, and some of the exploitsof his cavalry displayed a heroism which elicited the highest admiration of our men, although stern old “Stonewall” did say to Colonel Patton, who expressed to him a regret that three gallant fellows who charged alone through his regiment were killed: “Shoot them, Colonel, I don't want them to be so brave.”

A number of gallant charges were made on our rear guard, and temporary advantages were gained, but Turner Ashby (who had recently won his wreath and stars, and was the idol of our whole army,) brought up our rear, and met these gallant dashes with a cool courage, which soon restored order, and usually inflicted more loss than we received.

I recall many scenes of those marches as the “foot cavalry ran from three armies” (for General Banks was now pressing on too), but I may not linger to describe them in detail. One picture may serve for the whole. Starting at “early dawn,” we would tramp all day along the weary pike, the monotony of the march only varied by the ringing of carbines, the sharp reports of the horse-artillery, or the shouts of charging squadrons, as Ashby received the attack of the enemy, or in turn assumed the offensive; and as the shades of evening gathered on the mountain tops, even the best men would fall out of ranks and declare that they could go no further. But presently the word is passed back, “the head of the column is going into camp.” Immediately the weary grow fresh again, the laggard hastens forward, and there on some green sward, upon the banks of the beautiful Shenandoah (though we had but the hard ground for our couch, rocks for our pillows, and the blue canopy of heaven for our covering), we lay us down to a rest — O! so sweet, after the hard day's march. But before the bivouac is silent for the night, a little company gathers at some convenient spot, hard by, and strikes up some old familiar hymn, which serves as a prayer-call, well understood. From all parts of the camp men gather around this group, until a large congregation has assembled, the song grows louder and clearer, and often as the passage of God's word is read, and a few simple comments made before joining in prayer--

Something on the soldier's cheek
Washed off the stain of powder.

[278]

I can vividly recall, even now, after the lapse of years, not a few beaming faces who united in those evening services who were soon summoned to strike golden harps and join in the song of the celestial choir. But the weary march is soon to end, and “the foot cavalry,” are to be at last “caught” by their eager pursuers. Yet ere this occurred the whole army, and indeed the whole Confederacy, was to be thrown into the deepest grief at the tragic fall of Ashby.

Sir Percy Wyndham, an Englishman, who had served as a Captain in the Austrian army, and as Colonel under Garibaldi, and had been given a commission as Colonel in the Federal army, led Fremont's advance on the morning of the 6th of June, when we marched from Harrisonburg across towards Port Republic, and confidently expressed his belief that his long-coveted opportunity of “bagging Ashby” had arrived.

The result was, that by a very simple strategy, Ashby completely turned the tables on his Lordship, and “bagged” him, together with sixty-three of his gallant troopers. But we had scarcely time to enjoy the account of this brilliant little affair, when on the same afternoon we had from the rear the sad report, “Ashby has fallen.” Hurrying to ascertain the truth of the rumor (for he was a near relative of mine), I learned the sad details from General Ewell and others who were present. The enemy having pressed forward more vigorously than usual (doubtless with a view of retarding our column until Shields, who had continued to press up the Luray Valley, could reach Port Republic), Ashby had called for infantry supports, and the Fifty-eighth Virginia and first Maryland regiments had been sent to him. With these he was executing a movement on the famous “Pennsylvania Bucktails” (which proved eminently successful after his fall), when, seeing that the enemy had the advantage of position, he called on the Fifty-eighth Virginia to charge, and had just uttered his crisp order, “Virginians, charge,” when his horse was shot under him. He had extricated himself from the dying animal, and was shouting the order, “Men, cease firing! Charge! For God's sake, charge!” when the fatal bullet stopped the brilliant career of this splendid soldier.

A native of Fauquier county, and a gentleman of high descent and stainless character, Turner Ashby had entered the service at the first sound of the bugle, and when asked at Harper's Ferry “What flag are you going to fight under, the Palmetto, or what?” he produced a Virginia flag and said “Here is the flag I intend to fight under.” He had followed that flag with all of the devotion of knighthood, he had displayed upon numberless occasions a cool courage or heroic daring [279] which made him the pride of the army, and the special idol of the Valley of Virginia, and he fell with a reputation scarcely equalled by any of our cavaliers. His splendid white horse, his raven locks, his chivalric bearing, his tender sympathies, stainless character, and heroic deeds will live in the songs and traditions of that region as long as those blue mountains shall sentinel the scenes of his exploits, or the beautiful Shenandoah flows along its emerald bed.

His most fitting eulogy, however, was the following brief tribute in General Jackson's report: “An official report is not an appropriate place for more than a passing notice of the distinguished dead, but the close relation which General Ashby bore to my command for most of the previous twelve months will justify me in saying that as a partisan officer I never knew his superior. His daring was proverbial, his powers of endurance almost incredible, his tone of character heroic, and his sagacity almost intuitive in divining the purposes and movements of the enemy.”

The gallant Marylanders, under Colonel B. T. Johnson, aided by the Fifty-eighth Virginia, had a bloody revenge on the “Bucktails” and drove them from the field, capturing their Colonel (Kane) and inflicting heavy loss. Yet, as this was not Jackson's chosen field of battle, he continued his retreat to “Cross Keys,” where Ewell was ordered to check Fremont, while with the rest of his force Jackson advanced to pay his respects to General Shields, who was hurrying up on the east side of the river, having been prevented from crossing over at any point below by the burning of the bridges and the swollen condition of the river. On the morning of the 8th of June Jackson had his headquarters in the little village of Port Republic (located in the forks of the Shenandoah) while most of his command were on the west side of the river. He had a strong cavalry picket down the river to watch Shields, but the Federal advance made a gallant dash on these which drove them back in great confusion, and followed them so closely as to get possession of the bridge and place a piece of artillery in position to sweep it. Jackson then found himself suddenly in the critical situation of being cut off from his army, with Shields holding the bridge by which, in case of disaster, they should retreat. He did not hesitate to adopt the boldest course. Riding up to the officer in charge of the piece of artillery, he sternly called out, “Who ordered you to post that gun there, sir? Bring it over here!” The officer mistook him for a Federal general and was preparing to obey the order when Jackson galloped across the bridge and was soon leading in person one of his [280] regiments, which charged through the bridge, drove off the enemy and saved the army from the threatened disaster.

At this same hour in the early morning of June 8th, Fremont advanced on Ewell at Cross Keys. I remember that Rev. Dr. Geo. B. Taylor (now missionary at Rome, Italy), the efficient chaplain of the Twenty-fifth Virginia Regiment, was preaching to our brigade at that early hour — that he was interrupted at “thirdly” by the advance of the enemy — and that the noise of battle soon succeeded the voice of the minister of the “Gospel of peace.”

Fremont's attack was not as vigorous as was expected, was easily repulsed, and in the afternoon Ewell assumed the offensive and drove the enemy back some distance.

But I have already exceeded my limits and must reserve for my next sketch a brief statement of how Shields “caught” Jackson the next day at Port Republic, of how Fremont and Shields both concluded that they had “caught a Tartar,” and of how (after resting for a season) the “foot cavalry” suddenly appeared on the Chickahominy, and assisted in McClellan's famous “change of base.”

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