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Chapter 6: Jackson's Valley campaign

Before taking up the history of affairs before Richmond in June, 1862, with Lee at the head of the army, it is necessary to review events in the Valley of Virginia.

This Valley constituted the only route by which a Confederate army could invade Maryland and threaten Washington City in rear.

Cool judgment at the head of affairs, after Washington had once been fortified against an attack by open assault, might have laughed at any idea of real danger from such an invasion. It should have been clear to all that no invasion could maintain itself long enough to carry on a siege, or to do more than to fight one great battle. The trouble was the lack of railroad transportation. Wagons alone would have to be relied upon to bring all supplies from Staunton, Va., a distance via the Valley roads of nearly 200 miles to Washington. But fear, approaching panic, took possession of Washington whenever a Confederate force appeared in the Valley, and every other operation would be suspended to concentrate all efforts upon driving it out.

This oversensitiveness of the Federals cut its greatest figure in 1862, and was, more than once, the only salvation of Richmond. For the Confederate generals understood it, and as the situation in front of Richmond became more threatening, they sought more earnestly to reenforce the Valley. [95]

It happened that Stonewall Jackson had been assigned as the commander of the Valley District in Nov., ‘61, and the reader has already been told of the battle of Kernstown, which he fought there on Mar. 23, ‘62.

After that battle he had fallen back with his division, about 8000 strong, to Swift Run Gap. Ewell, with about as many more, was at Gordonsville, and Edward Johnson, with about 3000, was near Staunton.

The Federals had made in West Virginia two separate departments. That of the Shenandoah, under Banks, included the Valley in which Banks had, in April, about 19,000 men near Harrisonburg.

About 40 miles west in the mountains was Fremont, commanding what was called the Mountain Department, in which he had about 15,000 men. About 3700 of these, under Milroy, were at McDowell, a point 25 miles west of Staunton.

On April 29, Jackson proposed to Lee in Richmond that he, Jackson, should unite his own force and Johnson's and attack Milroy and Fremont, and drive them back into the mountains. Then returning quickly, and being joined by Ewell, his whole force should fall upon Banks. Lee approved the project and committed its entire execution to Jackson.

Ewell's division was brought up to Swift Run Gap to observe Banks, while Jackson concealed his object by marching his own division back across the Blue Ridge toward Charlottesville, and moving from a railroad station near Charlottesville by rail to Staunton. Here he united with Johnson and marched rapidly upon Milroy. He had started on April 30, and, taking a country road, had been three days in moving his guns and trains through 12 miles of mud to reach a metalled road. He had intended to rest over Sunday, May 4, but news of Fremont's cavalry having advanced, induced him reluctantly to put his infantry upon the cars and move to Staunton on that day. On May 7, he left Staunton, and on May 8 he confronted Milroy at McDowell. Milroy had been reenforced by Schenck's brigade. Jackson kept most of his force concealed, and about 2500 Federals were advanced against him in the afternoon. A sharp affair ensued with about 2800 of Jackson's force, holding the crest of a steep [96]

Jackson's Valley campaign, May and June, 1862

[97] ridge more exposed to fire than was the enemy. The latter only lost about 250 killed and wounded, while the Confederates lost 498; but next morning the Federals had retreated. Jackson pursued for two or three days, going nearly to Franklin, and then on May 12 turned back, damaging and obstructing all roads behind him, and thus practically neutralizing for a while Fremont's whole force. He now marched to unite with Ewell and to strike at Banks. Friday, May 16, had been appointed by the Confederate President a day of fasting and prayer, and it was spent in camp at Lebanon Springs near Staunton.

Meanwhile, during Jackson's absence, the situation in the Valley had changed. Shields's division, about 9000 men, had been taken from Banks and ordered to join McDowell at Fredericksburg, where the latter would await it before advancing to join McClellan before Richmond. This reduced Banks's force to about 10,000, and he had been withdrawn down the Valley to Strasburg, which he was ordered to fortify and hold.

Jackson had now with Ewell's division about 16,000 men. On May 20 he arrived at New Market, whence there were two roads to Winchester. The western, the most direct and shortest, going by Strasburg, and the eastern, crossing the Massanutten Mountains to Luray, followed the valley of the South Fork of the Shenandoah to Front Royal, about 12 miles east of Strasburg. Then, crossing the river, it united with the direct road at Newtown, within 12 miles of Winchester.

His march was by the eastern route and was conducted with such secrecy that the enemy had no idea that he was within 60 miles, when, at 1 P. M., May 23, his skirmishers attacked a Federal outpost at Front Royal held by Col. Kenly with about a thousand men and two guns. Kenly, seeing a much superior force, set fire to his camp, and, crossing the Shenandoah, also set fire to the bridge behind him, but Jackson's men rushed in and saved it, though so damaged as to make the use of it slow and difficult.

Jackson, crossing at a ford with the 6th Va. Cav., under Col. Flournoy, charged the enemy, capturing the two guns and 600 prisoners, the enemy losing 154 killed and wounded, and the Confederates only 26. [98]

Even a more brilliant success might have resulted here but for an unfortunate failure of our staff service, as follows: —

As he approached Front Royal from the south, about three and a half miles from the town, a rough country road diverged to the east and gave a second approach to the town by an obscure route of about eight miles over some steep hills.

The more surely to avoid the enemy's pickets and to execute a surprise, Jackson had taken the head of his column by this road. But after striking the enemy's pickets near Front Royal, he sent back orders for the rear brigades to follow the short and nearly level highway to the town. As usual at that time in the Confederate armies, the courier service was performed by a small detachment of cavalry, temporarily detailed; not by specially selected men, as was later practised.

In this case the courier selected to carry the order not only failed to deliver it, but took himself off, and was never heard of again. It resulted that Jackson waited in vain the whole afternoon for the coming up of most of his artillery and infantry. Part of it only arrived after dark, completely exhausted by its laborious march; and one of his brigades, tired out, encamped four miles short of Front Royal. The cream of the whole occasion was thus lost.

Banks did not appreciate the situation until next morning, and only toward 10 o'clock did he get off from Strasburg in retreat for Winchester. Jackson, too, was able to make only a late start, and, being delayed by forces sent out by Banks to protect his right flank, he missed, by two hours, intercepting Banks's infantry, though he captured and destroyed about 100 wagons, and took some prisoners. There was much delay, also, from poor discipline in both the Confederate infantry and cavalry, especially in the latter. It was not easy for either to resist the temptations offered by so many wagons loaded with articles of food and clothing, calculated to appeal strongly to Confederate wants.

But if time was thus wasted, Jackson made it up by pushing his march for the greater part of the night. It was 3 A. M. when he finally allowed his exhausted men to lie down and sleep, and [99] they were now near enough to Winchester to make it sure that Banks could not get away without a battle.

Early in the morning Jackson attacked Winchester. The enemy made a stubborn resistance, having good position but an inferior force. He was finally, however, broken and driven from the town in great confusion. Jackson, in his official report, says of the occasion:—

‘Never have I seen an opportunity when it was in the power of cavalry to reap a richer harvest of the fruits of victory. Hoping that the cavalry would soon come up, the artillery, followed by infantry, was pressed forward for about two hours for the purpose of preventing by artillery fire a re-forming of the enemy; but as nothing was heard of the cavalry, and as but little or nothing could be accomplished without it in the exhausted condition of our infantry, between which and the enemy the distance was constantly increasing, I ordered a halt and issued orders for going into camp and refreshing the men.’

This had been the critical moment of Jackson's whole strategic movement. He had successfully concentrated a superior force upon his enemy, and routed him, and needed but his cavalry to reap the full fruits of a great success. He had three regiments of cavalry, — the 7th under Col. Turner Ashby, and the 2d and 6th, which, the day before, had been placed under the command of Gen. Geo. H. Steuart. Ashby's regiment was recruited in the Valley and was noted for every good quality except discipline. Being near their homes, the opportunity to loot the captured trains had been peculiarly seductive, and the regiment for some days was but little more than a company. With his small force remaining, Ashby, unfortunately, the night before, had ridden to Berryville, fearing the enemy might attempt to escape by Snicker's Gap. The 2d and 6th regiments under Steuart were with Ewell's troops on the right of the attack, Jackson being with the left. There was no reason, therefore, except our fatal facility of blundering, why these two regiments should not have been promptly at hand, and, for once, the spectacle be seen of a Confederate army reaping the fruits of victory.

The story is a curious one, and is told in Jackson's official report as follows:— [100]

‘I had seen but some 50 of Ashby's cavalry since prior to the pillaging scenes of the previous evening, and none since an early hour of the past night. The 2d and 6th Va. regiments of cavalry were under the command of Brig.-Gen. Geo. H. Steuart of Ewell's command. After the pursuit had been continued for some distance beyond the town, and seeing nothing of the cavalry, I despatched my aide-de-camp, Lt. Pendleton, to Gen. Steuart with an order “to move as rapidly as possible and join me on the Martinsburg turnpike and carry on the pursuit of the enemy with vigor.” His reply was that he was under the command of Gen. Ewell and the order must come through him. Such conduct and consequent delay has induced me to require of Lt. (now Maj.) Pendleton a full statement of the case, which is forwarded herewith.’

Pendleton tells how Steuart, who was a graduate of West Point and an officer of the old army, had refused and failed to obey Jackson's order for immediate action, because not given through a division commander.

Gen. Jackson then goes on to say: —

About an hour after the halt of the main body had been ordered, Brig.-Gen. Geo. H. Steuart, with his cavalry, came up, and renewing the pursuit pushed forward in a highly creditable manner and succeeded in capturing a number of prisoners; but the main body of Banks's army was now beyond the reach of successful pursuit, and effected its escape across the Potomac.

Before reaching Bunker Hill Gen. Steuart was joined by Gen. Ashby with a small portion of his cavalry. Upon my inquiring of Gen. Ashby why he was not where I desired him at the close of the engagement, he stated that he had moved to the enemy's left for the purpose of cutting off a portion of his force. Gen. Steuart pushed on to Martinsburg, where he captured a large amount of army stores.

There is good reason for believing that had the cavalry played its part in this pursuit as well as the four companies had done under Col. 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.

This narrative shows how our efficiency was impaired by our deficiencies of discipline. Our strategy, marching and fighting, had all been excellent. Yet, owing to the failure of one courier, and a single mistake of narrow-mindedness in a general, Banks had escaped with but trifling loss of men or material. The campaign, however, had not been undertaken to capture men or material. Its great object was to break up McDowell's proposed march from Fredericksburg to reenforce McClellan in front [101] of Richmond. This, it will be seen, was fully accomplished by the help of the following chapter of accidents and just at the critical moment.

McDowell had been ordered to march as soon as he was joined by Shields's division. It arrived on May 22. Only one day was needed to equip it for the march to Richmond, but the loss of three days followed. Its artillery ammunition had been condemned by an inspector and a second day was lost, waiting for ammunition which had been delayed by the grounding of a schooner near Alexandria. Everything, however, was ready by the night of the 24th, and McDowell was anxious to march on Sunday, the 25th. But a third day's delay now ensued from Mr. Lincoln's superstitious feeling that his chances of success might be improved by showing some special regard for the Sabbath.

McDowell's official report says:1

‘I was now ready to march with over 40,000 men and over 100 pieces of artillery. Though I could have started, and would have started, Sunday, yet it was resolved not to march till Monday; this out of deference to the wishes of the President, who was with me at the time, having come down Friday night, and with the concurrence of the Secretary of War, on account of the day.’

When it is remembered that the distance to unite with McClellan could have been easily covered within three marches, one is impressed with the influence of small events upon great matters, especially when the small events involve the loss of time, even of hours. It has already been told how McDowell did actually start, but, having made only a part of a day's march, he was recalled, and sent after Jackson. Had he made even a full day, it is very doubtful if he would have been recalled.

On the morning of Sunday, the 25th, everything in Washington was serene. Those best posted, and in highest authority, confidently expected the early fall of Richmond, and had good reason for their expectations. Indeed, the New York Herald that morning had had a leader headed, ‘Fall of Richmond.’ By noon the papers were issuing extras headed, ‘Defeat of Banks, Washington in Danger.’ A volcanic eruption could scarcely have startled [102] the administration more. Telegrams were sent the governors of a dozen states calling for instant help to save the capital. Reenforcements were rushed to Williamsport and Harper's Ferry to assist Banks. McDowell's march, already begun before orders could reach it, was countermanded, and half his force, under Shields and Ord, was hurried to the Valley to attack Jackson from the east, while Fremont's 15,000 attacked from the west.

McDowell, who was a good soldier, appreciated that no force possible for Jackson to have collected, could accomplish any serious results, and remonstrated, and begged in vain, to be allowed to carry out his projected march upon Richmond. When this was refused, he suggested that he be directed upon Gordonsville, but this too was overruled, and Shields and Ord were directed to march upon Strasburg, toward which point also Fremont was approaching.

Meanwhile, Jackson, having gone into camp about noon on Sunday, the 25th, when his infantry and artillery could no longer pursue the enemy, felt moved, even as Lincoln had done, to recognize the Sabbath by making up for the services missed in the morning.

His official report says:--

‘On the following day (the 26th), divine service was held for the purpose of rendering thanks to God for the success with which He had blessed our arms, and to implore His continued favor.’

During the next two or three days he made demonstrations toward the Potomac, advancing his troops to Charlestown, and within two miles of Harper's Ferry; but these demonstrations were only for their moral effect at the North, and to occupy time, while he filled his wagons with captured stores and prepared a convoy of a double line of wagons near seven miles long and about 2300 prisoners. Only on the 30th did he put his columns in motion toward the rear.

Had his opponents acted boldly and swiftly, their positions would now have enabled them to cut off Jackson's retreat and to overwhelm him. But the moral effect of his reputation doubtless caused some hesitation, and Jackson's entire force and his whole convoy, with some skirmishing at Front Royal with [103] Shields, and at Wardensville with Fremont, passed between his converging foes at Strasburg on the 31st, a portion of one of his brigades making in one day a march of 36 miles.

Besides the prisoners and stores brought off, Jackson left about 700 Federal sick and wounded at Winchester, and burned many stores for which he had no transportation. Two guns and over 9000 muskets were saved.

After passing Strasburg on the 31st, the race was continued up the main Shenandoah Valley, with Jackson leading and Fremont following in his tracks, while Shields advanced up the Luray Valley on the east.

At New Market the road from Luray enters the Valley through Massanutten Gap, but Jackson had sent cavalry ahead who burned the bridges by which Shields might have had access.

At Conrad's store another bridge across the South Fork gave a road to Harrisonburg, and Shields rushed his cavalry ahead to gain possession of it, but again he was too late. Meanwhile, there had been a severe rain-storm on June 2, and though Shields could hear the guns of Jackson's rear-guard and Fremont's advance on the other side of the Massanutten Mountains, he was powerless to cross.

On Thursday, June 5, Jackson reached Harrisonburg, and here diverged east to cross the South Fork upon the bridge at Port Republic. On the 6th, in a severe cavalry affair of the rearguard, Gen. Turner Ashby was killed. Of the civilian soldiers whom the war produced, such as Forrest, Morgan, and others, scarcely one gave such early and marked indication of rare military genius as Ashby.2 [104]

On the 7th Jackson's advance at night reached the vicinity of Port Republic. This village is situated in the angle between the North and South rivers, which here unite and form the South Fork of the Shenandoah. The North River is the larger of the two, and the road from Harrisonburg crosses it by a wooden bridge. The South River was fordable.

On the morning of Sunday, the 8th, Jackson had sent two companies of cavalry across the river to scout on the Luray road toward Shields's advance. About 8 A. M. these companies were driven back in a rout and followed into the village by a body of Federal cavalry, who, with four guns and a brigade of infantry following, formed Shields's advance.

Jackson himself was in the village and narrowly escaped capture, riding across the bridge over the North River. Three of his staff were captured, but afterward escaped. Three brigades of infantry, however, and three batteries were near at hand, and the Federals were soon brought under a fire that sent them back in confusion with a loss of about 40 men and two guns, which had been brought across the South River. As their leading brigade, Carroll's, fell back, it met a second brigade of Shields's division, Tyler's, with artillery, and the two brigades, selecting a position about two miles north, decided to await the arrival of Shields with the rest of the division.

Jackson left two brigades to protect the bridge, and with the remainder of his force marched back about four miles to Cross Keys, where he had left Ewell's division holding a selected position against Fremont. Fremont was now in reach of Jackson, and, by all the maxims of war, should have exerted his utmost strength to crush him. He could afford to risk fighting his last reserves, and even to wreck his army, if he might thereby detain or cripple Jackson, for other armies were coming to his help and were near at hand. His attack, however, was weak. He had about 10,000 infantry, 2000 cavalry, and 12 batteries. Ewell had at first but 6000 infantry and 500 cavalry. Fremont brought into play about all of his artillery, but he advanced only one brigade of infantry from his left flank. This was repulsed and followed, and the whole of Fremont's left wing driven back to the shelter of his line of guns. Elsewhere there was no more [105] than skirmishing and artillery duelling, of which the Federals usually had the best with their superior metal and ammunition. It was Jackson's role to fight only defensive battle, until he had shaken off the superior force which beset him; so the battle lingered along all day, the casualties being:—

Federal:killed 114,wounded 443,missing 127,total 684
Confederate:killed 41,wounded 232,missing 15, total 288

During the night of the 8th, Jackson returned to Port Republic and improvised a foot-bridge to carry his infantry dry shod across the South River. Early next morning, leaving a rearguard of two brigades under Trimble and Patton to delay Fremont, the rest of his force was put in motion to find and attack Shields's two brigades, which had unwisely halted about two miles from Port Republic the day before.

I say unwisely, because they were only about 4000 men and 16 guns, but they had a position so beautiful that they were excusable just for the chance of fighting from it.

From the river on the right it extended straight across a mile of open plain, along a hollow road running between good banks, strongly fenced, to a considerable ravine in the wooded foot-hills of the Blue Ridge. The key of the position was a high retired shoulder on the Federal left, on which were posted seven guns, strongly supported by infantry sheltered in the near-by wood, and commanding every foot of the plain.

Jackson, this morning, proposed to himself a double victory, and he built the foot-bridge across the South River to enable him to win it. He intended, by making a very early start, to fall upon Shields's two brigades and crush them, and then doubling back upon his track to recross the rivers and meet Fremont, whom he would expect to find advancing toward Port Republic, against the opposition which Trimble and Patton would make. It was a good plan and entirely feasible, but two things went wrong in its execution.

The first was with the foot-bridge over the South River. This was rudely constructed of a plank footway, supported upon the running-gear of wagons standing in the stream, which was about breast deep. Such a bridge may be made quite serviceable, [106] but this one was not strongly built, and before it had been in use long, it became impassable, except in single file. This made the passage of each brigade over twice as long as it should have been.

The second trouble was Jackson's impatience, which defeated his own purpose. Winder's brigade, leading his column, began to cross the bridge about 4.45 A. M., and Jackson was near the head of the column. When the enemy's position was discovered, it was plain that the key position above noted was its most assailable point. Time and blood would both have been saved by bringing up at once a force amply sufficient to overwhelm it. As he had five brigades at hand, and an abundance of artillery, there need have been no failure, and no more delay than the time needed to bring up his troops. Going into battle before enough troops were brought up, was sure to result in more or less disaster.

Winder's brigade, about 1500 strong, with two batteries, first attacked the Federal centre. It was not only badly repulsed, but the enemy gave a counterstroke, pursuing the fugitives and capturing a gun which they succeeded in carrying off. Other troops were arriving to reenforce Winder, but they were arriving too slowly. The Federal commander saw a chance to defeat his adversary by taking him in detail, and was swift to take advantage of it. He brought forward two fresh regiments from his left to reenforce an advance from his centre.

In vain Jackson himself rode among his own old brigade, exposing his life freely and endeavoring to rally them. Their thin lines had been for the time practically wrecked against superior numbers in a position almost impregnable. Fortunately, at the critical moment, relief came suddenly.

Jackson had recognized the key position held by the enemy's seven-gun battery, early in the morning, and had directed Taylor's fine La. brigade to attack it, and later, sent a second brigade to follow Taylor.

Their approach was made through forest, and the enemy were unaware of it. Taylor urged his march to the utmost, and was admonished by the sounds of the battle in the open country on his left that his friends were in need of assistance. So, without [107] waiting for the brigade which followed him, he broke cover and charged boldly on the Federal battery at just the critical moment for Jackson on the left.

The sudden bursting out of so severe a battle at this vital point at once relieved the pressure upon Winder's centre. Taylor had a desperate fight, the battery being taken and retaken and taken again, before six of its guns and all of its caissons were finally held, and its fire opened upon the now retreating Federals. Taylor's brigade lost 288 men in this action, but accomplished its victory before the arrival of its support.

It was now about 10.30 A. M. About nine Jackson had realized that he would not be able to accomplish the double victory he had hoped for, and had sent word to Patton and Trimble to come across the bridges at Port Republic and to burn them. They had not been followed closely by Fremont. He only showed up on the opposite bank at noon, having had but seven miles to come.

He had a pontoon train, but made no effort to cross, and confined his activity to cannonading the Confederates from the north bank, wherever he could find an opportunity, during the whole afternoon. It accomplished little harm except to the Federal wounded, driving off the ambulances which were gathering them.

Jackson pressed the retreat of Tyler's two brigades for about nine miles down the river, capturing about 500. He then withdrew by roads which avoided Fremont's guns on the west bank, and went into camp between midnight and dawn on the 10th in Brown's Gap on the Blue Ridge, some of his regiments having marched over 20 miles.

The casualties in this action were as follows, the Federals having but two brigades engaged and the Confederates four:—

Confederate:killed 94,wounded 703,missing 36,total 833
Federal:killed 67,wounded 393,missing 558,total 1018

The entire casualties for the whole campaign sum up as follows for the two armies:—

Confederate:killed 266,wounded 1580,missing 36,total 1903
Federal:killed 269,wounded 1306,missing 2402,total 3977


When, in his retreat, Jackson had gotten safely past Strasburg, the Federal War Department gave up all hope of capturing him, and began to take measures to renew McDowell's advance upon Richmond. One of McDowell's divisions, McCall's, had been held at Fredericksburg, and, about June 6, it had been sent by water to join McClellan upon the Peninsula. On the 8th orders were sent for McDowell himself with Shields's and Ord's divisions to march for Fredericksburg; but before these orders could have any effect there came the news of Jackson's sharp counterstrokes at Cross Keys and Port Republic, which had the purely moral effect of causing the order to be countermanded. It remained countermanded, and McDowell and his two divisions were kept in the valley about Front Royal until June 20. This delay took away his last possible chance to reenforce McClellan before Lee took the offensive. Indeed, the movement to Fredericksburg, resumed about June 20, was stopped on June 26 by the formation of a new army to be commanded by Gen. John Pope. It comprised the entire forces of Fremont, Banks, and McDowell, and was charged with the duty of overcoming the forces under Jackson.

So we may now leave him and his gallant but wearied foot cavalry to enjoy about five days of rest on the banks of the Shenandoah, and take up the story of Lee before Richmond.

1 O. R. 15, 282.

2 Col. Henderson writes of Ashby as follows:—

‘The death of Ashby was a terrible blow to the Army of the Valley. From the outbreak of the war he had been employed on the Shenandoah, and from Staunton to the Potomac his was the most familiar figure in the Confederate ranks. His daring rides on his famous white charger were already the theme of song and story, and if the tale of his exploits, as told in camp and farm, sometimes bordered on the marvellous, the bare truth stripped of all exaggeration was sufficient in itself to make him a hero. His reckless courage, his fine horsemanship, his skill in handling his command, and his power of stimulating devotion, were not the only attributes which incited admiration. With such qualities, it is said, were united the utmost generosity and unselfishness, and a delicacy of feeling equal to a woman's.’

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