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Chapter 12:

On the 7th of October, 1861, in recognition of his distinguished services at the first battle of Manassas, Stonewall Jackson was commissioned majorgeneral. On November 4th he left Manassas to take command of the Valley district, to which, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, in command of the department of Northern Virginia, had assigned him, and established his headquarters at Winchester. Although forming the left wing of Johnston's army, the main body of which was in the vicinity of Manassas Junction, Jackson's command was, in some respects, an independent one, as he had assigned to him not only the protection of the lower valley of the Shenandoah, but also the extensive Appalachian country to the northwest that drained into the Potomac, and a long the northeastern border of which ran the Baltimore & Ohio railroad. It was all a region of parallel mountains and narrow valleys with which he was quite familiar, not only in consequence of his campaigning there in the earlier part of 1861, but from his knowledge of it from his boyhood days. Entering upon his command with but a small body of soldiers, no one would have forecast that he had taken possession of a field which would make both that and himself famous for all time. The enemy, through the exigencies of war, had become possessed of a large part of both the Appalachian and the Trans-Appalachian portions of Virginia, and Jackson had frequently expressed a desire to be placed in position to free that land of his nativity from the Federal invaders. To him, this assignment, even with an inferior force, appeared to open the way for the fulfillment of his cherished hopes.

First the Virginia, and then the Confederate campaigns in the mountain regions of Virginia, during the spring, summer and fall of 1861, had not only been barren of results, but in the main well-nigh disastrous. Garnett had been out-maneuvered and defeated, in the Tygart [198] valley, in July; Loring, under Lee, had accomplished nothing in the same valley and in that of the Greenbrier in August and September, and the commands of Floyd and Wise along the Kanawha turnpike, even with the assistance of Lee and Loring, had barely sufficed to keep the enemy in check.1

When Jackson took command in the Valley the advance of General Rosecrans, who commanded the Federal forces in West Virginia, had recaptured Romney, 40 miles west of Winchester, and held it with a force of 5,000 men, thus controlling the important valley of the South branch of the Potomac. Bath, the county seat of Morgan, situated north of Winchester, was also occupied, as was the Maryland side of the Potomac across the entire front of the Shenandoah valley and beyond on either side. The Confederate forces along the Staunton and Parkersburg turnpike, and the turnpike leading into that from the Warm Springs, had fallen back to the crest of Alleghany mountain, while that on the Kanawha road had retired to Lewisburg, a few miles west of that range. The Baltimore & Ohio railroad was open from the eastward to Harper's Ferry and from the westward to Hancock, for the use of the Federal army, a gap 40 miles long being the only portion broken and controlled by the Confederates, and even this was filled on the Maryland side by the Chesapeake & Ohio canal, furnishing water communication from Cumberland to Georgetown and Washington.

Studying the field intrusted to him and the strategic opportunities presented for driving the enemy from the mountain region to the westward, Jackson asked that his old brigade might be sent him from Manassas, and that all the troops holding the passes of Alleghany mountain to the southwest, some 15,000 or 16,000 in number, be ordered to report to him. The government, not then knowing the man, declined to comply fully with his request, but promptly sent him his old brigade, and one of [199] Loring's brigades reached him from the Staunton and Parkersburg line early in December. Loring did not arrive in person until very nearly the end of the month of December, but Jackson, with characteristic energy, improved the opportunity to drill his command and equip it for service, and to organize certain cavalry companies in his district into a regiment, under the command of Lieut.-Col. Turner Ashby.

Unwilling to be idle and leave his foe to believe that he was not ready for action, Jackson dispatched a small force of infantry and a battery to break Dam No. 5, seven miles above Williamsport, across the Potomac, which supplied a long level of the canal with water, and thus destroy the line of communication between Cumberland and Washington. On the afternoon of December 6th, Jackson's force reached the dam, and while he kept up an active skirmish across the Potomac for two days, an effort was made to break the dam on the night of the 7th, but with little success. Unwilling to be foiled in his undertaking, Jackson again left Winchester on the 16th with a larger force, and on the 17th, having disposed his troops to provide against a flank movement and also to make demonstrations at Dam No. 4, at Williamsport, he sent parties to break Dam No. 5 at its Virginia end. The Federal infantry and artillery kept up a vigorous and annoying fire from the Maryland side on Jackson's working party, so that little was accomplished during the day; but that night Captain Holliday, of the Thirty-third, and Captain Robinson, of the Twenty-seventh, volunteered to go down with their companies and wade in and cut out the cribs that supported the dam. It required heroic endurance to stand waist deep in the water on a cold December night, and under a constant fire of the enemy, but a partial breach was made and the cribs so loosened that a later freshet made a wide gap in the dam and rendered useless for some time a long stretch of the canal. During Jackson's stay to effect the object of this expedition, it became evident from the arrival of Federal regiments to reinforce the command at Williamsport, that it would be hazardous for him to cross the Potomac and attack his opponents, so he withdrew on the 21st and returned to Winchester.

While engaged in the expedition to Dam No. 5, news reached Jackson of the decisive victory Gen. Edward [200] Johnson had won at his camp on Alleghany mountain on December 13th. Jackson promptly advised that Edward Johnson's force should either reinforce him or advance down the South Branch valley toward Moorefield, so as to co-operate with him in an attack he proposed to make on Romney, where he supposed the force of the enemy was about 10,000, but being constantly reinforced. He wrote to both Gen. J. E. Johnston and Adjutant-General Cooper. He was not listened to, and later in the winter Johnson was forced to fall back to the Shenandoah mountain in consequence of a movement threatening his flank from the direction of Romney.

Loring and the last two of his brigades joined Jackson on Christmas day of 1861. It was agreed that Loring should retain command of his own troops, the three infantry brigades under Col. William B. Taliaferro, Col. William Gilham and Brig.-Gen. S. R. Anderson, and Marye's and Shumaker's batteries, in all nearly 6,000 men, which increased Jackson's entire force, counting 2,000 or 3,000 militia, to about 11,000. Loring was recognized as second in command.

Having secured all the troops that the Confederate authorities would intrust him with, Jackson, feeling that the force in hand was inadequate to the undertaking, but burning with a desire to recover western Virginia, determined to move on the enemy, notwithstanding the lateness of the season and the difficulties that would have to be encountered in a winter campaign in a mountainous region. He desired to first clear out the foe from his own district, which extended well toward the line of the Staunton and Parkersburg turnpike to the district which was recently commanded by Loring, and still held by Gen. Edward Johnson, damaging the Baltimore & Ohio railroad along the Potomac as much as possible, and then be guided by circumstances in reference to a campaign farther to the northwest. Preparations were energetically pushed, and by the last day of the year the army was ready to move.

Rosecrans, satisfied that there would be no further westward movement of the Confederates until spring, had determined, under cover of his 5,000 troops at Romney, to collect the whole force of his department, some 22,000 men, along the line of the Baltimore & Ohio railroad, with the hope of securing permission from General [201] McClellan to use these forces in an attack upon the Valley for the purpose of seizing, fortifying and holding Winchester, and thus dominating all of northeastern Virginia, and at the same time threatening Johnston's position at Manassas. These intentions of the enemy were speedily frustrated by Jackson, when, on the 1st of January, 1862, a bright and pleasant day, his army started for Bath, near the line of the Baltimore & Ohio railroad. The army consisted of his own old brigade, commanded by Gen. R. B. Garnett, the three brigades under Loring, a part of the militia, five batteries, and most of Ashby's regiment of cavalry, the whole numbering about 9,000 men. This movement against Bath, if successful, would disperse the enemy at Hancock, destroy communication between General Banks on the east and General Kelley on the west, and by threatening the latter's rear, force him to evacuate Romney or contend with a superior force. Before the first day ended a cold storm set in from the northwest, the beginning of a protracted period of very inclement weather. The second day the storm continued, and the trains were delayed by icy mountain roads, byways having been chosen, instead of following the great turnpike, to conceal the movement. As the trains could not get up, the troops were forced to pass the night of the 2d near Unger's, without rations and many of them without covering. On the morning of the 3d the wagons came up, and after a short delay for cooking and eating, the march was resumed. Later that day snow and sleet set in, adding to the discomfort of the army and making the roads so slippery that the wagons were again unable to keep up. That night was spent in the midst of the storm about four miles southwest of Bath. The advance had dispersed and captured some of a scouting party of the enemy. On the morning of the 4th, Jackson disposed his forces to surround Bath, sending a detachment across the mountain to the left in order to make a flank movement from the west, the main body pushing along the direct road with regiments thrown out on the right and left as flankers. Exhausted by the cold and suffering of the preceding days, and especially by the storm of the night before, the troops moved slowly, greatly hindered by the ice and frozen sleet that covered the ground, so that a large part of the day was consumed before the Confederates, led by Lieut.- [202] Col. W. S. H. Baylor, of Jackson's staff, dashed into the town. The latter had been held by a part of the Thirty-ninth Illinois regiment, a squadron of cavalry and a section of artillery, reinforced on the morning of the 4th by the Eighty-fourth Pennsylvania from Hancock, and at midday by the Thirteenth Indiana. These Federal troops skirmished for some hours with Jackson's advance, then hastily retired, their commander, Colonel Murray of the Eighty-fourth Pennsylvania, having decided not to await an attack. They retreated precipitately to Hancock, leaving their stores and camp at Bath to be captured.

Finding the enemy gone, Jackson ordered an immediate pursuit, his main body moving toward Hancock and driving the rear of the enemy across the Potomac; Gilham moved toward Sir John's run, but did no damage to the enemy retreating in that direction, as they were able to check his advance with a few men, along the narrow defile of the run, until after dark, when they made good their retreat over the Potomac. Colonel Rust, with the Third Arkansas, the Thirty-seventh Virginia and two guns, was sent to destroy the Baltimore & Ohio railroad bridge over the Big Cacapon. The guard made a stout resistance, but he drove it off on the morning of the 5th and destroyed the bridge, railroad station and telegraph line.

Jackson bivouacked with his main force opposite Hancock on the night of the 4th. The next morning, through Colonel Ashby, he demanded a surrender of the town, threatening if that were not done in two hours, given for the removal of non-combatants, he would open his batteries upon it. General Lander, who had assumed command at Hancock, refused to surrender and prepared to resist until large reinforcements, which had been summoned from both east and west over the National road, could reach him. Jackson put several pieces of artillery in position and kept up a brisk cannonade during the afternoon of the 5th and the forenoon of the 6th, meantime trying to construct a bridge across the Potomac, two miles above Hancock, that he might cross the river and fall on Lander's flank. Finding that it would take several days to construct this bridge, during which time the enemy in front of him would be largely reinforced, and having freed this part of his district from the enemy and destroyed such stores as he could not carry away, Jackson [203] left the vicinity of Hancock, on the morning of the 7th, and marched in the direction of Romney, the head of his column reaching Unger's cross roads that evening. The condition of the weather, and especially of the roads on which the sleet and snow, tramped by the marching soldiers, had become frozen and glassy so that it was with great difficulty that the troops could make progress, and almost impossible for the trains and artillery to be moved at all, filled the whole line of march with falling, disabled or killed horses. The cold was intense, and the bivouac the night of January 7, 1862, was one long to be remembered by even Jackson's hardy and much enduring soldiery. The march could not be continued until the horses were rough shod, and Jackson, ever impatient of delay, was forced to remain for some days at Unger's for this purpose.

The day that Jackson retired from Hancock, January 7th, a detachment of the Federal troops at Romney, taking the road to Winchester, fell on a body of some 700 Virginia militia, under Colonel Monroe, with Sheets' company of cavalry, and 30 artillerists with two pieces of artillery, under Lieut. W. E. Cutshaw, in the narrow gorge called Hanging Rock, just across the North river of the Big Cacapon, captured the Confederate pickets about daylight and, having turned Monroe's left, took his command by surprise, and pressing upon them with an overwhelming force scattered them in great confusion, capturing the two guns, part of the baggage and 7 prisoners. The Federal troops burned the mills and private houses at and near Hanging Rock, and then returned to Romney, burning houses and killing cattle on their way, encouraged to this vandalism by those in command. Their track of 15 miles, from Hanging Rock to Romney, was one continued scene of desolation.

On the 13th Jackson resumed his march to Romney. During this delay he had not been altogether idle, for on the 10th he had dispatched, in opposite directions, Brig.-Gen. G. C. Meem, with 545 militia infantry, toward Moorefield, and Brigadier-General Carson, with 200 militia infantry and 25 mounted militia, for Bath, 16 miles away, to confuse the enemy as to his intentions, while Ashby hovered near Romney watching the movements of the Federal forces. Apprehensive of disaster, General Lander, in command of the Federal forces, evacuated Romney on [204] the 10th and fell back to the Baltimore & Ohio railroad at Patterson's creek, where he concentrated the Federal troops from Hancock and Cumberland with those from Romney and Springfield.

Jackson's advance encamped on the night of the 13th near Slanesville, establishing headquarters at Bloomery gap. The next day, marching through another storm of driving sleet, his advance entered Romney in the evening, capturing some stores and supplies which the Federals had left behind in their precipitate retreat. Having Romney in possession, Jackson prepared for a movement on Cumberland, to destroy the railroad bridges across the Potomac near that town, as well as those across Patterson and New creeks. He selected Garnett's and Taliaferro's brigades for this purpose, in order to destroy the enemy's line of communication preparatory to a further aggressive movement; but a new obstacle, more difficult to overcome than the serious natural ones he had just encountered, now confronted him. While the troops selected for the new expedition did not break out in actual revolt, their murmurings were loud. They made open complaint of the suffering they had endured and concerning the greater ones they imagined in store for them if this campaign were continued in such an inhospitable country and amidst the thawing and freezing of a rigorous, though changeable winter. Especially was this opposition strong in Taliaferro's brigade, which had not been accustomed to Jacksonian discipline under the command of Loring. Not a few of the officers of Jackson's old command sympathized with those who had been selected for the arduous duty Jackson had in view. A rain and thaw set in at about this time, and changed the frozen roads into slush and mire. Jackson reluctantly submitted to the discontent of his troops and the unfavorable conditions, relinquished his aggressive intentions and prepared to defend what he had already won. He had in two weeks and with little loss, though with much suffering, discomfited the enemy opposed to him and disconcerted their offensive plans; practically expelling them from all his district, liberating three fertile counties from their domination, and thereby securing sources of supply for the subsistence of his own army.

Loring's three brigades and thirteen pieces of artillery were quartered at and near Romney; Boggs' brigade of [205] militia, mainly gathered from that region, was disposed along the South branch to Moorefield, with his pickets joining those of Edward Johnson from Camp Alleghany on the southwest. Three companies of Ashby's cavalry were left with Loring for outpost duty. Carson's brigade of Virginia militia, gathered from the lower valley mainly, was stationed at Bath; and Meem's brigade of Virginia militia, from the counties of Shenandoah and Page, was placed at and beyond Martinsburg; while Ashby, with the larger portion of his cavalry regiment, held the line of the Potomac from near Harper's Ferry westward. Garnett's brigade was ordered to Winchester, to be in position to guard against any movement of the large force under Banks that had been gathered at Frederick City. Jackson established his own headquarters at Winchester on the 24th of January, having provided communication with Loring, at Romney, by a line of telegraph.

With these dispositions of his forces, made so as to be ready for either offensive or defensive purposes, and on good roads by which they could be readily concentrated, General Jackson had a reasonable expectation that he could now rest and recruit his army for the coming spring campaign, which everything indicated would be a very active one. Furloughs were granted freely to men and officers, not only for their own satisfaction, but with the hope that by going to their respective homes they would be the means of bringing new recruits to his army. To his surprise and mortification, these very men, especially the officers, were the means of adding to the discontent already prevailing among Loring's men, and some of them, high in favor with the government at Richmond, were the means of inducing the secretary of war, on the 31st of January, to order Jackson to recall Loring's command, at once, to Winchester, on the pretense that a movement was being made to cut it off, without sending the order through his superior officer, Gen. J. E. Johnston, and without consultation with either of these capable commanders in the field of operations. Jackson promptly obeyed the order; recalled Loring to Winchester, and ordered the militia to fall back in the same direction if the enemy should advance. At the same time he informed Mr. Benjamin, the secretary of war, that he had complied with his order, and asked to be himself ordered to report for duty to the Virginia military institute, [206] or, if this was not granted, that the President would accept his resignation from the army, writing in this connection, ‘With such interference in my command I cannot expect to be of much service in the field.’ General Johnston detained Jackson's letter to Benjamin, which had been sent through him as his immediate commander, and urged Jackson to reconsider it. Governor Letcher, learning of Jackson's resignation before the receipt of a letter from Jackson telling him what he had done and his reasons for it, immediately called on the secretary of war and insisted that no action should be taken. Yielding to the earnest solicitations of the governor and others whom he esteemed, but without withdrawing. from the position he had taken in reference to the interference of the secretary with his command, Jackson consented to the withdrawal of his letter of resignation.

The enemy soon reoccupied the territory Jackson had been ordered to abandon, and he found himself confined to the lower Valley, which he had held previous to the Romney expedition. Loring was ordered to a new command, and the Tennessee, Georgia and Arkansas troops that had been with him were gradually taken away and joined to the other forces constituting Johnston's right wing near Centreville and Manassas, leaving only Virginia troops, those of Garnett's, Burks', and Taliaferro's brigades in the Valley with Jackson. The militia commands, never well organized, were now dwindling away by details and by enlistments in the volunteer regiments.

The Federals reoccupied Romney on the 7th of February, and a little later sent an expedition as far south as Moorefield, bringing off captured cattle. The reconstruction of the railroad was also begun, Carson having fallen back to Bloomery gap, and by the 14th the Baltimore & Ohio railroad was again opened from the west to Hancock, on which day Lander made a bold dash with both infantry and cavalry on the militia stationed at Bloomery, taking them by surprise, and capturing some 75 prisoners, including 17 officers. The militia rallied and checked the Federals until they could get away their train, when they retreated. Ashby drove Lander away from Bloomery gap on the 16th, but the Federals continued to hold the territory they had regained. Warned by these movements, Jackson ceased to give furloughs for [207] the time, and provided boats at Castleman's ferry on the Shenandoah to make good his communications with Gen. D. H. Hill, who was encamped at Leesburg, east of the Blue ridge.

February, 1862, was a month of Confederate disasters; the capture by the Federals of Fort Henry and Roanoke island, Fort Donelson and Nashville; the evacuation of Lexington, Mo., Bowling Green and Columbus, Ky., followed one after another. In this period of gloom, Jefferson Davis was inaugurated President of the Confederate States. [208]

1 The first campaign in the Kanawha valley, under General Wise, has been described in this volume. The later operations in that region, in 1861, under the command of General Floyd, and at the last, about Sewell mountain, under Gen. R. E. Lee, are described in the Military History of West Virginia, in another volume of this work. To that volume reference is also made for accounts of subsequent military operations within the limits of the State of West Virginia, except such as were part of the campaigns of the army of Northern Virginia.

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