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A short story by Etta Belle Walker

Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign

Title:     Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign
Author: Etta Belle Walker [More Titles by Walker]

Too much space must not be consumed in this book in presenting the facts regarding Jackson's Valley Campaign. We feel justified in devoting more than a comment to this notable feat of war, however, for some of the heaviest fighting of the four years' conflict took place on the land you may see in driving over the Valley Pike and along the Skyline Drive.

At the outbreak of hostilities in the War Between the States Thomas Jackson left the chair of higher mathematics at the Virginia Military Institute and volunteered his services in the Virginia army. Educated at West Point and trained during the Mexican War he was a welcome addition to the Confederate forces, although no one anticipated the conspicuous role he would play in the subsequent events. At the early battle of First Manassas he earned the name of "Stonewall" because of his quiet, dignified and unafraid manner in the face of danger.

Lt. Col. C. F. R. Henderson's invaluable two volumes, Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War, were consulted and are the source quoted hereafter in giving the account of the Valley warfare. The First Brigade of the Virginia army was recruited from the Valley and participated under Jackson in the first battle of Manassas and for a long period of time thereafter.

"No better material for soldiers ever existed," said Henderson, "than the men of the Valley. Most of them were of Scotch-Irish descent, but from the more northern counties came many of English blood, and from those in the center of Swiss and German. But whatever their origin, they were thoroughly well qualified for their new trade. All classes mingled in the ranks, and all ages; the heirs of the oldest families, and the humblest of the sons of toil; boys whom it was impossible to keep in school, and men whose white beards hung below their cross belts; youths who had been reared in luxury, and rough hunters from their lonely cabins. They were a mountain people, nurtured in a wholesome climate bred to manly sports, and hardened by the free life of the field and forest. To social distinctions they gave little heed. They were united for a common purpose; they had taken arms to defend Virginia and to maintain her rights; and their patriotism was proved by the sacrifice of all personal consideration and individual interest."

After the first battle of Manassas the First Brigade was known as the "Stonewall Brigade."

From July to November, 1861, Jackson spent the greater part of every day drilling the men under him and in trying to convert them into well-disciplined, obedient troops. During the first week in November he was sent from Manassas to command the Shenandoah Valley district and this meant parting from the soldiers whom he had reason to admire and who in turn held him in highest esteem. A short time later they were destined to reunite under circumstances which would try the courage of the brigade and commander. To the delight of all, the Stonewall Brigade was assigned to Winchester soon after Jackson established his headquarters there and for the next few months rigid training was given them again.

About the middle of March 1862, Jackson abandoned Winchester. This was after some of the Union concentration near Manassas and Centreville was broken up and General Banks made no move to offer battle, so the Confederates withdrew without a fight and occupied Strasburg eighteen or twenty miles southward. The evacuation of Winchester was made reluctantly, for good roads in each direction connected the city with outlying districts, fertile farms nearby could furnish the invading army with rations and Banks could receive from or send troops to West Virginia or the army south of Washington. Feeling that Jackson's small force was not of any special danger, Shields' corps was sent in pursuit of the Confederates and most of Banks' troops were ordered to another field. Jackson continued up the Valley and stopped at Mount Jackson, hoping the Federals would follow.

The Confederate general learned from Ashby, his cavalry commander, that the enemy was retreating. It was Lee's intention that the Union corps in the Valley be retained there so that assistance could not be offered McClellan, the Northern general who was maneuvering in the eastern part of Virginia with the ultimate aim of striking Richmond. McClellan hoped to attack the capital of the Confederacy by combining his army with that of McDowell, whom he could call to the area of war when necessary. So it was to be Jackson's duty to keep them in the Valley and perhaps to withdraw some of the Northern troops from near Richmond.

On March 22nd Ashby with his troopers and a few guns engaged Shields in a skirmish just south of Winchester. He believed there was only a small force of Federals present, so well had Shields hidden his men, and he reported to Jackson that the troops were small in number. The next day Jackson sent reinforcements to Ashby and then followed later with his whole force in the direction of Kernstown which is south of Winchester and but a short distance off. There the battle of Kernstown began and continued until dark. Jackson's troops were defeated and retreated southward. As a result of this encounter Shields was reinforced and the strong Union force remained in the Valley.

The Federal generals were apparently satisfied with the victory and in spite of urgings from the Secretary of War, Stanton, to pursue Jackson they remained inactive for nearly a month.

Banks assumed the offensive on April 17th, and surprised Ashby, taking one of his companies prisoner. The Virginians burned the railroad station at Mount Jackson and fell back while the Union cavalry established themselves at New Market.

The Confederate General Ewell had a force of 8,000 men on the Upper Rappahannock which is some distance east of the mountains. This corps was left at its location in order to rush to the defense of Fredericksburg or Richmond or across the mountains to the Valley. Jackson knew that he must not allow Banks to control the mountain pass, thus severing communication between the two Confederate forces. He determined upon a forced march for his men and on the eighteenth they reached Harrisonburg. He continued over to Swift Run Gap and encamped near there.

Banks followed his cavalry to New Market, crossed over to Luray and seized the bridges, driving back a detachment of Jackson's men sent there to defend them. Later he sent two of his five brigades to Harrisonburg and the rest stayed at New Market.

Jackson's next move was to McDowell, a town about twenty-seven miles northwest of Harrisonburg. The march was made in the most circuitous manner: from Swift Run Gap to Port Republic, to Brown's Gap which is about twelve miles southeast of their camp at Elk Run Valley, to Staunton and then west to McDowell. This strategy was used so that he might deceive Banks, Fremont and Milroy, the Federal commanders in and near the Valley, into thinking for a while that he was leaving the Valley to join forces at Richmond. Jackson proposed to strike each Union force located in this section of Virginia but he believed an encounter with Milroy commanding the weakest corps should be made before attacking Banks. The Battle of McDowell occurred on May 8th, and was a victory for Jackson. He followed the enemy in their retreat as far as Franklin. A squadron of Ashby's cavalry spent much time in blocking any of the passes which Fremont might use in crossing the mountains to reinforce Banks. Bridges were burned and rocks and trees were placed across the roadways. Jackson's object was thus thoroughly achieved:

"All combination between the Federal columns, except by long and devious routes, had now been rendered impracticable; and there was little fear that in any operations down the Valley his own communications would be endangered. The McDowell expedition had neutralized, for the time being, Fremont's 20,000 men; and Banks was now isolated, exposed to the combined attack of Jackson, Ewell and Edward Johnson."

Ewell in the meantime had left his post near Gordonsville and had moved into Swift Run Gap in order to go to Jackson if necessary. After the Battle of McDowell, Jackson returned to the Valley. Lee ordered him to make a movement against Banks as speedily as possible, to drive him towards Washington and appear ready to attack the Union capital. Thus he hoped to see some of the Northerners leave the vicinity of Richmond and return to defend their capital.

Jackson entered the Valley at Mount Solon and pushed northward at once. Banks erected earthworks at Strasburg and considered himself well entrenched against the enemy. Ewell, with his Confederates, left Swift Run Gap and moved to Luray. Jackson moved north to New Market. The Confederates now organized into two divisions, Jackson's and Ewell's, numbering about 17,000 men. The troops under Jackson instead of continuing northward in their march turned east and crossed the Massanutten Mountain and headed north. On May 22nd the advanced guard camped within ten miles of Front Royal. This town was "held by a strong detachment of Banks' small army."

"Since they had left Mount Solon and Elk Run Valley on May 19th the troops in four days had made just sixty miles. Such celerity of movement was unfamiliar to both Banks and Stanton, and on the night of the 22nd neither the Secretary nor the General had the faintest suspicion that the enemy had as yet passed Harrisonburg.... There was serenity at Washington.... The Secretary, ... saw no reason for alarm. His strategical combinations were apparently working without a hitch.... Milroy's defeat was considered no more than an incident of 'la petite guerre'. Washington seemed so perfectly secure that the recruiting offices had been closed, and the President and Secretary, anticipating the immediate fall of Richmond, left for Fredericksburg the next day. McDowell was to march on the 26th, and the departure of his fine army was to be preceded by a grand review....

"So on this night of May 22nd the President and his people were without fear of what the morrow might bring forth. The end of the rebellion seemed near at hand. Washington was full of the anticipated triumph. The crowds passed to and fro exchanging congratulations on the success of the Northern arms and the approaching downfall of the slaveholders.... Little dreamt the light-hearted multitude that, in the silent woods of the Luray Valley, a Confederate army lay asleep beneath the stars. Little dreamt Lincoln, or Banks, or Stanton, that not more than seventy miles from Washington, and less than thirty from Strasburg, the most daring of the enemies, waiting for the dawn to rise above the mountains was pouring out his soul in prayer."

Banks' 10,000 men were distributed in this manner: at Strasburg the largest contingent, at Winchester a small group of infantry and cavalry, with two companies of infantry at Newtown, midway between Strasburg and Front Royal. At Rectortown, nineteen miles east of Front Royal was General Geary with 2,000 infantry and cavalry independent of Banks. Front Royal was held by Colonel Kenly of the First Maryland Regiment, U. S. A. On the morning of May 23rd the Confederates struck Kenly's small force. Every line of communication and reinforcement had been severed during the previous night and "within an hour after his pickets were surprised Kenly was completely isolated."

Banks moved north from Strasburg towards Winchester before Jackson could scatter his troops along the route and cut off his retreat. Encounters took place at Newtown and Middletown and Kernstown during the early morning of May 24th. The battle of Winchester occurred the following day. Particularly hard fighting was done by both sides, but the surprise movements of Jackson during the past few days, the partial demoralization of the Union forces and the keen fighting of the Confederate divisions drove Banks' army from Winchester and on to Martinsburg.

Lee sent instructions to Jackson to threaten an invasion of Maryland and an attack upon Washington at this excellent time. So on the 28th the Stonewall Brigade set out towards Harper's Ferry and at Charlestown they met a Federal force, routing them within twenty minutes. Ewell came up to support the Brigade and on the 29th the army of the Valley was encamped near Halltown. The greater part of the Federals crossed the Potomac River at Harper's Ferry. Jackson, however, learned that the Union soldiers were advancing to cut off his retreat; Shields' division was approaching Manassas Gap and Fremont had left Franklin and was about ten miles from Moorefield. Jackson felt that Lee's orders had been carried out and decided to retreat along the Valley Pike. The Southerners turned southward towards Winchester. En route Jackson found out that the small force left at Front Royal had been driven back and that Shields occupied the town. The Valley army was ordered to Strasburg, the First Brigade was called back from Charlestown, the prisoners and supplies were picked up at Winchester and moved southward. "From the morning of May 19 to the night of June 1, a period of fourteen days, the Army of the Valley had marched one hundred and seventy miles, had routed a force of 12,500 men, had threatened the North with invasions, had drawn off McDowell from Fredericksburg, had seized the hospitals and supply depots at Front Royal, Winchester, and Martinsburg, and finally, although surrounded on three sides by 60,000 men, had brought off a huge convoy without losing a single wagon."

When the Federals learned that Jackson had moved south Shields was sent towards Luray from Front Royal. Fremont moved towards Woodstock. The Federal cavalry reached Luray on June 2nd and found that the enemy had already been there and burned the bridges, thus cutting off their approach to New Market. A part of the Confederates were repulsed on June 2nd between Strasburg and Woodstock and the skirmishing continued the next day with the Confederates retreating to Mount Jackson and burning the bridges over the North Fork of the Shenandoah River. The Union troops tried to construct their pontoons across the stream but a driving rain and high waters prevented their doing so. This failure gave the rebels a day's respite.

Jackson with his force passed from Harrisonburg over to Cross Keys and there bivouacked. The Northern generals looked upon this move as a retreat.

On June 8th and 9th the battles of Cross Keys and Port Republic took place, victories for the Southerners. The Confederates moved on to Brown's Gap, a point a bit nearer Richmond. "The success which the Confederates had achieved was undoubtedly important. The Valley army, posted at Brown's Gap, was now in direct communication with Richmond. Not only had its pursuers been roughly checked, but the sudden and unexpected counter-stroke, delivered by an enemy whom they believed to be in full flight, had surprised Lincoln and Stanton as effectively as Shields and Fremont."

Thus the plan of McClellan to fall upon Richmond had been postponed and a division of the Northern forces was made necessary to protect the Federal capital and to supply Banks with troops.

Later in the month Jackson's division moved with great secrecy to join General Lee near Richmond--but that is a story for another time.

[The end]
Etta Belle Walker's short story: Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign