Battle of Winchester


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Stonewall Jackson Free Online Books | Stonewall Jackson in Civil War | Stonewall Jackson Biography | Stonewall Jackson Obituary | Stonewall Jackson's Last Words | Stonewall Jackson Birthday | Stonewall Jackson Quotes

Chapter X
Battle of Winchester

Stonewall Jackson Index | Stonewall Jackson at West Point | Stonewall Jackson and Mexican War | Stonewall Jackson Lexington | Stonewall Jackson and Secession | Stonewall Jackson and Harper's Ferry | Stonewall Jackson at Battle of Bull Run | Stonewall Jackson at Romney | Stonewall Jackson at Kernstown | Battle of McDowell | Battle of Winchester | Battle of Cross Keys and Port Republic | Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign | The Seven Days Battle | Battle of Frayser's Farm and Malvern Hill | Battle of Cedar Run | Second Battle of Bull Run | Battle of Second Bull Run Conclusion | Battle of Harper's Ferry | Battle of Sharpsburg | Battle of Fredericksburg | The Army of Northern Virginia | Stonewall Jackson's Winter Quarters | Battle of Chancellorsville | Battle of Chancellorsville Conclusion

1862, May   That week in May when the Army of the Valley marched back to the Shenandoah was almost the darkest in the Confederate annals. The Northern armies, improving daily in discipline and in efficiency, had attained an ascendency which it seemed impossible to withstand. In every quarter of the theatre of war success inclined to the Stars and Stripes. At the end of April New Orleans, the commercial metropolis of the South, had fallen to the Federal navy. Earlier in the month a great battle had been fought at Shiloh, in Tennessee; one of the most trusted of the Confederate commanders had been killed;1 his troops, after a gallant struggle, had been repulsed with fearful losses; and the upper portion of the Mississippi, from the source to Memphis, had fallen under the control of the invader. The wave of conquest, vast and irresistible, swept up every navigable river of the South; and if in the West only the outskirts of her territory were threatened with destruction, in Virginia the roar of the rising waters was heard at the very gates of Richmond. McClellan, with 112,000 men, had occupied West Point at the head of the York River; and on May 16 his advance reached the White House, on the Pamunkey, twenty miles from the Confederate capital. McDowell, with 40,000 men, although still north of the Rappahannock, was but five short marches distant.2

General A. S. Johnston.
2  Directly McClellan closed in on Richmond, McDowell was ordered, as soon as Shields should join him, to march from Manassas to his assistance. Lincoln and Stanton had recovered confidence when Jackson returned to the Valley from Mechum’s Station.


The Federal gunboats were steaming up the James; and Johnston’s army, encamped outside the city, was menaced by thrice its numbers.

So black was the situation that military stores had already been removed from the capital, the archives of the Confederacy had been packed, and Mr. Davis had made arrangements for the departure of his family. In spite of the protests of the Virginia people the Government had decided to abandon Richmond. The General Assembly addressed a resolution to the President requiring him to defend the city, if necessary, “until not a stone was left upon another.” The City Council, enthusiastically supported by the citizens, seconded the appeal. A deputation was sent to Mr. Davis; but while they conferred together, a messenger rode in with the news that the mastheads of the Federal fleet could be seen from the neighbouring hills. Davis dismissed the committee, saying: “This manifestly concludes the matter.”

The gunboats, however, had still to feel their way up the winding reaches of the James. Their progress was very slow; there was time to obstruct the passage, and batteries were hastily improvised. The people made a mighty effort; and on the commanding heights of Drewry’s Bluff, six miles below the city, might be seen senators and merchants, bankers and clergymen, digging parapets and hauling timber, in company with parties of soldiers and gangs of slaves. Heavy guns were mounted. A great boom was constructed across the stream. When the ships approached they were easily driven back, and men once more breathed freely in the streets of Richmond. The example of the “Unterrified Commonwealth,” as Virginia has been proudly named, inspired the Government, and it was determined, come what might, that Richmond should be held. On the land side it was already fortified. But Lee was unwilling to resign himself to a siege. McClellan had still to cross the Chickahominy, a stream which oozes by many channels through treacherous swamps and an unwholesome jungle; and despite the overwhelming


numbers of the invading armies, it was still possible to strike an effective blow.

Few would have seen the opportunity, or, with a great army thundering at the gates of Richmond, have dared to seize it; but it was not McClellan and McDowell whom Lee was fighting, not the enormous hosts which they commanded, nor the vast resources of the North. The power which gave life and motion to the mighty mechanism of the attack lay not within the camps that could be seen from the housetops of Richmond and from the hills round Fredericksburg. Far away to the north, beyond the Potomac, beneath the shadow of the Capitol at Washington, was the mainspring of the invader’s strength. The multitudes of armed men that overran Virginia were no more the inanimate pieces of the chess-board. The power which controlled them was the Northern President. It was at Lincoln that Lee was about to strike, at Lincoln and the Northern people, and an effective blow at the point which people and President deemed vital might arrest the progress of their armies as surely as if the Confederates had been reinforced by a hundred thousand men.

May 16   On May 16 Lee wrote to Jackson: “Whatever movement you make against Banks, do it speedily, and if successful drive him back towards the Potomac, and create the impression, as far as possible, that you design threatening that line.” For this purpose, in addition to Ewell and Johnson’s forces, the Army of the Valley was to be reinforced by two brigades, Branch’s and Mahone’s, of which the former had already reached Gordonsville.

In this letter the idea of playing on the fears of Lincoln for the safety of his capital first sees the light, and it is undoubtedly to be attributed to the brain of Lee. That the same idea had been uppermost in Jackson’s mind during the whole course of the campaign is proved not only by the evidence of his chief of the staff, but by his correspondence with headquarters. “If Banks is defeated,” he had written on April 5, “it may directly retard McClellan’s movements.” It is true that nowhere in his correspondence


is the idea of menacing Washington directly mentioned, nor is there the slightest evidence that he suggested it to Lee. But in his letters to his superiors he confines himself strictly to the immediate subject, and on no single occasion does he indulge in speculation on possible results. In the ability of the Commander-in-Chief he had the most implicit confidence. “Lee,” he said, “is the only man I know whom I would follow blindfold,” and he was doubtless assured that the embarrassments of the Federal Government were as apparent to Lee as to himself. That the same idea should have suggested itself independently to both is hardly strange. Both looked further than the enemy’s camps; both studied the situation in its broadest bearings; both understood the importance of introducing a disturbing element into the enemy’s plans; and both were aware that the surest means of winning battles is to upset the mental equilibrium of the opposing leader.

Before he reached Mount Solon Jackson had instructed Ewell to call up Branch’s brigade from Gordonsville. He intended to follow Banks with the whole force at his disposal, and in these dispositions Lee had acquiesced. Johnston, however, now at Richmond, had once more resumed charge of the detached forces, and a good deal of confusion ensued. Lee, intent on threatening Washington, was of opinion that Banks should be attacked. Johnston, although at first he favoured such a movement, does not appear to have realised the effect that might be produced by an advance to the Potomac. Information had been received that Banks was constructing intrenchments at Strasburg, and Johnston changed his mind. He thought the attack too hazardous, and Ewell was directed to cross the Blue Ridge and march eastward, while Jackson “observed” Banks.

These orders placed Ewell in a dilemma. Under instructions from Lee he was to remain with Jackson. Under instructions from Jackson he was already moving on Luray. Johnston’s orders changed his destination. Taking horse in haste he rode across the Valley from Swift Run Gap to Jackson’s camp at Mount Solon. Jackson at once telegraphed to Lee: “I am of opinion


that an attempt should be made to defeat Banks, but under instructions from General Johnston I do not feel at liberty to make an attack. Please answer by telegraph at once.” To Ewell he gave orders that he should suspend his movement until a reply was received. “As you are in the Valley district,” he wrote, “you constitute part of my command. . . . You will please move so as to encamp between New Market and Mount Jackson on next Wednesday night, unless you receive orders from a superior officer and of a date subsequent to the 16th instant.”

Battle of Winchester Map

This order was written at Ewell’s own suggestion. It was for this he had ridden through the night to Jackson’s camp.

May 18   Lee’s reply was satisfactory. Johnston had already summoned Branch to Richmond, but Ewell was to remain; and the next morning, May 18, the Confederates moved forward down the Valley. The two days’ rest which had been granted to Jackson’s troops had fallen at a useful time. They had marches to look back on which had tried their endurance to the utmost. In three days, before and after Kernstown, they had covered fifty-six miles, and had fought a severe engagement. The struggle with the mud on the Port Republic was only surpassed by the hardships of the march to Romney. From Elk Run to Franklin, and from Franklin to Mount Solon, is just two hundred miles, and these they had traversed in eighteen days. But the exertions which had been then demanded from them were trifling in comparison with those which were to come. From Mount Solon to Winchester is eighty miles by the Valley pike; to Harper’s Ferry one hundred and ten miles. And Jackson had determined that before many days had passed the Confederate colours should be carried in triumph through the streets of Winchester, and that the gleam of his camp-fires should be reflected in the waters of the Potomac.

Johnston believed that Banks, behind the earthworks at Strasburg, was securely sheltered. Jackson saw that his enemy had made a fatal mistake, and that his earthworks, skilfully and strongly constructed as they were, were no more than a snare and a delusion.


Ashby had already moved to New Market; and a strong cordon of pickets extended along Pugh’s Run near Woodstock, within sight of the Federal outposts, and cutting off all communication between Strasburg and the Upper Valley. Ewell’s cavalry regiments, the 2nd and 6th Virginia, held the Luray Valley, with a detachment east of the Blue Ridge.

May 20   On the 20th Jackson arrived at New Market, thirty miles from Mount Solon. Ewell had meanwhile marched to Luray, and the two wings were now on either side of the Massanuttons. On his way to New Market Jackson had been joined by the Louisiana brigade of Ewell’s division. This detachment seems to have been made with the view of inducing Banks to believe, should information filter through Ashby’s pickets, that the whole Confederate force was advancing direct on Strasburg.

The Army of the Valley numbered nearly 17,000 officers and men.1 Ewell’s effective strength was 7,500; Johnson’s 2,500; Jackson’s 6,000; and there were eleven batteries.

The troops were now organised in two divisions:—


First (Stonewall) Brigade, General Winder: 2nd Virginia, 4th Virginia, 5th Virginia, 27th Virginia, 33rd Virginia.

Second Brigade, Colonel Campbell: 21st Virginia, 42nd Virginia, 48th Virginia, 1st Regulars (Irish).

Third Brigade, Colonel Taliaferro: 10th Virginia, 23rd Virginia, 37th Virginia.

Cavalry, Colonel Ashby: 7th Virginia.

Artillery: 5 batteries (1 horse-artillery), 22 guns.


Taylor’s Brigade: 6th Louisiana, 7th Louisiana, 8th Louisiana, 9th Louisiana, Wheat’s Battalion (Louisiana Tigers).

Trimble’s Brigade: 21st North Carolina, 21st Georgia, 15th Alabama, 16th Mississippi.

Elzey’s Brigade and Scott’s Brigade: 13th Virginia, 31st Virginia, 25th Virginia, 12th Georgia. (late Johnson’s), 44th Virginia, 52nd Virginia, 58th Virginia.

1  This estimate is Colonel Allan’s. Cf The Valley Campaign, pp. 92, 93. Dabney gives 16,000 men.


Maryland Line: 1st Maryland.

Cavalry, General G. H. Steuart: 2nd Virginia, Colonel Munford: 6th Virginia, Colonel Flournoy.

Artillery: 6 batteries, 26 guns.

For the first time in his career Jackson found himself in command of a considerable force. The greater part of the troops were Virginians, and with these he was personally acquainted. The strange contingents were Taylor’s and Trimble’s brigades, and Steuart’s cavalry. These had yet to be broken to his methods of war and discipline. There was no reason, however, to fear that they would prove less efficient than his own division. They had as yet seen little fighting, but they were well commanded. Ewell was a most able soldier, full of dash and daring, who had seen much service on the Indian frontier. He was an admirable subordinate, ready to take responsibility if orders were not forthcoming, and executing his instructions to the letter. His character was original. His modesty was only equalled by his eccentricity. “Bright, prominent eyes, a bomb-shaped bald head, and a nose like that of Francis of Valois, gave him a striking resemblance to a woodcock; and this was increased by a bird-like habit of putting his head on one side to utter his quaint speeches. He fancied that he had some mysterious internal malady, and would eat nothing but frumenty, a preparation of wheat; and his plaintive way of talking of his disease, as if he were someone else, was droll in the extreme. “What do you suppose President Davis made me a major-general for?” beginning with a sharp accent, ending with a gentle lisp, was a usual question to his friends. Superbly mounted, he was the boldest of horsemen, invariably leaving the roads to take timber and water; and with all his oddities, perhaps in some measure because of them, he was adored by officers and men.”1 To Jackson he must have been peculiarly acceptable; not indeed as an intimate, for Ewell, at this period of the war, was by no means regenerate, and swore like a cowboy: but he knew the value of time, and

Destruction and Reconstruction, General R. Taylor pp. 38, 39.


rated celerity of movement as high as did Napoleon. His instructions to Branch, when the march against Banks was first projected, might have emanated from Jackson himself: “You cannot bring tents; tent-flies without poles, or tents cut down to that size, and only as few as are indispensable. No mess-chests, trunks, etc. It is better to leave these things where you are than to throw them away after starting. We can get along without anything but food and ammunition. The road to glory cannot be followed with much baggage.”1

Trimble, too, was a good officer, an able tactician and a resolute leader. He had hardly, however, realised as yet that the movements of a brigade must be subordinated to those of the whole army, and he was wont to grumble if his troops were held back, or were not allowed to pursue some local success. Steuart was also a West Pointer, but with much to learn. Taylor and his Louisianians played so important a part in the ensuing operations that they deserve more detailed mention. The command was a mixed one. One of the regiments had been recruited from the roughs of New Orleans. The 7th and 9th were composed of planters and sons of planters, the majority of them men of fortune. “The 6th,” writes the brigadier, “were Irishmen, stout, hardy fellows, turbulent in camp and requiring a strong hand, but responding to justice and kindness, and ready to follow their officers to the death. The 8th were from the Attakapas—Acadians, the race of whom Longfellow sings in “Evangeline”—a home-loving, simple people; few spoke English, fewer still had ever moved ten miles from their native cabanas; and the war to them was a liberal education. They had all the light gaiety of the Gaul, and, after the manner of their ancestors, were born cooks. A capital regimental band accompanied them, and whenever weather and ground permitted, even after long marches, they would waltz and polk in couples with as much zest as if their arms encircled the supple waists of the Celestines and Melazies of their native Teche. The Valley soldiers were largely of the Presbyterian faith, and of a solemn, pious demeanour,

1  O.R., vol. xii, part iii, p. 890.


and looked askance at the caperings of my Creoles, holding them to be “devices and snares.”’1

Taylor himself had been educated at West Point. He was a man of high position, of unquestioned ability, an excellent disciplinarian, and a delightful writer. More than other commanders he had paid great attention to the marching of his men. He had an eye to those practical details which a good regimental officer enforces with so much effect. Boots were properly fitted; the troops were taught the advantages of cold water, and how to heal abrasions; halts upon the march were made at frequent intervals, and the men soon held that to fall out on the march was a disgrace. Before a month “had passed,” he says, “the brigade had learned how to march, and in the Valley with Jackson covered long distances without leaving a straggler behind.”2

Jackson’s first meeting with the Louisiana troops has been described by their commander:—

“A mounted officer was dispatched to report our approach and select a camp, which proved to be beyond Jackson’s forces, then lying in the fields on both sides of the Valley pike. Over 3,000 strong, neat in fresh clothing of grey with white gaiters, bands playing at the head of their regiments—not a straggler, but every man in his place, stepping jauntily as if on parade, though it had marched twenty miles or more—in open column, with the rays of the declining sun flaming on polished bayonets, the brigade moved down the hard smooth pike, and wheeled on to the camping-ground. Jackson’s men, by thousands, had gathered on either side of the road to see us pass.

“After attending to necessary camp details, I sought Jackson, whom I had never met. The mounted officer who had been sent on in advance pointed out a figure perched on the topmost rail of a fence overlooking the road and field, and said it was Jackson. Approaching, I saluted and declared my name and rank, then waited for a response. Before this came I had time to see a pair of

Destruction and Reconstruction, pp. 52, 53.
Ibid, p. 37.


cavalry boots covering feet of gigantic size, a mangy cap with visor drawn low, a heavy dark beard and weary eyes, eyes I afterwards saw filled with intense but never brilliant light. A low gentle voice inquired the road and distance marched that day. ‘Keezleton road, six-and-twenty miles.’ ‘You seem to have no stragglers.’ ‘Never allow straggling.’ ‘You must teach my people; they straggle badly.’ A bow in reply. Just then my Creoles started their band for a waltz. After a contemplative suck at a lemon, ‘Thoughtless fellows for serious work’ came forth. I expressed a hope that the work would not be less well done because of the gaiety. A return to the lemon gave me the opportunity to retire. Where Jackson got his lemons ‘No fellow could find out,’ but he was rarely without one. To have lived twelve miles from that fruit would have disturbed him as much as it did the witty dean.”1

May 21   The next day, marching in the grey of the morning, the force moved north, the Louisianians in advance. Suddenly, after covering a short distance, the head of the column was turned to the right; and the troops, who had confidently expected that Strasburg would be the scene of their next engagement, found themselves moving eastward and crossing the Massanuttons. The men were utterly at sea as to the intentions of their commander. Taylor’s brigade had been encamped near Conrad’s Store, only a few miles distant, not many days before, and they had now to solve the problem why they should have made three long marches in order to return to their former position. No word came from Jackson to enlighten them. From time to time a courier would gallop up, report, and return to Luray, but the general, absorbed in thought, rode silently across the mountain, perfectly oblivious of inquiring glances.

At New Market the troops had been halted at crossroads, and they had marched by that which they had least expected. The camp at Luray on the 21st presented the same puzzle. One road ran east across the mountains to Warrenton or Culpeper; a second north to Front Royal

Destruction and Reconstruction, pp. 54–6.


and Winchester; and the men said that halting them in such a position was an ingenious device of Jackson’s to prevent them fathoming his plans.1

May 22   The next day, the 22nd, the army, with Ewell leading, moved quietly down the Luray Valley, and the advanced guard, Taylor’s Louisianians, a six-pounder battery, and the 6th Virginia Cavalry, bivouacked that night within ten miles of Front Royal, held by a strong detachment of Banks’ small army.

Since they had Left Mount Solon and Elk Run Valley on May 19 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. On both sides of the Blue Ridge everything was going well. The attack on Frémont had not been followed up; and McClellan, though calling urgently for reinforcements, was sanguine of success. Mr. Lincoln, reassured by Jackson’s retreat from Franklin, had permitted Shields to march to Falmouth; and McDowell, with a portion of his troops, had already crossed the Rappahannock. The President of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, an important personage at Washington, appears to have been alone in his apprehension that a storm was gathering in the summer sky. “The aspect of affairs in the Valley of Virginia,” he wrote to Stanton, “is becoming very threatening. . . . The enterprise and vigour of Jackson are well known. . . . Under the circumstances will it not be more judicious to order back General Shields to co-operate with General Banks? Such a movement might be accomplished in time to prevent disaster.”2 The Secretary, however, saw no reason for alarm. His strategical combinations were apparently working without a hitch. Banks at Strasburg was in a strong position; and McDowell was about to lend the aid which would enable McClellan to storm the rebel capital. One of Frémont’s columns, under General Cox, a

1  Compare instructions to Ewell, ante, p. 281.
2  O.R., vol. xii, part iii, p. 201.


most able officer, which was making good progress towards the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, had certainly been compelled to halt when Milroy was driven back to Franklin. Yet the defeated troops were rapidly reorganising, and Frémont would soon resume his movement. 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.

Even Banks, though Shields had marched to Fredericksburg, reducing his force by a half, believed that there was no immediate reason to fear attack. “I regard it as certain,” he wrote, “that Jackson will move north as far as New Market . . . a position which enables him to cooperate with General Ewell, who is still at Swift Run Gap.” Yet he took occasion to remind Mr. Stanton of the “persistent adherence of Jackson to the defence of the Valley, and his well-known purpose to expel the Government troops. This,” he added, “may be assumed as certain. There is probably no one more fixed and determined purpose in the whole circle of the enemy’s plans.” Banks had certainly learned something of Jackson by this time, but he did not yet know all.

So on this night of May 22 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 in the broad avenues, exchanging congratulations on the success of the Northern arms and the approaching downfall of the slaveholders. The theatres were filled with delighted audiences, who hailed every scoffing allusion to the “Southern chivalry” with enthusiasm, and gaiety and confidence reigned supreme. 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 their enemies, waiting for the dawn to rise above the mountains, was pouring out his soul in prayer,

Appealing from his native sod
In formâ pauperis to God:
“Lay bare Thine arm—stretch forth Thy rod.
Amen!” That’s Stonewall’s way.

It is not always joy that cometh in the morning, least of all to generals as ignorant as Banks when they have to do with a skilful foe. It was not altogether Banks’ fault that his position was a bad one. Stanton had given him a direct order to take post at Strasburg or its vicinity, and to send two regiments to hold the bridges at Front Royal. But Banks had made no remonstrance. He had either failed to recognise, until it was too late, that the force at Front Royal would be exposed to attack from the Luray Valley, and, if the post fell, that his own communications with both Winchester and Washington would be at once endangered; or he had lost favour with the Secretary. For some time past Mr. Stanton’s telegrams had been cold and peremptory. There had been no more effusive praise of “cautious vigour” and “interesting manœuvres;” and Banks had gradually fallen from the command of a large army corps to the charge of a single division.

His 10,000 men were thus distributed. At Strasburg were 4,500 infantry, 2,900 cavalry, and 16 guns. At Winchester 850 infantry and 600 cavalry. Two companies of infantry held Buckton station on the Manassas Gap Railway, midway between Strasburg and Front Royal.1 At Rectortown, east of the Blue Ridge, nineteen miles from Front Royal, was General Geary with 2,000 infantry and cavalry; these troops, however, were independent of Banks.

Front Royal, twelve miles east of Strasburg, was committed to the charge of Colonel Kenly, of the 1st Maryland Regiment in the Federal service, and 1,000 rifles and 2 guns were placed at his disposal. The post itself was

1  O.R., vol. xii, part i, pp. 523, 560.


indefensible. To the west and south-west, about three miles distant, stand the green peaks of the Massanuttons, while to the east the lofty spurs of the Blue Ridge look down into the village streets. A mile and a half north the forks of the Shenandoah unite in the broad river that runs to Harper’s Ferry. The turnpike to Winchester crosses both forks in succession, at a point where they are divided by a stretch of meadows a mile in width. In addition to these two bridges, a wooden viaduct carried the railway over the South Fork, whence, passing between the North Fork and the Massanuttons, it runs south of the stream to Strasburg. Kenly had pitched his camp between the town and the river, covering the bridges, and two companies were on picket beyond the houses.

In front were the dense forests which fill the Luray Valley and cover the foothills of the mountains, and the view of the Federal sentries was very limited. A strong patrol of 100 infantry and 30 troopers, which had been sent out on the 20th, had marched eleven miles south, had bivouacked in the woods, and had captured a Confederate straggler. The officer in command had obtained information, by questioning civilians, that Confederate infantry was expected, and this was confirmed by his prisoner. Banks, however, notwithstanding this report, could not bring himself to believe that an attack was imminent, and the cavalry was called back to Strasburg. For this reason Kenly had been unable to patrol to any distance on the 22nd, and the security of his camp was practically dependent on the vigilance of his sentries.

May 23   On the morning of May 23 there was no token of the approaching storm. The day was intensely hot, and the blue masses of the mountains shimmered in the summer haze. In the Luray Valley to the south was no sign of life, save the buzzards sailing lazily above the slumbrous woods. Suddenly, and without the least warning, a long line of skirmishers broke forward from the forest. The clear notes of the Confederate bugles, succeeded by the crash of musketry, woke the echoes of the Blue Ridge, and the Federal pickets were driven in


confusion through the village. The long roll of the drums beat the startled camp to arms, and Kenly hastily drew up his slender force upon a ridge in rear.

The ground in front of his position was fairly open, and with his two pieces of artillery he was able to check the first rush of the Confederate infantry. The guns which had accompanied their advanced guard were only smooth-bores, and it was some time before a battery capable of making effective reply to the Federal pieces was brought up. As soon as it opened fire the Southern infantry was ordered to attack; and while one regiment, working round through the woods on the enemy’s left, endeavoured to outflank his guns, four others, in successive lines, advanced across the plain against his front. The Federals, undismayed by the disparity of numbers, were fighting bravely, and had just been reinforced by a squadron of New York regiment, when word was brought to their commander that a regiment of Southern cavalry had appeared between the rivers to his right rear. He at once gave the order to retire. The movement was carried out in good order, under heavy musketry, and the tents and stores were given to the flames; but an attempt to fire the bridges failed, for the Louisiana infantry, rushing recklessly forward, darted into the flames, and extinguished the burning brands. Sufficient damage was done, however, to render the passage of the North Fork by the Confederates slow and difficult; and Kenly took post on Guard Hill, a commanding ridge beyond the stream. Again there was delay. The smoke of the burning camp, rolling past in dense volumes, formed an impenetrable screen; the river was deep and turbulent, with a strong current; and the Federal guns commanded the single bridge. The cavalry, however, were not long in discovering a practicable ford. The river was soon alive with horsemen; and, forcing their way through the swirling waters, four squadrons of the 6th Virginia, accompanied by Jackson, gained the further bank, and formed up rapidly for pursuit. The enemy had already retired, and the dust of the retreating column warn receding fast down the road to Winchester.


Without waiting for reinforcements, and without artillery, Jackson urged the 6th Virginia forward. The country through which the turnpike runs is rolling and well-farmed, and the rail fences on either hand made movement across the fields by no means easy. But the Confederate advance was vigorous. The New York cavalry, pressed at every point, were beginning to waver; and near the little hamlet of Cedarville, some three miles from his last position, Kenly gave orders for his infantry to check the pursuit.

The column had halted. Men were tearing down the fences, and the companies were forming for battle in the fields, when there was a sudden outcry, the rolling thunder of many hoofs, and the sharp rattle of pistol-shots. A dense cloud of dust came whirling down the turnpike, and emerging from the yellow canopy the New York troopers, riding for their lives, dashed through the ranks of the startled infantry, while the Confederate horsemen, extending far to right and left, came surging on their traces.

The leading squadron, keeping to the high road, was formed four abreast, and the deep mass was wedged tightly between the fences. The foremost files were mowed down by a volley at close range, and here, for a moment, the attack was checked. But the Virginians meant riding home. On either flank the supporting squadrons galloped swiftly forward, and up the road and across the fields, while the earth shook beneath their tread, swept their charging lines, the men yelling in their excitement and horses as frenzied as their riders. In vain the Federal officers tried to deploy their companies. Kenly, calling on them to rally round the colours, was cut down with a dreadful wound. The grey troopers fell on them before they could fix bayonets or form a front, and sabre and revolver found an easy mark in the crowded masses of panic-stricken infantry. One of the guns was surrounded, and the gunners were cut to pieces; the other escaped for the moment, but was soon abandoned; and with the appearance of a fresh Confederate squadron on the scene Kenly’s whole force dispersed in flight. Through woods and orchards


the chase went on. Escape was impossible. Hundreds laid down their arms; and 250 Virginia horsemen, resolutely handled and charging at exactly the right moment, had the honour of bringing in as prisoners 600 Federals, including 20 officers and a complete section of artillery. The enemy lost in addition 32 killed and 122 wounded. The Confederate casualties were 11 killed and 15 wounded, and so sudden and vigorous was their attack that a Federal colonel estimated their numbers at 3,000.

Colonel Flournoy, a most daring officer, led the squadrons to the charge; but that the opportunity was so instantly utilised was due to Jackson. “No sooner,” says Dabney, “did he see the enemy than he gave the order to charge with a voice and air whose peremptory determination was communicated to the whole party. His quick eye estimated aright the discouragement of the Federals and their wavering temper. Infusing his own spirit into his men, he struck the hesitating foe at the decisive moment, and shattered them.”1 Yet he took no credit to himself. He declared afterwards to his staff that he had never, in all his experience of warfare, seen so gallant and effective a charge of cavalry, and such commendation, coming from his guarded lips, was the highest honour that his troopers could have wished.

While these events were in progress the remainder of the Confederate cavalry had also been busy. The 7th Virginia had moved to Buckton. The railway was torn up, the telegraph line cut, and an urgent message to Banks for reinforcements was intercepted. The two companies of Pennsylvania infantry, on picket near the station, occupied a log storehouse and the embankment. Dismounting his command, Ashby, after a fierce fight, in which two of his best officers were killed, stormed the building and drove out the garrison. Two locomotives were standing on the rails with steam up, and by this means the Federals attempted to escape. Twice they moved out towards Strasbourg, twice they were driven back by the Confederate carbines, and eventually the two companies surrendered.

1  Dabney, vol. ii, p. 95.


Jackson’s measures had been carefully thought out. Kenly’s patrols had failed to discover his advance in the early morning, for at Asbury Chapel, about three and a half miles south of the Federal outpost line, he had turned to the right off the Luray road, and plunging into the woods, had approached Front Royal by a circuitous track, so rough that the enemy had thought it hardly worth while to watch it. The main body of the cavalry left the Luray road at McCoy’s Ford, and crossing the South Fork of the Shenandoah, worked through the forest at the foot of the Massanuttons. During the night Ashby had withdrawn the 7th Virginia, with the exception of a few patrols, from in front of Banks, and joining Jackson, by a rough track across the mountains, before daybreak, had been directed to cut the communication between Front Royal and Strasburg. The 6th Virginia had accompanied Jackson, the 2nd, under Colonel Munford, destroyed the railway bridges eastward of Front Royal. Had Kenly retreated on Strasburg he would have found Ashby on his flank. Had reinforcements been despatched from Strasburg they would have had to deal with Ashby before they could reach Kenly. Had the Federals attempted to escape by Manassas Gap they would have found Munford across their path. Meanwhile another party of cavalry had cut the telegraph between Front Royal and Washington; and a strong detachment, scouring the country east of the Blue Ridge, checked Geary’s patrols, and blocked the entrance to the Gap from the direction of Manassas. Within an hour after his pickets were surprised Kenly was completely isolated.1

1  The ingenuous report of a Federal officer engaged at Front Royal is significant of the effect of the sudden attack of the Confederates. He was sick at the time, but managed to escape. “By considerable coaxing,” he wrote, “I obtained an entrance to a house near by. I was now completely broken down—so much so that the gentleman prepared a liniment for me, and actually bound up some of my bruises, while the female portion of the household actually screamed for joy at our defeat! I was helped to bed, and next morning was taken by Mr. Bitzer to Winchester in his carriage. He is a gentleman in all particulars, but his family is the reverse (sic). On reaching Winchester I found things decidedly squally, and concluded to get out. I was carried to Martinsburg, and being offered by the agent of a luggage train to take me to Baltimore, I concluded to accept the offer, and took a sleeping bunk, arriving in Baltimore the next afternoon.” He then proceeded to Philadelphia, and sent for his physician. Several of his officers whom he found in the town he immediately sent back to the colours; but as he believed that “the moral of his regiment was not as it should be” he remained himself in Philadelphia.


A failure in staff duties marred to some extent the Confederate success. “A vicious usage,” according to Dabney, “obtained at this time in the Southern armies. This was the custom of temporarily attaching to the staff of a general commanding a division or an army a company of cavalry to do the work of orderlies. By this clumsy contrivance the organisation of the cavalry regiments was broken up, the men detached were deprived of all opportunity for drill, and the general had no evidence whatever of their special fitness for the responsible service confided to them. Nay, the colonel of cavalry required to furnish them was most likely to select the least serviceable company. At the time of the combat of Front Royal the duty of orderlies was performed for General Jackson by a detachment from one of Ashby’s undisciplined companies, of whom many were raw youths just recruited and never under fire. As soon as the Federal pickets were driven in, orders were despatched to the rear brigades to avoid the laborious route taken by the advance, and to pursue the direct highway to the town, a level track of three miles, in place of a steep byway of seven or eight. The panic-struck boy by whom the orders were sent was seen no more. When Jackson sent orders to the artillery and rear brigades to hurry the pursuit, instead of being found near at hand, upon the direct road, they were at length overtaken toiling over the hills of the useless circuit, spent with the protracted march. Thus night overtook them by the time they reached the village. This unfortunate incident taught the necessity of a picked company of orderlies, selected for their intelligence and courage, permanently attached to headquarters, and owing no subordination to any other than the general and his staff. Such was the usage that afterwards prevailed in the Confederate armies.

1  Dabney, vol. ii, pp. 93, 94. It may be recalled that Wellington found it necessary to form a corps of the same kind in the Peninsular War; it is curious that no such organisation exists in regular armies.


General Gordon has described with much minuteness how the news of the disaster was received at Strasburg. The attack had begun at one o’clock, but it was not till four that Banks was made aware that his detachment was in jeopardy. Believing that Jackson was at Harrisonburg, sixty miles distant, he had certainly no cause for immediate apprehension. The Valley towards Woodstock never looked more peaceful than on that sleepy summer afternoon; the sentries dawdled on their posts, and officers and men alike resigned themselves to its restful influence. Suddenly a mounted orderly dashed violently through the camp, and Strasburg was aroused. By the road to Buckton Banks hastily despatched a regiment and two guns. Then came a lull, and many anxious inquiries: “What is it? Is it Stonewall Jackson, or only a cavalry raid?”

A few hours later reports came in from the field of battle, and Banks telegraphed to Stanton that 5,000 rebels had driven Kenly back on Middletown. “The force,” he added, “has been gathering in the mountains, it is said, since Wednesday.”

But still the Federal general showed no undue alarm.

“Nothing was done,” says Gordon, “towards sending away to Winchester any of the immense quantities of public stores collected at Strasburg; no movement had been made to place our sick in safety. It did not seem as if Banks interpreted the attack to signify aught of future or further movement by the enemy, or that it betokened any purpose to cut us off from Winchester. I was so fully impressed, however, with Jackson’s purpose, that as soon as night set in I sought Banks at his headquarters. I laboured long to impress upon him what I thought a duty, to wit, his immediate retreat upon Winchester, carrying all his sick and all his supplies that he could transport, and destroying the remainder. Notwithstanding all my solicitations and entreaties, he persistently refused to move, ever repeating, “I must develop the force of the enemy.”1

The force that had been sent out on the Buckton road had been soon recalled, without securing further information

From Brook Farm to Cedar Mountain, pp. 191, 192.


than that the Confederate pickets were in possession of every road which led west or north from Front Royal.

Again did Gordon, at the request of Banks’ chief of the staff, endeavour to persuade the general to abandon Strasburg. “ ‘It is not a retreat,’ he urged, ‘but a true military movement to escape from being cut off; to prevent stores and sick from falling into the hands of the enemy.’ Moved with an unusual fire, General Banks, who had met all my arguments with the single reply, “I must develop the force of the enemy,’ rising excitedly from his seat, with much warmth and in loud tones exclaimed, ‘By God, sir, I will not retreat! We have more to fear, sir, from the opinions of our friends than the bayonets of our enemies!’ The thought,” continues the brigadier, “so long the subject of his meditations was at last out. Banks was afraid of being thought afraid. I rose to take my leave, replying, ‘This, sir, is not a military reason for occupying a false position.’ It was eleven o’clock at night when I left him. As I returned through the town I could not perceive that anybody was troubled with anticipation for the morrow. The antlers were driving sharp bargains with those who had escaped from or those who were not amenable to military discipline. The strolling players were moving crowds to noisy laughter in their canvas booths, through which the lights gleamed and the music sounded with startling shrillness. I thought as I turned towards my camp, how unaware are all of the drama Jackson is preparing for us, and what merriment the morning will reveal!”

Fortunately for his own battalions, the brigadier had his camp equipage and baggage packed and sent off then and there to Winchester, and though his men had to spend the night unsheltered under persistent rain, they had reason to bless his foresight a few nights later.

At midnight a report was received from one of the Front Royal fugitives: “Kenly is killed. First Maryland cut to pieces. Cavalry ditto. The enemy’s forces are 15,000 or 20,000 strong, and on the march to Strasburg.” In forwarding this despatch to Washington Banks


remarked that he thought it much exaggerated. At 7 a.m. on the 24th he told Stanton that the enemy’s force was from 6,000 to 10,000; that it was probably Ewell’s division, and that Jackson was still in his front on the Valley turnpike.

Three hours later he wrote to Gordon, informing him that the enemy had fallen back to Front Royal during the night, that ample reinforcements had been promised from Washington, and that the division would remain in Strasburg until further orders.

Up to this time he had been convinced that the attack on Front Royal was merely a raid, and that Jackson would never dare to insert his whole force between himself and McDowell.1 Suddenly, by what means we are not told, he was made aware that the Confederates were in overwhelming numbers, and that Jackson was in command.

Scarcely had General Gordon digested the previous communication when an orderly, galloping furiously to his side, delivered a pencil note from the chief of staff. “Orders have just been received for the division to move at once to Middletown, taking such steps to oppose the enemy, reported to be on the road between Front Royal and Middletown, as may seem proper.” Banks was electrified at last. Three weeks previously, in writing to Mr. Stanton, he had expressed his regret that he was “not to be included in active operations during the summer.” His regret was wasted. He was about to take part in operations of which the activity, on his part at least, was more than satisfying.

Such blindness as Banks had shown is difficult to explain. His latest information, previous to the attack on Kenly, told him that Jackson’s trains were arriving at Harrisonburg on the 20th, and he should certainly have inferred that Jackson was in advance of his waggons. Now from Harrisonburg across the Massanuttons to Front Royal is fifty-five miles; so it was well within the bounds of possibility that the Confederates might reach the

1  Article in Harper’s Weekly by Colonel Strother, aide-de-camp to General Banks.


latter village at midday on the 23rd. Moreover, Banks himself had recognised that Strasburg was an unfavourable position. It is true that it was fortified, but therein lay the very reason that would induce the enemy to turn it by Front Royal. Nor did the idea, which seems to have held possession of his mind throughout the night, that Ewell alone had been sent to destroy Kenly, and had afterwards fallen back, show much strategic insight. Front Royal was the weak point in the Federal position. It was of all things unlikely that a commander, energetic and skilful as Jackson was well known to be, would, when he had once advertised his presence, fail to follow up his first blow with his whole force and the utmost vigour. It is only fair to add that the Federal authorities were no wiser than their general. At two a.m. on the morning of the 24th, although the news of Kenly’s disaster had been fully reported, they still thought that there was time to move fresh troops to Strasburg from Baltimore and Washington. It seemed incredible that Jackson could be at Front Royal. “Arrangements are making,” ran Stanton’s telegram to Banks, “to send you ample reinforcements. Do not give up the ship before succour can arrive.”

We may now turn to Jackson.

Up to the present his operations had been perfectly successful. He had captured over 700 of the enemy, with a loss of only 40 or 50 to himself. He had seized stores to the value of three hundred thousand dollars (60,000 pounds), and a large quantity had been burned by the enemy. He had turned the intrenched position at Strasburg. He threatened the Federal line of retreat. Banks was completely at his mercy, and there seemed every prospect of inflicting on that ill-starred commander a defeat so decisive as to spread panic in the council chambers of the Northern capital.

But the problem was not so simple as it seemed. In the first place, although the positions of the Federals had been thoroughly examined, both by staff officers and scouts, the information as to their numbers was somewhat vague. Banks had actually about 8000 effectives at Strasburg;


but so far as the Confederates knew it was quite possible that he had from 12,000 to 15,000. There is nothing more difficult in war than to get an accurate estimate of the enemy’s numbers, especially when civilians, ignorant of military affairs, are the chief sources of information. The agents on whom Jackson depended for intelligence from within the enemy’s lines were not always selected because of their military knowledge. “On the march to Front Royal,” says General Taylor, “we reached a wood extending from the mountain to the river, when a mounted officer from the rear called Jackson’s attention, who rode back with him. A moment later there rushed out of the wood a young, rather well-looking woman, afterwards widely known as Belle Boyd. Breathless with speed and agitation, some time elapsed before she found her voice. Then, with much volubility, she said we were near Front Royal; that the town was filled with Federals, whose camp was on the west side of the river, where they had guns in position to cover the bridge; that they believed Jackson to be west of the Massanuttons, near Harrisonburg; that General Banks was at Winchester, where he was concentrating his widely scattered forces to meet Jackson’s advance, which was expected some days later. All this she told with the precision of a staff officer making a report, and it was true to the letter. Jackson was possessed of this information before he left New Market, and based his movements on it; but it was news to me.”

In the second place, Banks had still the means of escape. He could hardly prevent the Confederates from seizing Winchester, but he might at least save his army from annihilation. Jackson’s men were exhausted and the horses jaded. Since the morning of the 19th the whole army had marched over eighty, and Ewell’s division over ninety miles. And this average of seventeen miles a day had been maintained on rough and muddy roads, crossed by many unbridged streams, and over a high mountain. The day which had just passed had been especially severe. Ewell, who was in bivouac at Cedarville, five miles north of Front Royal on the Winchester


turnpike, had marched more than twenty miles; and Jackson’s own division, which had made four-and-twenty, was on foot from five in the morning till nine at night.

Banks’ natural line of retreat led through Winchester, and the Confederate advanced guard at Cedarville was two miles nearer that town than were the Federals at Strasburg. But it was still possible that Banks, warned by Kenly’s overthrow, might withdraw by night; and even if he deferred retreat until daylight he might, instead of falling back on Winchester, strike boldly for Front Royal and escape by Manassas Gap. Or, lastly, he might remain at Strasburg, at which point he was in communication, although by a long and circuitous road, with Frémont at Franklin.

Jackson had therefore three contingencies to provide against, and during the night which followed the capture of Front Royal he evolved a plan which promised to meet them all. Ashby, at daybreak, was to move with the 7th Virginia cavalry in the direction of Strasburg; and at the same hour a staff officer, with a small escort, supported by Taylor’s Louisianians, was to ride towards Middletown, a village five miles north of Strasburg and thirteen from Winchester, and to report frequently. The 2nd and 6th Virginia cavalry, under General Steuart, were to advance to Newtown, also on the Valley turnpike, and eight miles from Winchester; while Ewell, with Trimble’s brigade and his artillery, was to move to Nineveh, two miles north of Cedarville, and there halt, awaiting orders. The remainder of the command was to concentrate at Cedarville, preparatory to marching on Middletown; and strong cavalry patrols were to keep close watch on the Strasburg to Front Royal road.1

6 a.m.   From Cedarville to Middletown is no more than seven miles, and Taylor’s brigade is reported to have moved at six a.m., while Ashby had presumably already marched. But notwithstanding the fact that Banks’ infantry did not leave Strasburg till ten a.m., and

1  Jackson’s Report. O.R., vol. xii, part i, p. 703.


that it had five miles to cover before reaching Middletown, when the Confederates reached the turnpike at that village the Federal main body had already passed, and only the rear-guard was encountered.

It seems evident, therefore, that it was not till near noon that Jackson’s patrols came in sight of Middletown, and that the Confederate advanced guard had taken at least six hours to cover seven miles. The country, however, between Cedarville and the Valley turnpike was almost a continuous forest; and wood-fighting is very slow fighting. The advance had met with strong resistance. General Gordon had prudently sent the 29th Pennsylvania to Middletown at an early hour, with orders to reconnoitre towards Front Royal, and to cover Middletown until the army had passed through.

7 a.m.   Supported by a section of artillery, the regiment had moved eastward till it struck the Confederate scouts some four miles out on the Cedarville road. After a long skirmish it was withdrawn to Middletown; but the 1st Maine cavalry, and a squadron of the 1st Vermont, about 400 strong, which had been ordered by Banks to proceed in the same direction, made a vigorous demonstration, and then fell back slowly before the advanced guard, showing a bold front, using their carbines freely, and taking advantage of the woods to impose upon the enemy.

10.15 a.m.   These manœuvres succeeded in holding the Confederates in check till after ten o’clock, for the heavy timber concealed the real strength of the Federals, and although Ashby, with the 7th Virginia, had marched to the scene of action, the infantry was not yet up. It is to be remembered that at daybreak the Valley army was by no means concentrated. Jackson had with him at Cedarville only Ewell’s division, his own division having halted near Front Royal. This last division, it appears from the reports, did not leave Front Royal until 8 a.m.; a sufficiently early hour, considering the condition of the men and horses, the absence of the trains, and the fact that one of the brigades had bivouacked four miles south of


the village.1 It was not, then, till between nine and ten that the column cleared Cedarville, and Middletown was distant nearly three hours’ march, by an exceedingly bad road.

In all probability, if Jackson, at daybreak or soon afterwards, had marched boldly on Middletown with Ewell’s division, he would have been able to hold Banks on the Valley turnpike until the rest of his infantry and artillery arrived. But he had always to bear in mind that the Federals, finding their retreat on Winchester compromised, might make a dash for Manassas Gap. Now the road from Strasburg to Manassas Gap was protected throughout its length by the North Fork of the Shenandoah; and to attack the Federals on the march, should they take this road, the Confederates would have to move through Cedarville on Front Royal. This was the only road by which they could reach the river, and the bridges at Front Royal were the only available points of passage. Jackson, it appears, was therefore reluctant to leave Cedarville, within easy reach of the bridges, until he received information of his enemy’s designs, and that information, which had to be sought at a distance, was naturally long in coming.

Criticism, after the event, is easy; but it certainly seems curious, with his knowledge of Banks, that Jackson should have believed his opponent capable of so bold a measure as retreat by way of Manassas Gap. According to his own report, the feasibility of such a course did cross Banks’ mind; but it might seem that on this occasion Jackson lost an opportunity through over-caution. Nevertheless, in desperate situations even the most inert characters are sometimes capable of desperate resolutions.

Although for the time being Banks was permitted to extricate his infantry from the toils, the remainder of his command was less fortunate. The general and his brigades reached Winchester in safety, but the road between that town and Strasburg was a scene of dire disaster.

1  The supply waggons were still eight miles south of Front Royal, in the Luray Valley.


11.30 a.m.   Steuart, with the 2nd and 6th Virginia, had struck Newton before noon, and found a convoy of waggons strung out on the Valley turnpike. A few shots threw everything into confusion. Many of the teamsters deserted their posts, and fled towards Winchester or Strasburg. Waggons were upset, several were captured, and others plundered. But the triumph of the Confederates was short-lived. The Federal infantry had already reached Middletown; and Banks sent forward a regiment of cavalry and a brigade of infantry to clear the way. Steuart was speedily driven back, and the Northerners resumed their march.

12.15 p.m.   At some distance behind the infantry came the Federal cavalry, about 2,000 strong, accompanied by a battery and a small party of Zouaves; but by the time this force reached Middletown, Ashby, supported by the Louisiana brigade, had driven in the regiment hitherto opposed to him, and, emerging from the forest, with infantry and guns in close support, was bearing down upon the village. The batteries opened upon the solid columns of the Federal horse. The Louisiana regiments, deploying at the double, dashed forward, and the Northern squadrons, penned in the narrow streets, found themselves assailed by a heavy fire. A desperate attempt was made to escape towards Winchester, and a whirling cloud of dust through which the sabres gleamed swept northward up the turnpike. But Ashby’s horsemen, galloping across country, headed off the fugitives; some of the Confederate infantry drew an abandoned waggon across the road, and others ran forward to the roadside fences. At such close quarters the effect of the musketry was terrible. “In a few moments the turnpike, which had just before teemed with life, presented a most appalling spectacle of carnage and destruction. The road was literally obstructed with the mingled and confused mass of struggling and dying horses and riders. Amongst the survivors the wildest confusion ensued, and they scattered in disorder in various directions, leaving some 200 prisoners in the hands of the Confederates.”1

1  Jackson’s Report. O.R., vol. xii, part i, p. 704.


Part dashed back to Strasburg, where the teeming magazines of the Federal commissaries were already blazing; and part towards the mountains, flying in small parties by every country track. The rear regiments, however, still held together. Drawing off westward, in the hope of gaining the Middle road, and of making his way to Winchester by a circuitous route, General Hatch, commanding the cavalry brigade, brought his guns into action on a commanding ridge, about a mile west of the highway, and still showed a front with his remaining squadrons. Infantry were with them; more horsemen came thronging up; their numbers were unknown, and for a moment they looked threatening. The Confederate batteries trotted forward, and Taylor’s brigade, with the Stonewall and Campbell’s in support, was ordered to attack; whilst Ashby, accompanied by the Louisiana Tigers and two batteries, pursued the train of waggons that was flying over the hills towards Winchester.

3 p.m.   The question now to be solved was whether the cavalry was the advanced or the rear guard of the Federal army. No message had arrived from Steuart. But the people of Middletown supplied the information. They reported that in addition to the convoy a long column of infantry had passed through the village; and Jackson, directing his infantry to follow Ashby, sent a message to Ewell to march on Winchester. Some delay took place before the three brigades, which had now driven back the Federal cavalry, could be brought back to the turnpike and reformed; and it was well on in the afternoon when, with the Stonewall regiments leading, the Confederate infantry pushed forward down the pike.

The troops had been on their legs since dawn; some of them, who had bivouacked south of Front Royal, had already marched sixteen miles, the Federals had more than two hours’ start, and Winchester was still twelve miles distant. But the enemy’s cavalry had been routed, and such as remained of the waggons were practically without a guard. Ashby and Steuart, with three fine regiments of Virginia cavalry, supported by the horse-


artillery and other batteries, were well to the front, and “there was every reason to believe,” to use Jackson’s own words, “that if Banks reached Winchester, it would be without a train, if not without an army.”

But the irregular organisation of the Valley forces proved a bar to the fulfilment of Jackson’s hopes. On approaching Newtown he found that the pursuit had been arrested. Two pieces of artillery were engaging a Federal battery posted beyond the village, but the Confederate guns were almost wholly unsupported. Ashby had come up with the convoy. A few rounds of shell had dispersed the escort. The teamsters fled, and the supply waggons and sutlers’ carts of the Federal army, filled with luxuries, proved a temptation which the half-starving Confederates were unable to resist. “Nearly the whole of Ashby’s cavalry and a part of the infantry under his command had turned aside to pillage. Indeed the firing had not ceased, in the first onset upon the Federal cavalry at Middletown, before some of Ashby’s men might have been seen, with a quickness more suitable to horse-thieves than to soldiers, breaking from their ranks, seizing each two or three of the captured horses and making off across the fields. Nor did the men pause until they had carried their illegal booty to their homes, which were, in some instances, at the distance of one or two days’ journey. That such extreme disorders could occur,” adds Dabney, “and that they could be passed over without a bloody punishment, reveals the curious inefficiency of officers in the Confederate army.”1

1  Dabney, vol. ii, pp. 101–2. “The difficulty,” says General Taylor, speaking of the Confederate cavalry, “of converting raw men into soldiers is enhanced manifold when they are mounted. Both man and horse require training, and facilities for rambling, with temptation to do so, are increased. There was little time, and it may be said less disposition, to establish camps of instruction. Living on horseback, fearless and dashing, the men of the South afforded the best possible material for cavalry. They had every quality but discipline, and resembled Prince Charming, whose manifold gifts were rendered useless by the malignant fairy. Assuredly our cavalry rendered much excellent service, especially when dismounted; and such able officers as Stuart, Hampton, and the younger Lees in the east, Forrest, Green, and Wheeler in the West, developed much talent for war; but their achievements, however distinguished, fell far below the standard that would have been reached had not the want of discipline impaired their efforts.”—Destruction and Reconstruction, pp. 70–71. It is only fair to add, however, that the Confederate troopers had to supply their own horses, receiving no compensation for their loss by disease or capture. This in some measure excuses their anxiety to loot as many chargers as they could lay hands on.


Banks, when the pursuit had so suddenly ceased, had determined to save the remnant of his train. Three regiments and a couple of batteries were ordered back from Bartonsville, with Gordon in command; and this rearguard had not only shown a formidable front, but had actually driven the infantry that still remained with Ashby out of Newtown, and into the woods beyond. General Hatch, who had regained the turnpike with part of his brigade, had now come up; and the addition of six squadrons of cavalry rendered Gordon’s force capable of stout resistance. The Federals held a strong position. The Confederates had present but 50 cavalry, 150 infantry, and 5 guns. Nor was there any hope of immediate support, for the remainder of the troops were still several miles in rear, and Steuart’s two regiments appear to have rejoined General Ewell on the road for Nineveh.

Shortly before sunset the Confederate artillery was reinforced. The Stonewall Brigade had also arrived upon the scene; and Gordon, firing such waggons as he could not carry off, as well as the pontoons, fell back on Winchester as the night closed in.

The Confederates had now marched from sixteen to twenty miles, and the men had not eaten since the early morning. But Jackson had determined to press the march till he was within striking distance of the hills which stand round Winchester to the south. It was no time for repose. The Federals had a garrison at Harper’s Ferry, a garrison at Romney, detachments along the Baltimore and Ohio Railway; and Washington, within easy distance of Winchester by rail, was full of troops.1 A few hours’ delay, and instead of Banks’ solitary division, a large army might bar the way to the Potomac. So, with the remnant of Ashby’s cavalry

1  Twenty regiments of infantry and two regiments of cavalry. O.R., vol. xii, part iii, p. 313.


in advance, and the Stonewall Brigade in close support, the column toiled onward through the darkness. But the Federal rear-guard was exceedingly well handled. The 2nd Massachusetts regiment held the post of honour, and, taking advantage of stream and ridge, the gallant New Englanders disputed every mile of road. At Bartonsville, where the Opequon, a broad and marshy creek, crosses the turnpike, they turned stubbornly at bay. A heavy volley, suddenly delivered, drove the Confederate cavalry back in confusion on the infantry supports. The 33rd Virginia was completely broken by the rush of flying horsemen; the guns were overridden; and Jackson and his staff were left alone upon the turnpike. In the pitch darkness it was difficult to ascertain the enemy’s numbers, and the flashes of their rifles, dancing along the top of the stone walls, were the only clue to their position. The Confederate column was ordered to deploy, and the Stonewall Brigade, pushing into the fields on either flank, moved slowly forward over the swampy ground. The stream proved an impassable obstacle both below and above the Federal position; but the 27th Virginia, attacking the enemy in front, drove them back and crossed to the further bank.

The pursuit, however, had been much delayed; and the Massachusetts regiment, although ridden into by their own cavalry, fell back in good order, protected by a strong line of skirmishers on either side of the turnpike. The Confederate order of march was now changed. Three companies, who were recruited from the district and knew the ground, were ordered to the front. The 5th Virginia, four or five hundred yards from the skirmish line, were to follow in support. The cavalry and guns were left in rear; and the troops once more took up the line of march.

For more than an hour they tramped slowly forward. The darkness grew more intense, and the chaff and laughter—for the soldiers, elated by success, had hitherto shown no sign of fatigue—died gradually away. Nothing was to be heard but the clang of accoutrements, the long rumble of the guns, and the shuffle of weary feet. Men fell in the ranks, overpowered by sleep or faint with hunger, and the


skirmishers, wading through rank fields of wheat and clover, stumbling into ditches, and climbing painfully over high stone walls, made tardy progress. Again and again the enemy’s volleys flashed through the darkness; but still there was no halt, for at the head of the regiments, peering eagerly into the darkness, their iron-willed commander still rode forward, as regardless of the sufferings of his men as of the bullets of the Federal rear-guard, with but one thought present to his mind—to bring Banks to battle, and so prevent his escape from Winchester. The student of Napoleon had not forgotten the pregnant phrase: “Ask me for anything but time!” The indiscipline of Ashby’s cavalry had already given Banks a respite; and, undisturbed by his reverses, the Union general had shown himself capable of daring measures. Had the Confederates halted at Newtown or at Bartonsville, the troops would doubtless have been fresher for the next day’s work, but the morning might have seen Banks far on his way to the Potomac, or possibly strongly reinforced.

When the Confederate infantry had met and overthrown their enemy it would be time enough to think of food and rest. So long as the men could stand they were to follow on his traces. “I rode with Jackson,” says General Taylor, “through the darkness. An officer, riding hard, overtook us, who proved to be the chief quartermaster of the army. He reported the waggon trains far behind, impeded by a bad road in the Luray Valley. ‘The ammunition waggons?’ sternly. ‘All right, sir. They were in advance, and I doubled teams on them and brought them through.’ ‘Ah!’ in a tone of relief.

“To give countenance to the quartermaster, if such can be given on a dark night, I remarked jocosely, ‘Never mind the waggons. There are quantities of stores in Winchester, and the general has invited one to breakfast there tomorrow.’ Jackson took this seriously, and reached out to touch me on the arm. Without physical wants himself, he forgot that others were differently constituted, and paid little heed to commissariat. But woe to the man who failed


to bring up ammunition. In advance his trains were left behind. In retreat he would fight for a wheelbarrow.”1

May 25   At Kernstown, behind Hogg Run, the Federal rear-guard halted for the last time, but after a short engagement fell back on Winchester. It was now three o’clock, an hour before dawn, and the Massachusetts men became aware that the enemy had halted. Their skirmishers still pressed slowly forward, and an occasional shot flashed out in the darkness. But that noise which once heard on a still night is never forgotten, the solid tramp of a heavy column on a hard road, like the dull roar of a distant cataract, had suddenly died away. As the day broke the Confederate advanced guard, passing Pritchard’s Hill and Kernstown battlefield, struck the Federal pickets on Parkin’s Hill. In front was a brook which goes by the name of Abraham’s Creek; beyond the brook rose the ridge which covers Winchester, and Jackson at last permitted his men to rest. The coveted heights were within easy grasp. The Federal army was still in Winchester, and nothing now remained but to storm the hills, and drive the enemy in panic from the town.

The Confederates, when the order was given to halt, had dropped where they stood, and lay sleeping by the roadside. But their commander permitted himself no repose. For more than an hour, without a cloak to protect him from the chilling dews, listening to every sound that came from the front, he stood like a sentinel over the prostrate ranks. As the dawn rose, in a quiet undertone he gave the word to march. The order was passed down the column, and, in the dim grey light, the men, rising from their short slumbers, stiff, cold, and hungry, advanced to battle.

Jackson had with him on the turnpike, for the most part south of Kernstown, his own division, supported by the brigades of Scott and Elzey and by nine batteries. About a mile eastward on the Front Royal road was Ewell, with Trimble’s brigade and ten guns. This detachment had moved on Winchester the preceding evening,

Destruction and Reconstruction, p. 65.


driving in the Federal pickets, and had halted within three miles of the town. During the night Jackson had sent a staff officer with instructions to Ewell. The message, although the bearer had to ride nine-and-twenty miles, by Newton and Nineveh, had reached its destination in good time; and as the Stonewall Brigade moved silently past Pritchard’s Hill, Trimble’s brigade advanced abreast of it beyond the intervening woods.

On both the Valley turnpike and the Front Royal road the Federals were favoured by the ground, and their position, although the two wings were widely separated, had been skilfully selected. On the turnpike and west of it was Gordon’s brigade of four regiments, strengthened by eight guns, and by a strong force of cavalry in reserve. Watching the Front Royal road was Donnelly’s brigade, also of four regiments, with eight guns and a few squadrons. The line of defence ran along a broken ridge, lined in many places with stout stone walls, and protected in front by the winding reaches of Abraham’s Creek.

Still, strong as was the Federal position, there was little chance of holding it. Banks had been joined during the night by the larger portion of his army, and by the garrison of Winchester, but he was heavily outnumbered. At Front Royal and at Middletown he had lost over 1,500 men; part of his rear-guard had scattered in the mountains, and it was doubtful if he could now muster more than 6,500 effective soldiers. In infantry and artillery the Confederates were more than twice his strength; in cavalry alone were they inferior.

Jackson’s plan of action was simple. His advanced guard was to hold Gordon in position; and when Ewell fell on Donnelly, a heavy column would move round Gordon’s right.

5 a.m.   The Stonewall regiments led the way. The line of heights, west of the turnpike and commanding Abraham’s Creek, was occupied by the Federal outposts, and a general advance of the whole brigade, sweeping across the brook and up the slopes, quickly drove in the pickets.

But the enemy, whether by skill or good fortune, had


occupied with his main line a position admirably adapted for an inferior force. Four hundred yards beyond the ridge which the Confederates had seized rose a second swell of ground; and eight rifled guns, supported by the 2nd Massachusetts, swept the opposite height at effective range.

Jackson immediately ordered up three batteries, posting them behind the crest; and as the sun rose, drawing up the mist from the little stream, a fierce duel of artillery began the battle.

6.30 a.m.   The Confederate gunners, harassed by the enemy’s skirmishers, and overwhelmed with shells, suffered heavily; one battery was compelled to retire with a loss of 17 men and 9 horses; a second lost all its officers; and it was not till near seven o’clock that the enemy’s eight guns, with their infantry escort, were finally driven back.

Ewell, meanwhile, had come into action on the right; but the mist was heavy, and his advanced guard, received with a heavy fire from behind the stone walls, was driven back with a loss of 80 officers and men. Then the fog rose heavily, and for nearly an hour the engagement on this wing died away.

8 a.m.   About eight o’clock Ewell’s batteries again came into action, and Trimble moved round to take the enemy in flank. But Jackson, meanwhile, was bringing matters to a crisis on the left. The Federals still held fast in front; but the Louisiana, Taliaferro’s, and Scott’s brigades, retained hitherto with Elzey in reserve, were now ordered to turn the enemy’s flank. Moving to the left in rear of the Stonewall Brigade, these eleven regiments, three forming a second line, faced to the front and climbed the heights.

General Gordon, in anticipation of such a movement, had already transferred two regiments to his right. The fire of this force, though delivered at close range, hardly checked the Confederate onset. Closing the many gaps, and preserving an alignment that would have been creditable on parade, Taylor and Taliaferro moved swiftly forward over rocks and walls. The Federal infantry gave way in great disorder. The cavalry in support essayed a charge, but the Confederates, as the squadrons rode boldly


towards them, halted where they stood, and the rolling volleys of the line of battle drove back the horsemen with many empty saddles. Then, as Taylor resumed his advance, the Stonewall regiments, with Elzey in close support, rose suddenly from their covert, and the whole line swept forward across the ridges. The bright sun of the May morning, dispersing the mists which veiled the field, shone down upon 10,000 bayonets; and for the first time in the Valley the rebel yell, that strange fierce cry which heralded the Southern charge, rang high above the storm of battle.

Map of the Battle of Winchester

It was impossible, before so strong an onset, for the Federals to hold their ground. Infantry, artillery, and cavalry gave way. From east, west, and south the grey battalions converged on Winchester; and as the enemy’s columns, covered by the heavy smoke, disappeared into the streets, Jackson, no longer the imperturbable tactician, moving his troops like the pieces on a chess-board, but the very personification of triumphant victory, dashed forward in advance of his old brigade. Riding recklessly down a rocky slope he raised himself in his stirrups, and waving his cap in the direction of the retreating foe, shouted to his officers to “Press forward to the Potomac!” Elzey’s, the reserve brigade, was ordered to take up the pursuit; and within the town, where the storehouses had been already fired, the battle was renewed. The Federal regiments, with the exception of the 2nd Massachusetts, lost all order in the narrow streets.1 The roar of battle followed close; and with the rattle of musketry, the crash of shells, and the loud cries of the victors speeding their rapid flight, the Northern infantry dispersed across the fields. As the Confederates passed through the town, the people of Winchester, frantic with triumph after their two months of captivity, rushed out from every doorway to meet the troops; and with weeping and with laughter, with the

1  Banks’ aide-de-camp, Colonel Strother, says, “For several minutes it looked like the commencement of a Bull Run panic. The stragglers,” he adds, “rapidly increased in numbers, and many threw down their arms.” Harper’s Weekly. See also Jackson’s Report, O.R., vol. xii, part i, p. 706.


blessings of women and the fierce shouts of men, the soldiers of the Valley were urged forward in hot pursuit.

10 a.m.   As they emerged from the town, and looked down upon the open pastures through which the Martinsburg turnpike runs, they saw the country before them covered with crowds of fugitives. Jackson, still in advance, turned round to seek his cavalry. From the head of every street eager columns of infantry were pouring, and, deploying without waiting orders, were pushing hastily across the fields. But not a squadron was in sight. Ashby, with the handful of men that still remained with him, had ridden to Berryville, expecting that the enemy would attempt to escape by Snicker’s Gap. Steuart, with the two regiments that had done such service at Front Royal, was with Ewell and Trimble; but although Donnelly’s regiments could be seen retiring in good order, they were not followed by a single sabre.

Despatching an aide-de-camp to order Steuart to the front, Jackson called up his batteries. The infantry, too, was hurried forward, in order to prevent the Federals rallying. But after a rapid march of two hours the interval between the Confederates and the enemy was still increasing; and it was evident that without cavalry it was useless to continue the pursuit. Not only was the infantry utterly exhausted, but the horses of the artillery were worn out; and about five miles out of Winchester the troops were ordered to halt and bivouac.1 The Federals, relieved from the pressure of the hostile fire, gradually reformed their ranks; and Jackson, notwithstanding the extraordinary exertions he had demanded from his troops, his own skilful manœuvres, and the high spirit of his men, saw his opportunity pass away. His impatience was almost uncontrollable. His staff was dispatched in all directions to urge forward the remainder of the batteries. “We must press them to the Potomac!” “Forward to the Potomac!” Such was the tenor of every order; and at length, as the Federals disappeared in the far distance, he ordered the

1  The greater part of the troops had marched over thirty miles in thirty hours, during which time they had been almost continuously engaged.


artillery teams to be unhitched, and the gunners, thus mounted, to pursue the enemy. But before this strange substitute for cavalry had moved out, the lagging squadrons arrived, and with a few fiery words they were sent at speed down the Valley turnpike. But it was too late. Banks, for the second time, was more fortunate than he deserved.

To the misconduct of Ashby’s troopers, and to the pedantic folly of General Steuart, the escape of the Federal army must be attributed.

“Never have I seen an opportunity when it was in the power of cavalry to reap a richer harvest of the fruits of victory. 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’ army would have made its escape to the Potomac.”

So runs Jackson’s official report, and when the disorganised condition of the Federal battalions, as they fled north from Winchester, is recalled, it is difficult to question the opinion therein expressed. The precipitate retreat from Strasburg, accompanied by the loss of waggons and of stores; the concentrated attack of overwhelming numbers, followed by the disorderly rush through the streets of Winchester, had, for the time being, dissolved the bonds of discipline. It is true that some of the Federal regiments held together; but many men were missing; some fell into the hands of the Confederates, others sought safety by devious roads, and there can be little doubt but that those who fled to the Potomac were for the time being utterly demoralised. Had they been resolutely charged before they had reformed their ranks, their rifles would no more have saved them from annihilation than they had saved Kenly’s command at Cedarville.

But where was the cavalry? Ashby’s 50 men, all that he had been able to collect, were far away upon the right; out of reach of orders, and in any case too few for effective use. The two regiments under Steuart, 600 or 700 strong, were the force on which Jackson had depended, and Steuart had shown himself


incapable of command. He had received Jackson’s message with the reply that he could obey no orders unless they came through his immediate superior.1 Before Ewell could be found, precious time was wasted, and two hours elapsed before the cavalry took up the chase. But the Federals had now established strong rear-guards. The whole of their cavalry, supported by artillery, had been ordered to cover the retreat; and Steuart, although he picked up numerous prisoners, and followed as far as Martinsburg, twenty-two miles north of Winchester, found no opportunity for attack.

Halting for two and a half hours at Martinsburg, the Federals continued their retreat at sunset, abandoning the magazines in the town to their pursuers. Before midnight 3,000 or 4,000 men had arrived at Williamsport, and by the ford and ferry, supplemented by a few pontoon boats, the remnant of Banks’ army crossed the broad Potomac.

Although not a single Confederate squadron had followed him from Martinsburg, the Northern general, elated by his unexpected escape, spoke of this operation as if it had been carried out under heavy fire. “It is seldom,” he reported, “that a river-crossing of such magnitude is achieved (sic) with greater success.” But he added, with more candour, “there were never more grateful hearts, in the same number of men, than when at mid-day on the 26th we stood on the opposite shore;” and then, with the loss of 2,000 men, a hundred waggons, the regimental transport of his cavalry, nearly 800 sick, and a vast quantity of stores, to traverse his assertion, he stated that his command “had not suffered an attack or rout, but had accomplished a premeditated march of near sixty miles in the face of the enemy, defeating his plans, and giving him battle wherever he was found!’2

1  Jackson’s Report.
2  Some of Banks’ officers shared his opinion. The captain of the Zouaves d’Afrique, the general’s body-guard, who had been cut off at Strasburg, but rejoined on the Potomac, reported that, “incredible as it may appear, my men marched 141 miles in 47 hours, as measured by Captain Abert,” and concluded by congratulating Banks upon the success of his “unparalleled retreat.” The Zouaves, at all events, could not complain that they had been excluded from “active operations.” Another officer declared that “we have great reason to be grateful to kind Providence, and applaud the skill and energy of our commanding officers for the miraculous escape of our men from utter annihilation.” O.R., vol. xii, part i, pp. 573, 611.


But the Northern people were not to be deceived. The truth was but too apparent; and long before Banks had found leisure to write his report, terror had taken possession of the nation. While the soldiers of the Valley lay round Winchester, reposing from their fatigues, and regaling themselves on the captured stores, the Governors of thirteen States were calling on their militia to march to the defence of Washington. Jackson had struck a deadly blow. Lincoln and Stanton were electrified even more effectually than Banks. They issued an urgent call for more troops. “There is no doubt,” wrote Stanton to the Governor of Massachusetts, “that the enemy in great force are marching on Washington.” In the cities of the North the panic was indescribable. As the people came out of church the newsboys were crying, “Defeat of General Banks! Washington in danger!” The newspaper offices were surrounded by anxious crowds. In the morning edition of the New York Herald a leader had appeared which was headed “Fall of Richmond.” The same evening it was reported that the whole of the rebel army was marching to the Potomac. Troops were hurried to Harper’s Ferry from Baltimore and Washington. The railways were ordered to place their lines at the disposal of the Government. McDowell, on the eve of starting to join McClellan, was ordered to lay aside the movement, and to send half his army to the Valley.1 Frémont, who was about to join his column from the Great Kanawha, was called upon to support Banks. McClellan was warned, by the President himself, that the enemy was making a general movement northward, and that he must either attack Richmond forthwith or come to the defence of Washington. A reserve corps of 50,000 men was ordered to be organised at once, and stationed permanently near the capital; and in one day nearly half a million American citizens offered their services to save the Union.

Shields’ and Ord’s divisions of infantry, and Bayard’s brigade of cavalry, numbering all told 21,200 officers and men.


Jackson’s success was as complete as it was sudden. The second diversion against Washington was as effective as the first, and the victory at Winchester even more prolific of results than the defeat at Kernstown. Within four-and-twenty hours the storm-cloud which had been gathering about Fredericksburg was dispersed. McDowell’s army of 40,000 men and 100 guns was scattered beyond the hope of speedy concentration. McClellan, who had pushed forward his left wing across the Chickahominy, suddenly found himself deprived of the support on which he counted to secure his right; and Johnston, who had determined to attack his opponent before that support should arrive, was able to postpone operations until the situation should become more favourable.

Immediately after his victory Jackson had sent an officer to Richmond with dispatches explaining his views, and asking for instructions. Lee, in reply, requested him to press the enemy, to threaten an invasion of Maryland, and an assault upon the Federal capital.

May 28   Early on the 28th, the Stonewall Brigade advanced towards Harper’s Ferry. At that point, crowded with stores of every description, 7,000 men and 18 guns, under General Saxton, had already been assembled. At Charlestown, Winder’s advanced guard struck a reconnoitring detachment, composed of two regiments, a section of artillery, and a cavalry regiment. Within twenty minutes the Federals, already demoralised by the defeat of Banks, were retiring in disorder, abandoning arms, blankets, and haversacks, along the road, and the pursuit was continued until their reserves were descried in strong force on the Bolivar Heights, a low ridge covering Harper’s Ferry from the south. The same evening Ewell advanced in support of Winder; and, on the 29th, the Valley army was concentrated near Halltown, with the exception of the Louisiana brigade, posted near Berryville, the 12th Georgia, with 2 guns, in occupation of Front Royal, and Ashby, on the road to Wardensville, watching Frémont.

During the afternoon the 2nd Virginia Infantry was sent across the Shenandoah, and occupying the Loudoun


Heights, threatened the enemy’s position on the ridge below. Saxton, in consequence, withdrew a part of his troops the same night to the left bank of the Potomac; but Jackson, although Harper’s Ferry and its magazines might easily have been taken, made no attempt to follow. His scouts, riding far to east and west, had already informed him that McDowell and Frémont were in motion to cut off his retreat. Shields’ division, leading McDowell’s advance from Fredericksburg, was approaching Manassas Gap; while Frémont, hurrying from Franklin through the passes of the North Mountain, was ten miles east of Moorefield. Lee’s instructions had already been carried to the extreme point consistent with safety, and Jackson determined to retreat by the Valley turnpike. Not only was it the one road which was not yet closely threatened, but it was the one road over which the enormous train of captured stores could be rapidly withdrawn.1

May 29   The next morning, therefore, the main body of the army marched back to Winchester; Winder, with the Stonewall Brigade and two batteries, remaining before Harper’s Ferry to hold Saxton in check. Jackson himself returned to Winchester by the railway, and on the way he was met by untoward news. As the train neared Winchester a staff officer, riding at a gallop across the fields, signalled it to stop, and the general was informed that the 12th Georgia had been driven from Front Royal, burning the stores, but not the bridges, at Front Royal, and that Shields’ division was in possession of the village.

The situation had suddenly become more than critical. Front Royal is but twelve miles from Strasburg. Not a single Confederate battalion was within five-and-twenty miles of that town, and Winder was just twice as far away. The next morning might see the Valley turnpike blocked by 10,000 Federals under Shields. Another 10,000, McDowell’s Second Division, under General Ord, were already near Front Royal; Frémont, with 15,000, was

1  Jackson, although the harvest was in full swing, had given orders that all waggons in the valley were to be impressed and sent to Winchester and Martinsburg.


pressing forward from the west; and Banks and Saxton, with the same number, were moving south from the Potomac. With resolute management it would seem that 35,000 Federals might have been assembled round Strasburg by midday of the 31st, and that this force might have been increased to 50,000 by the evening of June 1.1 Desperate indeed appeared the Confederate chances. The waggons which conveyed the spoils of Martinsburg and Charlestown were still at Winchester, and with them were more than 2,000 prisoners. With the utmost expedition it seemed impossible that the Valley army, even if the waggons were abandoned, could reach Strasburg before the evening of the 31st; and the Stonewall Brigade, with fifty miles to march, would be four-and-twenty hours later. Escape, at least by the Valley turnpike, seemed absolutely impossible. Over Pharaoh and his chariots the waters were already closing.

But there is a power in war more potent than mere numbers. The moral difficulties of a situation may render the proudest display of physical force of no avail. Uncertainty and apprehension engender timidity and hesitation, and if the commander is ill at ease the movements of his troops become slow and halting. And when several armies, converging on a single point, are separated by distance or by the enemy, when communication is tedious, and each general is ignorant of his colleagues’ movements, uncertainty and apprehension are inevitable. More than ever is this the case when the enemy has a character for swiftness and audacity, and some unfortunate detachment is still reeling under the effects of a crushing and unexpected blow.

Regarding, then, like Napoleon, the difficulties rather than the numbers of his enemies, Jackson held fast to his purpose, and the capture of Front Royal disturbed him little. “What news?” he asked briefly as the staff officer rode up to the carriage door. “Colonel Connor has been driven back from Front Royal.” Jackson smiled

1  For the distribution of the different forces during this period see Note at end of chapter.


grimly, but made no reply. His eyes fixed themselves apparently upon some distant object. Then his preoccupation suddenly disappeared. He read the dispatch which he held in his hand, tore it in pieces, after his accustomed fashion, and, leaning forward, rested his head upon his hands and apparently fell asleep. He soon roused himself, however, and turning to Mr. Boteler, who tells the story, said: “I am going to send you to Richmond for reinforcements. Banks has halted at Williamsport, and is being reinforced from Pennsylvania. Dix (Saxton) is in my front, and is being reinforced by the Baltimore and Ohio Railway. I have just received a dispatch informing me of the advance of the enemy upon Front Royal, which is captured, and Frémont is now advancing towards Wardensville. Thus, you see, I am nearly surrounded by a very large force.”

“What is your own, General?” asked his friend.

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

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

A moment’s hesitation, and then the cool reply: “I will fall back upon Maryland for reinforcements.”

“Jackson,” says Cooke, “was in earnest. If his retreat was cut off he intended to advance into Maryland, and doubtless make his way straight to Baltimore and Washington, depending on the Southern sentiment in that portion of the State to bring him reinforcements.” That the Federal Government was apprehensive of some such movement is certain. The wildest rumours were everywhere prevalent. Men throughout the North wore anxious faces, and it is said that one question, “Where is Jackson? Has he taken Washington?” was on every lip. The best proof, however, that a movement on Washington was actually anticipated by the Federals is the dispatch of the Secretary of War to the Governors of the different States: “Send forward all the troops that you can, immediately. Banks completely routed. Intelligence from various quarters leaves no doubt that the enemy, in great force, are advancing on Washington.


You will please organise and forward immediately all the volunteer and militia force in your State.” Further, on receiving the news of Banks’ defeat, the President had called King’s division of McDowell’s army corps to defend the capital; and his telegram of May 25 to McClellan, already alluded to, in which that general was warned that he might have to return to Washington, is significant of what would have happened had the Confederates entered Maryland.1 McClellan’s vast army, in all human probability, would have been hurriedly re-embarked, and Johnston have been free to follow Jackson.

May 31   On the night of the 30th the whole Army of the Valley was ordered back to Strasburg; and early next morning the prisoners, escorted by the 21st Virginia, and followed by the convoy of waggons in double column, covering seven miles of road, led the way. Captain Hotchkiss was sent with orders to Winder to hasten back to Winchester, and not to halt till he had made some distance between that place and Strasburg. “I want you to go to Charlestown,” were Jackson’s instructions to his staff officer, “and bring up the First Brigade. I will stay in Winchester until you get here, if I can, but if I cannot, and the enemy gets here first, you must conduct it around through the mountains.”

The march, however, as the general had expected, was made without molestation, and during the afternoon the main body reached Strasburg, and camped there for the night. The Stonewall Brigade, meanwhile, had passed through Winchester, halting near Newtown; the 2nd Virginia Regiment having marched thirty-five miles, and all the remainder twenty-eight. Little had been seen of the enemy. Frémont had passed Wardensville, and, marching through heavy rain, had halted after nightfall at Cedar Creek, six miles west of Strasburg. On the road to Front Royal, only a few scouts had been encountered by the Confederate patrols, for Shields, deceived by a demonstration

1  O.R., vol. xi, part i, p. 81. King’s division, when it was found that Jackson had halted near Winchester, was ordered to Front Royal. The fourth division, McCall’s, was left to defend Fredericksburg.


which the Louisiana Brigade had made from Winchester, had let the day pass by without a decisive movement. The difficulties on which Jackson had counted had weighted the feet of his adversaries with lead.1 Frémont, with two-and-twenty miles to march, had suffered Ashby to delay his progress; and although he had promised Lincoln that he would be in Strasburg at five o’clock that evening, he had halted on the mountains six miles distant. Shields, far ahead of the next division, had done nothing more than push a brigade towards Winchester, and place strong pickets on every road by which the enemy might approach. Neither Federal general could communicate with the other, for the country between them was held by the enemy. Both had been informed of the other’s whereabouts, but both were uncertain as to the other’s movements; and the dread of encountering, unsupported, the terrible weight of Jackson’s onset had sapped their resolution. Both believed the enemy far stronger than he really was. The fugitives from Winchester had spread exaggerated reports of the Confederate numbers, and the prisoners captured at Front Royal had by no means minimised them.2 Banks, impressed by the long array of bayonets that had crowned the ridge at Winchester, rated them at 20,000 infantry, with cavalry and artillery in addition. Geary, who had retired in hot haste from Rectortown, burning his tents and stores, had learned, he reported, from numerous sources that 10,000 cavalry were passing through Manassas Gap. There were constant rumours that strong reinforcements were coming up from Richmond, and even McDowell believed that the army of invasion consisted of 25,000 to 30,000 men.

1  Up to the time that they arrived within striking distance of Jackson they had acted vigorously, Shields marching eighty miles in five days, and Frémont seventy over a mountain road.
2  According to the Official Records, 156 men were taken by General Shields. It is said that when Colonel Connor, in command of the 12th Georgia Regiment, reported to Jackson at Winchester, and gave rather a sensational account of his defeat, the General looked up, and asked in his abrupt manner: “Colonel, how many men had you killed?” “None, I am glad to say, General.” “How many wounded?” “Few or none, sir.” “Do you call that fighting, sir?” said Jackson, and immediately placed him under arrest, from which he was not released for several months.


Frémont’s scouts, as he approached Strasburg, represented the Confederate force at 30,000 to 60,000.” Shields, before he crossed the Blue Ridge and found himself in the vicinity of his old opponent, had condemned the panic that had seized his brother generals, and had told McDowell that he would clear the Valley with his own division. But when he reached Front Royal the force that he had scornfully described as insignificant had swelled to 20,000 men. Troops from Richmond, he telegraphed, were marching down the Luray Valley; and he urged that he should be at once supported by two divisions. It cannot be said that Lincoln and Stanton were to blame for the indecision of the generals. They had urged Frémont forward to Strasburg, and Shields to Front Royal. They had informed them, by the telegraph, of each other’s situation, and had passed on such intelligence of the enemy’s movements as had been acquired at Harper’s Ferry; and yet, although the information was sufficiently exact, both Shields and Frémont, just as Jackson anticipated, held back at the decisive moment. The waters had been held back, and the Confederates had passed through them dry-shod. Such is the effect of uncertainty in war; a mighty power in the hands of a general who understands its scope.

June 1   On the morning of June 1, Jackson’s only remaining anxiety was to bring Winder back, and to expedite the retreat of the convoy. Ewell was therefore ordered to support Ashby, and to hold Frémont in check until the Stonewall Brigade had passed through Strasburg. The task was easily accomplished. At seven in the morning the Confederate pickets were driven in. As they fell back on their supports, the batteries on both sides came rapidly into action, and the Federal infantry pressed forward. But musketry replied to musketry, and finding the road blocked by a line of riflemen, Frémont ordered his troops to occupy a defensive position on Cedar Creek. “I was entirely ignorant,” he says, “of what had taken place in the Valley beyond, and it was now evident that Jackson, in superior force, was at or near Strasburg.” His men, also, appear to have caught the spirit of irresolution, for a forward


movement on the part of the Confederates drove in Blenker’s Germans with the greatest ease. “Sheep,” says General Taylor, “would have made as much resistance as we met. Men decamped without firing, or threw down their arms and surrendered. Our whole skirmish line was, advancing briskly. I sought Ewell and reported. We had a fine game before us, and the temptation to play it was great; but Jackson’s orders were imperative and wise. He had his stores to save, Shields to guard against, Lee’s grand strategy to promote. He could not waste time chasing Frémont.”1

Winder reached Strasburg about noon. The troops that had been facing Frémont were then withdrawn; and the whole force, now reunited, fell back on Woodstock; Ashby, with the cavalry, holding his old position on Tom’s Brook. The retreat was made in full view of the Federal scouts. On the Confederates retiring from before him, Frémont had pushed forward a reconnaissance, and Bayard’s cavalry brigade, of McDowell’s army, came up in the evening on the other flank. But attack was useless. The Confederate trains were disappearing in the distance, and heavy masses of all arms were moving slowly south. The Federal horsemen were unsupported save by a single battery. McDowell, who had reached Front Royal with part of his Second Division in the morning, had endeavoured to push Shields forward upon Strasburg. But Shields, fearing attack, had dispersed his troops to guard the various roads; and when at last they were assembled, misled by erroneous information, he had directed them on Winchester. Before the mistake was discovered the day had passed away. It was not until the next morning that the Federal columns came into communication, and then Jackson was already south of Woodstock.

On Friday morning, May 29, says Allan, “Jackson was in front of Harper’s Ferry, fifty miles from Strasburg. Frémont was at Fabius, twenty miles from Strasburg; and Shields was not more than twenty miles from Strasburg, for his advance entered Front Royal, which is but twelve miles distant, before mid-day, while McDowell was

Destruction and Reconstruction, p. 78.


following with two divisions. Yet by Sunday night Jackson had marched between fifty and sixty miles, though encumbered with prisoners and captured stores, had reached Strasburg before either of his adversaries, and had passed safely between their armies, while he held Frémont at bay by a show of force, and blinded and bewildered Shields by the rapidity of his movements.”

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 invasion, had drawn off McDowell from Fredericksburg, had seized the hospitals and supply depots at Front Royal, Winchester,1 and Martinsburg, and finally, although surrounded on three sides by 60,000 men, had brought off a huge convoy without losing a single waggon.

This remarkable achievement, moreover, had been comparatively bloodless. The loss of 618 officers and men was a small price to pay for such results.2

That Jackson’s lucky star was in the ascendant there can be little doubt. But fortune had far less to do with his success than skill and insight; and in two instances—the misconduct of his cavalry, and the surprise of the 12th Georgia—the blind goddess played him false. Not that he trusted to her favours. “Every movement throughout the whole period,” says one of his staff officers, “was the result of profound calculation. He knew what his men could do, and to whom he could entrust the execution of important orders.”3 Nor was his danger of capture, on his retreat from Harper’s Ferry, so great as it appeared.

May 31 was the crisis of his operations. On that morning, when the prisoners and the convoy marched out of Winchester, Shields was at Front Royal. But Shields

1  Quartermaster’s stores, to the value of £25,000, were captured at Winchester alone, and 9,354 small arms, besides two guns, were carried back to Staunton.
2  68 killed; 386 wounded; 3 missing; 156 captured.
3  Letter from Major Hotchkiss.


was unsupported; Ord’s division was fifteen miles in rear, and Bayard’s cavalry still further east. Even had he moved boldly on Strasburg he could hardly have seized the town. The ground was in Jackson’s favour. The only road available for the Federals was that which runs south of the North Fork and the bridges had been destroyed. At that point, three miles east of Strasburg, a small flank-guard might have blocked the way until the main body of the Confederates had got up. And had Frémont, instead of halting that evening at Cedar Creek, swept Ashby aside and pushed forward to join his colleague, the Valley army might easily have effected its retreat. Winder alone would have been cut off, and Jackson had provided for that emergency.

When the embarrassments under which the Federals laboured are laid bare, the passage of the Confederates between the converging armies loses something of its extraordinary character. Nevertheless, the defeat of the Front Royal garrison and the loss of the bridges was enough to have shaken the strongest nerves. Had Jackson then burnt his convoy, and released his prisoners, few would have blamed him; and the tenacity with which he held to his original purpose, the skill with which he imposed on both Shields and Frémont, are no less admirable than his perception of his opponents’ difficulties. Well has it been said: “What gross ignorance of human nature do those declaimers display who assert that the employing of brute force is the highest qualification of a general!”




Night of May 29



    Shields, 10,200, Rectorstown.
    Ord, 9,000, Thoroughfare Gap.
    Bayard, 2,000. Catlett’s Station.
Frémont, 15,000, Fabius.
Saxton, 7,000, Harper’s Ferry.
Banks, 7,000, Williamsport.
Geary, 2,000, Middleburg.


Jackson’s Division, 7,200,
Ewell’s Division, 5,000, Halltown.
Ashby. 800, Wardensville road.
Taylor’s Brigade, 8,000, Berryville.
12th Georgia Regiment, 460,
    Front Royal.
2nd Virginia Regiment, 860, Loudoun Heights.

Night of May 30



    Shields, 10,200, Front Royal.
    Ord, 9,000, Piedmont.
    Bayard, 2,000,
        Thoroughfare Gap.
    King, 10,000,
        near Catlett’s Station.
Saxton, 7,000, Harper’s Ferry.
Banks, 8,600, Williamsport.
Freémont, 15,000, Wardensville.
Geary, 2,000, Upperville.


Army of Valley, 13,850, Winchester.
Stonewall Brigade, 1,600, Halltown.
2nd Virginia Regiment, 380,
    Loudoun Heights.
Ashby, 300, Wardensville Road.

Night of May 31



    Shields, Front Royal.
    Ord, Manassas Gap.
    King, Catlett’s Station.
    Bayard, Manassas Gap.
Saxton, Harper’s Ferry.
Banks, Williamsport.
Frémont, Cedar Creek.
Geary, Snicker’s and Ashby’s Gaps.


Army of Valley, Strasburg.
Stonewall Brigade, Newtown.
Ashby, Cedar Creek.


Night of June 1



    Shields, ten miles south of
        Front Royal.
    Ord, Front Royal.
    King, Haymarket.
    Bayard, Buckton.
Saxton, Harper’s Ferry.
Banks, Williamsport.
Frémont, Cedar Creek.
Geary, Snicker’s and Ashby’s Gaps.


Army of Valley, Woodstock.
Ashby, Tom’s Brook.


Federal         62,000
Confederate 16,000



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