Battle of McDowell


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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 IX

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

The stars were still shining when the Confederates began their retreat from Kernstown. With the exception of seventy, all the wounded had been brought in, and the army followed the ambulances as far as Woodstock.

March 25   There was little attempt on the part of the Federals to improve their victory. The hard fighting of the Virginians had left its impress on the generals. Jackson’s numbers were estimated at 15,000, and Banks, who arrived in time to take direction of the pursuit, preferred to wait till Williams’ two brigades came up before he moved. He encamped that night at Cedar Creek, eight miles from Kernstown. The next day he reached Strasburg. The cavalry pushed on to near Woodstock, and there, for the time being, the pursuit terminated. Shields, who remained at Winchester to nurse his wound, sent enthusiastic telegrams announcing that the retreat was a flight, and that the houses along the road were filled with Jackson’s dead and dying; yet the truth was that the Confederates were in nowise pressed, and only the hopeless cases had been left behind.1 Had the 2,000 troopers at Banks’ disposal been sent forward at daybreak on the 24th, something might have been done. The squadrons, however, incapable of moving across country, were practically useless in pursuit; and to start even at daybreak was to start too late. If the fruits of victory are to be secured, the work must be put in hand whilst the enemy is still reeling under the shock. A few hours’ delay gives him time to recover his equilibrium,

1  Major Harman wrote on March 26 that 150 wounded had been brought to Woodstock. MS.


to organise a rear-guard, and to gain many miles on his rearward march.

March 26   On the night of the 26th, sixty hours after the battle ceased, the Federal outposts were established along Tom’s Brook, seventeen miles from Kernstown. On the opposite bank were Ashby’s cavalry, while Burks’ brigade lay at Woodstock, six miles further south. The remainder of the Valley army had reached Mount Jackson.

These positions were occupied until April 1, and for six whole days Banks, with 19,000 men, was content to observe a force one-sixth his strength, which had been defeated by just half the numbers he had now at his disposal. This was hardly the “vigorous action” which McClellan had demanded. “As soon as you are strong enough,” he had telegraphed, “push Jackson hard, drive him well beyond Strasburg, pursuing at least as far as Woodstock, if possible, with cavalry to Mount Jackson.”1

In vain he reiterated the message on the 27th: “Feel Jackson’s rear-guard smartly and push him well.” Not a single Federal crossed Tom’s Brook. “The superb scenery of the Valley,” writes General G. H. Gordon, a comrade of Jackson’s at West Point, and now commanding the 2nd Massachusetts, one of Banks’ best regiments, “opened before us—the sparkling waters of the Shenandoah, winding between the parallel ranges, the groves of cedar and pine that lined its banks, the rolling surfaces of the Valley, peacefully resting by the mountain side, and occupied by rich fields and quiet farms. A mile beyond I could see the rebel cavalry. Sometimes the enemy amused himself by throwing shells at our pickets, when they were a little too venturesome; but beyond a feeble show of strength and ugliness, nothing transpired to disturb the dulness of the camp.”2

Banks, far from all support, and with a cavalry unable to procure information, was by no means free from apprehension. Johnston had already fallen back into the interior

1  O.R., vol. xii, part iii, p. 16. The telegrams and letters quoted in this chapter, unless otherwise stated, are from this volume.
From Brook Farm to Cedar Mountain, p. 133.


of Virginia, and the Army of the Potomac, instead of following him, was taking ship at Alexandria. Information had reached Strasburg that the Confederates were behind the Rapidan, with their left at Gordonsville. Now Gordonsville is sixty-five miles, or four marches, from Mount Jackson, and there was reason to believe that reinforcements had already been sent to Jackson from that locality. On March 25 Banks telegraphed to Mr. Stanton: “Reported by rebel Jackson’s aide (a prisoner) that they were assured of reinforcements to 30,000, but don’t credit it.” On March 26: “The enemy is broken, but will rally. Their purpose is to unite Jackson’s and Longstreet’s1 forces, some 20,000, at New Market (seven miles south of Mount Jackson) or Washington (east of Blue Ridge) in order to operate on either side of the mountains, and will desire to prevent our junction with the force at Manassas. At present they will not attack here. It will relieve me greatly to know how far the enemy (i.e. Johnston) will be pressed in front of Manassas.” On the 27th his news was less alarming: “Enemy is about four miles below Woodstock. No reinforcement received yet. Jackson has constant communication with Johnston, who is east of the mountains, probably at Gordonsville. His pickets are very strong and vigilant, none of the country people being allowed to pass the lines under any circumstances. The same rule is applied to troops, stragglers from Winchester not being permitted to enter their lines. We shall press them further and quickly.”

The pressure, however, was postponed; and on the 29th McClellan desired Banks to ascertain the intentions of the enemy as soon as possible, and if he were in force to drive him from the Valley of the Shenandoah. Thus spurred, Banks at last resolved to cross the Rubicon. “Deficiency,” he replied, “in ammunition for Shields’ artillery detains us here; expect it hourly, when we shall push Jackson sharply.” It was not, however, till April 2, four days later, that Mr. Lincoln’s protégé crossed Tom’s Brook. His advanced guard, after a brisk skirmish with Ashby, reached the village of Edenburg, ten miles south, the

1  Commanding a division under Johnston.


same evening. The main body occupied Woodstock, and McClellan telegraphed that he was “much pleased with the vigorous pursuit!”

It is not impossible that Banks suspected that McClellan’s commendations were ironical. In any case, praise had no more effect upon him than a peremptory order or the promise of reinforcements. He was instructed to push forward as far as New Market; he was told that he would be joined by two regiments of cavalry, and that two brigades of Blenker’s division were marching to Strasburg. But Jackson, although Ashby had been driven in, still held obstinately to his position, and from Woodstock and Edenburg Banks refused to move.

On April 4, becoming independent of McClellan,1 he at once reported to the Secretary of War that he hoped “immediately to strike Jackson an effective blow.” “Immediately,” however, in Banks’ opinion, was capable of a very liberal interpretation, for it was not till April 17 that he once more broke up his camps. Well might Gordon write that life at Edenburg became monotonous!

It is but fair to mention that during the whole of this time Banks was much troubled about supply and transport. His magazines were at Winchester, connected with Harper’s Ferry and Washington by a line of railway which had been rapidly repaired, and on April 12 this line had become unserviceable through the spreading of the road-bed.2 His waggon train, moreover, had been diverted to Manassas before the fight at Kernstown, and was several days late in reaching Strasburg. The country in which he was operating was rich, and requisitions were made upon the farmers; but in the absence of the waggons, according to his own report, it was impossible to collect sufficient supplies for a further advance.3 The weather, too, had been unfavourable. The first days of April were like summer. “But hardly,” says

1  On this date McClellan ceased to be Commander-in-Chief.
2  The bridges over the railway between Strasburg and Manassas Gap, which would have made a second line available, had not yet been repaired.
3  On April 3 Jackson wrote that the country around Banks was “very much drained of forage.”


Gordon, “had we begun to feel in harmony with sunny days and blooming peach trees and warm showers, before a chill came over us, bitter as the hatred of the women of Virginia: the ground covered with snow, the air thick with hail, and the mountains hidden in the chilly atmosphere. Our shivering sentinels on the outer lines met at times the gaze of half-frozen horsemen of the enemy, peering through the mist to see what the Yankees had been doing within the last twenty-four hours. It was hard to believe that we were in the ‘sunny South.’ ”

All this, however, was hardly an excuse for absolute inaction. The Confederate position on the open ridge called Rude’s Hill, two and a half miles south of Mount Jackson, was certainly strong. It was defended in front by Mill Creek, swollen by the snows to a turbulent and unfordable river; and by the North Fork of the Shenandoah. But with all its natural strength Rude’s Hill was but weakly held, and Banks knew it. Moreover, it was most unlikely that Jackson would be reinforced, for Johnston’s army, with the exception of a detachment under General Ewell, had left Orange Court House for Richmond on April 5. “The enemy,” Banks wrote to McClellan on April 6, “is reduced to about 6,000 men (sic), much demoralised by defeat, desertion, and the general depression of spirits resting on the Southern army. He is not in a condition to attack, neither to make a strong resistance, and I do not believe he will make a determined stand there. I do not believe Johnston will reinforce him.” If Banks had supplies enough to enable him to remain at Woodstock, there seems to have been no valid reason why he should not have been able to drive away a demoralised enemy, and to hold a position twelve miles further south.

But the Federal commander, despite his brave words, had not yet got rid of his misgivings. Jackson had lured him into a most uncomfortable situation. Between the two branches of the Shenandoah, in the very centre of the Valley, rises a gigantic mass of mountain ridges, parallel throughout their length of fifty miles to the Blue Ridge and the Alleghanies. These are the famous Massanuttons, the


glory of the Valley. The peaks which form their northern faces sink as abruptly to the level near Strasburg as does the single hill which looks down on Harrisonburg. Dense forests of oak and pine cover ridge and ravine, and 2,500 feet below, on either hand, parted by the mighty barrier, are the dales watered by the Forks of the Shenandoah. That to the east is the narrower and less open; the Blue Ridge is nowhere more than ten miles distant from the Massanuttons, and the space between them, the Luray or the South Fork Valley, through which a single road leads northward, is clothed by continuous forest. West of the great mountain, a broad expanse of green pasture and rich arable extends to the foothills of the Alleghanies, dotted with woods and homesteads, and here, in the Valley of the North Fork, is freer air and more space for movement.

The separation of the two valleys is accentuated by the fact that save at one point only the Massanuttons are practically impassable. From New Market, in the western valley, a good road climbs the heights, and crossing the lofty plateau, sinks sharply down to Luray, the principal village on the South Fork. Elsewhere precipitous gullies and sheer rock faces forbid all access to the mountain, and a few hunters’ paths alone wind tediously through the woods up the steep hillside. Nor are signal stations to be found on the wide area of unbroken forest which clothes the summit. Except from the peaks at either end, or from one or two points on the New Market–Luray road, the view is intercepted by the sea of foliage and the rolling spurs.

Striking eastward from Luray, two good roads cross the Blue Ridge; one running to Culpeper Court House, through Thornton’s Gap; the other through Fisher’s Gap to Gordonsville.

It was the Massanuttons that weighed on the mind of Banks. The Valley of the South Fork gave the Confederates a covered approach against his line of communications. Issuing from that strait cleft between the mountains Ashby’s squadrons might at any time sweep down upon his trains of waggons, his hospitals, and his magazines; and


should Jackson be reinforced, Ashby might be supported by infantry and guns, and both Strasburg and Winchester be endangered. It was not within Banks’ power to watch the defile. “His cavalry,” he reported, “was weak in numbers and spirit, much exhausted with night and day work.” Good cavalry, he declared, would help incalculably, and he admitted that in this arm he was greatly inferior to the enemy.

Nor was he more happy as to the Alleghanies on his right. Frémont was meditating an advance on Lewisburg, Staunton, and the Virginia and Tennessee Railway with 25,000 men.1 One column was to start from Gauley Bridge, in the Kanawha Valley; the other from the South Branch of the Potomac. Milroy’s brigade, from Cheat Mountain, had therefore occupied Monterey, and Schenck’s brigade had marched from Romney to Moorefield. But Moorefield was thirty miles west of Woodstock, and between them rose a succession of rugged ridges, within whose deep valleys the Confederate horsemen might find paths by which to reach to Banks’ rear.

It was essential, then, that his communications should be strongly guarded, and as he advanced up the Valley his force had diminished at every march. According to his own report he had, on April 6, 16,700 men fit for duty. Of these 4,100 were detached along the road from Woodstock to Harper’s Ferry. His effective strength for battle was thus reduced to 12,600, or, including the troops escorting convoys and the garrison of Strasburg, to 14,500 men, with 40 pieces of artillery.2

Such were the considerations that influenced the Federal commander. Had he occupied New Market, as McClellan had desired, he would have secured the Luray road, have opened the South Fork Valley to his scouts, and have overcome half the difficulties presented by the Massanuttons. A vigorous advance would have turned the attention of the Confederates from his communications to their own; and to drive Jackson from the Valley was the best method

1  See ante.
2  O.R., vol. xii, part iii, p. 50.


of protecting the trains and the magazines. But Banks was not inclined to beard the lion in his den, and on April 16 Jackson had been unmolested for more than three weeks. Ashby’s troopers were the only men who had even seen the enemy. Daily that indefatigable soldier had called to arms the Federal outposts. “Our stay at Edenburg,” says Gordon, “was a continuous season of artillery brawling and picket stalking. The creek that separated the outposts was not more than ten yards wide. About one-fourth of a mile away there was a thick wood, in which the enemy concealed his batteries until he chose to stir us up, when he would sneak up behind the cover, open upon us at an unexpected moment, and retreat rapidly when we replied.” It was doubtless by such constant evidence of his vigilance that Ashby imposed caution on the enemy’s reconnoitring parties. The fact remains that Jackson’s camps, six miles to the rear, were never once alarmed, nor could Banks obtain any reliable information.

This period of repose was spent by Jackson in reorganising his regiments, in writing letters to his wife, and, like his old class-mate, Gordon, in admiring the scenery. It is not to be supposed that his enforced inaction was altogether to his taste. With an enemy within sight of his outposts his bold and aggressive spirit must have been sorely tried. But with his inferior numbers prudence cried patience, and he had reason to be well content with the situation. He had been instructed to prevent Banks from detaching troops to reinforce McClellan. To attain an object in war the first consideration is to make no mistakes yourself; the next, to take instant advantage of those made by your opponent. But compliance with this rule does not embrace the whole art of generalship. The enemy may be too discreet to commit himself to risky manœuvres. If the campaigns of the great masters of war are examined, it will be found that they but seldom adopted a quiescent attitude, but by one means or another, by acting on their adversary’s moral, or by creating false impressions, they induced him to make a false step, and to place himself in a position which made it easy for them


to attain their object. The greatest general has been defined as “he who makes the fewest mistakes;” but “he who compels his adversary to make the most mistakes” is a definition of equal force; and it may even be questioned whether the general whose imagination is unequal to the stratagems which bring mistakes about is worthy of the name. He may be a trustworthy subordinate, but he can scarcely become a great leader.

Johnston had advised, when, at the beginning of March, the retreat of the Confederates from Winchester was determined on, that Jackson should fall back on Front Royal, and thence, if necessary, up the South Fork of the Shenandoah. His force would thus be in close communication with the main army behind the Rapidan; and it was contrary, in the General-in-Chief’s opinion, to all sound discretion to permit the enemy to attain a point, such as Front Royal, which would render it possible for him to place himself between them. Jackson, however, declared his preference for a retreat up the North Fork, in the direction of Staunton. Why should Banks join McClellan at all? McClellan, so Jackson calculated, had already more men with him than he could feed; and he believed, therefore, that Staunton would be Banks’ objective, because, by seizing that town, he would threaten Edward Johnson’s rear, open the way for Frémont, and then, crossing the Blue Ridge, place himself so near the communications of the main army with Richmond that it would be compelled to fall back to defend them. Nor, in any case, did he agree with Johnston that the occupation of Front Royal would prevent Banks leaving the Valley and marching to Manassas. Twenty miles due east of Winchester is Snicker’s Gap, where a good road crosses the Blue Ridge, and eight miles south another turnpike leads over Ashby’s Gap. By either of these Banks could reach Manassas just as rapidly as Jackson could join Johnston; and, while 4,500 men could scarcely be expected to detain 20,000, they might very easily be cut off by a portion of the superior force.

If a junction with the main army were absolutely necessary, Jackson was of opinion that the move ought to


be made at once, and the Valley abandoned. If, on the other hand, it was desirable to keep Banks and McClellan separated, the best means of doing so was to draw the former up the North Fork; and at Mount Jackson, covering the New Market to Luray road, the Valley troops would be as near the Rapidan as if they were at Front Royal.1 The strategical advantages which such a position would offer—the isolation of the troops pursuing him, the chance of striking their communications from the South Fork Valley, and, if reinforcements were granted, of cutting off their retreat by a rapid movement from Luray to Winchester—were always present to Jackson’s mind.2

An additional argument was that at the time when these alternatives were discussed the road along South Fork was so bad as to make marching difficult; and it was to this rather than to Jackson’s strategical conceptions that Johnston appears to have ultimately yielded.

Be this as it may, the sum of Jackson’s operations was satisfactory in the extreme. On March 27 he had written to Johnston, “I will try and draw the enemy on.” On April 16 Banks was exactly where he wished him, well up the North Fork of the Shenandoah, cut off by the Massanuttons from Manassas, and by the Alleghanies from Frémont. The two detachments which held the Valley, his own force at Mount Jackson, and Edward Johnson’s 2,800 on the Shenandoah Mountain, were in close communication, and could at any time, if permitted by the higher authorities, combine against either of the columns which threatened Staunton. “What I desire,” he said to Mr. Boteler, a friend in the Confederate Congress, “is to hold the country, as far as practicable, until we are in a condition to advance; and then, with God’s blessing, let us make thorough work of it. But let us start right.”

On April 7 he wrote to his wife as follows:—

“Your sickness gives me great concern; but so live that it and all your tribulations may be sanctified to you, remembering that our ‘light afflictions, which are but for a

1  Dabney, vol. ii, pp. 22, 23. O.R., vol. v, p. 1087.
2  Cf letters of April 5. O.R., vol. xii, part iii, pp. 843, 844.

ASHBY  273

moment, work out for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory!’ I trust you and all I have in the hands of a kind Providence, knowing that all things work together for the good of His people. Yesterday was a lovely Sabbath day. Although I had not the privilege of hearing the word of life, yet it felt like a holy Sabbath day, beautiful, serene, and lovely. All it wanted was the church-bell and God’s services in the sanctuary to make it complete. Our gallant little army is increasing in numbers, and my prayer is that it may be an army of the living God as well as of its country.”

The troops, notwithstanding their defeat at Kernstown, were in high spirits. The very slackness of the Federal pursuit had made them aware that they had inflicted a heavy blow. They had been thanked by Congress for their valour. The newspapers were full of their praises. Their comrades were returning from hospital and furlough, and recruits were rapidly coming in.1 The mounted branch attracted the majority, and Ashby’s regiment soon numbered more than 2,000 troopers. Their commander, however, knew little of discipline. Besides himself there was but one field-officer for one-and-twenty companies; nor had these companies any regimental organisation. When Jackson attempted to reduce this curiously constituted force to order, his path was once more crossed by the Secretary of War. Mr. Benjamin, dazzled by Ashby’s exploits, had given him authority to raise and command a force of independent cavalry. A reference to this authority and a threat of resignation was Ashby’s reply to Jackson’s orders. “Knowing Ashby’s ascendency over his men, and finding himself thus deprived of legitimate power, the general was constrained to pause, and the cavalry was left unorganised and

1  Congress, on April 16, passed a Conscription Act, under which all able-bodied whites, between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five, were compelled to serve. It was not found necessary, however, except in the case of three religious denominations, to enforce the Act in the Valley; and, in dealing with these sectarians, Jackson found a means of reconciling their scruples with their duty to their State. He organised them in companies as teamsters, pledging himself to employ them, so far as practicable, in other ways than fighting. O.R., vol. xii, part iii, p. 835.

ASHBY  274

undisciplined. One half was rarely available for duty. The remainder were roaming over the country, imposing upon the generous hospitalities of the citizens, or lurking in their homes. The exploits of their famous leader were all performed with a few hundreds, or often scores, of men, who followed him from personal devotion rather than force of discipline.”1

By April 15 Jackson’s force had increased to 6,000 men.2 McClellan had now landed an army of over 100,000 at Fortress Monroe, on the Yorktown Peninsula, and Johnston had marched thither to oppose him. The weather had at last cleared; although the mountain pines stood deep in snow the roads were in good order; the rivers were once more fordable; the Manassas Gap Railway had been restored as far as Strasburg, and Banks took heart of grace.

April 17   On the 17th his forces were put in motion. One of Ashby’s companies was surprised and captured. A brigade was sent to turn the Confederate left by a ford of the North Fork; and when the Virginians, burning the railway station at Mount Jackson, fell back southwards, the Federal cavalry seized New Market.

For the moment the situation of the Valley army was somewhat critical. When Johnston marched to the Peninsula he had left a force of 8,000 men, under General Ewell, on the Upper Rappahannock, and with this force Jackson had been instructed to co-operate. But with the road across the Massanuttons in his possession Banks could move into the Luray Valley, and occupying Swift Run Gap with a detachment, cut the communication between the two Confederate generals. It was essential, then, that this important pass should be secured, and Jackson’s men were called on for a forced march.

April 18   On the morning of the 18th they reached Harrisonburg, twenty-

1  Dabney, vol. ii, p. 49.
2  On April 5 he had over 4,000 infantry. O.R., vol. xii, part iii, p. 844. The estimate in the text is from Colonel Allan’s Valley Campaign, p. 64. On April 9, however, he was so short of arms that 1,000 pikes were ordered from Richmond. “Under Divine blessing,” he wrote, “we must rely upon the bayonet when firearms cannot be furnished.” O.R., vol. xii, part iii, pp. 842, 845.


five miles from Mount Jackson, and halted the same evening at Peale’s, about six miles east.

April 19   On the 19th they crossed the Shenandoah at Conrad’s store, and leaving a detachment to hold the bridge, moved to the foot of Swift Run Gap, and went into camp in Elk Run Valley. In three days they had marched over fifty miles. Banks followed with his customary caution, and when, on the 17th, his cavalry occupied New Market he was congratulated by the Secretary of War on his “brilliant and successful operations.” On the 19th he led a detachment across the Massanuttons, and seized the two bridges over the South Fork at Luray, driving back a squadron which Jackson had sent to burn them.

April 22   On the night of the 22nd his cavalry reached Harrisonburg, and he reported that want of supplies alone prevented him from bringing the Confederates to bay.

April 26   On the 26th he sent two of his five brigades to Harrisonburg, the remainder halting at New Market, and for the last few days, according to his own dispatches, beef, flour, and forage had been abundant. Yet it had taken him ten days to march five-and-thirty miles.

April 20   On April 20 General Edward Johnson, menaced in rear by Banks’ advance, in flank by the brigade which Frémont had placed at Moorefield, and in front by Milroy’s brigade, which had advanced from Monterey, had fallen back from the Shenandoah Mountain to West View, seven miles west of Staunton; and to all appearance the Federal prospects were exceedingly favourable.

Harrisonburg is five-and-twenty miles, or two short marches, north of Staunton. The hamlet of M’Dowell, now occupied by Milroy, is seven-and-twenty miles north-west. Proper concert between Banks and Frémont should therefore have ensured the destruction or retreat of Edward Johnson, and have placed Staunton, as well as the Virginia Central Railroad, in their hands. But although not a single picket stood between his outposts and Staunton, Banks dared not move. By moving to Elk Run Valley Jackson had barred the way of the Federals more effectively than if he had intrenched his troops across the Staunton road.


South of Harrisonburg, where the Valley widens to five-and-twenty miles, there was no strong position. And even had such existed, 6,000 men, of which a third were cavalry, could scarcely have hoped to hold it permanently against a far superior force. Moreover, cooped up inside intrenchments, the Army of the Valley would have lost all freedom of action; and Jackson would have been cut off both from Ewell and from Richmond. But, although direct intervention was impracticable, he was none the less resolved that Banks should never set foot in Staunton. The Elk Run Valley was well adapted for his purpose. Spurs of the Blue Ridge, steep, pathless, and densely wooded, covered either flank. The front, protected by the Shenandoah, was very strong. Communication with both Ewell and Richmond was secure, and so long as he held the bridge at Conrad’s store he threatened the flank of the Federals should they advance on Staunton. Strategically the position was by no means perfect. The Confederates, to use an expression of General Grant’s, applied to a similar situation, were “in a bottle.” A bold enemy would have seized the bridge, “corking up” Jackson with a strong detachment, and have marched on Staunton with his main body.

“Had Banks been more enterprising,” says Dabney, “this objection would have been decisive.” But he was not enterprising, and Jackson knew it.1 He had had opportunities in plenty of judging his opponent’s character. The slow advance on Winchester, the long delay at Woodstock, the cautious approach to New Market, had revealed enough. It was a month since the battle of Kernstown, and yet the Confederate infantry, although for the greater part of the time they had been encamped within a few miles of the enemy’s outposts, had not fired a shot.

The tardy progress of the Federals from Woodstock to Harrisonburg had been due rather to the perplexities of

1  “My own opinion,” he wrote, when this movement was in contemplation, “is that Banks will not follow me up to the Blue Ridge. My desire is, as far as practicable, to hold the Valley, and I hope that Banks will be deterred from advancing [from New Market] much further toward Staunton by the apprehension of my returning to New Market [by Luray], and thus getting in his rear.”—O.R., vol. xii, part iii, p. 848.


their commander than to the difficulties of supply; and Banks had got clear of the Massanuttons only to meet with fresh embarrassments. Jackson’s move to Elk Run Valley was a complete checkmate. His opponent felt that he was dangerously exposed. McClellan had not yet begun his advance on Richmond; and, so long as that city was secure from immediate attack, the Confederates could spare men to reinforce Jackson. The railway ran within easy reach of Swift Run Gap, and the troops need not be long absent from the capital. Ewell, too, with a force of unknown strength, was not far distant. Banks could expect no help from Frémont. Both generals were anxious to work together, and plans had been submitted to Washington which would probably have secured the capture of Staunton and the control of the railway. But the Secretary of War rejected all advice. Frémont was given to understand that under no circumstances was he to count on Banks,1 and the latter was told to halt at Harrisonburg. “It is not the desire of the President,” wrote Mr. Stanton on April 26, “that you should prosecute a further advance towards the south. It is possible that events may make it necessary to transfer the command of General Shields to the department of the Rappahannock [i.e. to the First Army Corps], and you are desired to act accordingly.” To crown all, Blenker’s division, which had reached Winchester, instead of being sent to support Banks, forty-five miles distant by the Valley turnpike, was ordered to join Frémont in the Alleghanies by way of Romney, involving a march of one hundred and twenty miles, over bad roads, before it could reinforce his advanced brigade.

Stanton, in writing to Banks, suggested that he should not let his advanced guard get too far ahead of the main body; but be does not appear to have seen that the separation of Banks, Frémont, and Blenker, and the forward position of the two former, which he had determined to maintain, was even more dangerous.2 His lesson was to come, for

1  O.R., vol. xii, p. 104.
2  Jackson had recognised all along the mistake the Federals had made in pushing comparatively small forces up the Valley before McClellan closed in on Richmond. On April 5, when Banks was at Woodstock, he wrote: “Banks is very cautious. As he belongs to McClellan’s army, I suppose that McClellan is at the helm, and that he would not, even if Banks so desired, permit him to advance much farther until other parts of his army are farther advanced.” (O.R., vol. xii, part iii, p. 843). He did not know that at the date he wrote the President and Mr. Stanton had relieved McClellan at the helm.


Jackson, by no means content with arresting Banks’ march, was already contemplating that general’s destruction.

The situation demanded instant action, and in order that the import of Jackson’s movements may be fully realised it is necessary to turn to the main theatre of war. McClellan, on April 5, with the 60,000 men already landed, had moved a few miles up the Peninsula. Near the village of Yorktown, famous for the surrender of Lord Cornwallis and his army in 1782, he found the road blocked by a line of earthworks and numerous guns. Magruder, Jackson’s captain in Mexico, was in command; but Johnston was still on the Rapidan, one hundred and thirty miles away, and the Confederates had no more than 15,000 men in position. The flanks, however, were secured by the York and the James rivers, which here expand to wide estuaries, and the works were strong. Yorktown proved almost as fatal to the invaders as to their English predecessors. Before the historic lines their march was suddenly brought up. McClellan, although his army increased in numbers every day, declined the swift process of a storm. Personal reconnaissance convinced him that “instant assault would have been simple folly,” and he determined to besiege the intrenchments in due form. On April 10 Johnston’s army began to arrive at Yorktown, and the lines, hitherto held by a slender garrison, were now manned by 53,000 men.

The Confederate position was by no means impregnable. The river James to the south was held by the “Merrimac,” an improvised ironclad of novel design, which had already wrought terrible destruction amongst the wooden frigates of the Federals. She was neutralised, however, by her Northern counterpart, the “Monitor,” and after an indecisive action she had remained inactive for nearly a month. The York was less securely guarded. The channel, nearly a mile wide, was barred only by the fire of two forts; and


that at Gloucester Point, on the north bank, was open to assault from the land side. Had McClellan disembarked a detachment and carried this work, which might easily have been done, the river would have been opened to his gunboats, and Johnston’s lines have become untenable. He decided, however, notwithstanding that his army was more than 100,000 strong, that he had no men to spare for such an enterprise.

Magruder’s bold stand was of infinite service to the Confederate cause. To both parties time was of the utmost value. The Federals were still over seventy miles from Richmond; and there was always a possibility, if their advance were not rapidly pressed, that Johnston might move on Washington and cause the recall of the army to protect the capital. The Confederates, on the other hand, had been surprised by the landing of McClellan’s army. They had been long aware that the flotilla had sailed, but they had not discovered its destination; the detachments which first landed were supposed to be reinforcements for the garrison of the fortress; and when McClellan advanced on Yorktown, Johnston was far to the west of Richmond. The delay had enabled him to reach the lines.1 But at the time Jackson fell back to Elk Run Valley, April 17 to 19, fortune seemed inclining to the Federals.

Lincoln had been induced to relax his hold on the army corps which he had held back at Manassas to protect the capital, and McDowell was already moving on Fredericksburg, sixty miles north of Richmond. Here he was to be joined by Shields, bringing his force for the field up to 40,000 men; and the fall of Yorktown was to be the signal for his advance on the Confederate capital. Johnston still held the lines, but he was outnumbered by more than two to one, and the enemy was disembarking heavy ordnance. It was evident that the end could not be long delayed, and

1  The first detachment of Federals embarked at Alexandria on March 16, and the army was thereafter transferred to the Peninsula by successive divisions. On March 25 Johnston was ordered to be ready to move to Richmond. On April 4 he was ordered to move at once. On that date 50,000 Federals had landed.


that in case of retreat every single Confederate soldier, from the Valley and elsewhere, would have to be brought to Richmond for the decisive battle. Jackson was thus bound to his present position, close to the railway, and his orders from Johnston confined him to a strictly defensive attitude. In case Banks advanced eastward he was to combine with Ewell, and receive attack in the passes of the Blue Ridge.

Such cautious strategy, to one so fully alive to the opportunity offered by McClellan’s retention before Yorktown, was by no means acceptable. When his orders reached him, Jackson was already weaving plans for the discomfiture of his immediate adversary, and it may be imagined with what reluctance, although he gave no vent to his chagrin, he accepted the passive rôle which had been assigned to him.

No sooner, however, had he reached Elk Run Valley than the telegraph brought most welcome news. In a moment of unwonted wisdom the Confederate President had charged General Lee with the control of all military operations in Virginia, and on April 21 came a letter to Jackson which foreshadowed the downfall of McClellan and the rout of the invaders.

April 21   McDowell’s advance from Manassas had already become known to the Confederates, and Lee had divined what this movement portended. “I have no doubt,” he wrote to Jackson, “that an attempt will be made to occupy Fredericksburg and use it as a base of operations against Richmond. Our present force there is very small, (2,500 men under General Field), and cannot be reinforced except by weakening other corps. If you can use General Ewell’s division in an attack on Banks, it will prove a great relief to the pressure on Fredericksburg.”1

This view of the situation was in exact agreement with Jackson’s own views. He had already made preparation for combined action with Ewell. For some days they had been in active correspondence. The exact route which Ewell should take to the Blue Ridge had been decided on. The roads had been reconnoitred. Jackson had supplied

1  O.R., vol. xii, part iii, p. 859.


a map identical with his own, and had furnished an officer to act as guide. A service of couriers had been established across the mountains, and no precaution had been neglected. Ewell was instructed to bring five days’ rations. He was warned that there would be no necessity for a forced march; he was to encamp at cross-roads, and he was to rest on Sunday.1

April 23   Jackson, replying to Lee, stated that he was only waiting a favourable occasion to fall on Banks. “My object,” he wrote, “has been to get in his rear at New Market or Harrisonburg, if he gives me an opportunity, and this would be the case should he advance on Staunton with his main body. It appears to me that if I remain quiet a few days more he will probably make a move in some direction, or send a large force towards Harrisonburg, and thus enable me, with the blessing of Providence, to successfully attack his advance. If I am unsuccessful in driving back his entire force he may be induced to move forward from New Market, and attempt to follow me through this Gap, where our forces would have greatly the advantage. . . .

“Under all the circumstances I will direct General Ewell to move to Stanardsville. Should Banks remain in the position of yesterday [cavalry at Harrisonburg; infantry, etc., at New Market] I will try and seek an opportunity of attacking successfully some part of his army, and if circumstances justify press forward. My instructions from General Johnston were to unite with General Ewell near the top of the Blue Ridge, and give battle. The course I propose would be departing from General Johnston’s instructions, but I do not believe that Banks will follow me to the Blue Ridge unless I first engage him, and I doubt whether he will then.”

But although authorised to draw Ewell to himself, and to carry out the project on which his heart was set, he still kept in view the general situation. After he had dispatched the above letter, a report came in which led him to believe that Ewell was more needed on the Rappahannock than in

1  O.R., vol. xii, part iii, pp. 849, 854, 857.


the Valley. Lee had already informed him that McDowell’s advanced guard had occupied Falmouth, on the north bank of the river, opposite Fredericksburg, on April 19, and that General Field had fallen back.

Jackson, in consequence, permitted Ewell to remain near Gordonsville, close to the railway; assuring Lee that “he would make arrangements so as not to be disappointed should Ewell be ordered to Fredericksburg.”1

Nor was this the only instance in which he demonstrated his breadth of view. In planning co-operation with Ewell, that general had suggested that he should take a different road to that which had been recommended by General Johnston, should necessity for a combined movement arise. Jackson protested against the route being altered. “General Johnston,” he wrote, “does not state why he desires you to go (by this road), but it may be for the purpose of deceiving the enemy with regard to your ultimate destination, to be more distant from the enemy during the movement, and also to be in a more favourable position for reinforcing some other points should it be necessary.” The interests of his own force, here as always, were subordinated to those of the army which was defending Richmond.

April 25   The next information received from General Lee was that the enemy was collecting in strong force at Fredericksburg. “For this purpose,” he wrote, “they must weaken other points, and now is the time to concentrate on any that may be exposed within our reach.” He then suggested that, if Banks was too strong in numbers and position, Jackson and Ewell combined should move on Warrenton, where a Federal force was reported; or that Ewell and Field should attack Fredericksburg. “The blow,” he added, “wherever struck, must, to be successful, be sudden and heavy. The troops must be efficient and light. I cannot pretend at this distance to direct operations depending on circumstances unknown to me, and requiring the exercise of discretion and judgment as to time and

1  O.R., vol. xii, part iii, pp. 863–4.


execution, but submit these ideas for your consideration.”1

April 26   On April 26, when Banks moved two brigades to Harrisonburg, Ewell was at once called up to Stanardsville, twelve miles south-east of Swift Run Gap. No opportunity as yet had offered for attack. “I have reason to believe,” wrote Jackson to Lee on the 28th, “that Banks has 21,000 men within a day’s march of me.2 He has moved his main body from New Market to Harrisonburg, leaving probably a brigade at New Market, and between that town and the Shenandoah (Luray Gap), to guard against a force getting in his rear. . . . On yesterday week there were near 7,000 men in the neighbourhood of Winchester, under Blenker; as yet I have not heard of their having joined Banks. . . . I propose to attack Banks in front if you will send me 5,000 more men. . . . Now, as it appears to me, is the golden opportunity for striking a blow. Until I hear from you I will watch an opportunity for striking some exposed point.”3

April 29   The next day, April 29, Jackson suggested, if reinforcements could not be spared, that one of three plans should be adopted. “Either to leave Ewell here (Swift Run Gap) to threaten Banks’ rear in the event of his advancing on Staunton, and move with my command rapidly on the force in front of General Edward Johnson; or else, co-operating with Ewell, to attack the enemy’s detached force between New Market and the Shenandoah, and if successful in this, then to press forward and get in Banks’ rear at New Market, and thus induce him to fall back; the

1  Jackson himself showed the same wise self-restraint. In his communications with Ewell, after that officer had been placed under his orders, but before they had joined hands, he suggested certain movements as advisable, but invariably left the ultimate decision to his subordinate’s judgment.
2  On April 30 Banks and Shields, who had been reinforced, numbered 20,000 effective officers and men, of whom a portion must have been guarding the communications. Reports of April 30 and May 31. O.R., vol. xii, part iii.
3  It is amusing to note how far, at this time, his staff officers were from understanding their commander. On this very date one of them wrote in a private letter: “As sure as you and I live, Jackson is a cracked man, and the sequel will show it.” A month later he must have been sorry he had posed as a prophet.


third is to pass down the Shenandoah to Sperryvile (east of the Blue Ridge), and thus threaten Winchester viâ Front Royal. To get in Banks’ rear with my present force would be rather a dangerous undertaking, as I would have to cross the river and immediately cross the Massanutton Mountains, during which the enemy would have the advantage of position. Of the three plans I give the preference to attacking the force west of Staunton [Milroy], for, if successful, I would afterward only have Banks to contend with, and in doing this would be reinforced by General Edward Johnson, and by that time you might be able to give me reinforcements, which, united with the troops under my control, would enable me to defeat Banks. If he should be routed and his command destroyed, nearly all our own forces here could, if necessary, cross the Blue Ridge to Warrenton, Fredericksburg, or any other threatened point.”

Lee’s reply was to the effect that no reinforcements could be spared, but that he had carefully considered the three plans of operations proposed, and that the selection was left to Jackson.

The Army of the Valley, when the Commander-in-Chief’s letter was received, had already been put in motion. Three roads lead from Conrad’s store in the Elk Run Valley to Johnson’s position at West View; one through Harrisonburg; the second by Port Republic, Cross Keys, and Mount Sidney; the third, the river road, by Port Republic and Staunton. The first of these was already occupied by the Federals; the second was tortuous, and at places almost within view of the enemy’s camps; while the third, though it was nowhere less than ten miles distant, ran obliquely across their front. In fact, to all appearance, Banks with his superior force blocked Jackson’s march on Staunton more effectively than did Jackson his.

On the 29th, Ashby, continually watching Banks, made a demonstration in force towards Harrisonburg.

Civil War Map

April 30   On the 30th he drove the Federal cavalry back upon their camps; and the same afternoon Jackson, leaving Elk Run Valley, which was immediately occupied by Ewell, with 8,000 men, marched up the river to Port


Republic. The track, unmetalled and untended, had been turned into a quagmire by the heavy rains of an ungenial spring, and the troops marched only five miles, bivouacking by the roadside. May 1 was a day of continuous rain. The great mountains loomed dimly through the dreary mist. The streams which rushed down the gorges to the Shenandoah had swelled to brawling torrents, and in the hollows of the fields the water stood in sheets. Men and horses floundered through the mud. The guns sunk axle-deep in the treacherous soil; and it was only by the help of large detachments of pioneers that the heavy waggons of the train were able to proceed at all. It was in vain that piles of stones and brushwood were strewn upon the roadway; the quicksands dragged them down as fast as they were placed. The utmost exertions carried the army no more than five miles forward, and the troops bivouacked once more in the dripping woods.

May 2   The next day, the third in succession, the struggle with the elements continued. The whole command was called upon to move the guns and waggons. The general and his staff were seen dismounted, urging on the labourers; and Jackson, his uniform bespattered with mud, carried stones and timbers on his own shoulders. But before nightfall the last ambulance had been extricated from the slough, and the men, drenched to the skin, and worn with toil, found a halting-place on firmer ground. But this halting-place was not on the road to Staunton. Before they reached Port Republic, instead of crossing the Shenandoah and passing through the village, the troops had been ordered to change the direction of their march. The spot selected for their bivouac was at the foot of Brown’s Gap, not more than twelve miles south-west of the camp in Elk Run Valley.

May 3   The next morning the clouds broke. The sun, shining with summer warmth, ushered in a glorious May day, and the column, turning its back upon the Valley, took the stony road that led over the Blue Ridge. Upward and eastward the battalions passed, the great forest of oak and pine rising high on either hand, until from the eyry of the


mountain-eagles they looked down upon the wide Virginia plains. Far off, away to the south-east, the trails of white smoke from passing trains marked the line of the Central Railroad, and the line of march led directly to the station at Mechum’s River. Both officers and men were more than bewildered. Save to his adjutant-general, Jackson had breathed not a whisper of his plan. The soldiers only knew that they were leaving the Valley, and leaving it in the enemy’s possession. Winchester, Strasburg, Front Royal, New Market, Harrisonburg, were full of Northern troops. Staunton alone was yet unoccupied. But Staunton was closely threatened; and north of Harrisonburg the blue-coated cavalry were riding far and wide. While the women and old men looked impotently on, village and mill and farm were at the mercy of the invaders. Already the Federal commissaries had laid hands on herds and granaries. It is true that the Northerners waged war like gentlemen; yet for all that the patriotism of the Valley soldiers was sorely tried. They were ready to go to Richmond if the time had come; but it was with heavy hearts that they saw the Blue Ridge rise behind them, and the bivouac on Mechum’s River was even more cheerless than the sodden woods near Port Republic. The long lines of cars that awaited them at the station but confirmed their anticipations. They were evidently wanted at the capital, and the need was pressing. Still not a word transpired as to their destination.

May 4   The next day was Sunday, and Jackson had intended that the troops should rest. But early in the morning came a message from Edward Johnson. Frémont’s advanced guard was pushing forward. “After hard debate with himself,” says Dabney, who accompanied him, “and with sore reluctance,” Jackson once more sacrificed his scruples and ordered the command to march. The infantry was to move by rail, the artillery and waggons by road. To their astonishment and delight the troops then heard, for the first time, that their destination was not Richmond but Staunton; and although they were far from understanding the reason for their circuitous march, they began to suspect that it had not been made without good purpose.


If the soldiers had been heavy hearted at the prospect of leaving the Valley, the people of Staunton had been plunged in the direst grief. For a long time past they had lived in a pitiable condition of uncertainty. On April 19 the sick and convalescent of the Valley army had been removed to Gordonsville. On the same day Jackson had moved to Elk Run Valley, leaving the road from Harrisonburg completely open; and Edward Johnson evacuated his position on the Shenandoah Mountain. Letters from Jackson’s officers, unacquainted with the designs of their commander, had confirmed the apprehension that the Federals were too strong to be resisted. On the Saturday of this anxious week had come the news that the army was crossing the Blue Ridge, and that the Valley had been abandoned to the enemy. Sunday morning was full of rumours and excitement. 10,000 Federals, it was reported, were advancing against Johnson at West View; Banks was moving from Harrisonburg; his cavalry had been seen from the neighbouring hills, and Staunton believed that it was to share the fate of Winchester. Suddenly a train full of soldiers steamed into the station; and as regiment after regiment, clad in their own Confederate grey, swept through the crowded streets, confidence in Stonewall Jackson began once more to revive.

Pickets were immediately posted on all the roads leading to Harrisonburg, and beyond the line of sentries no one, whatever his business might be, was allowed to pass. The following day the remainder of the division arrived, and the junction with Johnson’s brigade was virtually effected. May 6 was spent in resting the troops, in making the arrangements for the march, and in getting information.

May 7   The next morning brought a fresh surprise to both troops and townsfolk. Banks, so the rumour went, was rapidly approaching; and it was confidently expected that the twin hills which stand above the town—christened by some early settler, after two similar heights in faraway Tyrone, Betsy Bell and Mary Gray—would look down upon a bloody battle. But instead of taking post to defend the town, the Valley regiments filed away over the western


hills, heading for the Alleghanies; and Staunton was once more left unprotected. Jackson, although informed by Ashby that Banks, so far from moving forward, was actually retiring on New Market, was still determined to strike first at Milroy, commanding Frémont’s advanced guard; and there can be little question but that his decision was correct. As we have seen, he was under the impression that Banks’ strength was 21,000, a force exceeding the united strength of the Confederates by 4,200 men.1 It was undoubtedly sound strategy to crush the weaker and more exposed of the enemy’s detachments first; and then, having cleared his own rear and prevented all chance of combination between Banks and Frémont, to strike the larger.

There was nothing to be feared from Harrisonburg. Eight days had elapsed since Jackson had marched from Elk Run; but Banks was still in blissful ignorance of the blow that threatened Frémont’s advanced guard.

On April 28 he had telegraphed to Washington that he was “entirely secure.” Everything was satisfactory. “The enemy,” he said, “is in no condition for offensive movements. Our supplies have not been in so good condition nor my command in so good spirits since we left Winchester. General Hatch (commanding cavalry) made a reconnaissance in force yesterday, which resulted in obtaining a complete view of the enemy’s position. A negro employed in Jackson’s tent came in this morning, and reports preparation for retreat of Jackson to-day. You need have no apprehensions for our safety. I think we are just now in a condition to do all you can desire of us in the Valley—clear the enemy out permanently.”

On the 30th, when Ashby repaid with interest Hatch’s reconnaissance in force, he reported: “All quiet. Some alarm excited by movement of enemy’s cavalry. It appears to-day that they were in pursuit of a Union prisoner who escaped to our camp. The day he left Jackson was to be reinforced by Johnson and attack viâ Luray. Another report says Jackson is bound for Richmond. This is the fact, I have no doubt. Jackson is on half-rations, his

1  Jackson, 6,000; Ewell, 8,000; E. Johnson, 2,800.


supplies having been cut off by our advance. There is nothing to be done in this Valley this side of Strasburg.”

The same night, “after full consultation with all leading officers,” he repeated that his troops were no longer required in the Valley, and suggested to the Secretary of War that he should be permitted to cross the Blue Ridge and clear the whole country north of Gordonsville. “Enemy’s force there is far less than represented in newspapers—not more than 20,000 at the outside. Jackson’s army is reduced, demoralised, on half-rations. They are all concentrating for Richmond. . . . I am now satisfied that it is the most safe and effective disposition for our corps. I pray your favourable consideration. Such order will electrify our force.” The force was certainly to be electrified, but the impulse was not to come from Mr. Secretary Stanton.

Banks, it may have been observed, whenever his superiors wanted him to move, had invariably the best of reasons for halting. At one time supplies were most difficult to arrange for. At another time the enemy was being reinforced, and his own numbers were small. But when he was told to halt, he immediately panted to be let loose. “The enemy was not half so strong as had been reported;” “His men were never in better condition;” “Supplies were plentiful.” It is not impossible that Mr. Stanton had by this time discovered, as was said of a certain Confederate general, a protégé of the President, that Banks had a fine career before him until Lincoln “undertook to make of him what the good Lord hadn’t, a great general.” To the daring propositions of the late Governor and Speaker, the only reply vouchsafed was an order to fall back on Strasburg, and to transfer Shields’ division to General McDowell at Fredericksburg.

But on May 3, the day Jackson disappeared behind the Blue Ridge, Banks, to his evident discomfiture, found that his adversary had not retreated to Richmond after all. The dashing commander, just now so anxious for one thing or the other, either to clear the Valley or to sweep the country north of Gordonsville, disappeared. “The


reduced, demoralised” enemy assumed alarming proportions. Nothing was said about his half-rations; and as Ewell had reached Swift Run Gap with a force estimated at 12,000 men, while Jackson, according to the Federal scouts, was still near Port Republic, Banks thought it impossible to divide his force with safety.

Stanton’s reply is not on record, but it seems that he permitted Banks to retain Shields until he arrived at Strasburg; and on May 5 the Federals fell back to New Market, their commander, misled both by his cavalry and his spies, believing that Jackson had marched to Harrisonburg.

On the 7th, the day that Jackson moved west from Staunton, Banks’ fears again revived. He was still anxious that Shields should remain with him. “Our cavalry,” he said, “from near Harrisonburg report to-night that Jackson occupies that town, and that he has been largely reinforced. Deserters confirm reports of Jackson’s movements in this direction.”

Jackson’s movements at this juncture are full of interest. Friend and foe were both mystified. Even his own officers might well ask why, in his march to Staunton, he deliberately adopted the terrible road to Port Republic. From Elk Run Valley a metalled road passed over the Blue Ridge to Gordonsville. Staunton by this route was twenty-four miles further than by Port Republic; but there were no obstacles to rapid marching. And the command would have arrived no later than it actually did. Moreover, in moving to Port Republic, eleven miles only from Harrisonburg, and within sight of the enemy’s patrols, it would seem that there was considerable risk. Had Banks attacked the bridge whilst the Confederate artillery was dragging heavily through the mire, the consequences would probably have been unpleasant. Even if he had not carried the bridge, the road which Jackson had chosen ran for several miles over the open plain which lies eastward of the Shenandoah, and from the commanding bluffs on the western bank his column could have been effectively shelled without the power of reply.


In moving to Staunton the Confederate commander had three objects in view:—

1. To strengthen his own force by combining with Edward Johnson.

2. To prevent the Federals combining by keeping Banks stationary and defeating Milroy.

3. To protect Staunton.

The real danger that he had to guard against was that Banks, taking advantage of his absence from the Valley, should move on Staunton. Knowing his adversary as well as he did, he had no reason to apprehend attack during his march to Port Republic. But it was not impossible that when he found out that Jackson had vanished from the Valley, Banks might take heart and join hands with Milroy. It was necessary, therefore, in order to prevent Banks moving, that Jackson’s absence from the Valley should be very short; also, in order to prevent Milroy either joining Banks or taking Staunton, that Edward Johnson should be reinforced as rapidly as possible.

These objects would be attained by making use of the road to Port Republic. In the first place, Banks would not dare to move towards Milroy so long as the flank of his line of march was threatened; and in the second place, from Port Republic to Staunton, by Mechum’s River, was little more than two days’ march. Within forty-eight hours, therefore, using the railway, it would be possible to strengthen Johnson in time to protect Staunton, and to prevent the Federals uniting. It was unlikely that Banks, even if he heard at once that his enemy had vanished, would immediately dash forward; and even if he did he would still have five-and-twenty miles to march before he reached Staunton. Every precaution had been taken, too, that he should not hear of the movement across the Blue Ridge till it was too late to take advantage of it; and, as we have already seen, so late as May 5 he believed that Jackson was at Harrisonburg. Ashby had done his work well.

It might be argued, however, that with an antagonist


so supine as Banks Jackson might have openly marched to Staunton by the most direct route; in fact, that he need never have left the Valley at all. But, had he taken the road across the Valley, he would have advertised his purpose. Milroy would have received long warning of his approach, and all chance of effecting a surprise would have been lost.

On April 29, the day on which Jackson began his movement, Richmond was still safe. The Yorktown lines were intact, held by the 53,000 Confederates under Johnston; but it was very evident that they could not be long maintained.

A large siege train had been brought from Washington, and Johnston had already learned that in a few days one hundred pieces of the heaviest ordnance would open fire on his position. His own armament was altogether inadequate to cope with such ponderous metal. His strength was not half his adversary’s, and he had determined to retreat without waiting to have his works demolished.

But the mighty army in his front was not the only danger. McDowell, with 35,000 men, had already concentrated near Falmouth. Johnston, in falling back on Richmond, was in danger of being caught between two fires, for to oppose McDowell on the Rappahannock Lee had been unable to assemble more than 12,000 Confederates.

These facts were all known to Jackson. Whether the march to Mechum’s River was intended by him to have any further effect on the Federals than surprising Milroy, and clearing the way for an attack on Banks, it is impossible to say. It is indisputable, at the same time, that his sudden disappearance from the Valley disturbed Mr. Stanton. The Secretary of War had suspected that Jackson’s occupation of Swift Run Gap meant mischief. McDowell, who had been instructed to cross the Rappahannock, was ordered in consequence to stand fast at Falmouth, and was warned that the enemy, amusing McClellan at Yorktown, might make a sudden dash on either himself or Banks.

A few days later McDowell reported that Jackson had passed Gordonsville. The news came from deserters, “very


intelligent men.” The next day he was informed that Shields was to be transferred to his command, and that he was to bear in mind his instructions as to the defence of Washington. Banks had already been ordered back to Strasburg. Now, a few days previously, Stanton had been talking of co-operation between McClellan and McDowell. Directly he learned that Jackson was east of the Blue Ridge all thought of combination was abandoned; McDowell was held back; Shields was sent to reinforce him; and the possible danger to Washington overrode all other considerations.

The weak point of McClellan’s strategy was making itself felt. In advancing on Richmond by way of the Peninsula he had deliberately adopted what are called in strategy “the exterior lines.” That is, his forces were distributed on the arc of a circle, of which Richmond and the Confederate army were the centre. If, landing on the Peninsula, he had been able to advance at once upon Richmond, the enemy must have concentrated for the defence of his capital, and neither Banks nor Washington would have been disturbed. But the moment his advance was checked, as it was at Yorktown, the enemy could detach at his leisure in any direction that he pleased, and McClellan was absolutely unable to support the threatened point. The strategy of exterior lines demands, for success, a strong and continuous pressure on the enemy’s main army, depriving him of the time and the space necessary for counterstroke. If this is impossible, a skilful foe will at once make use of his central position.

Lincoln appears to have had an instinctive apprehension that McClellan might not be able to exert sufficient pressure to hold Johnston fast, and it was for this reason that he had fought so strongly against the Peninsula line of invasion. It was the probability that the Confederates would use their opportunity with which Stanton had now to deal, complicated by the fact that their numbers were believed to be much greater than they really were. Still the problem was not one of insurmountable difficulty. Banks and Frémont united had 40,000 men, McDowell over 30,000. A few marches would have brought these forces into combination.


Banks and Frémont, occupying Staunton, and moving on Gordonsville, would have soon taken up communication with McDowell; an army 70,000 strong, far larger than any force the Confederates could detach against it, would have threatened Richmond from the north and west, and, at the same time, would have covered Washington. This plan, though not without elements of danger, offered some advantages. Nor were soldiers wanting to advise it. Both Rosecrans and Shields had submitted schemes for such a combination. Mr. Stanton, however, preferred to control the chessboard by the light of unaided wisdom; and while McDowell was unnecessarily strengthened, both Banks and Frémont were dangerously weakened.

The only single point where the Secretary showed the slightest sagacity was in apprehending that the Confederates would make use of their opportunity, and overwhelm one of the detachments he had so ingeniously isolated.

On April 29 Johnston proposed to Davis that his army should be withdrawn from the Peninsula, and that the North should be invaded by way of the Valley.1 Lee, in the name of the President, replied that some such scheme had been for some time under consideration; and the burden of his letters, as we have seen, both to Ewell and Jackson, was that a sudden and heavy blow should be struck at some exposed portion of the invading armies. Mr. Stanton was so far right; but where the blow was to be struck he was absolutely unable to divine.

“It is believed,” he writes to the Assistant Secretary on May 8, “that a considerable force has been sent toward the Rappahannock and Shenandoah to move on Washington. Jackson is reinforced strongly. Telegraph McDowell, Banks, and Hartsuff (at Warrenton) to keep a sharp look-out. Tell General Hitchcock to see that the force around Washington is in proper condition.”

It was indeed unfortunate for the North that at this juncture the military affairs of the Confederacy should have been placed in the hands of the clearest-sighted soldier in America. It was an unequal match, Lincoln and Stanton

1  O.R., vol. xi, part 3, p. 477.


against Lee; and the stroke that was to prove the weakness of the Federal strategy was soon to fall. On May 7 Jackson westward marched in the following order: Edward Johnson’s regiments led the way, several miles in advance; the Third and Second Brigades followed; the Stonewall, under General Winder, a young West Point officer of exceptional promise, bringing up the rear. “The corps of cadets of the Virginia Military Institute,” says Dabney, “was also attached to the expedition; and the spruce equipments and exact drill of the youths, as they stepped out full of enthusiasm to take their first actual look upon the horrid visage of war, under their renowned professor, formed a strong contrast with the war-worn and nonchalant veterans who composed the army.”1

Eighteen miles west of Staunton a Federal picket was overrun, and in the pass leading to the Shenandoah Mountain Johnson captured a camp that had just been abandoned. The Federal rear-guard fired a few shells, and the Confederates went into bivouac. Johnson had marched fourteen and Jackson twenty miles.

That night Milroy concentrated his whole brigade of 3,700 men at M’Dowell, a little village at the foot of the Bull Pasture Mountain, and sent back in haste for reinforcements. Frémont’s command was much strung out. When Milroy had moved from Cheat Mountain through Monterey, twelve miles west of M’Dowell,2 the remainder of the army had started up the South Branch Valley to reinforce him. But snowstorms and heavy rains had much delayed the march, and Schenck’s brigade had not advanced beyond Franklin, thirty-four miles north of M’Dowell. Frémont himself, with a couple of battalions, was approaching Petersburg, thirty-five miles from Franklin; and Blenker’s division, still further to the rear, had not yet quitted Romney.

May 8   “On the following morning,” to quote from Jackson’s report, “the march was resumed, General Johnson’s brigade still in front. The head of the column was halted near the top of Bull Pasture Mountain, and

1  Dabney, vol. ii, p. 65.
2  See ante, pp. 185, 269, 275.


General Johnson, accompanied by a party of thirty men and several officers, with a view to a reconnaissance of the enemy’s position, ascended Sitlington’s Hill, an isolated spur on the left of the turnpike and commanding a full view of the village of M’Dowell. From this point the position, and to some extent the strength, of the enemy could be seen. In the valley in which M’Dowell is situated was observed a considerable force of infantry. To the right, on a height, were two regiments, but too distant for an effective fire to that point. Almost a mile in front was a battery supported by infantry. The enemy, observing a reconnoitring party, sent a small body of skirmishers, which was promptly met by the men with General Johnson and driven back. For the purpose of securing the hill all of General Johnson’s regiments were sent to him.”

Jackson had no intention of delivering a direct assault on the Federal position. The ground was altogether unfavourable for attack. The hill on which his advanced guard was now established was more than two miles broad from east to west. But it was no plateau. Rugged and precipitous ridges towered high above the level, and numerous ravines, hidden by thick timber, seamed the surface of the spur. To the front a slope of smooth unbroken greensward dropped sharply down; and five hundred feet below, behind a screen of woods, the Bull Pasture River ran swiftly through its narrow valley. On the river banks were the Federals; and beyond the valley the wooded mountains, a very labyrinth of hills, rose high and higher to the west. To the right was a deep gorge, nearly half a mile across from cliff to cliff, dividing Sitlington’s Hill from the heights to northward; and through this dangerous defile ran the turnpike, eventually debouching on a bridge which was raked by the Federal guns. To the left the country presented exactly the same features. Mountain after mountain, ridge after ridge, cleft by shadowy crevasses, and clothed with great tracts of forest, rolled back in tortuous masses to the backbone of the Alleghanies; a narrow pass, leading due westward, marking the route to Monterey and the Ohio River.


Although commanded by Sitlington’s Hill, the Federal position was difficult to reach. The river, swollen by rain, protected it in front. The bridge could only be approached by a single road, with inaccessible heights on either hand. The village of M’Dowell was crowded with troops and guns. A low hill five hundred yards beyond the bridge was occupied by infantry and artillery; long lines of tents were ranged on the level valley, and the hum of many voices, excited by the appearance of the enemy, was borne upwards to the heights. Had the Confederate artillery been brought to the brow of Sitlington’s Hill, the valley would doubtless soon have become untenable, and the enemy have been compelled to retire through the mountains. It was by no means easy, however, to prevent them from getting away unscathed. But Jackson was not the man to leave the task untried, and to content himself with a mere cannonade. He had reason to hope that Milroy was ignorant of his junction with General Johnson, and that he would suppose he had only the six regiments of the latter with which to deal. The day was far spent, and the Valley brigades, toiling through the mountains, were still some miles behind. He proposed, therefore, while his staff explored the mountains for a track which might lead him the next day to the rear of the Federal position, merely to hold his ground on Sitlington’s Hill.

His immediate opponent, however, was a general of more resource and energy than Banks. Milroy was at least able to supply himself with information. On May 7 he had been advised by his scouts and spies that Jackson and Johnson had combined, and that they were advancing to attack him at M’Dowell. At 10 a.m. the next day Schenck’s brigade arrived from Franklin, after a march of thirty-four miles in twenty-three hours, and a little later the enemy’s scouts were observed on the lofty crest of Sitlington’s Hill. The day wore on. The Federal battery, with muzzles elevated and the trails thrust into trenches, threw occasional shells upon the heights, and parties of skirmishers were sent across the river to develop the Confederate strength. Johnson, to whom Jackson had confided the defence of


the position, kept his troops carefully concealed, merely exposing sufficient numbers to repel the Federal patrols. Late in the afternoon a staff officer reported to Jackson that he had discovered a rough mountain track, which, passing through the mountains to the north-west, crossed the Bull Pasture River and came out upon the road between M’Dowell and Franklin. Orders had just been issued to move a strong detachment of artillery and infantry by this track during the night, when the Federal infantry, who had crossed the bridge under shelter of the woods, advanced in a strong line of battle up the slopes. Their scouts had observed what they believed to be preparations for establishing a battery on the heights, and Milroy and Schenck, with a view of gaining time for retreat, had determined on attack. Johnson had six regiments concealed behind the crest, in all about 2,800 men. Two regiments of the enemy, under 1,000 strong, advanced against his front; and shortly afterwards three regiments, bringing the numbers of the attack up to 2,500 rifles, assailed his left.

The Ohio and West Virginia Regiments, of which the Federal force was composed, fought with the vigour which always characterised the Western troops.1 The lofty heights held by the Confederates were but an illusory advantage. So steep were the slopes in front that the men, for the most part, had to stand on the crest to deliver their fire, and their line stood out in bold relief against the evening sky. “On the other hand,” says Dabney, “though the Federal troops had to scale the steep acclivity of the hill, they reaped the usual advantage in such cases, resulting from the high firing of the Confederates.” The 12th Georgia, holding the centre of Johnson’s line, displayed more valour than judgment. Having been advanced at first in front of the crest, they could not be persuaded to retire to the reverse of the ridge, where other regiments found partial protection without

1  Jackson fully recognised the fine fighting qualities of his compatriots. “As Shields’ brigade (division),” he wrote on April 5, “is composed principally of Western troops, who are familiar with the use of arms, we must calculate on hard fighting to oust Banks if attacked only in front, and may meet with obstinate resistance, however the attack may be made.”


sacrificing the efficiency of their fire. Their commander, perceiving their useless exposure, endeavoured again and again to withdraw them; but amidst the roar of the musketry his voice was lifted up in vain, and when by passing along the ranks he persuaded one wing of the regiment to recede, they rushed again to the front while he was gone to expostulate with the other. A tall Georgia youth expressed the spirit of his comrades when he replied the next day to the question why they did not retreat to the shelter of the ridge: “We did not come all this way to Virginia to run before Yankees.”1 Nor was the courage of the other troops less ardent. The 44th Virginia was placed in reserve, thirty paces in rear of the centre. “After the battle became animated,” says the brigadier, “and my attention was otherwise directed, a large number of the 44th quit their position, and, rushing forward, joined the 58th and engaged in the fight, while the balance of the regiment joined some other brigade.”2

The action gradually became so fierce that Jackson sent his Third Brigade to support the advanced guard. These nine regiments now engaged sufficed to hold the enemy in check; the Second Brigade, which moved towards them as darkness fell, was not engaged, and the Stonewall regiments were still in rear. No counterstroke was delivered. Johnson himself was wounded, and had to hand over the command; and after four hours’ fighting the Federals fell back in perfect order under cover of the night. Nor was there any endeavour to pursue. The Confederate troops were superior in numbers, but there was much confusion in their ranks; the cavalry could not act on the steep and broken ground, and there were other reasons which rendered a night attack undesirable.

The enemy had been repulsed at every point. The tale of casualties, nevertheless, was by no means small. 498 Confederates, including 54 officers, had fallen. The 12th Georgia paid the penalty for its useless display of valour with the loss of 156 men and 19 officers. The

1  Dabney, vol. ii, p. 73.
2  Report of Colonel Scott, 44th Virginia Infantry. O.R., vol. xii, part 1, p. 486.


Federals, on the other hand, favoured by the ground, had no more than 256 killed, wounded, and missing. Only three pieces of artillery took part in the engagement. These were Federal guns; but so great was the angle of elevation that but one man on Sitlington’s Hill was struck by a piece of shell. Jackson, in order to conceal his actual strength, had declined to order up his artillery. The approach to the position, a narrow steep ravine, wooded, and filled with boulders, forbade the use of horses, and the guns must have been dragged up by hand with great exertion. Moreover, the artillery was destined to form part of the turning column, and had a long night march before it.

Map of the Battle of Mc.Dowell, Va., Thursday, May 8th, 1862.

“By nine o’clock,” says Dabney, “the roar of the struggle had passed away, and the green battle-field reposed under the starlight as calmly as when it had been occupied only by its peaceful herds. Detachments of soldiers were silently exploring the ground for their wounded comrades, while, the tired troops were slowly filing off to their bivouac. At midnight the last sufferer had been removed and the last picket posted; and then only did Jackson turn to seek a few hours’ repose in a neighbouring farmhouse. The valley of M’Dowell lay in equal quiet. The camp-fires of the Federals blazed ostentatiously in long and regular lines, and their troops seemed wrapped in sleep. At one o’clock the general reached his quarters, and threw himself upon a bed. When his mulatto servant, knowing that he had eaten nothing since morning, came in with food, he said, ’I want none; nothing but sleep,’ and in a few minutes he was slumbering like a healthy child.”

It seems, however, that the march of the turning column had already been countermanded. Putting himself in his enemy’s place, Jackson had foreseen Milroy’s movements. If the one could move by night, so could the other; and when he rode out at dawn, the Federals, as he anticipated, had disappeared. The next day he sent a laconic despatch to Richmond: “God blessed our arms with victory at McDowell yesterday.”

This announcement was doubtless received by the people of Virginia, as Dabney declares, with peculiar delight.


On May 4 Johnston had evacuated Yorktown. On the 5th he had checked the pursuit at Williamsburg, inflicting heavy losses, but had continued his retreat. On the 9th Norfolk was abandoned; and on the 11th the “Merrimac,” grounding in the James, was destroyed by her commander. “The victory of M’Dowell was the one gleam of brightness athwart all these clouds.” It must be admitted, however, that the victory was insignificant. The repulse of 2,500 men by 4,000 was not a remarkable feat; and it would even appear that M’Dowell might be ranked with the battles of lost opportunities. A vigorous counterstroke would probably have destroyed the whole of the attacking force. The riflemen of the West, however, were not made of the stuff that yields readily to superior force. The fight for the bridge would have been fierce and bloody. Twilight had fallen before the Confederate reinforcements arrived upon the scene; and under such conditions the losses must have been very heavy. But to lose men was exactly what Jackson wished to avoid. The object of his manœuvres was the destruction not of Frémont’s advanced guard, but of Banks’ army; and if his numbers were seriously reduced it would be impossible to attain that end. Frémont’s brigades, moreover, protected no vital point. A decisive victory at M’Dowell would have produced but little effect at Washington. No great results were to be expected from operations in so distant a section of the strategic theatre; and Jackson aimed at nothing more than driving the enemy so far back as to isolate him from Banks.

May 9   The next morning the small force of cavalry crossed the bridge and rode cautiously through the mountain passes. The infantry halted for some hours in M’Dowell in order that rations might be issued, but the Federals made three-and-twenty miles, and were already too far ahead to be overtaken. On the 10th and the 11th the Confederates made forced marches, but the enemy set fire to the forests on the mountain-side, and this desperate measure proved eminently successful. “The sky was overcast with volumes of smoke, which wrapped every distant object in a veil, impenetrable alike to the eyes and telescopes


of the officers. Through this sultry canopy the pursuing army felt its way cautiously, cannonaded by the enemy from every advantageous position, while it was protected from ambuscades only by detachments of skirmishers, who scoured the burning woods on either side of the highway. The general, often far in advance of the column in his eagerness to overtake the foe, declared that this was the most adroit expedient to which a retreating army could resort, and that it entailed upon him all the disadvantages of a night attack. By slow approaches, and with constant skirmishing, the Federals were driven back to Franklin village, and the double darkness of the night and the smoke arrested the pursuit.”1

May 12   On May 12 Jackson resolved to return to the Valley. Frémont, with Blenker’s division, was at hand. It was impossible to outflank the enemy’s position, and time was precious, “for he knew not how soon a new emergency at Fredericksburg or at Richmond might occasion the recall of Ewell, and deprive him of the power of striking an effective blow at Banks.”2 Half the day was granted to the soldiers as a day of rest, to compensate for the Sunday spent in the pursuit, and the following order was issued to the command:—

“I congratulate you on your recent victory at M’Dowell. I request you to unite with me in thanksgiving to Almighty God for thus having crowned your arms with success; and in praying that He will continue to lead you on from victory to victory, until our independence shall be established; and make us that people whose God is the Lord. The chaplains will hold divine service at 10 a.m. on this day, in their respective regiments.”

Shortly after noon the march to M’Dowell was resumed.

May 15   On the 15th the army left the mountains and encamped at Lebanon Springs, on the road to Harrisonburg. The 16th was spent in camp, the Confederate President having appointed a day of prayer and

1  Dabney, vol. ii, p. 77.
Ibid, p. 78. On May 9, in anticipation of a movement down the Valley, he had ordered thirty days’ forage, besides other supplies, to be accumulated at Staunton. Harman MS.


fasting. On the 17th a halt was made at Mount Solon, and here Jackson was met by Ewell, who had ridden over from Elk Run Valley. Banks had fallen back to Strasburg, and he was now completely cut off from Frémont. On the night of the engagement at McDowell Captain Hotchkiss had been ordered back to the Valley, and, accompanied by a squadron of Ashby’s cavalry, had blocked the passes by which Frémont could cross the mountains and support his colleague. “Bridges and culverts were destroyed, rocks rolled down, and in one instance trees were felled along the road for nearly a mile.1 Jackson’s object was thus thoroughly achieved. All combination between the Federal columns, except by long and devious routes, had now been rendered impracticable; and there was little fear that in any operations down the Valley his own communications would be endangered. The M’Dowell expedition had neutralised, for the time being, Frémont’s 20,000 men; and Banks was now isolated, exposed to the combined attack of Jackson, Ewell, and Edward Johnson.

One incident remains to be mentioned. During the march to Mount Solon some companies of the 27th Virginia, who had volunteered for twelve months, and whose time had expired, demanded their discharge. On this being refused, as the Conscription Act was now in force, they threw down their arms, and refused to serve another day. Colonel Grigsby referred to the General for instructions. Jackson’s face, when the circumstances were explained, set hard as flint. “Why,” he said, “does Colonel Grigsby refer to me to learn how to deal with mutineers? He should shoot them where they stand.” The rest of the regiment was ordered to parade with loaded muskets; the insubordinate companies were offered the choice of instant death or instant submission. The men knew their commander, and at once surrendered. “This,” says Dabney, “was the last attempt at organised disobedience in the Valley army.”

1  Frémont’s Report, O.R., vol. xii, part i, p. 11.



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