Stonewall Jackson at Kernstown
First Brigade (“Stonewall”):
2nd Virginia Regiment
Second Brigade: Colonel Burks
21st Virginia Regiment
Third Brigade: Colonel Fulkerson
23rd Virginia Regiment
The infantry were by this time fairly well armed and equipped, but the field-pieces were mostly smoothbores of small calibre. Of the quality of the troops Bull Run had been sufficient test. Side by side with the sons of the old Virginia houses the hunters and yeomen of the Valley had proved their worth. Their skill as marksmen had stood them in good stead. Men who had been used from boyhood to shoot squirrels in the woodland found the Federal soldier a target difficult to miss. Skirmishing and patrolling came instinctively to those who had stalked the deer and the bear in the mountain forests; and the simple hardy life of an
1 Johnston’s Narrative.
agricultural community was the best probation for the trials of a campaign. The lack of discipline and of competent regimental officers might have placed them at a disadvantage had they been opposed to regulars; but they were already half-broken to the soldier’s trade before they joined the ranks. They were no strangers to camp and bivouac, to peril and adventure; their hands could guard their heads. Quick sight and steady nerve, unfailing vigilance and instant resolve, the very qualities which their devotion to field-sports fostered, were those which had so often prevailed in the war of the Revolution over the mechanical tactics of well-disciplined battalions; and on ground with which they were perfectly familiar the men of the Shenandoah were formidable indeed.
They were essentially rough and ready. Their appearance would hardly have captivated a martinet. The eye that lingers lovingly on glittering buttons and spotless belts would have turned away in disdain from Jackson’s soldiers. There was nothing bright about them but their rifles. They were as badly dressed, and with as little regard for uniformity, as the defenders of Torres Vedras or the Army of Italy in 1796. Like Wellington and Napoleon, the Confederate generals cared very little what their soldiers wore so long as they did their duty. Least of all can one imagine Stonewall Jackson exercising his mind as to the cut of a tunic or the polish of a buckle. The only standing order in the English army of the Peninsula which referred to dress forbade the wearing of the enemy’s uniform. It was the same in the Army of the Valley, although at a later period even this order was of necessity ignored. As their forefathers of the Revolution took post in Washington’s ranks clad in hunting shirts and leggings, so the Confederate soldiers preferred the garments spun by their own women to those supplied them by the State. Grey, of all shades, from light blue to butter-nut, was the universal colour. The coatee issued in the early days of the war had already given place to a short-waisted and single-breasted jacket. The blue képi held out longer. The soft felt hat which experience soon proved the most serviceable head-dress had
not yet become universal. But the long boots had gone; and strong brogans, with broad soles and low heels, had been found more comfortable. Overcoats were soon discarded. “The men came to the conclusion that the trouble of carrying them on hot days outweighed their comfort when the cold day arrived. Besides, they found that life in the open air hardened them to such an extent that changes in temperature were hardly felt.”1 Nor did the knapsack long survive. “It was found to gall the back and shoulders and weary the man before half the march was accomplished. It did not pay to carry around clean clothes while waiting for the time to use them.”2 But the men still clung to their blankets and waterproof sheets, worn in a roll over the left shoulder, and the indispensable haversack carried their whole kit. Tents—except the enemy’s—were rarely seen. The Army of the Valley generally bivouacked in the woods, the men sleeping in pairs, rolled in their blankets and rubber sheets. The cooking arrangements were primitive. A few frying-pans and skillets formed the culinary apparatus of a company, with a bucket or two in addition, and the frying-pans were generally carried with their handles stuck in the rifle-barrels! The tooth-brush was a button-hole ornament, and if, as was sometimes the case, three days’ rations were served out at a single issue, the men usually cooked and ate them at once, so as to avoid the labour of carrying them.
Such was Jackson’s infantry, a sorry contrast indeed to the soldierly array of the Federals, with their complete appointments and trim blue uniforms. But fine feathers, though they may have their use, are hardly essential to efficiency in the field; and whilst it is absolutely true that no soldiers ever marched with less to encumber them than the Confederates, it is no empty boast that none ever marched faster or held out longer.
If the artillery, with a most inferior equipment, was less efficient than the infantry, the cavalry was an invaluable auxiliary. Ashby was the beau-idéal of a captain of light-horse. His reckless daring, both across-country and under fire, made him the idol of the army. Nor was
Soldier Life in the Army of Northern Virginia, chap. ii.
his reputation confined to the Confederate ranks. “I think even our men,” says a Federal officer, “had a kind of admiration for him, as he sat unmoved upon his horse, and let them pepper away at him as if he enjoyed it.” His one shortcoming was his ignorance of drill and discipline. But in the spring of 1862 these deficiencies were in a fair way of being rectified. He had already learned something of tactics. In command of a few hundred mounted riflemen and a section of horse-artillery he was unsurpassed; and if his men were apt to get out of hand in battle, his personal activity ensured their strict attention on the outposts. He thought little of riding seventy or eighty miles within the day along his picket line, and it is said that he first recommended himself to Jackson by visiting the Federal camps disguised as a horse doctor. Jackson placed much dependence on his mounted troops. Immediately he arrived in the Valley he established his cavalry outposts far to the front. While the infantry were reposing in their camps near Winchester, the south bank of the Potomac, forty miles northward, was closely and incessantly patrolled. The squadrons never lacked recruits. With the horse-loving Virginians the cavalry was the favourite arm, and the strength of the regiments was only limited by the difficulty of obtaining horses. To the sons of the Valley planters and farmers Ashby’s ranks offered a most attractive career. The discipline was easy, and there was no time for drill. But of excitement and adventure there was enough and to spare. Scarcely a day passed without shots being exchanged at one point or another of the picket line. There were the enemy’s outposts to be harassed, prisoners to be taken, bridges to be burnt, and convoys to be captured. Many were the opportunities for distinction. Jackson demanded something more from his cavalry than merely guarding the frontier. It was not sufficient for him to receive warning that the enemy was advancing. He wanted information from which he could deduce what he intended doing; information of the strength of his garrisons, of the dispositions of his camps, of every movement which took place beyond the river. The cavalry had other and more dangerous duties than vedette and
escort. To penetrate the enemy’s lines, to approach his camps, and observe his columns—these were the tasks of Ashby’s riders, and in these they were unrivalled. Many of them were no more than boys; but their qualifications for such a life were undeniable. A more gallant or high-spirited body of young soldiers never welcomed the boot and saddle. Their horses were their own, scions of good Virginian stock, with the blood of many a well-known sire—Eclipse, Brighteyes, and Timoleon—in their veins, and they knew how to care for them. They were acquainted with every country lane and woodland track. They had friends in every village, and their names were known to every farmer. The night was no hindrance to them, even in the region of the mountain and the forest. The hunter’s paths were as familiar to them as the turnpike roads. They knew the depth and direction of every ford, and could predict the effect of the weather on stream and track. More admirable material for the service of intelligence could not possibly have been found, and Ashby’s audacity in reconnaissance found ready imitators. A generous rivalry in deeds of daring spread through the command. Bold enterprises were succeeded by others yet more bold, and, to use the words of a gentleman who, although he was a veteran of four years’ service, was but nineteen years of age when Richmond fell, “We thought no more of riding through the enemy’s bivouacs than of riding round our fathers’ farms.” So congenial were the duties of the cavalry, so attractive the life and the associations, that it was no rare thing for a Virginia gentleman to resign a commission in another arm in order to join his friends and kinsmen as a private in Ashby’s ranks. And so before the war had been in progress for many months the fame of the Virginia cavalry rivalled that of their Revolutionary forbears under Light-Horse Harry, the friend of Washington and the father of Lee.
But if the raw material of Jackson’s army was all that could be desired, no less so was the material of the force opposed to him. The regiments of Banks’ army corps were recruited as a rule in the Western States; Ohio,
Indiana, and West Virginia furnished the majority. They too were hunters and farmers, accustomed to firearms, and skilled in woodcraft. No hardier infantry marched beneath the Stars and Stripes; the artillery, armed with a proportion of rifled guns, was more efficient than that of the Confederates; and in cavalry alone were the Federals overmatched. In numbers the latter were far superior to Ashby’s squadrons; in everything else they were immeasurably inferior. Throughout the North horsemanship was practically an unknown art. The gentlemen of New England had not inherited the love of their Ironside ancestors for the saddle and the chase. Even in the forests of the West men travelled by waggon and hunted on foot. “As cavalry,” says one of Banks’ brigadiers, “Ashby’s men were greatly superior to ours. In reply to some orders I had given, my cavalry commander replied, ‘I can’t catch them, sir; they leap fences and walls like deer; neither our men nor our horses are so trained.’ ”1
It was easy enough to fill the ranks of the Northern squadrons. Men volunteered freely for what they deemed the more dashing branch of the service, ignorant that its duties were far harder both to learn and to execute than those of the other arms, and expecting, says a Federal officer, that the regiment would be accompanied by an itinerant livery stable! Both horses and men were recruited without the slightest reference to their fitness for cavalry work. No man was rejected, no matter what his size or weight, no matter whether he had ever had anything to do with horseflesh or not, and consequently the proportion of sick horses was enormous. Moreover, while the Southern troopers generally carried a firearm, either rifle or shot-gun, some of the Northern squadrons had only the sabre, and in a wooded country the firearm was master of the situation. During the first two years of the war, therefore, the Federal cavalry, generally speaking, were bad riders and worse horse-masters, unable to move except upon the roads, and as inefficient on reconnaissance as in action. For an invading army, information, ample and accurate, is the first requisite.
1 Brook Farm to Cedar Mountain, General G. H. Gordon, p. 136.
Operating in a country which, almost invariably, must be better known to the defenders, bold scouting alone will secure it from ambush and surprise. Bold scouting was impossible with such mounted troops as Banks possessed, and throughout the Valley campaign the Northern general was simply groping in the dark.
But even had his cavalry been more efficient, it is doubtful whether Banks would have profited. His appointment was political. He was an ardent Abolitionist, but he knew nothing whatever of soldiering. He had begun life as a hand in a cotton factory. By dint of energy and good brains his rise had been rapid; and although, when the war broke out, he was still a young man, he had been Governor of Massachusetts and Speaker of the House of Representatives. What the President expected when he gave him an army corps it is difficult to divine; what might have been expected any soldier could have told him. To gratify an individual, or perhaps to conciliate a political faction, the life of many a private soldier was sacrificed. Lincoln, it is true, was by no means solitary in the unwisdom of his selections for command. His rival in Richmond, it is said, had a fatal penchant for his first wife’s relations; his political supporters were constantly rewarded by appointments in the field, and the worst disasters that befell the Confederacy were due, in great part, to the blunders of officers promoted for any other reason than efficiency. For Mr. Davis there was little excuse. He had been educated at West Point. He had served in the regular army of the United States, and had been Secretary of War at Washington. Lincoln, on the other hand, knew nothing of war, beyond what he had learned in a border skirmish, and very little of general history. He had not yet got rid of the common Anglo-Saxon idea that a man who has pluck and muscle is already a good soldier, and that the same qualities which serve in a street-brawl are all that is necessary to make a general. Nor were historical precedents wanting for the mistakes of the American statesmen. In both the Peninsula and the Crimea, lives, treasure, and prestige were as recklessly wasted as in Virginia; and
staff officers who owed their positions to social influence alone, generals, useless and ignorant, who succeeded to responsible command by virtue of seniority and a long purse, were the standing curse of the English army. At the same time, it may well be questioned whether some of the regular officers would have done better than Banks. He was no fool, and if he had not studied the art of war, there have been barrack-square generals who have showed as much ignorance without one-quarter his ability. Natural commonsense has often a better chance of success than a rusty brain, and a mind narrowed by routine. After serving in twenty campaigns Frederick the Great’s mules were still mules. On this very theatre of war, in the forests beyond Romney, an English general had led a detachment of English soldiers to a defeat as crushing as it was disgraceful, and Braddock was a veteran of many wars. Here, too, Patterson, an officer of Volunteers who had seen much service, had allowed Johnston to slip away and join Beauregard on Bull Run. The Northern people, in good truth, had as yet no reason to place implicit confidence in the leading of trained soldiers. They had yet to learn that mere length of service is no test whatever of capacity for command, and that character fortified by knowledge is the only charm which attracts success.
Jackson had already some acquaintance with Banks. During the Romney expedition the latter had been posted at Frederick with 16,000 men, and a more enterprising commander would at least have endeavoured to thwart the Confederate movements. Banks, supine in his camps, made neither threat nor demonstration. Throughout the winter, Ashby’s troopers had ridden unmolested along the bank of the Potomac. Lander alone had worried the Confederate outposts, driven in their advanced detachments, and drawn supplies from the Virginian farms. Banks had been over-cautious and inactive, and Jackson had not failed to note his characteristics.
March 9 Up to March 9 the Federal general, keeping his cavalry in rear, had pushed forward no farther than Charlestown and Bunker Hill. On that day the news reached McClellan that the Confederates were preparing
to abandon Centreville. He at once determined to push forward his whole army.
March 12 Banks was instructed to move on Winchester, and on the morning of the 12th his leading division occupied the town.
Jackson had withdrawn the previous evening. Twice, on March 7 and again on the 11th, he had offered battle.1 His men had remained under arms all day in the hope that the enemy’s advanced guard might be tempted to attack. But the activity of Ashby’s cavalry, and the boldness with which Jackson maintained his position, impressed his adversary with the conviction that the Confederate force was much greater than it really was. It was reported in the Federal camps that the enemy’s strength was from 7,000 to 11,000 men, and that the town was fortified. Jackson’s force did not amount to half that number, and, according to a Northern officer, “one could have jumped over his intrenchments as easily as Remus over the walls of Rome.”
Jackson abandoned Winchester with extreme reluctance. Besides being the principal town in that section of the Valley, it was strategically important to the enemy. Good roads led in every direction, and communication was easy with Romney and Cumberland to the north-west, and with Washington and Manassas to the south-east. Placed at Winchester, Banks could support, or be supported by, the troops in West Virginia or the army south of Washington. A large and fertile district would thus be severed from the Confederacy, and the line of invasion across the Upper Potomac completely blocked. Overwhelming as was the strength of the Union force, exceeding his own by more than eight to one, great as was the caution of the Federal leader, it was only an unlucky accident that restrained Jackson from a resolute endeavour to at least postpone the capture of the town. He had failed to induce the
1 Major Harman, of Jackson’s staff, writing to his brother on March 6, says: “The general told me last night that the Yankees had 17,000 men at the two points, Charlestown and Bunker Hill.” On March 8 he writes: “3,000 effective men is about the number of General Jackson’s force. The sick, those on furlough, and the deserters from the militia, reduce him to about that number.”—MS.
enemy’s advanced guard to attack him in position. To attack himself, in broad daylight, with such vast disproportion of numbers, was out of the question. His resources, however, were not exhausted. After dark on the 12th, when his troops had left the town, he called a council, consisting of General Garnett and the regimental commanders of the Stonewall Brigade, and proposed a night attack on the Federal advance. When the troops had eaten their supper and rested for some hours, they were to march to the neighbourhood of the enemy, some four miles north of Winchester, and make the attack before daylight. The Federal troops were raw and inexperienced. Prestige was on the side of the Confederates, and their morale was high. The darkness, the suddenness and energy of the attack, the lack of drill and discipline, would all tend to throw the enemy into confusion; and “by the vigorous use of the bayonet, and the blessing of divine Providence,” Jackson believed that he would win a signal victory. In the meantime, whilst the council was assembling, he went off, booted and spurred, to make a hasty call on Dr. Graham, whose family he found oppressed with the gloom that overspread the whole town. “He was so buoyant and hopeful himself that their drooping spirits were revived, and after engaging with them in family worship, he retired, departing with a cheerful ‘Good evening,’ merely saying that he intended to dine with them the next day as usual.”
When the council met, however, it was found that someone had blundered. The staff had been at fault. The general had ordered his trains to be parked immediately south of Winchester, but they had been taken by those in charge to Kernstown and Newtown, from three to eight miles distant, and the troops had been marched back to them to get their rations.
Jackson learned for the first time, when he met his officers, that his brigades, instead of being on the outskirts of Winchester, were already five or six miles away. A march of ten miles would thus be needed to bring them into contact with the enemy. This fact and the disapproval of the council caused him to abandon his project.
Before following his troops he once more went back to Dr. Graham’s. His cheerful demeanour during his previous visit, although he had been as reticent as ever as to his plans, had produced a false impression, and this he thought it his duty to correct. He explained his plans to his friend, and as he detailed the facts which had induced him to change them, he repeatedly expressed his reluctance to give up Winchester without a blow. “With slow and desperate earnestness he said, ‘Let me think—can I not yet carry my plan into execution?’ As he uttered these words he grasped the hilt of his sword, and the fierce light that blazed in his eyes revealed to his companion a new man. The next moment he dropped his head and released his sword, with the words, ‘No, I must not do it; it may cost the lives of too many brave men. I must retreat and wait for a better time.’ ” He had learned a lesson. “Late in the evening,” says the medical director of the Valley army, “we withdrew from Winchester. I rode with the general as we left the place, and as we reached a high point overlooking the town we both turned to look at Winchester, now left to the mercy of the Federal soldiers. I think that a man may sometimes yield to overwhelming emotion, and I was utterly overcome by the fact that I was leaving all that I held dear on earth; but my emotion was arrested by one look at Jackson. His face was fairly blazing with the fire of wrath that was burning in him, and I felt awed before him. Presently he cried out, in a tone almost savage, ‘That is the last council of war I will ever hold!’ ”
March 18 On leaving Winchester Jackson fell back to Strasburg, eighteen miles south. There was no immediate pursuit. Banks, in accordance with his instructions, occupied the town, and awaited further orders. These came on the 18th,1 and Shields’ division of 11,000 men with 27 guns was at once pushed on to Strasburg. Jackson had already withdrawn, hoping to draw Banks up the Valley, and was now encamped near Mount Jackson, a strong position twenty-five miles further south, the indefatigable Ashby still skirmishing with the enemy. The unusual
1 O.R., vol. xii, part i, p. 164.
audacity which prompted the Federal advance was probably due to the fact that the exact strength of the Confederate force had been ascertained in Winchester. At all events, all apprehension of attack had vanished. Jackson’s 4,500 men were considered a quantité négligeable, a mere corps of observation; and not only was Shields sent forward without support, but a large portion of Banks’ corps was ordered to another field. Its rôle as an independent force had ceased. Its movements were henceforward to be subordinate to those of the main army, and McClellan designed to bring it into closer connection with his advance on Richmond. How his design was frustrated, how he struggled in vain to correct the original dissemination of his forces, how his right wing was held in a vice by Jackson, and how his initial errors eventually ruined his campaign, is a strategical lesson of the highest import.
From the day McClellan took command the Army of the Potomac had done practically nothing. Throughout the winter troops had poured into Washington at the rate of 40,000 a month. At the end of December there were 148,000 men fit for duty. On March 20 the grand aggregate was 240,000.1 But during the winter no important enterprise had been undertaken. The colours of the rebels were still flaunting within sight of the forts of Washington, and the mouth of the Potomac was securely closed by Confederate batteries. With a mighty army at their service it is little wonder that the North became restive and reproached their general. It is doubtless true that the first thing needful was organisation. To discipline and consolidate the army so as to make success assured was unquestionably the wiser policy. The impatience of a sovereign people, ignorant of war, is not to be lightly yielded to. At the same time, the desire of a nation cannot be altogether disregarded. A general who obstinately refuses to place himself in accord with the political situation forfeits the confidence of his employers and the cordial support of the Administration. The cry throughout the North was for action. The President took
1 O.R., vol. xi, part iii, p. 26.
it upon himself to issue a series of orders. The army was ordered to advance on February 22, a date chosen because it was Washington’s birthday, just as the third and most disastrous assault on Plevna was delivered on the “name-day” of the Czar. McClellan secured delay. His plans were not yet ripe. The Virginia roads were still impassable. The season was not yet sufficiently advanced for active operations, and that his objections were well founded it is impossible to deny. The prospect of success depended much upon the weather. Virginia, covered in many places with dense forests, crossed by many rivers, and with most indifferent communications, is a most difficult theatre of war, and the amenities of the Virginian spring are not to be lightly faced. Napoleon’s fifth element, “mud,” is a most disturbing factor in military calculations. It is related that a Federal officer, sent out to reconnoitre a road in a certain district of Virginia, reported that the road was there, but that he guessed “the bottom had fallen out.” Moreover, McClellan had reason to believe that the Confederate army at Manassas was more than double its actual strength. His intelligence department, controlled, not by a trained staff officer, but by a well-known detective, estimated Johnston’s force at 115,000 men. In reality, including the detachment on the Shenandoah, it at no time exceeded 50,000. But for all this there was no reason whatever for absolute inactivity. The capture of the batteries which barred the entrance to the Potomac, the defeat of the Confederate detachments along the river, the occupation of Winchester or of Leesburg, were all feasible operations. By such means the impatience of the Northern people might have been assuaged. A few successes, even on a small scale, would have raised the moral of the troops and have trained them to offensive movements. The general would have retained the confidence of the Administration, and have secured the respect of his opponents. Jackson had set him the example. His winter expeditions had borne fruit. The Federal generals opposed to him gave him full credit for activity. “Much dissatisfaction was expressed by the troops,” says one of Banks’ brigadiers, “that Jackson was permitted to
get away from Winchester without a fight, and but little heed was paid to my assurances that this chieftain would be apt, before the war closed, to give us an entertainment up to the utmost of our aspirations.”1
It was not only of McClellan’s inactivity that the Government complained. At the end of February he submitted a plan of operations to the President, and with that plan Mr. Lincoln totally disagreed. McClellan, basing his project on the supposition that Johnston had 100,000 men behind formidable intrenchments at Manassas, blocking the road to Richmond, proposed to transfer 150,000 men to the Virginia coast by sea; and landing either at Urbanna on the Rappahannock, or at Fortress Monroe on the Yorktown peninsula, to intervene between the Confederate army and Richmond, and possibly to capture the Southern capital before Johnston could get back to save it.
The plan at first sight seemed promising. But in Lincoln’s eyes it had this great defect: during the time McClellan was moving round by water and disembarking his troops—and this, so few were the transports, would take at least a month—Johnston might make a dash at Washington. The city had been fortified. A cordon of detached forts surrounded it on a circumference of thirty miles. The Potomac formed an additional protection. But a cordon of isolated earthworks does not appeal as an effective barrier to the civilian mind, and above Point of Rocks the great river was easy of passage. Even if Washington were absolutely safe from a coup de main, Lincoln had still good reason for apprehension. The Union capital was merely the seat of government. It had no commercial interests. With a population of but 20,000, it was of no more practical importance than Windsor or Versailles. Compared with New York, Pittsburg, or Philadelphia, it was little more than a village. But, in the regard of the Northern people, Washington was the centre of the Union, the keystone of the national existence. The Capitol, the White House, the Treasury, were symbols as sacred to the States as the colours
1 General G. H. Gordon.
to a regiment.1 If the nation was set upon the fall of Richmond, it was at least as solicitous for the security of its own chief city, and an administration that permitted that security to be endangered would have been compelled to bow to the popular clamour. The extraordinary taxation demanded by the war already pressed heavily on the people. Stocks were falling rapidly, and the financial situation was almost critical. It is probable, too, that a blow at Washington would have done more than destroy all confidence in the Government. England and France were chafing under the effects of the blockade. The marts of Europe were hungry for cotton. There was much sympathy beyond seas with the seceded States; and, should Washington fall, the South, in all likelihood, would be recognised as an independent nation. Even if the Great Powers were to refuse her active aid in the shape of fleets and armies, she would at least have access to the money markets of the world; and it was possible that neither England nor France would endure the closing of her ports. With the breaking of the blockade, money, munitions, and perhaps recruits, would be poured into the Confederacy, and the difficulty of reconquest would be trebled. The dread of foreign interference was, therefore, very real; and Lincoln, foreseeing the panic that would shake the nation should a Confederate army cross the Potomac at Harper’s Ferry or Point of Rocks, was quite justified in insisting on the security of Washington being placed beyond a doubt. He knew, as also did Jackson, that even a mere demonstration against so vital a point might have the most deplorable effect. Whatever line of invasion, he asked, might be adopted, let it be one that would cover Washington.
Lincoln’s remonstrances, however, had no great weight with McClellan. The general paid little heed to the political situation. His chief argument in favour of the expedition by sea had been the strength of the fortifications at Manassas. Johnston’s retreat on March 9 removed this obstacle from
1 For an interesting exposition of the views of the soldiers at Washington, see evidence of General Hitchcock, U.S.A., acting as Military Adviser to the President, O.R., vol. xii, part i, p. 221.
his path; but although he immediately marched his whole army in pursuit, he still remained constant to his favourite idea. The road to Richmond from Washington involved a march of one hundred miles, over a difficult country, with a single railway as the line of supply. The route from the coast, although little shorter, was certainly easier. Fortress Monroe had remained in Federal hands. Landing under the shelter of its guns, he would push forward, aided by the navy, to West Point, the terminus of the York River Railroad, within thirty miles of Richmond, transporting his supplies by water. Washington, with the garrison he would leave behind, would in his opinion be quite secure. The Confederates would be compelled to concentrate for the defence of their capital, and a resolute endeavour on their part to cross the Potomac was forbidden by every rule of strategy. Had not Johnston, in his retreat, burnt the railway bridges? Could there be a surer indication that he had no intention of returning?
Such was McClellan’s reasoning, and, putting politics aside, it was perfectly sound. Lincoln reluctantly yielded, and on March 17 the Army of the Potomac, withdrawing by successive divisions from Centreville to Alexandria, began its embarkation for the Peninsula, the region, in McClellan’s words, “of sandy roads and short land transportation.”1 The vessels assembled at Alexandria could only carry 10,000 men, thus involving at least fifteen voyages to and fro. Yet the Commander-in-Chief was full of confidence. To the little force in the Shenandoah Valley, flying southward before Shields, he gave no thought. It would have been nothing short of miraculous had he even suspected that 4,500 men, under a professor of the higher mathematics, might bring to naught the operations of his gigantic host. Jackson was not even to be followed. Of Banks’ three divisions, Shields’, Sedgwick’s, and Williams’, that of Shields alone was considered sufficient to protect Harper’s Ferry, the Baltimore and Ohio Railway, and the Chesapeake Canal.2 Banks, with the remainder of his army, was to move at once to Manassas, and cover the approaches
O.R., vol. xi, part 333, p. 7.
2 Ibid., p. 11.
to Washington east of the Blue Ridge. Sedgwick had already been detached to join McClellan; and on March 20 Williams’ division began its march towards Manassas, while Shields fell back on Winchester.
March 21 On the evening of the 21st Ashby reported to Jackson that the enemy was retreating, and information came to hand that a long train of waggons, containing the baggage of 12,000 men, had left Winchester for Castleman’s Ferry on the Shenandoah. Further reports indicated that Banks’ whole force was moving eastward, and Jackson, in accordance with his instructions to hold the enemy in the Valley, at once pushed northward.1
March 22 On the 22nd, Ashby, with 280 troopers and 3 horse-artillery guns, struck Shields’ pickets about a mile south of Winchester. A skirmish ensued, and the presence of infantry, a battery, and some cavalry, was ascertained. Shields, who was wounded during the engagement by a shell, handled his troops ably. His whole division was in the near neighbourhood, but carefully concealed, and Ashby reported to Jackson that only four regiments of infantry, besides the guns and cavalry, remained at Winchester. Information obtained from the townspeople within the Federal lines confirmed the accuracy of his estimate. The enemy’s main body, he was told, had already marched, and the troops which had opposed him were under orders to move to Harper’s Ferry the next morning.
March 23 On receipt of this intelligence Jackson hurried forward from his camp near Woodstock, and that night reached Strasburg. At dawn on the 23rd four companies were despatched to reinforce Ashby; and under cover of this advanced guard the whole force followed in the direction of Kernstown, a tiny village, near which the Federal outposts were established. At one o’clock the three brigades, wearied by a march of fourteen miles succeeding one of twenty-two on the previous day, arrived
1 A large portion of the Army of the Potomac, awaiting embarkation, still remained at Centreville. The cavalry had pushed forward towards the Rapidan, and the Confederates, unable to get information, did not suspect that McClellan was moving to the Peninsula until March 25.
upon the field of action. The ranks, however, were sadly weakened, for many of the men had succumbed to their unusual exertions. Ashby still confronted the enemy; but the Federals had developed a brigade of infantry, supported by two batteries and several squadrons, and the Confederate cavalry were slowly giving ground. On reaching the field Jackson ordered the troops to bivouac. “Though it was very desirable,” he wrote, “to prevent the enemy from leaving the Valley, yet I deemed it best not to attack until morning.” An inspection of the ground, however, convinced him that delay was impracticable. “Ascertaining,” he continued, “that the Federals had a position from which our forces could be seen, I concluded that it would be dangerous to postpone the attack until next day, as reinforcements might be brought up during the night.”1 Ashby was directed to detach half his cavalry2 under Major Funsten in order to cover the left flank; and Jackson, ascertaining that his men were in good spirits at the prospect of meeting the enemy, made his preparations for fighting his first battle.
The position occupied by the Federals was by no means ill-adapted for defence. The country round Winchester, and indeed throughout the Valley of the Shenandoah, resembles in many of its features an English landscape. Low ridges, covered with open woods of oak and pine, overlook green pastures and scattered copses; and the absence of hedgerows and cottages gives a park-like aspect to the broad acres of rich blue grass. But the deep lanes and hollow roads of England find here no counterpart. The tracks are rough and rude, and even the pikes, as the main thoroughfares are generally called, are flush with the fields on either hand. The traffic has not yet worn them to a lower level, and Virginia road-making despises such refinements as cuttings or embankments. The highways, even the Valley pike itself, the great road which is inseparably linked with the fame of Stonewall Jackson
1 O.R., vol. xii, part i, p. 381. The staff appears to have
been at fault. It was certainly of the first importance, whether
battle was intended or not, to select a halting-place concealed from
the enemy’s observation.
2 140 sabres.
and his brigade, are mere ribbons of metal laid on swell and swale. Fences of the rudest description, zigzags of wooden rails, or walls of loose stone, are the only boundaries, and the land is parcelled out in more generous fashion than in an older and more crowded country. More desirable ground for military operations it would be difficult to find. There are few obstacles to the movement of cavalry and artillery, while the woods and undulations, giving ample cover, afford admirable opportunities for skilful manśuvre. In the spring, however, the condition of the soil would be a drawback. At the date of the battle part of the country round Kernstown was under plough, and the whole was saturated with moisture. Horses sank fetlock-deep in the heavy meadows, and the rough roads, hardly seen for mud, made marching difficult.
The Federal front extended on both sides of the Valley turnpike. To the east was a broad expanse of rolling grassland, stretching away to the horizon; to the west a low knoll, crowned by a few trees, which goes by the name of Pritchard’s Hill. Further north was a ridge, covered with brown woods, behind which lies Winchester. This ridge, nowhere more than 100 feet in height, runs somewhat obliquely to the road in a south-westerly direction, and passing within a mile and a half of Pritchard’s Hill, sinks into the plain three miles south-west of Kernstown. Some distance beyond this ridge, and separated from it by the narrow valley of the Opequon, rise the towering bluffs of the North Mountain, the western boundary of the Valley, sombre with forest from base to brow.
On leaving Winchester, Williams’ division had struck due east, passing through the village of Berryville, and making for Snicker’s Gap in the Blue Ridge. The Berryville road had thus become of importance to the garrison of Winchester, for it was from that direction, if they should become necessary, that reinforcements would arrive. General Kimball, commanding in Shields’ absence the division which confronted Ashby, had therefore posted the larger portion of his troops eastward of the pike. A strong force of infantry, with waving colours, was plainly visible to
the Confederates, and it was seen that the extreme left was protected by several guns. On the right of the road was a line of skirmishers, deployed along the base of Pritchard’s Hill, and on the knoll itself stood two batteries. The wooded ridge to westward was as yet unoccupied, except by scouting parties.
Jackson at once determined to turn the enemy’s right. An attack upon the Federal left would have to be pushed across the open fields and decided by fair fighting, gun and rifle against gun and rifle, and on that flank the enemy was prepared for battle. Could he seize the wooded ridge on his left, the initiative would be his. His opponent would be compelled to conform to his movements. The advantages of a carefully selected position would be lost. Instead of receiving attack where he stood, the Federal general would have to change front to meet it, to execute movements which he had possibly not foreseen, to fight on ground with which he was unfamiliar; and, instead of carrying out a plan which had been previously thought out, to conceive a new one on the spur of the moment, and to issue immediate orders for a difficult operation. Hesitation and confusion might ensue; and in place of a strongly established line, confidently awaiting the advance, isolated regiments, in all the haste and excitement of rapid movement, or hurriedly posted in unfavourable positions, would probably oppose the Confederate onset. Such are the advantages which accrue to the force which delivers an attack where it is not expected; and, to all appearance, Jackson’s plan of battle promised to bring them into play to the very fullest extent. The whole force of the enemy, as reported by Ashby, was before him, plainly visible. To seize the wooded ridge, while the cavalry held the Federals fast in front; to pass beyond Pritchard’s Hill, and to cut the line of retreat on Winchester, seemed no difficult task. The only danger was the possibility of a counterstroke while the Confederates were executing their turning movement. But the enemy, so far as Jackson’s information went, was rapidly withdrawing from the Valley. The force confronting him was no more than a rear-guard; and it was improbable in
the extreme that a mere rear-guard would involve itself in a desperate engagement. The moment its line of retreat was threatened it would probably fall back. To provide, however, against all emergencies, Colonel Burks’ brigade of three battalions was left for the present in rear of Kernstown, and here, too, remained four of the field batteries. With the remainder of his force, two brigades of infantry and a battery, Jackson moved off to his left. Two companies of the 5th Virginia were recruited from Winchester. Early in the day the general had asked the regiment for a guide familiar with the locality; and, with the soldier showing the way, the 27th Virginia, with two of Carpenter’s guns as advanced guard, struck westward by a waggon track across the meadows, while Ashby pressed the Federals in front of Kernstown.
3.45 p.m. The main body followed in two parallel columns, and the line of march soon brought them within range of the commanding batteries on Pritchard’s Hill.1 At a range of little more than a mile the enemy’s gunners poured a heavy fire on the serried ranks, and Carpenter, unlimbering near the Opequon Church, sought to distract their aim.
The Confederate infantry, about 2,000 all told, although moving in mass, and delayed by fences and marshy ground, passed unscathed under the storm of shell, and in twenty minutes the advanced guard had seized the wooded ridge.
Finding a rocky clearing on the crest, about a mile distant from Pritchard’s Hill, Jackson sent back for the artillery. Three batteries, escorted by two of Burke’s battalions, the 21st Virginia and the Irishmen, pushed across the level as rapidly as the wearied teams could move. Two guns were dismounted by the Federal fire; but, coming into action on the ridge, the remainder engaged the hostile batteries with effect. Meanwhile, breaking their way through the ragged undergrowth of the bare March woods, the infantry, in two lines, was pressing forward along the
1 No hidden line of approach was available. Movement to the south was limited by the course of the Opequon. Fulkerson’s brigade, with Carpenter’s two guns, marched nearest to the enemy; the Stonewall Brigade was on Fulkerson’s left.
ridge. On the right was the 27th Virginia, supported by the 21st; on the left, Fulkerson’s two battalions, with the Stonewall Brigade in second line. The 5th Virginia remained at the foot of the ridge near Macauley’s cottage, in order to connect with Ashby. Jackson’s tactics appeared to be succeeding perfectly. A body of cavalry and infantry, posted behind Pritchard’s Hill, was seen to be withdrawing, and the fire of the Federal guns was visibly weakening.
4.30 p.m. Suddenly, in the woods northward of the Confederate batteries, was heard a roar of musketry, and the 27th Virginia came reeling back before the onslaught of superior numbers. But the 21st was hurried to their assistance; the broken ranks rallied from their surprise; and a long line of Federal skirmishers, thronging through the thickets, was twice repulsed by the Southern marksmen.1
Fulkerson, further to the left, was more fortunate than the 27th. Before he began his advance along the ridge he had deployed his two battalions under cover, and when the musketry broke out on his right front, they were moving forward over an open field. Half-way across the field ran a stone wall or fence, and beyond the wall were seen the tossing colours and bright bayonets of a line of battle, just emerging from the woods. Then came a race for the wall, and the Confederates won. A heavy fire, at the closest range, blazed out in the face of the charging Federals, and in a few moments the stubble was strewn with dead and wounded. A Pennsylvania regiment, leaving a colour on the field, gave way in panic, and the whole of the enemy’s force retreated to the shelter of the woods. An attempt to turn Jackson’s left was then easily frustrated; and although the Federals maintained a heavy fire, Fulkerson’s men held stubbornly to the wall.
In the centre of the field the Northern riflemen were sheltered by a bank; their numbers continually increased,
1 The Confederate advance was made in the following order:—
and here the struggle was more severe. The 4th and 33rd Virginia occupied this portion of the line, and they were without support, for the 2nd Virginia and the Irish battalion, the last available reserves upon the ridge, had been already sent forward to reinforce the right.
The right, too, was hardly pressed. The Confederate infantry had everywhere to do with superior numbers, and the artillery, in that wooded ground, could lend but small support. The batteries protected the right flank, but they could take no share in the struggle to the front; and yet, as the dusk came on, after two long hours of battle, the white colours of the Virginia regiments, fixed fast amongst the rocks, still waved defiant. The long grey line, “a ragged spray of humanity,” plied the ramrod with still fiercer energy, and pale women on the hills round Winchester listened in terror to the crashing echoes of the leafless woods. But the end could not be long delayed. Ammunition was giving out. Every company which had reached the ridge had joined the fighting line. The ranks were thinning. Many of the bravest officers were down, and the Northern regiments, standing staunchly to their work, had been strongly reinforced.
Ashby for once had been mistaken. It was no rearguard that barred the road to Winchester, but Shields’ entire division, numbering at least 9,000 men. A prisoner captured the day before had admitted that the Confederates were under the impression that Winchester had been evacuated, and that Jackson had immediately moved forward. Shields, an able officer, who had commanded a brigade in Mexico, saw his opportunity. He knew something of his opponent, and anticipating that he would be eager to attack, had ordered the greater part of his division to remain concealed. Kimball’s brigade and five batteries were sent quietly, under cover of the night, to Pritchard’s Hill. Sullivan’s brigade was posted in support, hidden from view behind a wood. The cavalry and Tyler’s brigade were held in reserve, north of the town, at a distance where they were not likely to be observed by the inhabitants. As soon as the Confederates came in sight, and Kimball deployed across the pike, Tyler was brought
through the town and placed in rear of Sullivan, at a point where the road dips down between two parallel ridges. Shields himself, wounded in the skirmish of the preceding day, was not present at the action, although responsible for these dispositions, and the command had devolved on Kimball. That officer, when Jackson’s design became apparent, ordered Tyler to occupy the wooded ridge; and it was his five regiments, over 3,000 strong, which had struck so strongly at the Confederate advance. But although superior in numbers by a third, they were unable to make headway. Kimball, however, rose to the situation before it was too late. Recognising that Ashby’s weak attack was nothing more than a demonstration, he hurried nearly the whole of his own brigade, followed by three battalions of Sullivan’s, to Tyler’s aid, leaving a couple of battalions and the artillery to hold the pike.
“The struggle,” says Shields, “had been for a short time doubtful,”1 but this reinforcement of 3,000 bayonets turned the scale. Jackson had ordered the 5th and 42nd Virginia to the ridge, and a messenger was sent back to hurry forward the 48th. But it was too late. Before the 5th could reach the heights the centre of the Confederate line was broken. Garnett, the commander of the Stonewall Brigade, without referring to the general, who was in another part of the field, had given the order to fall back. Fulkerson, whose right was now uncovered, was obliged to conform to the rearward movement, and moving across from Pritchard’s Hill, two Federal regiments, despite the fire of the Southern guns, made a vigorous attack on Jackson’s right. The whole Confederate line, long since dissolved into a crowd of skirmishers, and with the various regiments much mixed up, fell back, still fighting, through the woods. Across the clearing, through the clouds of smoke, came the Northern masses in pursuit. On the extreme right a hot fire of canister, at a range of two hundred and fifty yards, drove back the troops that had come from Pritchard’s Hill; but on the wooded ridge above the artillery was unable to hold its own. The enemy’s riflemen swarmed in the thickets,
1 O.R., vol. xii, part i, p. 341.
and the batteries fell back. As they limbered up one of the six-pounders was overturned. Under a hot fire, delivered at not more than fifty paces distant, the sergeant in charge cut loose the three remaining horses, but the gun was abandoned to the enemy.
Jackson, before the Federal reinforcements had made their presence felt, was watching the progress of the action on the left. Suddenly, to his astonishment and wrath, he saw the lines of his old brigade falter and fall back. Galloping to the spot he imperatively ordered Garnett to hold his ground, and then turned to restore the fight. Seizing a drummer by the shoulder, he dragged him to a rise of ground, in full view of the troops, and bade him in curt, quick tones, to “Beat the rally!” The drum rolled at his order, and with his hand on the frightened boy’s shoulder, amidst a storm of balls, he tried to check the flight of his defeated troops. His efforts were useless. His fighting-line was shattered into fragments; and although, according to a Federal officer, “many of the brave Virginians lingered in rear of their retreating comrades, loading as they slowly retired, and rallying in squads in every ravine and behind every hill—or hiding singly among the trees,”1 it was impossible to stay the rout. The enemy was pressing forward in heavy force, and their shouts of triumph rang from end to end of the field of battle. No doubt remained as to their overwhelming numbers, and few generals but would have been glad enough to escape without tempting fortune further.
It seemed almost too late to think of even organising a rear-guard. But Jackson, so far from preparing for retreat, had not yet ceased to think of victory. The 5th and 42nd Virginia were coming up, a compact force of 600 bayonets, and a vigorous and sudden counterstroke might yet change the issue of the day. The reinforcements, however, had not yet come in sight, and galloping back to meet them he found that instead of marching resolutely against the enemy, the two regiments had taken post to the rear, on the crest of a wooded swell, in order to cover the retreat. On his way to the front the colonel of the 5th Virginia had
1 Colonel E. H. C. Cavins, 14th Indiana. Battles and Leaders, vol. ii, p. 307.
received an order from Garnett instructing him to occupy a position behind which the fighting-line might recover its formation. Jackson was fain to acquiesce; but the fighting-line was by this time scattered beyond all hope of rallying; the opportunity for the counterstroke had passed away, and the battle was irretrievably lost.
Arrangements were quickly made to enable the broken troops to get away without further molestation. A battery was ordered to take post at the foot of the hill, and Funsten’s cavalry was called up from westward of the ridge. The 42nd Virginia came into line on the right of the 5th, and covered by a stone wall and thick timber, these two small regiments, encouraged by the presence of their commander, held stoutly to their ground. The attack was pressed with reckless gallantry. In front of the 5th Virginia the colours of the 5th Ohio changed hands no less than six times, and one of them was pierced by no less than eight-and-forty bullets. The 84th Pennsylvania was twice repulsed and twice rallied, but on the fall of its colonel retreated in confusion. The left of the 14th Indiana broke; but the 13th Indiana now came up, and “inch by inch,” according to their commanding officer, the Confederates were pushed back. The 5th Virginia was compelled to give way before a flanking fire; but the colonel retired the colours to a short distance, and ordered the regiment to re-form on them. Again the heavy volleys blazed out in the gathering twilight, and the sheaves of death grew thicker every moment on the bare hillside. But still the Federals pressed on, and swinging round both flanks, forced the Confederate rear-guard from the field, while their cavalry, moving up the valley of the Opequon, captured several ambulances and cut off some two or three hundred fugitives.
As the night began to fall the 5th Virginia, retiring steadily towards the pike, filed into a narrow lane, fenced by a stone wall, nearly a mile distant from their last position, and there took post for a final stand. Their left was commanded by the ridge, and on the heights in the rear, coming up from the Opequon valley, appeared a large mass of Northern cavalry. It was a situation sufficiently
uncomfortable. If the ground was too difficult for the horsemen to charge over in the gathering darkness, a volley from their carbines could scarcely have failed to clear the wall. “A single ramrod,” it was said in the Confederate ranks, “would have spitted the whole battalion.” But not a shot was fired. The pursuit of the Federal infantry had been stayed in the pathless woods, the cavalry was held in check by Funsten’s squadrons, and the 5th was permitted to retire unmolested.
The Confederates, with the exception of Ashby, who halted at Bartonsville, a farm upon the pike, a mile and a half from the field of battle, fell back to Newtown, three miles further south, where the trains had been parked. The men were utterly worn out. Three hours of fierce fighting against far superior numbers had brought them to the limit of their endurance. “In the fence corners, under the trees, and around the waggons they threw themselves down, many too weary to eat, and forgot, in profound slumber, the trials, the dangers, and the disappointments of the day.”1
Jackson, when the last sounds of battle had died away, followed his troops. Halting by a camp-fire, he stood and warmed himself for a time, and then, remounting, rode back to Bartonsville. Only one staff officer, his chief commissary, Major Hawks, accompanied him. The rest had dropped away, overcome by exhaustion. “Turning from the road into an orchard, he fastened up his horse, and asked his companion if he could make a fire, adding, ‘We shall have to burn fence-rails to-night.’ The major soon had a roaring fire, and was making a bed of rails, when the general wished to know what he was doing. ‘Finding a place to sleep,’ was the reply. ‘You seem determined to make yourself and those around you comfortable,’ said Jackson. And knowing the general had fasted all day, he soon obtained some bread and meat from the nearest squad of soldiers, and after they had satisfied their hunger, they slept soundly on the rail-bed in a fence-corner.”
Such was the battle of Kernstown, in which over
1 Jackson’s Valley Campaign, Colonel William Allan, C.S.A., p. 54.
1,200 men were killed and wounded, the half of them Confederates. Two or three hundred prisoners fell into the hands of the Federals. Nearly one-fourth of Jackson’s infantry was hors de combat, and he had lost two guns. His troops were undoubtedly depressed. They had anticipated an easy victory; the overwhelming strength of the Federals had surprised them, and their losses had been severe. But no regret disturbed the slumbers of their leader. He had been defeated, it was true; but he looked further than the immediate result of the engagement. “I feel justified in saying,” he wrote in his short report, “that, though the battle-field is in the possession of the enemy, yet the most essential fruits of the victory are ours.” As he stood before the camp-fire near Newtown, wrapped in his long cloak, his hands behind his back, and stirring the embers with his foot, one of Ashby’s youngest troopers ventured to interrupt his reverie. “The Yankees don’t seem willing to quit Winchester, General!” “Winchester is a very pleasant place to stay in, sir!” was the quick reply. Nothing daunted, the boy went on: “It was reported that they were retreating, but I guess they’re retreating after us.” With his eyes still fixed on the blazing logs: “I think I may say I am satisfied, sir!” was Jackson’s answer; and with no further notice of the silent circle round the fire, he stood gazing absently into the glowing flames. After a few minutes the tall figure turned away, and without another word strode off into the darkness.
That Jackson divined the full effect of his attack would be to assert too much. That he realised that the battle, though a tactical defeat, was strategically a victory is very evident. He knew something of Banks, he knew more of McClellan, and the bearing of the Valley on the defence of Washington had long been uppermost in his thoughts. He had learned from Napoleon to throw himself into the spirit of his enemy, and it is not improbable that when he stood before the fire near Newtown he had already foreseen, in some degree at least, the events that would follow the news of his attack at Kernstown.
The outcome of the battle was indeed far-reaching. “Though the battle had been won,” wrote Shields, “still I could not have believed that Jackson would have hazarded a decisive engagement, so far from the main body, without expecting reinforcements; so, to be prepared for such a contingency, I set to work during the night to bring together all the troops within my reach. I sent an express after Williams’ division, requesting the rear brigade, about twenty miles distant, to march all night and join me in the morning. I swept the posts in rear of almost all their guards, hurrying them forward by forced marches, to be with me at daylight.”1
General Banks, hearing of the engagement on his way to Washington, halted at Harper’s Ferry, and he also ordered Williams’ division to return at once to Winchester.
One brigade only,2 which the order did not reach, continued the march to Manassas. This counter-movement met with McClellan’s approval. He now recognised that Jackson’s force, commanded as it was, was something more than a mere corps of observation, and that it was essential that it should be crushed. “Your course was right,” he telegraphed on receiving Banks’ report. “As soon as you are strong enough push Jackson hard and drive him well beyond Strasburg. . . . The very moment the thorough defeat of Jackson will permit it, resume the movement on Manassas, always leaving the whole of Shields’ command at or near Strasburg and Winchester until the Manassas Gap Railway is fully repaired. Communicate fully and act vigorously.”3
8,000 men (Williams’ division) were thus temporarily withdrawn from the force that was to cover Washington from the south. But this was only the first step. Jackson’s action had forcibly attracted the attention of the Federal Government to the Upper Potomac. The President was already contemplating the transfer of Blenker’s division from McClellan to Fremont; the news of Kernstown decided the
1 O.R., vol. xii, part i, p. 341.
2 Abercrombie’s, 4,500 men and a battery. The brigade marched to Warrenton, where it remained until it was transferred to McDowell’s command.
3 O.R., vol. xii, part iii, p. 16.
question, and at the end of March these 9,000 men were ordered to West Virginia, halting at Strasburg, in case Banks should then need them, on their way.1 But even this measure did not altogether allay Mr. Lincoln’s apprehensions. McClellan had assured him, on April 1, that 73,000 men would be left for the defence of the capital and its approaches. But in the original arrangement, with which the President had been satisfied, Williams was to have been brought to Manassas, and Shields alone left in the Shenandoah Valley. Under the new distribution the President found that the force at Manassas would be decreased by two brigades; and, at the same time, that while part of the troops McClellan had promised were not forthcoming, a large portion of those actually available were good for nothing. The officer left in command at Washington reported that “nearly all his force was imperfectly disciplined; that several of the regiments were in a very disorganised condition; that efficient artillery regiments had been removed from the forts, and that he had to relieve them with very new infantry regiments, entirely unacquainted with the duties of that arm.”2 Lincoln submitted the question to six generals of the regular army, then present in Washington; and these officers replied that, in their opinion, “the requirement of the President that this city shall be left entirely secure has not been fully complied with.”3
On receiving this report, Lincoln ordered the First Army Corps, 37,000 strong, under General McDowell, to remain at Manassas in place of embarking for the Peninsula; and thus McClellan, on the eve of his advance on Richmond, found his original force of 150,000 reduced by 46,000 officers and men. Moreover, not content with detaching McDowell for a time, Lincoln, the next day, assigned that general to an independent command, covering the approaches to Washington; Banks, also, was withdrawn from
1 Blenker’s division was at Hunter’s Chapel, south of
Washington, when it received the order.
2 Report of General Wadsworth; O.R., vol. xii, part iii, p. 225.
3 Letter of Mr. Stanton; O.R., vol. xix, part ii, p. 726.
McClellan’s control, and directed to defend the Valley. The original dissemination of the Federal forces was thus gravely accentuated, and the Confederates had now to deal with four distinct armies, McClellan’s, McDowell’s, Banks’, and Fremont’s, dependent for co-operation on the orders of two civilians, President Lincoln and his Secretary of War. And this was not all. McDowell had been assigned a most important part in McClellan’s plan of invasion. The road from Fortress Monroe was barred by the fortifications of Yorktown. These works could be turned, however, by sending a force up the York River. But the passage of the stream was debarred to the Federal transports by a strong fort at Gloucester Point, on the left bank, and the capture of this work was to be the task of the First Army Corps. No wonder that McClellan, believing that Johnston commanded 100,000 men, declared that in his deliberate judgment the success of the Federal cause was imperilled by the order which detached McDowell from his command. However inadequately the capital might be defended, it was worse than folly to interfere with the general’s plans when he was on the eve of executing them. The best way of defending Washington was for McClellan to march rapidly on Richmond, and seize his adversary by the throat. By depriving him of McDowell, Lincoln and his advisers made such a movement difficult, and the grand army of invasion found itself in a most embarrassing situation. Such was the effect of a blow struck at the right place and the right time, though struck by no more than 3,000 bayonets.
The battle of Kernstown was undoubtedly well fought. It is true that Jackson believed that he had no more than four regiments of infantry, a few batteries, and some cavalry before him. But it was a skilful manśuvre, which threw three brigades and three batteries, more than two-thirds of his whole strength, on his opponent’s flank. An ordinary general would probably have employed only a small portion of his force in the turning movement. Not so the student of Napoleon. “In the general’s haversack,” says one of Jackson’s staff, “were always three books: the Bible,
Napoleon’s Maxims of War, and Webster’s Dictionary—for his spelling was uncertain—and these books he constantly consulted.” Whether the chronicles of the Jewish kings threw any light on the tactical problem involved at Kernstown may be left to the commentators; but there can be no question as to the Maxims. To hurl overwhelming numbers at the point where the enemy least expects attack is the whole burden of Napoleon’s teaching, and there can be no doubt but that the wooded ridge, unoccupied save by a few scouts, was the weakest point of the defence.
The manśuvre certainly surprised the Federals, and it very nearly beat them. Tyler’s brigade was unsupported for nearly an hour and a half. Had his battalions been less staunch, the tardy reinforcements would have been too late to save the day. Coming up as they did, not in a mass so strong as to bear all before it by its own inherent weight, but in successive battalions, at wide intervals of time, they would themselves have become involved in a desperate engagement under adverse circumstances. Nor is Kimball to be blamed that he did not throw greater weight on Jackson’s turning column at an earlier hour. Like Shields and Banks, he was unable to believe that Jackson was unsupported. He expected that the flank attack would be followed up by one in superior numbers from the front. He could hardly credit that an inferior force would deliberately move off to a flank, leaving its line of retreat to be guarded by a few squadrons, weakly supported by infantry; and the audacity of the assailant had the usual effect of deceiving the defender.
Kernstown, moreover, will rank as an example of what determined men can do against superior numbers. The Confederates on the ridge, throughout the greater part of the fight, hardly exceeded 2,000 muskets. They were assailed by 3,000, and proved a match for them. The 3,000 were then reinforced by at least 3,000 more, whilst Jackson could bring up only 600 muskets to support an already broken line. Nevertheless, these 6,000 Northerners were so roughly handled that there was practically no pursuit. When the Confederates fell back every one of the
Federal regiments had been engaged, and there were no fresh troops wherewith to follow them. Jackson was perfectly justified in reporting that “Night and an indisposition of the enemy to press further terminated the battle.”1
But the action was attended by features more remarkable than the stubborn resistance of the Virginia regiments. It is seldom that a battle so insignificant as Kernstown has been followed by such extraordinary results. Fortune indeed favoured the Confederates. At the time of the battle a large portion of McClellan’s army was at sea, and the attack was delivered at the very moment when it was most dreaded by the Northern Government. Nor was it to the disadvantage of the Southerners that the real head of the Federal army was the President, and that his strategical conceptions were necessarily subservient to the attitude of the Northern people. These were circumstances purely fortuitous, and it might seem, therefore, that Jackson merely blundered into success. But he must be given full credit for recognizing that a blow at Banks might be fraught with most important consequences. It was with other ideas than defeating a rear-guard or detaining Banks that he seized the Kernstown ridge. He was not yet aware of McClellan’s plan of invasion by sea; but he knew well that any movement that would threaten Washington must prove embarrassing to the Federal Government; that they could not afford to leave the Upper Potomac ill secured; and that the knowledge that an active and enterprising enemy, who had shown himself determined to take instant advantage of every opportunity, was within the Valley, would probably cause them to withdraw troops from McClellan in order to guard the river. A fortnight after the battle, asking for reinforcements, he wrote, “If Banks is defeated it may greatly retard McClellan’s movements.”2
Stubborn as had been the fighting of his brigades, Jackson himself was not entirely satisfied with his officers. When Sullivan and Kimball came to Tyler’s aid, and a new line of battle threatened to overwhelm the Stonewall
1 O.R., vol. xii, part i, p. 382.
2 Ibid, part iii, p. 844.
regiments, Garnett, on his own responsibility, had given the order to retire. Many of the men, their ammunition exhausted, had fallen to the rear. The exertions of the march had begun to tell. The enemy’s attacks had been fiercely pressed, and before the pressure of his fresh brigades the Confederate power of resistance was strained to breaking-point. Garnett had behaved with conspicuous gallantry. The officers of his brigade declared that he was perfectly justified in ordering a retreat. Jackson thought otherwise, and almost immediately after the battle he relieved him of his command, placed him under arrest, and framed charges for his trial by court-martial. He would not accept the excuse that ammunition had given out. At the time the Stonewall Brigade gave back the 5th and 42nd Virginia were at hand. The men had still their bayonets, and he did not consider the means of victory exhausted until the cold steel had been employed. “He insisted,” says Dabney, “that a more resolute struggle might have won the field.”1
Now, in the first place, it must be conceded that Garnett had not the slightest right to abandon his position without a direct order.2 In the second, if we turn to the table of losses furnished by the brigade commander, we find that in Garnett’s four regiments, numbering 1,100 officers and men, there fell 153. In addition, 148 were reported missing, but, according to the official reports, the majority of these were captured by the Federal cavalry and were unwounded. At most, then, when he gave the order to retreat, Garnett had lost 200, or rather less than 20 per cent.
Such loss was heavy, but by no means excessive. A few months later hardly a brigade in either army would have given way because every fifth man had fallen. A year later and the Stonewall regiments would have considered an action in which they lost 200 men as nothing
1 Dabney, vol. ii, p. 46.
2 He was aware, moreover, that supports were coming up, for the order to the 5th Virginia was sent through him. Report of Colonel W. H. Harman, 5th Virginia, O.R., vol. xii, part i, pp. 391, 392.
more than a skirmish.1 The truth would seem to be that the Valley soldiers were not yet blooded. In peace the individual is everything; material prosperity, self-indulgence, and the preservation of existence are the general aim. In war the individual is nothing, and men learn the lesson of self-sacrifice. But it is only gradually, however high the enthusiasm which inspires the troops, that the ideas of peace become effaced, and they must be seasoned soldiers who will endure, without flinching, the losses of Waterloo or Gettysburg. Discipline, which means the effacement of the individual, does more than break the soldier to unhesitating obedience; it trains him to die for duty’s sake, and even the Stonewall Brigade, in the spring of 1862, was not yet thoroughly disciplined. “The lack of competent and energetic officers,” writes Jackson’s chief of the staff, “was at this time the bane of the service. In many there was neither an intelligent comprehension of their duties nor zeal in their performance. Appointed by the votes of their neighbours and friends, they would neither exercise that rigidity in governing, nor that detailed care in providing for the wants of their men, which are necessary to keep soldiers efficient. The duties of the drill and the sentry-post were often negligently performed; and the most profuse waste of ammunition and other military stores was permitted. It was seldom that these officers were guilty of cowardice upon the field of battle, but they were often in the wrong place, fighting as common soldiers when they should have been directing others. Above all was their inefficiency marked in their inability to keep their men in the ranks. Absenteeism grew under them to a monstrous evil, and every poltroon and laggard found a way of escape. Hence the frequent phenomenon that regiments, which on the books of the commissary appeared as consumers of 500 or 1,000 rations, were reported as
1 On March 5, 1811, in the battle fought on the arid ridges of Barossa, the numbers were almost identical with those engaged at Kernstown. Out of 4,000 British soldiers there fell in an hour over 1,200, and of 9,000 French more than 2,000 were killed or wounded; and yet, although the victors were twenty-four hours under arms without food, the issue was never doubtful.
carrying into action 250 or 300 bayonets.”1 It is unlikely that this picture is over-coloured, and it is certainly no reproach to the Virginia soldiers that their discipline was indifferent. There had not yet been time to transform a multitude of raw recruits into the semblance of a regular army. Competent instructors and trained leaders were few in the extreme, and the work had to be left in inexperienced hands. One Stonewall Jackson was insufficient to leaven a division of 5,000 men.
In the second place, Jackson probably remembered that the Stonewall Brigade at Bull Run, dashing out with the bayonet on the advancing Federals, had driven them back on their reserves. It seems hardly probable, had Garnett at Kernstown held his ground a little longer, that the three regiments still intact could have turned the tide of battle. But it is not impossible. The Federals had been roughly handled. Their losses had been heavier than those of the Confederates. A resolute counterstroke has before now changed the face of battle, and among unseasoned soldiers panic spreads with extraordinary effect. So far as can be gathered from the reports, there is no reason to suspect that the vigour of the Federal battalions was as yet relaxed. But no one who was not actually present can presume to judge of the temper of the troops. In every well-contested battle there comes a moment when the combatants on both sides become exhausted, and the general who at that moment finds it in his heart to make one more effort will generally succeed. Such was the experience of Grant, Virginia’s stoutest enemy.2 That moment, perhaps, had come at Kernstown; and Jackson, than whom not Skobeleff himself had clearer vision or cooler brain in the tumult of battle, may have observed it. It cannot be too often repeated that numbers go for little on the battle-field. It is possible that Jackson had in his mind, when he declared that the victory might yet have been won, the decisive counterstroke at Marengo, where 20,000 Austrians, pressing forward in pursuit of a defeated enemy, were utterly overthrown by a
1 Dabney, vol. ii, pp. 18, 19.
2 Grant’s Memoirs.
fresh division of 6,000 men supported by four squadrons.
Tactical unity and moral are factors of far more importance in battle than mere numerical strength. Troops that have been hotly engaged, even with success, and whose nerves are wrought up to a high state of tension, are peculiarly susceptible to surprise. If they have lost their order, and the men find themselves under strange officers, with unfamiliar faces beside them, the counterstroke falls with even greater force. It is at such moments that cavalry still finds its opportunity. It is at such moments that a resolute charge, pushed home with drums beating and a loud cheer, may have extraordinary results. On August 6, 1870, on the heights of Worth, a German corps d’armée, emerging, after three hours’ fierce fighting, from the great wood on McMahon’s flank, bore down upon the last stronghold of the French. The troops were in the utmost confusion. Divisions, brigades, regiments, and companies were mingled in one motley mass. But the enemy was retreating; a heavy force of artillery was close at hand, and the infantry must have numbered at least 10,000 rifles. Suddenly three battalions of Turcos, numbering no more than 1,500 bayonets, charged with wild cries, and without firing, down the grassy slope. The Germans halted, fired a few harmless volleys, and then, turning as one man, bolted to the shelter of the wood, twelve hundred yards in rear.
According to an officer of the 14th Indiana, the Federals at Kernstown were in much the same condition as the Germans at Worth. “The Confederates fell back in great disorder, and we advanced in disorder just as great. Over logs, through woods, over hills and fields, the brigades, regiments, and companies advanced, in one promiscuous, mixed, and uncontrollable mass. Officers shouted themselves hoarse in trying to bring order out of confusion, but
1 The morning after the battle one of the Confederate officers expressed the opinion that even if the counterstroke had been successful, the Federal reserves would have arrested it. Jackson answered, “No, if I had routed the men on the ridge, they would all have gone off together.”
all their efforts were unavailing along the front line, or rather what ought to have been the front line.”1
Garnett’s conduct was not the only incident connected with Kernstown that troubled Jackson. March 23 was a Sunday. “You appear much concerned,” he writes to his wife, “at my attacking on Sunday. I am greatly concerned too; but I felt it my duty to do it, in consideration of the ruinous effects that might result from postponing the battle until the morning. So far as I can see, my course was a wise one; the best that I could do under the circumstances, though very distasteful to my feelings; and I hope and pray to our Heavenly Father that I may never again be circumstanced as on that day. I believed that, so far as our troops were concerned, necessity and mercy both called for the battle. I do hope that the war will soon be over, and that I shall never again be called upon to take the field. Arms is a profession that, if its principles are adhered to, requires an officer to do what he fears may be wrong, and yet, according to military experience, must be done if success is to be attained. And the fact of its being necessary to success, and being accompanied with success, and that a departure from it is accompanied with disaster, suggests that it must be right. Had I fought the battle on Monday instead of Sunday, I fear our cause would have suffered, whereas, as things turned out, I consider our cause gained much from the engagement.”
We may wonder if his wife detected the unsoundness of the argument. To do wrong—for wrong it was according to her creed—in order that good may ensue is what it comes to. The literal interpretation of the Scriptural rule seems to have led her husband into difficulties; but the incident may serve to show with what earnestness, in every action of his life, he strove to shape his conduct with what he believed to be his duty.
It has already been observed that Jackson’s reticence was remarkable. No general could have been more careful that no inkling of his design should reach the enemy. He had not the slightest hesitation in withholding his plans from
1 Colonel E. H. C. Cavins, Battles and Leaders, vol. ii, p. 307.
even his second in command; special correspondents were rigorously excluded from his camps; and even with his most confidential friends his reserve was absolutely impenetrable. During his stay at Winchester, it was his custom directly he rose to repair to headquarters and open his correspondence. When he returned to breakfast at Dr. Graham’s there was much anxiety evinced to hear the news from the front. What the enemy was doing across the Potomac, scarce thirty miles away, was naturally of intense interest to the people of the border town. But not the smallest detail of intelligence, however unimportant, escaped his lips. To his wife he was as uncommunicative as to the rest. Neither hint nor suggestion made the least impression, and direct interrogations were put by with a quiet smile. Nor was he too shy to suggest to his superiors that silence was golden. In a report to Johnston, written four days after Kernstown, he administered what can scarcely be considered other than a snub, delicately expressed but unmistakable:—
“It is understood in the Federal army that you have instructed me to keep the forces now in this district and not permit them to cross the Blue Ridge, and that this must be done at every hazard, and that for the purpose of effecting this I made my attack. I have never so much as intimated such a thing to anyone.”1
It cannot be said that Jackson’s judgment in attacking Shields was at once appreciated in the South. The defeat, at first, was ranked with the disasters in the West. But as soon as the effects upon the enemy were appreciated the tide of popular feeling turned. The gallantry of the Valley regiments was fully recognised, and the thanks of Congress were tendered to Jackson and his troops.
No battle was ever yet fought in exact accordance with the demands of theory, and Kernstown, great in its results, gives openings to the critics. Jackson, it is said, attacked with tired troops, on insufficient information, and contrary to orders. As to the first, it may be said that his decision
1 O.R., vol. xii, part iii, p. 840.
to give the enemy no time to bring up fresh troops was absolutely justified by events. On hearing of his approach to Kernstown, Banks immediately countermarched a brigade of Williams’ division from Castleman’s Ferry. A second brigade was recalled from Snicker’s Gap on the morning of the 24th, and reached Winchester the same evening, after a march of six-and-twenty miles. Had attack been deferred, Shields would have been strongly reinforced.
As to the second, Jackson had used every means in his power to get accurate intelligence.1 Ashby had done his best. Although the Federals had 780 cavalry present, and every approach to Winchester was strongly picketed, his scouts had pushed within the Federal lines, and had communicated with the citizens of Winchester. Their reports were confirmed, according to Jackson’s despatch, “from a source which had been remarkable for its reliability,” and for the last two days a retrograde movement towards Snicker’s Gap had been reported. The ground, it is true, favoured an ambush. But the strategic situation demanded instant action. McClellan’s advanced guard was within fifty miles of Johnston’s position on the Rapidan, and a few days’ march might bring the main armies into collision. If Jackson was to bring Banks back to the Valley, and himself join Johnston before the expected battle, he had no time to spare. Moreover, the information to hand was quite sufficient to justify him in trusting something to fortune. Even a defeat, if the attack were resolutely pushed, might have the best effect.
The third reproach, that Jackson disobeyed orders, can hardly be sustained. He was in command of a detached force operating at a distance from the main army, and Johnston, with a wise discretion, had given him not orders,
1 The truth is that in war, accurate intelligence, especially when two armies are in close contact, is exceedingly difficult to obtain. At Jena, even after the battle ended, Napoleon believed that the Prussians had put 80,000 men in line instead of 45,000. The night before Eylau, misled by the reports of Murat’s cavalry, he was convinced that the Russians were retreating; and before Ligny he underestimated Blucher’s strength by 40,000. The curious misconceptions under which the Germans commenced the battles of Spicheren, Mars-la-Tour, and Gravelotte will also occur to the military reader.
but instructions; that is, the general-in-chief had merely indicated the purpose for which Jackson’s force had been detached, and left to his judgment the manner in which that purpose was to be achieved. Johnston had certainly suggested that he should not expose himself to the danger of defeat. But when it became clear that he could not retain the enemy in the Valley unless he closed with him, to have refrained from attack would have been to disobey the spirit of his instructions.
Again, when Jackson attacked he had good reason to believe that he ran no risk of defeat whatever. The force before him was reported as inferior to his own, and he might well have argued: “To confine myself to observation will be to confess my weakness, and Banks is not likely to arrest his march to Manassas because of the presence of an enemy who dare not attack an insignificant rearguard.” Demonstrations, such as Johnston had advised, may undoubtedly serve a temporary purpose, but if protracted the enemy sees through them. On the 22nd, for instance, it was reported to Banks that the Confederates were advancing. The rear brigade of Williams’ division was therefore countermarched from Snicker’s Gap to Berryville; but the other two were suffered to proceed. Had Jackson remained quiescent in front of Shields, tacitly admitting his inferiority, the rear brigade would in all probability have soon been ordered to resume its march; and Lincoln, with no fear for Washington, would have allowed Blenker and McDowell to join McClellan.
Johnston, at least, held that his subordinate was justified. In publishing the thanks of the Confederate Congress tendered to Jackson and his division, he expressed, at the same time, “his own sense of their admirable conduct, by which they fully earned the high reward bestowed.”
During the evening of the 23rd the medical director of the Valley army was ordered to collect vehicles, and send the wounded to the rear before the troops continued their retreat. Some time after midnight Dr. McGuire, finding that there were still a large number awaiting removal,
JACKSON’S CARE FOR THE WOUNDED 261
reported the circumstances to the general, adding that he did not know where to get the means of transport, and that unless some expedient were discovered the men must be abandoned. Jackson ordered him to impress carriages in the neighbourhood. “But,” said the surgeon, “that requires time; can you stay till it has been done?” “Make yourself easy, sir,” was the reply. “This army stays here until the last man is removed. Before I leave them to the enemy I will lose many men more.” Fortunately, before daylight the work was finished.
The exact losses at Kernstown were as follows:—
including 5 officers
13% k. and w.
including 6 officers
According to the reports of his regimental commanders, Jackson took into battle (including 48th Virginia) 3,087 N.C.O. and men of infantry, 290 cavalry, and 27 guns. 2,742 infantry, 290 cavalry, and 18 guns were engaged, and his total strength, including officers, was probably about 3,500. Shields, in his first report of the battle, put down the strength of his own division as between 7,000 and 8,000 men. Four days later he declared that it did not exceed 7,000, namely 6,000 infantry, 750 cavalry, and 24 guns. It is probable that only those actually engaged are included in this estimate, for on March 17 he reported the strength of the troops which were present at Kernstown six days later as 8374 infantry, 608 artillerymen, and 780 cavalry; total, 9,752.1
1 O.R., vol. xii, part iii, p. 4.
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