The Achievements of Stonewall Jackson - from The Charleston Mercury, June 18, 1862
In reviewing the operations of General Jackson for the last three months, it will be found that he has probably accomplished more, in that brief period, with the means at his command, than ever was achieved by any other General of ancient or modern times. I believe that his campaign during the Spring will compare favorably even with the almost incredible achievements of Napoleon in his celebrated campaign in Italy. With a handful of citizen soldiers, but partially drilled, and poorly armed and equipped, he has, in little more than sixty days, marched over five hundred miles, fought about twelve battles — five of which were pitched battles — defeated four Generals — routed four armies — captured millions of dollars worth of stores, &c., and killed, wounded and secured as prisoners, almost as many of the enemy as he had soldiers under his command. These are startling assertions, but they are literally true. Explore the pages of history, and see whether they afford the record of more brilliant successes.
In the latter part of March Jackson was at Winchester, with about three or four thousand men. Being pressed by a superior force, he was compelled to fall back before the hosts of Gen. Banks. Slowly and in good order he retired up the Valley, contesting every inch of ground. At Kernstown he turned upon his pursuer, and for two successive days gave him battle. And here permit me to remark, that the recent occupation of the lower Valley by our forces has enabled us to gather facts in regard to those battles which add new lustre to the glories of those fights. It is now ascertained that Jackson’s force at Kernstown was not much over 2500, whilst that of the enemy was 12,000. Of the enemy 860 were buried in Winchester and on the battlefield, many others were sent home for interment, and 1500 were wounded, whilst our loss in killed and wounded was less than 500. The 84th Pennsylvania Regiment went into the battle with 800 men and came out with 300.
Having taught the enemy this severe lesson, Jackson continued his progress up the Valley, holding the whole army of the enemy in check until he could obtain reinforcements. Arriving at Harrisonburg, with his men wearied and exhausted by continual marching and skirmishing. Jackson left the main Valley road and turned off eastward on the Swift Run Gap road. His object was to cross the Shenandoah river, and, having placed this strong defense between him and the enemy, to lie quiet, to give his men a chance to rest — to watch the movements of the enemy, and, to wait reinforcements. Here he was joined by Gen. Ewell, but their united force was not sufficient to meet the enemy in the open field. It must be remembered, too, that at this time Staunton and the upper part of the Valley were threatened by a large force from the West, under Milroy. Gen. Johnson, with about 3500 men, was the only obstacle to the advance of Milroy. Being thus with a command of less than 20,000 men, including Johnson, and threatened by Banks, with an estimated force of 35,000, on the one side, and Milroy, with six or eight thousand, on the other, he was obliged to accomplish by stratagem what he could not effect in the open field. To this end, he moved across the Blue Ridge, as if with the view of uniting with the forces of Gen. Jos. E. Johnston. He took care, however, to leave Ewell’s forces concealed in the gorges of the mountains, near Swift Run, and Ashby’s cavalry to picket the country closely, so as to cut off all information from the enemy as to his true purposes. The maneuver effectually deceived Banks, and he forthwith telegraphed to Washington that Jackson had evacuated the Valley and fled to Gordonsville! In a day or two Jackson turned up at Staunton, and, hastening to join General Ed. Johnson, he fell upon Milroy, at McDowell, and routed him, and pursued him to Franklin, in Pendleton county.
In the meantime, Banks, supposing that Jackson was east of the Ridge, weakened his force, by sending Shields with 10,000 men to join McDowell, and another detachment to reinforce Milroy. Jackson having thus cleared his left flank, by dispersing Milroy’s forces, hastened by the nearest route towards Harrisonburg, where he could act in conjunction with Ewell. Ewell came out of his hiding place, and, while a portion of the conjoint forces marched down the Valley turnpike towards Strasburg, to which place the greater portion of Banks’ army had fallen back, the residue crossed the Massanutten Mountain, and hurried down the banks of the Shenandoah to Front Royal, where they attacked and captured the forces stationed at that point. The sound of the cannon gave Banks the first intimation of the proximity of an enemy, and he immediately commenced his precipitate flight to Winchester. An effort was made to intercept him near Newton, but the attempt was only partially successful. The swift-footed Banks had passed the junction of the road, with a part of his army, before the wearied forces of Jackson could come up with them. He pierced Banks’ column, however, and drove a portion of it southward up the road, while the main body fled towards Winchester. A running fight of eight or ten miles ensued, Banks flying and Jackson pursuing. Near Winchester the enemy made a stand, but the invincible columns of Jackson bore down upon them with irresistible power, and they broke and fled ingloriously, and were pursued through the streets of Winchester and on to Martinsburg and Harper’s Ferry; where the demoralized elements of the once powerful army of Banks sought refuge in Maryland. At Winchester, and Martinsburg, and Front Royal, stores, estimated at from three to five millions of dollars, were taken and near 3000 prisoners. Encumbered with his spoil, and embarrassed by his prisoners, on the very borders of an Enemy country, Jackson found himself in a critical position. He remained only long enough to secure the booty, which was of the highest importance to our army, and having sent that in wagons up the Valley, he followed to protect his trains and put his prisoners in a place of security.
We all recollect the sensation which these daring achievements created throughout the country. Lincoln was thrown into a paroxysm of fright, and telegrams were despatched throughout the North calling for the whole militia force of the country to protect the United States Capital, which it was feared Jackson might seize at an early day.
When the authorities at Washington recovered from their panic, they were overwhelmed with shame and confusion, and immediately set to work to avenge the wound that had been inflicted on their national honor. It was ascertained that Jackson had but a small force — that he was encumbered with immense trains and vast numbers of prisoners, and that he would have to march 120 miles before he could reach a point of safety. The whole Northern press teemed with threats and promises of the speedy annihilation of Jackson and his daring followers. Three armies — one from the North, under Dix — one from the West, under Fremont and Milroy, and one from the East, under Shields — were immediately set in motion to intercept him, and it was even said, by some of the Northern journals, that Jackson had fallen into the trap that had been set for him!
The reader will observe the position of the parties — Jackson’s forces were scattered from the Potomac to Winchester, Dix came by railway from Baltimore, Fremont was west of the North Mountain, at Franklin, in Pendleton, and Shields was east of the Blue Ridge, near Warrenton. The plan was for Fremont and Shields to push forward and unite their forces at Strasburg, and cut off Jackson’s retreat up the Valley, while Dix would press him in the rear. The eagle eye of Jackson saw the danger at a glance. By a forced march of over 100 miles in three days, he won the race for Strasburg, but, so close was the struggle, that, as he passed the proposed point of union, his rear guard was compelled to fight the advanced columns of the enemy.
Then commenced another retreat and running fight up the Valley, Jackson contesting the advance of the enemy so as to secure his trains and prisoners. When he had accomplished this object, learning that the enemy had divided his overwhelming force into two columns, one of which, under Shields, was advancing east of the Shenandoah river, and the other, under Fremont, up the main Valley turnpike, with a view to unite in the upper part of the Valley, Jackson again turned off at Harrisonburg, having previously caused Ashby to burn the bridge over the Shenandoah, near Swift Run Gap, and went to Port Republic, a small village situated at the point where the North and South rivers come together and form the Shenandoah. There was a bridge over the North River at Port Republic, which was the only means of crossing the stream, which was swollen by recent rains. Jackson occupied the ground near both ends of this bridge, and thus had it in his power to […..] which column he would fight, as the two were separated by an impassable river. On Sunday, he determined to attack Fremont first, and accordingly, leaving a sufficient force to guard the bridge, he marched about five miles to the Cross Keys to meet Fremont, and after a terrible conflict of many hours he succeeded in repulsing Fremont with great loss. He then returned to the bridge, and after passing over it to the Port Republic side, burnt it, so as to prevent Fremont , in case he should be reinforced and rally, from coming to the rescue of Shields. The result vindicated his sagacity, for Fremont on Monday was reinforced and did rally, and advanced with an overwhelming force to renew the conflict with Jackson. But, when he reached the bank of the river, he fount that Jackson had passed over and destroyed the bridge, and that an impassable stream was between them. Fremont was thus compelled to be an unwilling witness of the conflict between Jackson and Shields, for, as soon as the bridge had been effectually destroyed and his rear thus secured, Jackson advanced upon Shields, who was encamped at Lewiston, the estate of Gen. Samuel H. Lewis, about two miles north of Port Republic. Shields was aware of his approach, and made every preparation to receive him. The attack was made about sunrise on Monday, 9th June, and lasted until about 20 or 11 o’clock, when the forces of Shields broke and fled in utter confusion and dismay. The rout was complete. The slaughter was great, and the pursuit continued until a late hour of the day. About 1000 prisoners were taken, and six pieces of artillery. The whole road was strewed with knapsacks, arms, blankets, etc. Those who witnessed it think that the rout was as complete as that inflicted on Banks. The loss of the enemy in the two battles of Cross Keys and Lewiston, in killed, wounded and missing, is estimated at near 6000, while ours does not exceed 600. It seems almost incredible, but it is nevertheless, true.
These two battles are among the most brilliant, if not the most brilliant, of the war. They are the crowning glory of Jackson and his gallant associates. No! I recall that. Not the crowning glory, for I believe still brighter wreaths are destined to encircle their brows if this unhallowed war shall continue.
Thus it will be seen that Jackson and his army, in one month, have routed Milroy, annihilated Banks, discomfited Fremont and overthrown Shields! Was there ever such a series of victories won by an inferior force by dauntless courage and consummate generalship?
With 50,000 fresh troops under Jackson, Lincoln would be compelled to raise the siege of Richmond and look to the security of his own Capital.
Fremont still remains on the hills opposite Port Republic. He is reported to have, about 20,000 men. Shields had 9000, and Jackson encountered him with about the same number.
What the next move will be, it would be impossible for me to say, even if I knew. But Jackson keeps his own counsels. He speaks by deeds, and not by words. Suffice it to say, he will strike at the right time, and in the right place. Whatever courage, skill, industry and patriotism can accomplish, he will be sure to effect.