The Final Victories at Cross Keys and Port Republic
| On the 7th of June the main body of Gen. Jackson’s command had reached the vicinity of Port Republic. The village is situated in the angle formed by the junction of the North and South Rivers, tributaries of the south fork of the Shenandoah. The larger portion of Jackson’s command was encamped on the high ground north of the village, about a mile from the river. Gen. Ewell was some four miles distant, near the road leading from Harrisonburg to Port Republic. Gen. Fremont had arrived with his forces in the vicinity of Harrisonburg, and Gen. Shields was moving up the east side of the south fork of the Shenandoah, and was then some fifteen miles below Port Republic. Gen. Jackson’s position was about equidistant from both hostile armies. To prevent a junction of the two Federal armies, he had caused the bridge over the south fork of the Shenandoah at Conrad’s store to be destroyed.|
Fremont had seven brigades of infantry besides numerous cavalry. Ewell had three small brigades during the greater part of the action that was to ensue, and no cavalry at any time. His force was short of five thousand men. About ten o’clock Fremont, ignorant of whereabouts of Shields and believing Jackson’s entire army to be opposing him, felt along his front, posted his artillery, and, with two brigades, made an attack on Trimble’s brigade on the right. Gen. Trimble repulsed this force, and, advancing, drove the enemy more than a mile, and remained on his flank ready to make the final attack. At a late hour of the afternoon, Gen. Ewell advanced both his wings, drove in the enemy’s skirmishers, and, when night closed, was in possession of all the ground previously held by the enemy. A strange fact – Fremont’s subordinates, Milroy and Schenck, who had fought so stubbornly at the Battle of McDowell, were making some progress against the Confederates when the timid “Pathfinder” recalled them. Although Jackson was present on the battlefield, he allowed Ewell to handle his division in the capable way he usually did.
The victory – known as that of Cross Keys – had been purchased by small Confederate loss: 42 killed and 287 wounded. Gen. Ewell officially estimated the enemy’s loss at 2,000. Gen. Fremont officially gives it at 625 – exhibiting rather more than the usual difference between Federal and Confederate figures.
Meanwhile Gen. Jackson was preparing to give the final blow to Shields on the other side of the river; and on the morning after their victory, Ewell’s forces were recalled to join in the attack at Port Republic. As day broke they commenced their march to the other field of battle seven miles distant.
The enemy had judiciously selected his position for defense. Upon a rising ground near the Lewis House, he had planted six guns, which commanded the road from Port Republic, and swept the plateau for a considerable distance in front. As Gen. Winder moved forward his brigade, a rapid and severe fire of shell was opened upon it. The artillery fire was well sustained by the Confederate batteries, which, however, proved unequal to that of the enemy. In the meantime, Winder, being now reinforced by a Louisiana regiment, seeing no mode of silencing the Federal battery, or escaping its destructive missiles but by a rapid charge, and the capture of it, advanced with great boldness for some distance, but encountered such a heavy fire of artillery and small arms as greatly to disorganize his command, which fell back in disorder. The enemy advanced across the field, and, by a heavy musketry fire, forced back the Confederate infantry support, in consequence of which the Southern guns had to retire.
It was just at this crisis, when the day seemed lost, that Ewell’s forces appeared upon the scene. Two regiments – the 58th and 44th Virginia – rushed with a shout upon the enemy, took him in flank and drove him back, for the first time that day in disorder. Meanwhile Gen. Taylor was employed on the Federal left and rear, and, his attack diverting attention from the front, led to a concentration of the enemy’s force upon him. Here the battle raged furiously. Although assailed by a superior force in front and flank, with their guns in position within point blank range, the charge ordered by Taylor was gallantly made, and the enemy’s battery, consisting of six guns, fell into the Confederate hands. Three times was this battery lost and won in the desperate and determined efforts to capture and recover it. At last, attacked in front and on flank, Taylor fell back to a skirt of woods. Winder, having rallied his command, moved to his support, and again opened upon the enemy, who were moving upon Taylor’s left flank, apparently to surround him in the wood. The final attack was made. Taylor, with the reinforcement, pushed forward; he was assisted by the well-directed fire of The Confederate artillery; the enemy fell back; a few moments more, and he was in precipitate retreat. Four hundred and fifty prisoners were taken in the pursuit, and what remained of the enemy’s artillery.
While the forces of Shields were in full retreat, Fremont appeared on the opposite bank of the south fork of the Shenandoah, with his army, and opened his artillery with but little effect. The next day withdrawing his forces, he retreated down the Valley. The battle of Port Republic closed the campaign of the Valley…
As before, Jackson had again disrupted the plans of Lincoln and Stanton by his victories at Cross Keys and Port Republic. Just before the Battle of Cross Keys, the 2nd Division of McDowell’s Corps, which had been left behind at Fredericksburg, had been ordered to go to McClellan’s aid. On the day of the battle McDowell had been ordered to take the remainder of his force to Richmond. The Union defeats at Cross Keys and Port Republic caused these orders to be rescinded. Instead, McDowell was told to leave Shields’ Division at Luray and his other division at Front Royal. There was no telling where the elusive and daring Jackson would strike next.
On the 12th of June Jackson encamped near Weyer’s Cave. Here the pious commander paused, to hold divine service in his army in commemoration of his victories. He was to be here but a few days before receiving orders to move towards Richmond, and to join in the impending contest for the capital. Stonewall placed his men on the cars, and headed for Richmond to aid Lee in launching the offensive against McClellan, known a the Seven Days' Battles.
German-born troops under Federal General Franz Siegel marched toward the Battle of Cross Keys singing, "Shackson [Jackson] in a shug [jug], boys, Shackson in a shug!” When they came back worse the wear after meeting Jackson, young Virginia ladies cried out, “Hey, thought Jackson was in a jug!” prompting the response, “Ach, der stopper flew out!”
Taken from SIDELIGHTS AND LIGHTER SIDES OF THE WAR BETWEEN THE STATES: A Feast of History in Small Bites Cooked Up by Ralph Green, Past Commander-in-Chief Sons of Confederate Veterans. Used with permission.