The Battle of Kernstown, by John Esten Cooke

        ...Jackson crept slowly along up the valley, accelerating his motions as he proceeded. But on the 21st of March he received a dispatch from Ashby stating that the enemy had evacuated and fallen back from Strasburg. His resolution was promptly taken, and the men although greatly fatigued with their long march were, on the 22d, faced about and marched rapidly down the valley toward Winchester again, Jackson determined to press the enemy and divert from their intended march a body of about 15,000 men, under General Sedgwick, who were then moving by way of Snicker's Gap, to join the Federal force operating against Gen. Johnston; and his troops were accordingly pushed forward with the greatest possible rapidity toward Winchester. They consisted of Ashby's cavalry, which, with Chew's battery, already held the front. Fulkerson's brigade, consisting of the 23d and 37th Virginia and Shumaker's battery; Brigadier-general Garnett's brigade, consisting of the 2d, 4th, 5th, 27th, and 33d Virginia (the "old Stonewall Brigade"), and McLaughlin's, Carpenter's, and Waters' batteries; Col. Burks' brigade, consisting of the 21st; 42d, and 48th Virginia, and the 1st battalion Virginia regulars and Marye's battery. All the regiments except the 48th, which was the rear-guard, arrived within a mile or two of Kernstown, a place about two miles south of Winchester, by two o'clock on the afternoon of the 23d of March, and bivouacked there that night.

        During the march information had reached Gen. Jackson from a reliable source, that the enemy were sending off their stores and troops from Winchester; and, after arriving near Kernstown, he learned from a source which had been remarkable for reliability, that the Federal force of infantry at Winchester did not exceed four regiments. A large body of the enemy was leaving the valley, and had already reached Castleman's Ferry (leading to Snicker's Gap) on the Shenandoah. Though it was very desirable to prevent the enemy from leaving the valley, Gen. Jackson deemed it best not to attack un til the morning; but subsequently ascertaining that the enemy had a position from which his forces could be seen, he concluded that it would be dangerous to postpone it until the next day, as reinforcements might be brought up during the night. After ascertaining that the troops, part of which had marched more than fourteen miles since dawn, and Garnett's and Burks' brigades, which had made a forced march of nearly twenty five miles on the previous day, were in good spirits at the prospect of meeting the enemy, Gen. Jackson determined to advance at once. Leaving Col. Ashby with his command on the Valley turnpike, with Col. Burks' brigade as a support to the batteries, and also to act as a reserve, the general moved with one piece of Carpenter's battery and Col. Fulkerson's brigade, supported by Gen. Garnett's to the left, for the purpose of securing a commanding position on the enemy's right, and, thus turning him by that flank, force him back from his strong position in front which prevented a direct advance.

        Soon after Carpenter brought up his other pieces, McLaughlin's and Waters' batteries also came forward; the eminence was reached; and the three batteries under their respective captains commenced playing upon the enemy whose position was now commanded. Jackson continued to advance his artillery, keeping up a continuous fire upon the enemy on his right while Col. Echols with his regiment, the 27th, with its skirmishers thrown forward, kept in advance, and opened the infantry engagement, supported by the 21st, under Col. Patton, no other regiment of Gen. Garnett's command having come up. Well did these two regiments do their duty, driving the enemy twice in quick succession. A severe wound compelling the noble leader of the 27th to leave the field, the command devolved upon the Lieut.-colonel, the dauntless Grigsby, whose officers and men behaved admirably. Col. Fulkerson having advanced his brigade, consisting of the 23d and 87th, respectively under the command of Col. Taliaferro, and Lieut.-Col. Carson, to the left of Col. Echols, judiciously posted it behind a stone wall, toward which the enemy were rapidly advancing, and opened a destructive fire, which drove back the Federal forces in great disorder, after sustaining a heavy loss, and leaving the colors of one of their regiments upon the field. This part of the enemy's routed troops having, to some extent, rallied in another position, were also driven from this by Col. Fulkerson. Soon after the 27th had been engaged, Gen. Garnett, with the 2d, 4th, and 33d Virginia, commanded respectively by Col. Allen, Lieut.-col. Ronald, and Col. Cummings, moved forward and joined in the battle, which now became general. The 1st Virginia battalion, P. A. C. S., under Capt. Bridgford, though it unfortunately became separated in advancing, was in the engagement; and from near five to half-past six P. M., there was almost a continuous roar of musketry, the enemy's repulsed regiments being replaced by fresh ones from his large reserves.

        As the ammunition of some of the Confederate troops became exhausted, noble instances were seen of their borrowing from comrades, by whose sides they continued to fight, as though resolved to die rather than give way. The troops were fighting under great disadvantages, but it was unfortunate that Gen. Garnett ordered his men to fall back, as the enemy's advance would otherwise have been retarded, and an opportunity afforded the reserves to come up and take part in the engagement. The advance of the enemy, consequent upon this movement, enabled them to turn Fulkerson's right and force him to fall back-but the presence of General Jackson soon counteracted this dangerous state of things. The 5th Virginia was assigned a position which it held until the arrival of Colonel Burks, with the 42d, under Lieut.-Col. Langhorne. Col. Burks and the officers and men of the 42d proved them selves worthy of the cause which they were defending, by the spirit with which this regiment took and held its position until its left was turned by the enemy, pressing upon the 5th as it fell back. Col. John Campbell was rapidly advancing with his regiment to take part in the struggle; but night, and an indisposition on the part of the enemy to press further, had terminated the battle, which had commenced about 4 o'clock in the afternoon.

        Leaving Ashby in front, Gen. Jackson fell back with the remainder of his command to the wagons, and bivouacked for the night. The artillery had played its part well in the battle, but we lost two pieces-one belonging to McLaughlin's, the other to Waters' battery; the former from having upset when hard pressed by the enemy, and the latter from having its horses killed when on the eve of leaving the field which it had so well swept with grape as to have driven back the enemy from a part of it' over which he was pressing about the close of the battle. During the engagement, Col. Ashby, with a portion of his command, including Chew's battery, remained on the Confederate right, and not only protected the rear in the vicinity of the Valley turnpike, but also threatened the enemy's front and left. Ashby fully sustained his high reputation by the able discharge of the important trust confided to him by Jackson.

        Owing to the exhausting march which the infantry had made since the morning of the day previous to the battle between thirty-five and forty miles-many of them were left behind. Jackson's army, present on the evening of the battle, consisted of 3,087 infantry, of which 2,742 were engaged, and 27 pieces of artillery, of which 18 were engaged. Owing to the recent heavy duty and the extent of country to be picketed, only 290 cavalry were present to take part in the engagement. There is reason to believe that the Federal infantry on the field numbered over 11,000, of which probably over 8,000 were engaged. Their artillery engaged equaled or exceeded ours, and their cavalry force was larger. Our loss was 80 killed, 342 wounded. A few days after the battle a Federal officer stated that their loss in killed was 418. Their wounded, upon the supposition that they bore the same relation to their killed as ours, must have been such as to have made their total loss more than three times that of the Confederates. The wounded of Jackson's army received that care and attention from the noble women of Winchester which they knew so well how to give, and the dead were buried by the loyal citizens of the town. The hospitalities of Baltimoreans relieved the wants of the captured.

        Though the battle of Kernstown did not enable Jackson to recover possession of Winchester, yet the more important object at the moment-that of calling back troops that were leaving the valley, and thus preventing a junction of Banks' command with other forces, was fully accomplished; and a heavy loss in killed and wounded inflicted upon an enemy greatly the superior of Jackson in numbers. Thus, though the field remained in possession of the enemy, all the most essential fruits of the battle remained in the hands of the Confederates.

Taken from The life of Stonewall Jackson. From official papers, contemporary narratives, and personal acquaintance. By John E. Cooke.

Books on Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson

Books on the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862

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