Fighting Jackson at Kernstown - by Nathan Kimball, Brevet Major General, U.S.V.
Early in 1862 the division of the Union army afterward commanded by General James Shields was reorganized by General Frederick W. Lander, under whose lead it had taken part in the hardships of a winter campaign through the mountains and in the valleys of the upper Potomac. On the 1st of March orders were received directing General Lander to move his division from West Virginia into the valley of the Shenandoah, to unite with the divisions under General Banks in the operations already begun against "Stonewall" Jackson. But the brave Lander was not again to lead us. When the order came, it found him overcome by exposures and hardships, and on the 2d of March he died, at the camp of the division, on the Great Cacapon River. The division began the movement under this order on the 5th, and on the 7th, while we were on the way, General Shields arrived from Washington and assumed command.
General Banks had already crossed the Potomac with his divisions, and with but little opposition had occupied Harper's Ferry, Charlestown, and Martinsburg, the enemy retiring toward Winchester. When our division arrived at Martinsburg on the 10th, General C. S. Hamilton's had moved forward, and was then advancing near Winchester. Expecting that the enemy would resist his farther advance, General Hamilton requested General Shields to push forward to his support. General Shields, complying, sent forward, on the evening of the 11th, his First Brigade (my own), which, after a night's hard march, united, early on the morning of the 12th, with Hamilton's division, and advanced with it, and at 2 P. M. General Hamilton's troops occupied the city and its defenses without serious opposition. Jackson, having abandoned the place, retreated up the valley toward Strasburg. On the 13th, General Shields arrived with his Second and Third Brigades (Sullivan's and Tyler's), having left detachments to garrison Martinsburg, while other forces of General Banks's command remained at Harper's Ferry and Charlestown. Generalnding the First Division, having received orders assigning him to duty elsewhere, General Banks assigned General Alpheus S. Williams to the command of that division.
Early on the morning of March 17th, Shields, under orders from General Banks to make a reconnaissance, moved out from Winchester, following the route taken by Jackson along the turnpike up the valley toward Staunton, with flanking parties of cavalry upon the Front Royal. In the afternoon of the 17th, a force of the enemy with cavalry and artillery was met at Fisher's Hill, near Strasburg, where brisk skirmishing was commenced and continued until toward the close of the day, when Shields ordered the advance of the Second Brigade, the enemy retreated, and Shields's division encamped for the night in possession of the positions which had been held by the enemy.
On the morning of the 18th, General Shields pushed forward ---meeting with but little resistance---as far as Woodstock; then, halting with his infantry, he sent his cavalry forward, following the enemy to Mount Jackson, where, having crossed the Shenandoah, he had disappeared. General Shields here discontinued the pursuit, and, returning, encamped again on the night of the 18th at Fisher's Hill and Strasburg. On the morning of the 19th, waiting until the arrival of his cavalry,---at 10 o'clock,---he marched for Winchester, where the command arrived late in the evening without loss, and without being followed by the enemy.
General Shields reported to General Banks that Jackson had fled with his army from the valley, leaving only a small force under Ashby for observation, and that he had driven this force beyond the Shenandoah at Mount Jackson.
General Banks, now satisfied that Jackson had abandoned the valley, or that his force was too small and he too cautious to return to attack, and in compliance with orders previously received, removed all of his forces from Winchester (excepting Shields's division) east of the Blue Ridge.
On the morning of the 22d, the last of his troops having moved, General Banks departed for Washington, leaving the division of Shields, the only force at and around Winchester, as the guardians of the valley. The enemy meantime had not been idle, having been kept well informed, daily and hourly,---by his friends and emissaries,---of every movement made by our forces, and also of the number and positions of the troops remaining under General Shields. Stonewall Jackson now returned victory, the recapture of Winchester, and the possession of the beautiful valley.
At 4 P. M., March 22d, Jackson announced his appearance in our front by the guns of Ashby's artillery. Ashby, advancing from the direction of Strasburg, forced our outposts back upon their reserves, and attacked them with his cavalry. At the sound of the first gun, General Shields hurried to the front with reinforcements, returned the fire of the enemy with artillery and musketry, and, advancing his line, compelled the enemy to retire. Upon starting to the front General Shields had sent an officer of his staff to me with orders directing me "to move the residue of my brigade with one battery to a point on the Strasburg turnpike, two miles south of the city, with the least practicable delay." Complying at once my command was moved rapidly forward, and Within an hour reached the point indicated. Here I met the general, who was being conveyed to his quarters in the city, having been severely wounded in the recent engagement. After giving me information as to the fight and the position of the forces, he directed me to take command. Our line of infantry and artillery was advanced in front of the toll-gate and in position to the right and left of the turnpike, with cavalry upon the diverging roads and flanks. No further movement on the part of the enemy took place, and night closing in, too dark for an advance, my troops bivouacked in line to await the developments of the coming Sabbath. During the night General Shields sent me instructions directing me to move forward at the earliest light with my brigade and battery, with one squadron of cavalry, along the turnpike, and drive or capture the enemy, as the force in my front was nothing more than an observation force of Ashby's cavalry.
At daylight, on the 23d, my command was moving; so was the enemy's. Advancing with infantry from the hills in my front, he opened upon my line a heavy fire of musketry and artillery, which was promptly returned, and soon our forces were engaged in severe conflict. The enemy halting, I ordered my line forward, giving and receiving heavy volleys, the dash of our men compelling the enemy to give way. With loud cheers my soldiers pushed forward, and before 8 A. M. we had the pleasure of taking possession of the positions which the enemy had held on the high ridge overlooking the village below, his forces now retreating to their supports in the woods beyond. This engagement, though of short duration, was the beginning of the battle at Kernstown.
Seeing that the force opposed to me had been greatly reenforced, I halted for rest, observation, and further developments on the part of the enemy. Having informed the commanding general of the result of the morning's work, I awaited further orders, which were soon received through Major Armstrong with directions to move forward at once. Colonel Sullivan, with his brigade, was within supporting distance, and the force in my front, the general thought, was not strong enough to resist me. But the enemy had by this time become active and was forming his lines, his force greatly increased by infantry. Calling Major Armstrong's attention to the movements, strength, and position already presented to view, I requested him to return to the general and request him to send me reinforcements. I was satisfied that not only was the force of Ashby present, but the entire army of Stonewall Jackson, With that general in command, in person. The position I held was good for defense, and I determined to hold it, Sullivan coming forward with his brigade and one battery, I placed them in position on a continuation of the ridge on the left of the turnpike and of my brigade, thus extending our line in that direction.
The enemy had been active, and now relieved me from the execution of the movement directed by the general, by undertaking a like movement against me. Moving forward with infantry and artillery against Sullivan on the left and my own brigade on the right, he forced my skirmish line to retire until under cover of our main line and batteries, and still advanced until my fire compelled him to halt; then Carroll, Sawyer, and Voris were ordered forward from my lines, and their well-directed fire, with the storm of grape and canister poured from the well-managed guns of Clark's, Jenks's, and Robinson's batteries, forced the enemy to retreat to his former position. At 10 A. M., while I awaited his further movements, General Shields sent the following:
"COLONEL KIMBALL: Major Armstrong informs me that the enemy at present occupies a position on an eminence on the right flank, also another on the left flank, leaving the center unsupported, which I take to be the Strasburg turnpike. If this be the state of the case, I would recommend to push a column of cavalry, four pieces of artillery, and a, body of infan- try along the turnpike to advance far enough to take them in the rear when they commence to retreat. This body, however, must be preceded by active skirmish- ing to avoid falling into a trap. When this column advances far enough, a simultaneous charge may be made upon both batteries while the center column outs off retreat. I leave the management of this to your own discretion, not being able to be on the ground in person. I cannot accurately describe what ought to be done. If the force before you be what I suppose it is, the only way to do is to close around them by some such move as this, or some other equally decisive move as you may deem practicable. My own opinion is that there is no force before you but that we encountered the other day."
Convinced that the general did not comprehend the situation, the strength of the enemy, nor the positions held by the respective forces, and satisfied that from his bed in the city five miles to the rear he could not properly conduct the movements which might be required by the exigencies of the simined to remain on the defensive and in the position now held by my line, from which I had an unobstructed view across the little valley and the enemy's lines to the front; the danger was, our force being less than his, that he might turn one or the other of our flanks. Responding to my request, General Shields sent me the desired sup- port, with the following:
"COLONEL KIMBALL:- I have ordered the 13th Indiana, and 39th Illinois Infantry, and a battery, and will follow them with cavalry and other infantry. I hope you will keep me advised of the motions of the enemy by intelligent orderlies who can explain themselves when they come. Tyler's brigade has been ordered within supporting distance and will communicate with you. Our whole force is now in your hands. If there is a greater force of the enemy against you than I supposed, increase the strength of the center column and take them in flank."
Near 2 P. M. Jackson again moved forward to the attack with artillery and infantry, while his cavalry threatened my left flank. His advancing column came boldly forward, seemingly intent upon driving us from our position and moving directly forward to Winchester. My gallant line of skirmishers opened their fire upon the deploying column, but were forced back under cover of our main line, which once more poured its destructive fire from rifles and batteries into the ranks of the gallant enemy, and again compelled him to fall back to the point from which he had advanced. While making this second attempt by direct attack, Jackson was moving troops to his left, with the aim of passing beyond my right. Colonel Tyler coming to the front in person just after this last repulse of the enemy, I pointed out the unprotected condition of my right and the open and unoccupied position beyond it, and the movement of the enemy's forces in that direction, and directed him to move his brigade as quickly as possible to secure the position. I also ordered what cavalry I had to move to the right of Tyler's brigade and in support of it. When repulsed in the last attack, the enemy's troops retreated from the front of my right toward the point in the woods where Jackson had massed his forces for an attack against my extreme right, and to move around that flank. Satisfied by this and other movements from the enemy's right of his intentions, I prepared to meet him and end the contest. At 3:30 P. M. the enemy commenced his movement, announcing it by solid shot upon my line from the hills behind which his forces were moving, and advanced across the open field toward the point to which I had ordered Tyler's brigade. The enemy's skirmishers, advancing, met Tyler's just as they were emerging from the wood and checked their advance. Tyler soon deployed and, advancing, forced this line back to their main line now under protection of a stone-wall, when the enemy poured such fire from his muskets and batteries as to check Tyler's
The enemy made frequent attempts to advance, but they were held by Tyler's gallant men to their cover, and the battle now raged in all its fury, neither line giving way. Jackson had withdrawn his brigades from his right, leaving only a small force to guard that flank. To meet his masses, now moving to force Tyler back, regiments and batteries were drawn from our left to strengthen our center. The time having come for the decisive movement, my First Brigade, with the supports from the left, and Sullivan's, were made ready. Directing Colonel Sullivan to follow the movements of forces on our right, I ordered the line forward. With a quick move at right-half-wheel, the gallant fellows, under Harrow, Patrick, Foster, Murray, and Voris, with loud cheers, dashed forward through the terrific storm of shot and shell from the enemy's stone-wall and batteries; nor did they halt or falter until the enemy was driven from his protection, and his advancing lines were checked. Our line now had the wall so long held by Jackson. But soon the sturdy foe, reenforced, advanced again to retake the position; they were met by men as gallant and as determined as themselves, and in answer to their wild "rebel yell" loud cheers were given from our line as it dashed forward. With Tyler's gallant brigade and our fearless little band of cavalry rounding his flank, the enemy was forced back across the field to the woods, where he once more at- tempted to check our advancing lines. With cheers from right to left, our gallant soldiers pushed forward, and as the sun went down, the stubbornly yielding foe, who had thrice advanced to the attack, gave way, and Jackson's army was badly beaten---his shattered brigades in full retreat from the field over which they had so gallantly fought.
Night closing in too dark for pursuit, our weary soldiers bivouacked in positions from which they had driven the enemy. Our troops had fought without food since the evening of the 22d, and it was after midnight before this want was supplied. At earliest light on the morning of the 24th our troops were again on the march, in pursuit of the enemy, whose rear-guard was overtaken near Middletown. The enemy retreated across Cedar Creek to his main force, under fire from our batteries. While here skirmishing with the enemy, I had made such disposition of our troops as I believed would result in their rout and capture of their trains, by moving up the creek with a strong flanking detachment to the back or dirt road from Winchester to Strasburg, while my other troops followed along the turnpike upon which the enemy's trains were moving. I hoped thus to head him off before he could reach Fisher's Hill beyond Strasburg. Major-General Banks, arriving as this movement was being commenced, assumed command. He deemed it prudent to await reinforcements, and our army remained in camp at Middletown and Cedar Creek that night, while the enemy escaped to Fisher's Hill.
Having been reenforced by the return of Williams's division, the army under General Banks moved forward on the morning of the 25th, and after light skirmishing occupied Strasburg and Fisher's Hill, the enemy continuing his retreat toward Woodstock and Mount Jackson. Our army remained in camp at Strasburg and Fisher's Hill, awaiting supplies, until April 1st.
On the morning of April 1st our forces moved forward, with three days' rations, but without tents or baggage, to Woodstock, the enemy having continued his retreat to Mount Jackson. Receiving additional supplies, we moved forward from Woodstock on the 8th, meeting and skirmishing with the enemy daily. On the 15th our army arrived near Mount Jackson, finding the enemy in force, and after a brisk engagement compelling him to fall back and his main force to cross the Shenandoah at Mount Jackson, beyond which he took position at Rude's Hill, covering the village and the crossings of the river. General Banks, on the morning of the 17th, directed a forward movement to force a passage across the river The river was much swollen by rains, rendering it impossible to ford. There being but one bridge, it became the center of contest, the enemy having failed to destroy it, although he had set fire to it. A splendid dash by a detachment of our cavalry through the bridge drove the enemy away and extinguished the flames. This gallant charge was made by two companies of the 1st Ohio, under Captains Menken and Robinson, and one company of the 1st Michigan, led by a little corporal. Dismounting, they put out the fire, carrying water from the river in their old slouched hats for the purpose. (The name of this dashing corporal was George R. Maxwell, who afterward, by his gallantry and daring achievements, rose to the command of his regiment and brigade under the heroic Sheridan.) The bridge secured, our army moved forward under a heavy fire from the enemy's line and batteries. By 11 A. M. the crossing was completed, and the enemy, forced from his position, retreated beyond New Market toward Harrisonburg and Port Republic, and our forces encamped in positions in advance of New Market.
In this engagement our forces captured one company of cavalry, and inflicted other heavy losses upon the enemy, our loss being light. For his success General Banks received that night the thanks of the President.
On the 19th and 20th our forces, under General Williams, advanced and occupied Harrisonburg, while Shields's division held the roads to Luray, the crossings of the Shenandoah, and New Market. General Banks, in "General Orders, No. 20," dated New Market, Virginia, April 21st, 1862, congratulated "the troops under his command upon the success of their achievement, and the permanent expulsion of the rebel army from the valley of Virginia."
General Shields, who had remained out of the field on account of wounds received in the engagement of the 22d of March with Ashby's cavalry in front of Winchester, now arrived, and in "General Orders, No. 28," dated New Market, April 30th, 1862, relieving me from command of the division, said:
"The general commanding the division, having so far recovered from his wounds as to be able to serve in the field with his brave troops, desires to make it known to them that he places himself again at their head. Brigadier-General Kimball will rejoin the First Brigade, and again resume command of it. And, thus directing, the general cannot suffer the occasion to pass without expressing to that gallant officer and his staff his grateful acknowledgments for the efficient manner in which they managed the division and directed its affairs while he was compelled by his condition to be absent from the field. His special thanks are due to General Kimball for his devotion to the interests and honor of the command and the signal service he has rendered it in this emergency."
With a commission, now as Brigadier-general (for my victory over Stonewall Jackson at Kernstown), I resumed command of my gallant old brigade, rejoiced to be freed from the greater responsibilities, gratified with the success attending me while in command of the division, and grateful to the Government for the recognition of my services.
The operations against " Stonewall Jackson" were successful, with the valley of Virginia in our possession, and Jackson's army held in check beyond the Shenandoah by Banks and Shields. General McDowell, With his army, held Fredericksburg and the line of the Rappahannock, General Fremont moving toward Staunton from the west, and General McClellan, with the Army of the Potomac, was advancing up the peninsula, confronting the Confederate army under Johnston. Thus was Washington protected, and the ruin of the Confederacy imminent, when a blunder in the management of our armies in Virginia was made. The order directing Shields's division to join General McDowell's army at Fredericksburg was most unfortunate. The divisions were indignant in contemplation of the results, knowing the situation as they did. On receipt of the order General Banks said:
"Results are not for us to consider, and orders are received to be obeyed. I regret it because I feel that the policy of which this order is a part is to end in allowing the grand army of the rebels to escape unharmed from Virginia, and add another year to the war. It is impossible to anticipate what work lies before us; I feel the imperative necessity of making preparations for the worst."
And by this order the worst came, and the opportunity was given to Stonewall Jackson for the display of his peculiar strategic ability.
On the 12th of May General Shields moved from New Market for Fal- mouth, and General Banks moved down the valley to Strasburg, thus opening the way for Jackson [see map, p. 284]. With Shields's division far away at Fredericksburg, and Fremont beyond the Shenandoah mountains, Jackson, on the 23d, with his army of about 1500, dashed down upon Banks's 9000, mostly stationed in detachments at Strasburg and Front Royal nearly 20 mile Banks was forced to take.
But not until after three days of hard fighting did he force the heroic soldiers of Banks's division from the valley. * With the information of this reverse came the Order directing Shields's division to move back to the Shenandoah, while Fremont crossed the mountains to strike the army of Jackson before it could retreat from the valley. On the 25th Shields's division commenced its return, and, without halting, reached Rectortown on the evening of the 28th, where we stopped for rest and to await supplies. At 4 P. M. of the 29th the following order was received:
"COLONEL KIMBALL, commanding First Brigade: You will march immediately; leave your teams and wagons, take only ambulances, ammunition-wagons, and provisions, as much as on hand in haversacks. SHIELDS, Brigadier-General commanding."
At 6 P. M, my command was moving for Front Royal. Marching all night (save 2 1/2 hours for rest and refreshment at Manassas Gap), we arrived and took position at 11:30 A. M., May 30th, upon the ridge east of and overlooking the village, before our presence was known to the enemy. Having only one company (30 men) of cavalry, my infantry was sent to surround the Confederates, but before this could be accomplished the attempt was discovered. The enemy, setting fire to the depots, warehouses, and railroad freight trains, made away in retreat under rapid firing from our battery. My cavalry pushed forward fearlessly after the enemy, closely followed by a portion of my infantry, to the junction of the Strasburg and Middletown roads, beyond the branches of the river; here, being completely exhausted, my troops halted, the enemy having gone from view in the direction of Strasburg and Winchester. That portion of our command left in the village had saved the loaded freight trains, but the warehouses and depots were completely destroyed, with most of their contents. General Shields came up at 5 P. M. With the other brigades of the division, and the town and the captures were left to his direction. With the regiments of my brigade and the 4th, Colonel Carroll's, I returned to the front and encamped in line for the night.
On the 31st the enemy appeared in consir front. I directed Carroll to move out with his command and attack them, which was promptly done, and after a sharp conflict the enemy was forced back, Carroll taking several prisoners and one piece (11-pounder) of artillery. The enemy having retreated and night having set in, Carroll returned to his position.
Our command was aroused from its slumbers early on the morning of the 1st of June by the roar of cannon away to our left toward Strasburg. Fremont had passed over the mountains and attacked Jackson's forces at Fisher's Hill. General Shields, at Front Royal, was informed of the fight going on at Strasburg and came to the front, but declined to send our forces to join in the fight, and directed us to remain in our position to await the arrival of General Irvin McDowell and Ord's (Ricketts's) division.
General McDowell arrived on the evening of June 1st. Ord's division relieved ours in front, and Bayard's cavalry was sent to aid Fremont, Our division returned to Front Royal and encamped two miles south on the road to Luray.
By the Wisdom (?) of Generals McDowell and Shields, our division was sent up the Luray valley, east of the south branch of the Shenandoah and Massanutten mountain, while Jackson's army, pursued by Fremont, was moving up the valley, along the Staunton turnpike. Jackson had destroyed all bridges and other means of crossing the Shenandoah, from Front Royal to Port Republic, rendering it impossible for Shields's division either to strike Jackson or communicate with Fremont. Shields's division reached Luray June 4th, after having marched 1150 miles in forty-three days, fighting one severe battle and many lesser engagements. Forty per cent. of the command were now without shoes, two per cent. without trousers, and other clothing was deficient. And now, without any supplies, officers and men were well-nigh worn out.
On the 5th, Carroll's brigade, now partially supplied, moved with only 1200 men and 1 battery, by order of General Shields, for Port Republic, to secure and hold the bridge at that crossing, if it should not already be destroyed. On the 6th, Tyler's brigade of 2000 men and 1 battery followed to support Carroll. Ferry's brigade was at Columbia crossing, 8 miles south, and mine was 6 miles north of Luray. Fremont's and Jackson's guns were distinctly heard beyond the river and mountain, but we were powerless to render assistance to our friends because of the impassable river. On the 7th, Fremont forced the enemy from Mount Jackson, and pursued him to New Market and Harrisonburg, but failed to bring him to battle.
On the 8th, Carroll reached the bridge at Port Republic with Tyler yet fifteen miles in rear. My brigade, under orders for Stanardsville, passed Luray and encamped with Ferry's, and on the 9th moved forward, leaving Ferry in his position.
On the 8th, Fremont brought Jackson to bay, and engaged him in battle at Cross Keys. Jackson, being hard pressed, prepared to save his army by retreat. Sending one brigade, with artillery, to secure a crossing for his army at Port Republic, he met Carroll, and, forcing him back, secured the bridge. That night, Jackson's entire force fled from Fremont, crossed the bridge, burned it, and was free from the destruction that had threatened him.
Jackson, on the morning of the 9th, with his army, attacked the now united detachments of Tyler and Carroll, and with his overwhelming force compelled the retreat of our small but gallant command. Jackson's own old Stonewall Brigade was first repulsed by Carroll's, and Jackson himself was compelled to rally and lead them back to the contest; then, with "Dick" Taylor's and other brigades and batteries, he forced our men from the field.
On the 9th, at sundown, Shields, now with me, received by the gallant Myles W. Keogh news from Tyler of his disaster. My brigade was ordered at once to move forward, to be followed by Ferry's, then ten miles in my rear. At 10 o'clock on the morning of the 10th, after a terrible night's march, we reached Conrad's store, some six miles below the field of action, where I met our worn and defeated comrades of Tyler's and Carroll's commands; and here I formed a new line, and in position awaited the expected attack from Jackson, and the arrival of Ferry's brigade.
Ferry came with our supports, but Jackson, having been severely handled by a small detachment, although he had defeated it, was satisfied, now that he was free from Fremont, not to try conclusions with the division, united, that had defeated him at Kernstown.
In the afternoon General Fremont succeeded in communicating with General Shields, and arranging for the crossing of his army. It was the intention, thus united, to follow Jackson, now retreating toward Gordonsville to join Lee's army near Richmond, but before the morning of the 11th Shields received peremptory orders, directing him to return with his command to Front Royal, where we arrived on the 16th of June.