The Battle of McDowell
| Informed by his scouts and skirmishers that the Confederate force was increasing and that there were indications of the moving of a flanking party, Milroy, with the approval of Schenck, at about half past three in the afternoon of the 8th, formed and moved forward a line of battle, composed of portions of his own and of Schenck's brigade, across the Bull Pasture and up the slope of Sitlington's hill, as the part of the mountain held by Johnson was called, to seize that hill and drive the Confederates from it. A skirt of woods concealed his initial movement, but as soon as his skirmishers appeared in the bushy field, Jackson, who was still on the lookout, ordered up four regiments of Johnson's brigade which had been halted in concealment along the turnpike. He deployed the Fifty-second Virginia as skirmishers and advanced them to engage the enemy; posting in their rear, in the center of his position on the summit of the hill, the Twelfth Georgia, and on its right the Forty-fourth Virginia. The Fifty-eighth Virginia was marched to the left to support the Fifty-second. The Confederate line then formed an arc of a circle, with its convexity toward the enemy so that its right was nearly perpendicular to its left.
As the Federal skirmishers, in line of battle, advancing up the mountain side, came in sight they became engaged with Johnson's skirmishers. Two Federal regiments attacked the Confederate left, advancing boldly and steadily and pushing back the skirmish line until they became engaged with the line of battle in a fierce struggle on the brow of the hill. In the meantime, Milroy had sent two Ohio and a West Virginia regiment to attack and attempt to turn the Confederate right. The two Ohio regiments vigorously attacked Johnson's right, while the West Virginia one pushed up the turnpike to accomplish the purpose for which it was sent. Anticipating such a movement, Jackson had placed the Thirty-first Virginia on the turnpike below the point where the Confederates had climbed to Sitlington's hill. The attack on Johnson's right led Jackson to withdraw the Thirty-first from guarding the turnpike and send that and the Twenty-fifth Virginia to Johnson, who placed them in support of the Forty-fourth on his right, thus extending his line not only across the field on Sitlington's hill, but down the slope of that hill northward toward the turnpike. Jackson then committed the guarding of the turnpike to the Twenty-first Virginia. Milroy next ordered two cannon and a force along the turnpike, but their attack amounted to nothing.
The main contention was with Johnson's right by the combined attack of all the Federal forces that had climbed up the mountain side. Again and again were the brave attacks of the Ohio and West Virginia troops repulsed in their efforts to drive the Confederates from the crest of the hill; the issue being joined at close quarters while the musketry firing was incessant. The Confederates had some little advantage of position, and the uneven ground, such as is characteristic of most limestone regions, gave them some advantage, but, on the other hand, facing to the west as they did, they were clearly outlined against the eastern sky, and so were plain targets for the Federals, who were themselves advancing not only up the slope but in the shadows of the waning day; consequently the Confederates suffered terribly from the long range rifles of the Federals, especially the Twelfth Georgia, which became the special object of attack, but which unflinchingly held its position and drove back its assailants.
The attack all along Johnson's line, even as extended by some of Jackson's men, indicated that the Federal leader was throwing all his force into this engagement. This led Jackson to order Taliaferro's brigade to Johnson's aid; when this reached him, he placed the Twenty. third and Thirty-seventh Virginia regiments near the center of his line, and advanced them to reinforce the gallant Twelfth Georgia, just in time to promptly meet the movement of the enemy on the Confederate right and drive it back. To still further strengthen his right, Johnson sent portions of the Twenty-fifth and Thirty-first Virginia regiments to occupy an elevated piece of woods on his right and rear, thus securing a commanding position. Campbell's brigade, which Jackson had hastened toward the field of carnage, came up about this time, and that and the Tenth Virginia, from Taliaferro's rear, were also ordered to support Johnson's right in the woods down the slope of the spur toward the turnpike. These arrangements thwarted all the enemy's movements, and by securing the larger tactical force on the immediate field of action made certain the result of the conflict.
The battle lasted from half past four until half past eight of the afternoon. Every movement of the enemy was promptly met and defeated, and Johnson held firmly to his first position. Jackson had no hesitancy in leaving the immediate field of contention in charge of the hero of Alleghany mountain, but taking no chances, he located himself on the turnpike, where it crosses the top of the mountain, to watch the right, guard the roads which were concealed from Johnson, and at the same time hurry forward reinforcements, having promptly ordered his whole army forward to meet any emergency. Late in the day General Johnson was wounded in the arm and had to retire from the field, leaving Taliaferro in immediate command. Learning from Johnson, as he was taken, badly wounded, to the rear, the condition of things on the field of battle, he quickly ordered Taliaferro, now left in command, through a staff officer, to hold his position at all hazards, and he would soon be there with the Stonewall brigade to help him, if necessary. But the conflict was then over, and Milroy had become satisfied that he was no match for his antagonist, so in the coming darkness he withdrew to McDowell and Schenck hastened to retreat toward Franklin, where he expected to meet Fremont, with the main body of his command, coming up the South Branch valley.
The Federal artillery placed on the terrace to the south of McDowell was quite active, but uselessly so, prior to the advance of its infantry, because of the elevation of the position held by the Confederates. A single gun on Hull's hill, a spur of the mountain opposite the Federal left, did a little damage but not much. The Confederates that did the fighting were five Virginia regiments and one Georgia of Johnson's brigade, and three Virginia regiments of Taliaferro's brigade, about 4,500 men. They were supported by the three Virginia regiments and the Irish battalion of Campbell's brigade, but which did not become engaged; making the Confederate force on the immediate battlefield about 6,000 men. Of these, 71 were killed and 390 wounded. Milroy's force that took part in the battle was, parts of four Ohio and two West Virginia regiments, and parts of two Ohio batteries, in all about 2,500 men, who, considering the disparity of forces, made a most determined and brave fight. Schenck reported the losses as 28 killed, 225 wounded and 3 missing.
Jackson prepared himself to renew the conflict on the morrow unless the Federals did it, arranging to have his artillery in position on Sitlington's hill by daylight and his whole army closed up and ready for action, issuing strict orders to those in advance to be on the alert to detect any movement of the enemy. Schenck, satisfied that Jackson, from his position, could very soon make McDowell untenable, evacuated that place early in the night, after lighting his camp-fires and making a show of remaining there, and fell back during the night in the direction of Franklin.
On the morning of the 9th, Jackson sent a laconic dispatch to General Cooper, the adjutant-general of the Confederate States at Richmond, saying, "God blessed our arms with victory at McDowell yesterday."