Captain James H. Wood about The Battle of McDowell

        ...Shields retired in the late spring of 1862 toward the east side of the Blue Ridge, and Banks with an army of approximately 20,000 men moved up the valley to Strasburg, thence on toward Harrisonburg, Jackson slowly retiring before him. Almost daily attacks, often growing into small battles, were made on the advancing Federals by the intrepid Ashby; but Jackson's force was too inadequate to risk a general engagement.

        He, however, would pause at strategic points until the enemy would concentrate in his front and would then retire, leaving the ever vigilant Ashby to keep up appearances, which he would so successfully do that the enemy would not discover the ruse for days, and when discovered would be thrown into a state of excitement, because not knowing when and from what direction a blow might be received.

        Just below Harrisonburg we left the valley pike and went into camp near Swift Run Gap on the road leading through this gap in the Blue Ridge, a strong position susceptible of being held by a small force against many times its number. Thus the way to Harrisonburg and Staunton was virtually open to the advancing foe, but he did not venture on. Ashby's cavalry was not now available to dispute his advance because of the wide field of operation and observation this command had to cover. This field embraced the immediate front, the Page Valley Front Royal and McDowell; thus Jackson was kept informed of every move of the enemy. Here he was reinforced by Ewell's division, bringing his entire force, including the brigade of General Edward Johnston then near McDowell, to approximately 15,000.

Union General Milroy        Milroy was now pressing Johnston back toward Staunton and had reached McDowell, thirty miles northwest of that city. Jackson now left Ewell to watch Banks and moved with his own division about 6,000 through Swift Run Gap to the east side of the Blue Ridge. His army thought this to be an abandonment of the valley, and the impression became general that Joseph E. Johnston needed reinforcements to save Richmond and that this was our destination; but when we reached the railroad instead of going east to Richmond we went by rail west to Staunton, thence by forced march to McDowell. On the afternoon of May 8th the attack on Milroy, whose army was estimated at 8,000, was opened by Johnston's brigade. The Federals occupied a position on the west and at the base of Shenandoah Mountain. A deep and difficult ravine intervened between this position and a low ridge occupied by the Confederates. The use of artillery was almost impossible, owing to the hills and rugged ground; hence the battle was fought almost entirely with small arms and was different from subsequent battles in this, that there was no bayonet charge, but simply each side from its position kept up an incessant fire and roar of musketry at comparatively close range until the end.

        The whole scene is yet vivid in my mind as I saw it. Our brigade was well down the mountain when the battle began and the roar of musketry and shouts of the contending forces came up the mountain side to us as we hurried on. There was a kind of horrible grandeur about it all that allured and inspired some, and struck others with trepidation. There were but few, if any, who would not prefer to escape the perils of battle, but a sense of duty made the man of moral courage a good soldier however mindful he might be of pending danger or of death itself. It is soldiers of this, and not of the physical courage type that win battles. We moved on; louder and still fiercer the battle grows. Reinforcements are now entering on the Federal side with battle shouts and huzzas, which are answered in grim defiance by the Confederates. Johnston's brigade alone holds the front for the Confederates. Our brigade has now reached the base of the ridge, where we find Jackson who quickly points our position. Here, too, we found the field hospital, the ground strewn with the wounded, the dead, the dying, and still others came down the ridge from the front, wounded and red with blood, assisted or carried on litters. Surgeons and assistant surgeons are doing all they can to save suffering and life, but the scene is too sickening to pause and consider.

Confederate General Edward Johnson        On we go up the Ridge, take our position in line and open fire on the enemy. The battle now rages ten times fiercer than before, men fall on every side, some never to rise, while others are wounded and helped to the rear. The smoke of battle settles upon us so dense and dark that we cannot see happenings around us. Begrimed, drinking and tasting the smoke of battle seemed to increase courage and determination, and thus with defiant war cries the battle goes on for some hours. General Johnston was shot and disabled, Colonel Gibbons of the 10th Virginia fell. Captain Terry and Lieutenant Wilhelm, John Lawson and many others of my own company and regiment whose names I do not now recall were killed or wounded. After a lapse of forty odd years it is impossible to recall names.

        Notwithstanding the horribleness of this scene there was such a mixture of excitement, intensity of purpose, of danger and exhilaration that it was more fascinating than repulsive. Nightfall came upon us, yet the battle still went on in unabated fury. At this time a Confederate force that had been making its way on the mountain side through the hills and rugged grounds on our right, descended upon the enemy's left and routed him completely from the field. Then came the jubilation over the victory and of each over his own escape from injury. The next sensation was that of grief for the lost and injured. We now went into bivouac, and the following morning started in pursuit of the Federals who retired in haste to Petersburg, about ninety miles from Staunton. Here Fremont joined Milroy and concentrated his army of approximately 25,000 men to resist our further advance. In this retreat the woods were set on fire by the Federals, causing smoke, darkness and gloom, and hence slower progress in the pursuit as well as suffering from the heat and smoke.

Taken from: The War, "Stonewall" Jackson, His Campaigns, and Battles, the Regiment as I Saw Them, by James H. Wood.

Books on Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson

Books on the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862

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