The Shenandoah Valley Campaign's Results
The remarkable military campaign in the Shenandoah Valley had accomplished much more than had been expected by the Confederate high command. Troops earmarked to be sent in support of McClellan's Peninsula Campaign were tied up, and other troops and treasure were expended in trying to destroy Jackson. It had also reinforced that seed of fear in the minds of Union authorities that would remain for a good portion of the rest of the war as far as the Valley concerned. In trying to account for Jackson’s success it should be remembered that although his opponents outnumbered him, generally Jackson had a numerical superiority at the point of contact where the actual fighting took place. In other words, to repeat the expression credited to Nathan Bedford Forrest, “he got there firstest with the mostest”. Jackson knowledge of the terrain and his intelligent use of that knowledge, gave him a tremendous advantage over his opponents (for example, when he used Massanutten Mountain, the various rivers and lesser hills to screen his movements and confuse his opponents). Many of the Confederate soldiers and officers were from the Valley and were familiar with every little cow path. Jackson’s Cromwellian discipline, especially in marching, enabled him to cover ground at an astounding pace. No wonder his infantrymen earned the name of the “foot cavalry”.|
Jackson had reversed the direction of the war in the mid-Atlantic theater and had secured the valley for the Confederacy. From May 12, 1862, until June 9, 1862, at a cost of 1,878 total casualties, Jackson inflicted 4,609 total casualties on his hapless enemies. Only 232 Confederates were captured or missing, compared to 3,199 captured Federals. By a combination of local geographic knowledge, unparalleled military skill, luck and a conviction that he performed the will of the living God, Jackson had carried out one of the most brilliant strategic and tactical campaigns in the annals of military history. The ability to move quickly from place to place enabled him to carry out the two principles of war which he believed every military commander should observe. One is to mystify, mislead and surprise the enemy so as to cause him to flee and then continue the pursuit as long as possible. In this way one could capitalize to the fullest upon his opponents’ panic. The other rule is to avoid fighting against superior numbers if it is possible to maneuver and fight part of the enemy’s force.
There should also be mentioned the skill with which Jackson employed Ashby’s cavalry. Even General Robert E. Lee allowed his cavalry to go off on spectacular, though sometimes useless raids and thus he was deprived of his “eyes and ears” at a time when he needed them most. The proper role of the cavalry was to scout for information about the enemy, to screen one’s own movements and to follow up an infantry victory and harass the panic-stricken foe.
Undoubtedly the incompetence of Jackson’s opponents contributed greatly to his success. They remained so persistently separated that one might get the impression this was what the Washington authorities wanted. This policy of dispersion violated one of the most important principles of war. Stanton should have been able to unite the various Union armies and defeat Jackson easily. Unfortunately for the Union, he did not do so and Lee and Jackson were able to keep the Federal armies apart and whip them one at a time. The Federal commanders in the Valley usually waited for Jackson to seize the initiative. It apparently never occurred to them to do so. With exception of the cavalry, their troops were as good as Jackson’s hence we must put the blame for their failures on their leaders. However, we should not allow the incompetence of his opponents to detract from Stonewall Jackson’s accomplishments. He merely capitalized upon their mistakes and, as a result, we have one of the most remarkable campaigns in military history.