The Romney Expedition
The idea of sending a Confederate force to the Shenandoah Valley first occurred to General Joseph E. Johnston, who succeeded to command of the Southern Army after the First Battle of Manassas. Recognizing the importance of having possession of the lower Shenandoah area, he sent Jackson, who had just been promoted to major general, to take charge. With his headquarters at Winchester, Jackson was expected to watch the Federals and to maintain contact with Johnston’s army at Manassas.
Although he had a small and inadequate force for such an important outpost, Jackson was not deterred from making aggressive plans. Learning that a large enemy army was advancing on Harpers Ferry, he suggested that his command be reinforced by troops guarding the passes in the Alleghenies to the southwest. These included a division under Brigadier General W.W. Loring and a brigade led by Colonel Edward Johnson. With the united command, Jackson proposed to strike at the Federal force in Romney, the principal town and seat of government in Hampshire County. The fact that winter had set in did not discouraged the Confederate commander who subscribed to Napoleon Bonaparte’s thesis that “an active winter’s campaign is less liable to produce disease than a sedentary life by camp-fires in winter’s quarters”. At this time most of West Virginia between the Alleghenies and the Ohio River was occupied by Federal troops numbering 27,000 men and commanded by Major General William S. Rosecrans. As these men were scattered over a front of 200 miles, with poor communications, they were not as formidable a force as might appear at first glance. The garrison at Romney numbered about 5,000.
With a force numbering 9,000 Jackson left Winchester on January 1, 1862 and first headed for Berkeley Springs and Hancock, Md. The command of his old unit, the Stonewall Brigade, had devolved upon Brigadier General Richard B. Garnett, a West Pointer and a very able officer whose cousin, Robert Garnett, had been killed at the Battle of Corricks Ford in west Virginia the preceding year. Jackson desired to disperse the Federal garrisons at Berkeley Springs and Hancock so they would not be in position to aid the Federal Force at Romney. He also hoped to cut the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad telegraph so as to make communication between the scattered Federal forces more difficult.
Unfortunately for the Confederates, the weather, which had been relatively mild for that time of year, dealt them a foul blow. Although it had been so balmy at the beginning of the march that the men left their coats and blankets in the wagons, the afternoon of the first day ushered in an abrupt change in temperature. The mountain winds sent cold chills down the spines of the soldiers and soon nature unleashed a savage storm of hail and snow. The back country roads had greatly slowed the progress of the wagon-train, so that the luckless soldiers were forced to spend the first night in great discomfort, without food and without covering. Nothing daunted, the men, urged on by their relentless commander, continued over the mountains the next day. The elements, plus the bad roads, in addition to the inexperience of officers and men, impeded progress so much that when the expedition finally reached Berkeley Springs, it found the enemy troops had fled across the Potomac. After pursuing to Hancock and capturing some supplies that the departing Federals had failed to remove from Berkeley Springs, Jackson set out for Romney.
Delayed several days by the necessity of having shoes put on his horses and by condition of the roads, as well as the weather, Jackson did not reach Romney until January 14. Again, he found that the enemy garrison had withdrawn after abandoning valuable supplies. Unable to continue his plan to advance farther west because of the worn-out condition of his men and the difficulties imposed by nature, Jackson decided to leave Loring and his troops to occupy Romney while he took the remainder of his army back into winter quarters in Winchester. In making such a decision, he started a chain of events that almost deprived the Confederacy of one of its best generals…