Stonewall Jackson in Campaign of 1862 - by the Late Colonel A. R. Boteler
| It will be remembered by those who are familiar with the history of military operations in the Valley of Virginia during the late Civil War that the Battle of Winchester, which was so successfully fought by Stonewall Jackson, on Sunday, the 25th of May, 1862, not only forced the Federal general, Banks, to seek safety for himself and followers beyond the Potomac and, in his precipitate flight, to abandon an immense amount of valuable stores of every description, but that it, likewise, caused such uneasiness among the authorities at Washington as to lead them to countermand their orders to McDowell, who at that time had an army of 40,000 men at Fredericksburg, with which to reinforce McClellan in front of Richmond, but, who, instead of doing that, was required to detach a portion of his command to the defense of the Federal capital, and with another part of it, consisting of 20,000 men, to march across the Blue Ridge to Front Royal for the purpose of intercepting the victorious Confederates. So that Jackson, by one and the same blow, effectually disposed of the force under Banks, furnished his own command with a superabundance of much-needed supplies, practically neutralized the fine army of McDowell and indefinitely postponed the plans of McClellan for the reduction of Richmond. But in securing these advantages, while he had diminished the dangers that threatened the Confederate capital, he had at the same time increased the perils of his own position, for the Federal government, as already intimated, being thoroughly frightened by his successes and supposing that his purpose was to advance on Washington, promptly put in motion all the available means in its power to check his progress and, if possible, to “crush or capture” his command. Two armies were, therefore, hastened forward from different directions to intercept him, and two others, within striking distance, were preparing to co-operate with them, so that he was menaced on every side by bodies of troops, the aggregate of whose effective force was more than three times greater than his own, and was, besides, encumbered with 3,000 prisoners and the vast accumulation of captured stores, which were then in Winchester. But, notwithstanding these embarrassing circumstances, he calmly pursued the even tenor of his way, and with characteristic pertinacity continued to carry out his original plan of keeping the Federal government in a state of anxious apprehension for the safety of its capital.|
Consequently, after having allowed his little army two days' rest, he moved forward from Winchester on Wednesday, May 28th, by way of Summit Point to Charlestown, in the adjoining county of Jefferson, near which place some of the scattered fragments of Bank's army, reinforced with fresh troops from Harper's Ferry, had taken position, who, however, were speedily dislodged and put to flight by the “Stonewall Brigade,” under Winder, which was in advance, and which next day pushed on to Halltown, a small hamlet, three miles west of Harper's Ferry, the rest of the Confederate forces following leisurely in the same direction. So that on May 30th the most of Jackson's troops were at Halltown, twenty-eight miles beyond Winchester, while the Second Virginia Regiment had been sent across the Shenandoah to occupy Loudoun Heights, on the Virginia side of the Potomac, east of Harper's Ferry.
With this preliminary explanation it will be seen what was the state of affairs with Jackson on Friday, the fifth day after the battle of Winchester, and to one unacquainted with the genius of the man and with his purpose on this particular occasion, it would appear that he had wasted much precious time in securing the fruits of his victory, and had, likewise, by his last movements, placed himself no less needlessly than recklessly in a position from which it would be almost impossible for him to extricate himself. But the objects he had in view were too important to be neglected, notwithstanding the risks he encountered in their accomplishment, and being fully aware of the increasing dangers that surrounded him, he not only resolved, but felt himself to be competent to cope with and overcome them, as I shall now proceed to relate.
Early in the afternoon of the Friday above mentioned, May 30th, the general and his staff - of which I was then a member - were on a hill near Halltown, to the right of the turnpike, where one of our batteries was engaged in an artillery duel with some heavy guns of the enemy that were posted on an eminence in the direction of Bolivar Heights. After noting for some time the effects of the firing he dismounted from the old sorrel - his favorite war horse - and seating himself on the ground at the foot of a large tree, immediately in rear of the battery, he presently assumed a more recumbent attitude and went to sleep.
As he laid there on his back with his arms folded over his breast, his feet crossed like those of a crusader's effigy and his head turned aside sufficiently to show his face in profile, I could not resist the temptation to make a sketch of him and was busily engaged with my pencil when, on looking up, I met his eyes fixed full upon me. Extending his hand for the drawing, he said with a smile: “Let me see what you have been doing there,” and on my handing him the sketch he remarked: “My hardest tasks at West Point were the drawing lessons, and I never could do anything in that line to satisfy myself,” “or, indeed,” he added, laughingly, “anybody else.”
“But, colonel,” he continued, after a pause, “I have some harder work than this for you to do, and if you'll sit down here, now, I'll tell you what it is.”
HIS KNOWLEDGE OF McDOWELL
On placing myself by his side, he said: “I want you to go to Richmond for me. I must have reinforcements. You can explain to them down there what the situation is here. Get as many men as can be spared, and I'd like you, if you please, to go as soon as you can.” After expressing to him my readiness to go at once and to do what I could to have his force increased.
I said: “But you must first tell me, general, what is the situation here.” Whereupon he informed me of McDowell's movement, how he was transferring a large portion of his army from Fredericksburg to the Valley, by way of Manassas Gap, to cut him off; how Fremont, with 15,000 men, was marching from the direction of Romney to effect a junction with McDowell; how Banks had some 4,000 or 5,000 at Williamsport ready to recross the river, and how Saxton had 7,000 more at Harper's Ferry, who were being reinforced by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and were prepared to co-operate with the rest of the Federal forces who were closing in around him.
“McDowell and Fremont,” said he, “are probably aiming to effect a junction at Strasburg, so as to head us off from the upper valley, and are both nearer to it now than we are; consequently, no time is to be lost. You can say to them in Richmond that I'll send on the prisoners, secure most, if not all of the captured property, and with God's blessing will be able to baffle the enemy's plans here with my present force, but that it will have to be increased as soon thereafter as possible. You may tell them, too, that if my command can be gotten up to 40,000 men a movement may be made beyond the Potomac, which will soon raise the siege of Richmond and transfer this campaign from the banks of the James to those of the Susquehanna.”
He then told me to go Charlestown, where I would find a railroad train ready at the station, with the engine fired up; to detach all the cars but one; to take that and proceed without delay to Winchester, where his quartermaster, Major Harmon, would furnish me with transportation to Staunton, and that I could leave my horse in charge of the assistant quartermaster at Charlestown, to be sent with the troops that evening. Thus instructed, I stood not on the order of my going, but went at once; and, although I rode rapidly, I had hardly reached the railroad station at Charlestown before Jackson himself came galloping up with his assistant adjutant, the gallant and accomplished “Sandy” Pendleton, who was subsequently killed in battle at Fisher's Hill; the general having suddenly come to the conclusion after I had left him at Halltown to go by rail to Winchester in advance of his army, which, meanwhile, having been ordered back, was making one of those wonderful marches through the mud and rain that had already won for it the sobriquet of “Jackson's foot cavalry.” As soon as we took our places in the car, putting his arm on the back of the seat before him as a rest for his head, he fell into a sleep which lasted all the way to Winchester with but one interruption - that was near Summit Point, when, seeing a horseman galloping across the fields towards us, whom I made out with my glass to be a Confederate cavalryman, I awakened him that he might order the train to stop, as I supposed the approaching horseman to be a messenger with information. My supposition was correct, for it was a courier with a dispatch, who, as he reined up the side of the car and handed the paper into its window, informed us of the defeat of Colonel Connor, of the Twelfth Georgia, at Front Royal, showing that McDowell's advance was already within twelve miles of Strasburg, while Jackson's was upwards of forty miles north of it, Strasburg being eighteen miles south of Winchester on the line of Jackson's retreat, and the important point towards which both the Federals and Confederates were now converging. The general, having glanced at the dispatch, tore it up, and dropping the fragments on the floor of the car, said to the conductor: “Go on, sir, if you please,” and resumed his slumbers.
AN AGREEABLE DELAY
We reached Winchester at dusk in a heavy rain storm, and, on arriving at the general's headquarters, which were in the Taylor Hotel, he told me that, as he had concluded to forward certain important papers by me to Richmond, which would take two or three hours to prepare, I would not be able to get off as soon as I expected. I was very glad to know this, as more time was thereby given me to spend with my only son, a youth in his teens, who had received two severe wounds in the battle of the previous Sunday and was then lying disabled at the house of a friend in Winchester, where, by the way, on hastening to see him, I had the unexpected happiness to find my wife also, who had managed, with much difficulty, to reach there two days before. The exigencies of the times had prevented our meeting for many months previously, and our brief interview by the bedside of our wounded son was the only we had for more than a year thereafter. Truly war, under any circumstances and in any shape, is a sad disturber of domestic life. In its best aspects it is a deplorable calamity to any country. But, when it comes in that direct of forms - in the hideous guise of a fratricidal civil war - raging in the region of one's own residence, with its debasing system of social espionage and ex parte criminations, alienating communities and separating friends, filling the hearts of families with anxieties and dread, desolating their fair fields and destroying their happy homes, even over the defenseless heads of women and children, the horrors of that calamity, to say nothing of its sanguinary features, are enhanced a hundredfold, and no people of the South experienced them in greater degree or endured them with more heroic and uncomplaining fortitude than those whose fate it was to live during the late war in the lower Valley of Virginia, within a radius of forty miles around the battle-scarred town of Winchester. Especially may this be said of those “ministering angels,” the mothers and daughters of that historic valley, where the most delicately nurtured and refined ladies of the land were ever found among the foremost in all good works, and never weary in well-doing for the sick and suffering soldiers of both sections throughout the whole of that sad and sanguinary episode of our country's history.
Having lingered to the last allowable moment with the members of my family “hereinbefore mentioned” - as the legal documents would term them - it was after 10 o'clock at night when I returned to headquarters for final instructions, and before going to the general's room I ordered two whiskey toddies to be brought up after me. When they appeared, I offered one of the glasses to Jackson, but he drew back, saying:
“No, no, colonel, you must excuse me; I never drink intoxicating liquors.”
“I know that, general,” said I, “but though you habitually abstain, as I do myself, from everything of the sort, there are occasions, and this one of them, when a stimulant will do us both good, otherwise I would neither take it myself nor offer it to you. So you must make an exception to your general rule and join me in a toddy to-night.”
He again shook his head, but, nevertheless, took the tumbler and began to sip its contents. Presently putting it on the table after having but partly emptied it, he said:
“Colonel, do you know why I habitually abstain from intoxicating drinks?” And, on my replying in the negative, he continued:
“Why, sir, because I like the taste of them, and when I discovered that to be the case I made up my mind at once to do without them altogether.”
HELP ASKED FROM RICHMOND
After this characteristic reason for his temperate habits, he handed me the documents I was to take to Richmond, together with a memorandum of other matters to be attended to there, whereupon, bidding him good-by, I left his room and was soon on the road to Staunton, realizing the discomforts of a midnight ride in the rain, with nothing but the “darkness visible.” When I arrived at Staunton, learning that a portion of the Central Railroad between Cordonsville and Richmond had, a day or two before, been torn up by the enemy and that I would, therefore, be obliged to turn off at Charlottesville for Lynchburg, so as to take the Southside Railroad, which would keep me a day or two longer on the route, I telegraphed to the Confederate Secretary of War as follows:
“Jackson in a critical position. Send him all the help you can spare. Am on my way to explain situation, but the Central Railroad being cut, cannot reach you until day after to-morrow.”
OPERATIONS IN THE VALLEY
On getting to Richmond by the roundabout way I had to go, it was a great gratification to find that the authorities there immediately upon the receipt of my dispatch, had telegraphed to North Carolina for additional troops and that General Lawton with several thousand men, was already en route to reinforce Jackson in the Valley, his advance passing by rail through Richmond the day after my arrival there. In the meantime Jackson with his little army of 15,000 men, was making good his promise to send forward the prisoners, captured property, etc., and at the same time not only to baffle the converging armies that were seeking to surround him, but also to beat them in detail. The masterly movements by which these results were accomplished have been so fully and faithfully described by others, and especially by Colonel Allan, in his admirable paper on “Jackson's Valley Campaign,” published in the Philadelphia Weekly Times of November 30, 1878, that I shall not attempt to detail them here, contenting myself with a mere outline of their more salient features to preserve the continuity of my narrative.
Leaving Winchester on Saturday morning, May 31, he made a forced march that day with the main body of his troops as far as Strasburg, his line, including prisoners, a large park of artillery and 1,500 wagons, being nearly twelve miles long. At Strasburg he went into camp to rest his men, who, since the previous afternoon, had come fifty miles, and also to wait for Winder, who had been left behind with the Stonewall Brigade to cover the retreat and recall the Second Virginia Regiment, which had been sent to Loudown Heights, and which, by the way, marched that Saturday evening from across Shenandoah to a point beyond Newtown, making more than thirty-five miles without rations, over muddy roads, amidst a succession of showers that drenched its members to the skin. Jackson's position was now directly between that of the two hostile armies which had been sent to “crush or capture” him; Fremont, with a force numerically equal to his own, being but five miles to the west of him, and Shields within twelve to the east, with a full division, supported by McDowell with two other divisions. But though 36,000 men were thus upon his flanks within striking distance of him and two other armies, under Banks and Saxton, were following his rear, he halted for twenty-four hours at Strasburg.
Standing there like a hunted stag at bay defying his pursuers, he presented so bold a front to them that Fremont paused in his advance near Wardensville, and Shields came no further than Front Royal; though the former had telegraphed to Washington that he would certainly occupy Strasburg by Saturday, 31st, and the latter had boasted that, with the division sent forward under him by McDowell, to seize the same strategic point, he would be able to “clean out the Valley.” Both were puzzled by the celerity of Jackson' movements, and, apparently, deterred by his audacity. While there had been nothing in the previous career of either Shields or Fremont to justify the suspicion that they were deficient in gallantry and dash they certainly, on this occasion, seemed to be like the cat in the adage, “letting I would wait on I dare not,” for they remained at a convenient distance from Strasburg all the while that Jackson was resting his troops there and securing a safe passage for his prisoners and trains.
A MASTERLY RETREAT
On Sunday morning, June 1, in order to observe the movements of Fremont, a small force was sent out toward Wardensville, which was attacked by the Federal advance. But General Ewell going to the support of the Confederates with his division, drove the enemy back into the mountain gorge from which he had emerged, and Jackson that evening, with his forces refreshed and his rear guard closed up, slowly resumed his retreat, which seemed more like a triumphal march in the bearing of his men, as well as in the superabundant amount of his “spoila optima belli.” During that night the Federal cavalry attacked the Confederate rear guard, throwing it into some confusion, but were soon repulsed with the loss of several prisoners, from whom it was ascertained that Shields, instead of attempting to unite with Fremont, had wasted two days at Front Royal, marching and countermarching on different roads, and finally was marching southward toward Luray in the Page Valley, which is parallel with the main Valley of Virginia, up which Jackson was retiring. Penetrating his purpose to cross the Massanutton Mountain, which separates the two valleys, so as to intercept him at New Market, Jackson had the White House and Columbia bridges over the Shenandoah, in the Page Valley, destroyed, which, as the river was swollen by recent rains, effectually prevented Shields, who had no pontoon train, from coming over to the western side of it, and, consequently, from crossing the mountains to co-operate with Fremont.
ASHBY'S LAST DAYS
“To the heroic Ashby was now entrusted the responsibility of protecting the Confederate rear,” and he was, as usual, indefatigable in the discharge of his allotted duty. Indeed, his proverbial daring was never more conspicuously displayed than in this campaign, which was destined to be the last of his brief and brilliant career, for poor fellow, he was killed in battle on the following Friday, June 6, and Virginia never lost a purer citizen, a braver soldier or more devoted son. He was a very dear friend of mine, I got him his first gun and last commission, the little English Blakely with which the gallant Chew did such signal service under him, and the brigadiership he received ten days only before his death. Some idea may be formed of his arduous duties from an incidental remark made to me in one of his last letters that in twenty-eight successive days he had had no less than thirty fights. As the incidents of the retreat became each day more numerous and exciting they cannot, of course, be specified in the limited space allowed for this article. Suffice it, therefore, to say that they culminated in those two crowning events by which Jackson effectually disposed of his antagonists in both the valleys - the battles of Cross Keys and Port Republic, in the former of which, fought June 8, Fremont was defeated, and in the battle fought on the following day, June 9, Shields shared the same fate.
EFFECTS OF THE CAMPAIGN
This closed Jackson's Valley campaign of '62, in which according to Major Dabney, his biographer and chief of staff, “within forty days he had marched 400 miles, fought four pitched battles, defeating four separate armies, with numerous combats and skirmishes, sent to the rear 3,500 prisoners, killed and wounded a still larger number of the enemy and defeated or neutralized forces three times as numerous as his own upon his proper theater of war, besides the corps of McDowell, which was rendered inactive at Fredericksburg by fear of his prowess ;” in addition to which he had at the same time thwarted the plans of McClellan at Richmond and made those of Lee there practicable; all of which was done at a loss of not more than 1,500 men and with an army of only as many thousand. So it was no wonder that I found him in fine spirits when, on my return from Richmond, just after the battle of Port Republic, I rejoined him at his bivouac in Brown's Gap, on the Blue Ridge, from which, on the 12th of June, we descended before dawn to the plains of Mount Meridian on the Middle Fork of the Shenandoah, having our headquarters near Wier's Cave.
FRANK TALK BY JACKSON
On Friday, June 13, the day after we came down from Brown's Gap, in expressing to me his pleasure at the success of my mission for more troops, he took occasion to remark that he would be glad if I would return to Richmond and make a formal application to the government to increase his command to 40,000 men, in order that he might carry into effect the movement he had mentioned to me at Halltown. “By that means,” said he, “Richmond can be relieved and the campaign transferred to Pennsylvania.” In the course of the conversation I asked him what he would have done if Shields and Fremont had united their forces at Strasburg so as to have prevented his retreat up the Valley? To which he promptly replied: “I should have fallen back into Maryland for reinforcements.” Then recurring to the subject which seemed uppermost in his mind, he told me that in making the proposed counter-movement northward he would advance toward the Potomac along the eastern side of the Blue Ridge, making his march secret as much as possible, and by rapidly crossing the mountain at the most available gap, he could, by getting in the rear of Ranks (who had returned to Winchester), readily dispose of him, and thereby open up the road to Western Maryland and Pennsylvania by way of Williamsport, etc. Ordinarily, Jackson was exceedingly reticent in regard to his plans and purposes, but on this occasion he spoke without reserve and was more communicative than I ever knew him to be. Our conversation occurred after dinner, and in concluding it, he asked when it would suit me to go attain to Richmond and make the application he desired. I told him in reply I would go at once; would ride that evening over to Staunton, which was some fifteen miles from our encampment, and take the cars next morning for the Confederate capital. This seemed to be satisfactory to him, so I proceeded forthwith to prepare for the journey. Arriving at Richmond the next evening after office hours, I lost no time in seeing the Secretary of War at his residence. He referred me to President Davis, who, in turn, told me to submit the matter to General Lee, whereupon, late as it was, I procured a horse and rode out to the commanding general's headquarters on the lines below Richmond.
General Lee had not yet retired for the night, and after listening to what I had to say, with the kindly courtesy which so eminently characterized his intercourse with every one, replied by asking me a question I was not prepared to answer.
“Colonel,” said he, “don't you think General Jackson had better come down here first and help me to drive these troublesome people away from before Richmond?”
“I think,” said I, “that it would be very presumptuous in me, general, to answer that question, as it would be hazarding an opinion upon an important military movement which I don't feel competent to give.”
“Nevertheless,” he replied, “I'd like to know your opinion.”
“Well, if I answer your question at all,” said I, “it must be in the negative.”
“Why so?” he asked.
“Because,” I replied, “if you bring our Valley boys down here at this season among the pestilential swamps of the Chickahominy the change from their pure mountain air to this miasmatic atmosphere will kill them off faster than the Federals have been doing.”
“That will depend upon the time they'd have to stay here,” said he. “Have you any other reason to offer?”
“Yes,” I answered, “and it's that Jackson has been doing so well with an independent command that it seems a pity not to let him have his own way, and then, too,” I added, “bringing him here, general, will be - to use a homely phrase - putting all your eggs in one basket.”
“I see,” said he, with a laugh, “that you appreciate General Jackson as highly as I myself do, and it is because of my appreciation of him that I wish to have him here.”
JACKSON'S PLAN NOT FOLLOWED
Then, changing the conversation, he asked me a number of questions about the condition of the army in the Valley, the recent battles there, crop prospects, etc. So seeing there was no chance of getting his assent to Jackson's proposition and that there were other plans in contemplation, I forebore to press the matter further. When I arose to take leave he inquired how long I expected to be in Richmond; and, on telling him two or three days, he said: “Come and see me again before you go back; I may have a communication to send by you to General Jackson.” Having business at the departments, which detained me in town a day longer than I had anticipated, I was not ready to return to Jackson until Thursday morning, June 19, and on the evening before my departure I had another interview with General Lee, in accordance with his request, during which, referring to our former conversation he said: “The movement proposed by General Jackson will have to be postponed for reasons which I have already communicated to him, and of which you will soon be apprised.” He then handed me a letter to give to the general, and in doing so suggested that as I was going up in the morning I had better stop at Charlottesville and wait for orders there. Of course, I asked no questions, though naturally curious to know what would probably be the character of my orders and why I was to wait for them at Charlottesville. But when I got there at noon the next day, I found the town in a fever of excitement, with a cordon of pickets posted around, preventing all egress from the place, and was told that, at least, a dozen trains of empty cars had passed through some hours before to the Valley. I had, therefore, no difficulty in divining what was in the wind, and that “great events were on the gale.”
The source: Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. VII. Richmond, Virginia, January, 1879. No. 1.