Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign of 1862 - from The Confederate Military History - Part 1
Before the opening of active military operations in the spring of 1862, Lincoln determined to reopen the Baltimore & Ohio railroad. Jackson held the portion of this road, which he had badly damaged, between Harper’s Ferry and Hancock, and he must be forced back from the Potomac before the road could be repaired and reopened. To effect this Banks marched, February 22nd, from his winter camp at Frederick, Md., and his advance entered Harper’s Ferry the 24th, and laid a bateau bridge across the Potomac on which two brigades crossed on the 26th and occupied the town. McClellan himself reached that place the same day and ordered the establishment there of a depot of army supplies, preparatory to another forward movement, while the railroad was being opened. After going to Charles* town, on the 28th, he instructed Banks to locate Abercrombie’s brigade at that place and Hamilton’s at Smithfield, a few miles to the westward; Sedgwick, to whose division these belonged, to establish himself at Charlestown. Shields, now in command of Lander’s force from the South Branch valley, was ordered to Martinsburg, and Williams from Hancock to Bunker Hill; thus establishing a line entirely across the Valley, in front of the Baltimore & Ohio. These camps were all connected by fine macadam roads. All arrangements were completed by March 6th and the three brigades of Banks were well placed, not only for guarding the Baltimore & Ohio, but also for an advance on Winchester.
On the same day Banks marched from Frederick to attack him, Jackson, in obedience to Johnston’s orders, sent the Seventh and Fourteenth Tennessee regiments to Manassas and the Third Arkansas to Strasburg, to take the cars for Fredericksburg. He retained for further orders the rest of Loring’s men who were not Virginians. Having been thus depleted, Jackson asked Johnston, by letter, February 24th, whether he desired additional fortifications at Winchester, stating that he was arranging to construct a raft bridge over the Shenandoah so that his troops and those at Leesburg could quickly co-operate. At that very time Johnston was sending his stores and baggage to the rear, and on the 7th of March, Whiting withdrew toward Fredericksburg, from his camp on the lower Occoquan, and D. H. Hill, from his at Leesburg, by way of Warrenton, toward the Rappahannock; and on the 9th, the center, under Johnston himself, abandoned Centreville and Manassas. By March 11th all the Confederate infantry and artillery from the Blue ridge to Fredericksburg, were aligned on the south bank of the Rappahannock.
These movements left Jackson exposed to both front and flank attacks; but Johnston had confidence in his ability to take care of himself, and instructed him “to endeavor to employ the invaders in the valley, but without exposing himself to the danger of defeat, by keeping so near the enemy as to prevent him from making any considerable detachment to reinforce McClellan, but not so near that he might be compelled to fight.” Jackson was ready enough to obey orders as far as keeping the invaders in the valley, and constantly employed, were concerned; but he doubtless fully intended to fight them, notwithstanding these instructions, if opportunity offered for so doing.
By Jackson’s field return of February 28th, he had 4,297 infantry, 369 artillery and 601 cavalry; a total of 5,267, officers and-men, present for duty. This little army of three brigades (among them the already famous “Stonewall brigade”) was made up of ten regiments of Virginia volunteer infantry and a battalion of Virginia Irish regulars; five Virginia artillery companies with 24 guns, and a cavalry regiment composed of Virginia companies and Chew’s horse artillery of 3 guns, under the already renowned Ashby. Included among these men were some fragments of militia brigades, mostly on special duty.
By McClellan’s field return of March 2d, Banks had present for duty, of all arms, 38,484 men. After the occupation of Winchester, Sedgwick’s brigade was sent back to guard the Potomac from the mouth of the Monocacy down to the Great Falls, still leaving Banks full 30,000 men when he followed Jackson, with about one-sixth as many, as he retired up the Valley, after evacuating Winchester on the 11th of March.
Banks’ advance occupied Charlestown, 22 miles from Winchester, February 26th; the advance of his right, marching from Bunker Hill, appeared at Stephenson’s, four miles in front of Winchester, March 6th, when Jackson promptly formed line in front of his fortifications and offered battle; but the Federals as promptly fell back. On the 11th Banks cautiously advanced his left to Berryville, 10 miles east of Winchester, by a good stone road. Jackson again drew up his little army, in front of Winchester, covering the three roads by which Banks was advancing his whole army, and all day awaited an attack from the large force that came to within four miles of his position. When this did not come on to combat, he, late in the day, reluctantly followed his trains to the vicinity of Newtown, after having called a council of war (the first and the last he ever called), consisting of General Garnett and his regimental commanders, in Winchester, after dark, to which he proposed that they should make an attack on Banks’ advance, at Stephenson’s, before daylight the next morning. The council, as yet ignorant of the manner of man that counseled, rejected his proposal. He doubtless would have carried out his plans regardless of this conclusion if he had not then learned that, without orders, his army was already five miles away from Winchester; too far to recall them for a night march and attack. He later followed his army and bivouacked in its rear, with “Little Sorrel,” in a fence corner. The next day he marched to Strasburg, 18 miles from Winchester, where he halted until the 15th. Banks occupied Winchester the 12th, but Ashby, with his cavalry, many of them bold riders reared in the lower valley, kept him so occupied in protecting the rear and flanks of his army as well as its front, that he did not follow after Jackson until the 18th, when he started Shields’ division in pursuit. This reached Strasburg, the sally-port of the western middle section of the Valley, the next day, when Jackson, leaving the gateway open, with Ashby as its sentinel, again fell back, first to Woodstock, 12 miles, and then to Mt. Jackson, 24 miles from Strasburg.
On the 16th of March, McClellan, convinced that his grand movement on Jackson, by which he had so easily secured control of the lower Valley, would enable him to hold that lovely country with a small force, ordered Banks to cross the Blue ridge, establish and strongly intrench his Command at and near Manassas, and proceed to open the railway from Washington to that point and thence to Strasburg; then intrench a brigade of infantry with two batteries, near Front Royal, where the railway crosses the Shenandoah; intrench another brigade at Strasburg; build and occupy blockhouses at the railway bridges; leave two regiments of cavalry at Winchester, and keep his front covered by constantly employed cavalry well advanced—“ the general object being to cover the line of the Potomac and Washington,” and, he doubtless mentally added, protect the right of the army moving toward Fredericksburg. Banks hastened to comply with these orders. Shields’ division was recalled from Strasburg, and on the 20th, Williams’ division took up its line of march for Manassas.
Ashby, who kept up a constant skirmish with the Federal advance between Woodstock and Strasburg, routing its pickets and peering into its camps, reported to Jackson on the evening of March 21st, that the enemy had evacuated Strasburg and he was following them. Jackson, having been instructed by Johnston to hold in the valley the enemy already there, followed after Ashby at dawn of the 22nd, Fulkerson’s brigade from Woodstock and Garnett’s and Burks’ from Mt. Jackson, all reaching Strasburg and encamping there that night. Ashby with 200 to 300 cavalry and three cannon, attacked and drove in the Federal pickets, about a mile from Winchester, at 5 p.m. of the 22nd. Banks ordered his command under arms and sent a brigade of infantry, two batteries and some artillery to meet this attack. Ashby skirmished for a time and then withdrew, three miles, to Kernstown, for the night, reporting to Jackson that he had learned that all but four regiments of the Federal army had left for the north and that these would follow the next morning. Ashby’s information was only partly correct. The last of Williams’ division of Banks’ command had marched for Manassas the morning of the 22nd, but Shields’ division, some 7,000 men, had not yet left Winchester.
Shields, whose arm had been broken in the skirmish of the 22nd, reported to Banks that he thought the attack was only by a small cavalry force, but during the night, as a precautionary provision, he posted Kimball’s brigade of infantry and a battery across the Valley turnpike, well toward Kernstown, with Sullivan’s brigade in supporting distance, and covered all roads leading to Winchester from the north, west and south. Tyler’s infantry brigade and Broadhead’s cavalry he held in Winchester. On the morning of the 23rd, after a careful reconnaissance of the front, it was concluded, as before, that only a small Confederate cavalry force was there, and that Jackson would not venture so far from his support. Thus satisfied, Banks took his departure, under orders, for Washington, leaving his staff to ride toward Manassas in the afternoon.
Jackson knew that a large body of Banks’ men had left the Valley and concluded, from Ashby’s reports, that but a small force remained at Winchester. This he determined to attack, with the expectation that by so doing he could recall Banks’ whole army to the Valley. At daybreak, on Sunday, the 23rd of March, he sent four companies of infantry to support Ashby, following these with his whole force. It was 14 miles from his camp at Strasburg to Kernstown, a fair day’s march, so his advance did not reach Ashby until about 10 a.m. and his main body until 1 p.m.