Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah
From "Battles and Leaders of the Civil War"
BY Brig. Gen. John D. Imboden, CSA
Soon after the battle of Bull Run Stonewall Jackson was promoted to major-general, and the Confederate Government having on the 21st of October, 1861, organized the Department of Northern Virginia, under command of General Joseph E. Johnston, it was divided into the Valley District, the Potomac District, and Aquia District, to be commanded respectively by Major-Generals Jackson, Beauregard, and Holmes. On October 28th General Johnston ordered Jackson to Winchester to assume command of his district, and on the 6th of November the War Department Ordered his old "Stonewall" brigade and six thousand troops under command of Brigadier General W. W. Loring to report to him. These, together with Turner Ashby's cavalry, gave him a force of about ten thousand men all told.
His only movement of note in the winter of 1861-62 was an expedition at the end of December to Bath and Romney, to destroy the Baltimore and Ohio railroad and a dam or two near Hancock on the Chesapeake and Ohio canal. The weather set in to be very inclement about New Year's, with snow, rain, sleet, high winds, and intense cold. Many in Jackson's command were opposed to the expedition, and as it resulted in nothing of much military importance, but was attended with great suffering on the part of his troops, nothing but the confidence he had won by his previous services saved him from personal ruin. He and his second in command, General Loring, had a serious disagreement. He ordered Loring to take up his quarters, in January, in the exposed and cheerless village of Romney, on the south branch of the upper Potomac. Loring objected to this, but Jackson was inexorable, Loring and his principal officers united in a petition to Mr. Benjamin, Secretary of War, to order them to Winchester, or at least away from Romney. This document was sent direct to the War Office, and the Secretary, in utter disregard of "good order and discipline," granted the request without consulting Jackson. As soon as information reached Jackson of what had been done, he indignantly resigned his commission. Governor Letcher was astounded, and at once wrote Jackson a sympathetic letter, and then expostulated with Mr. Davis and his Secretary with such vigor that an apology was sent to Jackson for their obnoxious course. The orders were revoked and modified, and Jackson was induced to retain his command. This little episode gave the Confederate civil authorities an inkling of what manner of man "Stonewall" Jackson was.
In that terrible winter's march and exposure, Jackson endured an that any private was exposed to. One morning, near Bath, some of his men, having crawled out from under their snow-laden blankets, half-frozen, were cursing him as the cause of their sufferings. He lay close by under a tree, also snowed under, and heard all this; and, without noticing it, presently crawled out, too, and, shaking the snow off, made some jocular remark to the nearest men, who had no idea he had ridden up in the night and lain down amongst them. The incident ran through the little army in a few hours, and reconciled his followers to all the hardships of the expedition, and fully reestablished his popularity.
In March Johnston withdrew from Manassas, and General McClellan collected his army of more than one hundred thousand men on the Peninsula. Johnston moved south to confront him. McClellan had planned and organized a masterly movement to capture, hold, and occupy the Valley and the Piedmont region; and if his subordinates had been equal to the task, and there had been no interference from Washington, it is probable the Confederate army would have been driven out of Virginia and Richmond captured by midsummer, 1862.
Jackson's little army in the Valley had been greatly reduced during the winter from various causes, so that at the beginning of March he did not have over 5000 men of all arms available for the defense of his district, which began to swarm with enemies all around its borders, aggregating more than ten times his own strength. Having retired up the Valley, he learned that the enemy had begun to withdraw and send troops to the east of the mountains to cooperate with McClellan. This he resolved to stop by an aggressive demonstration against Winchester, occupied by General Shields, of the Federal army, with a division of 8000 to 10,000 men.
A little after the middle of March, Jackson concentrated what troops he could, and on the 23rd he occupied a ridge at the hamlet of Kernstown, four miles south of Winchester. Shields promptly attacked him, and a severe engagement of several hours ensued, ending in Jackson's repulse about dark, followed by an orderly retreat up the Valley to near Swift Run Gap in Rockingham county. The pursuit was not vigorous nor persistent. Although Jackson retired before superior numbers, he had given a taste of his fighting qualifies that stopped the withdrawal of the enemy's troops from the Valley.
The result was so pleasing to the Richmond government and General Johnston that it was decided to reinforce Jackson by sending General Ewell's division to him at Swift Run Gap, which reached him about the 1st of May, thus giving Jackson an aggregate force of from 13,000 to 15,000 men to open his campaign with. At the beginning of May the situation was broadly about as follows: Milroy, with about 4087 men, was on the Staunton and Parkersburg road at McDowell, less than forty miles from Staunton, with Schenck's brigade of about 2500 near Franklin. The rest of Fremont's army in the mountain department was then about 30,000 men, of whom 20,000 were concentrating at Franklin, fifty miles north-west of Staunton, and within supporting distance of Milroy. Banks, who had fortified Strasburg, seventy miles northeast of Staunton by the great Valley turnpike, to fall back upon in an emergency, had pushed forward a force of 20,000 men to Harrisonburg, including Shields's division, 10,000 strong. General McDowell, with 34,000 men, exclusive of Shields's division, was at points east of the Blue Ridge, so as to be able to move either to Fredericksburg or to the Luray Valley and thence to Staunton' Not counting Colonel Miles's, later Saxton's, command, at Harper's Ferry, which was rapidly increased to 7000 men, sent from Washington and other points north of the Potomac, before the end of May, Jackson had about 80,000 men to take into account (including all Union forces north of the Rappahannock and east of the Ohio) and to keep from a junction with McClellan in front of Richmond. Not less than 65,000 of these enemies were in some part of the Valley under their various commanders in May and June.
Besides Ewell's division already mentioned, General Johnston could give no further assistance to Jackson, for McClellan was right in his front with superior numbers, and menacing the capital of the Confederacy with almost immediate and certain capture. Its only salvation depended upon Jackson's ability to hold back Fremont, Banks, and McDowell long enough to let Johnston try doubtful conclusions with McClellan. If he failed in this, these three commanders of an aggregate force then reputed to be, and I believe in fact, over one hundred thousand would converge and move down upon Richmond from the west as McClellan advanced from the east, and the city and its defenders would fall an easy prey to nearly, if not quite, a quarter of a Million of the best-armed and best-equipped men ever put into the field by any government.
Early in May, Jackson was near Port Republic contemplating his surroundings and maturing his plans. What these latter were no one but himself knew.
Suddenly the appalling news spread through the Valley that he had fled to the east side of the Blue Ridge through Brown's and Swift Run Gaps. Only Ashby remained behind with about one thousand cavalry, scattered and moving day and night in the vicinity of McDowell, Franklin, Strasburg, Front Royal, and Luray, and reporting to Jackson every movement of the enemy. Despair was fast settling upon the minds of the people of the Valley. Jackson made no concealment of his flight, the news of which soon reached his enemies. Milroy advanced two regiments to the top of the Shenandoah Mountains, only twenty-two miles from Staunton, and was preparing to move his entire force to Staunton, to be followed by Fremont.
Jackson had collected, from Charlottesville and other stations on the Virginia Central Railroad, enough railway trains to transport all of his little army. That it was to be taken to Richmond when the troops were all embarked no one doubted. It was Sunday, and many of his sturdy soldiers were Valley men. With sad and gloomy hearts they boarded the trains at Mechum's River Station. When all were on, lo! they took a westward course, and a little after noon the first train rolled into Staunton.
News of Jackson's arrival spread like wild-fire, and crowds flocked to the station to see the soldiers and learn what it all meant. No one knew.
As soon as the troops could be put in motion they took the road leading toward McDowell, the general having sent forward cavalry to Buffalo Gap and beyond to arrest all persons going that way. General Edward Johnson, with one of Jackson's Valley brigades, was already at Buffalo Gap. The next morning, by a circuitous mountain-path, he tried to send a brigade of infantry to the rear of Milroy's two regiments on Shenandoah Mountain, but they were improperly guided and failed to reach the position in time, so that when attacked in front both regiments escaped. Jackson followed as rapidly as possible, and the following day, May 8th, on top of the Bull Pasture Mountain, three miles east of McDowell, encountered Milroy reinforced by Schenck, who commanded by virtue of seniority of commission. The conflict lasted four hours, and was severe and bloody. It was fought mainly with small arms, the ground forbidding much use of artillery. Schenck and Milroy fled precipitately toward Franklin, to unite with Fremont. The route lay along a narrow valley hedged up by high mountains, perfectly protecting the flanks of the retreating army from Ashby's pursuing cavalry, led by Captain Sheetz. Jackson ordered him to pursue as vigorously as possible, and to guard completely all avenues of approach from the direction of McDowell or Staunton till relieved of this duty. Jackson buried the dead and rested his army, and then fell back to the Valley on the Warm Springs and Harrisonburg road.
The morning after the battle of McDowell I called very early on Jackson at the residence of Colonel George W. Hull of that village, where he had his headquarters, to ask if I could be of any service to him, as I had to go to Staunton, forty miles distant, to look after some companies that were to join my command. He asked me to wait a few moments, as he wished to prepare a telegram to be sent to President Davis from Staunton, the nearest Office to McDowell. He took a seat at a table and wrote nearly half a page of foolscap; he rose and stood before the fireplace pondering it some minutes; then he tore it in pieces and wrote again, but much less, and again destroyed what he had written, and paced the room several times. He suddenly stopped, seated himself, and dashed off two or three lines, folded the paper, and said, "Send that off as soon as you reach Staunton." As I bade him "good-bye," he remarked: "I may have other telegrams today or tomorrow, and will send them to you for transmission. I wish you to have two or three well mounted couriers ready to bring me the replies promptly."
I read the message he had given me. It was dated "McDowell," and read about thus: "Providence blessed our arms with victory at McDowell yesterday." That was all. A few days after I got to Staunton a courier arrived with a message to be telegraphed to the Secretary of War. I read it, sent it off, and ordered a courier to be ready with his horse, while I waited at the telegraph Office for the reply. The message was to this effect: "I think I ought to attack Banks, but under my orders I do not feel at liberty to do so." In less than an hour a reply came, but not from the Secretary of War. It was from General Joseph E. Johnston, to whom I supposed the Secretary had referred General Jackson's message. I have a distinct recollection of its substance, as follows: "If you think you can beat Banks, attack him. I only intended by my orders to caution you against attacking fortifications." Banks was understood to have fortified himself strongly at Strasburg and Cedar Creek, and he had fallen back there. I started the courier with this reply, as I supposed, to McDowell, but, lo! it met Jackson only twelve miles from Staunton, to which point on the Harrisonburg and Warm Springs turnpike he had marched his little army, except part of Ashby's cavalry, which, under an intrepid leader, Captain Sheetz, he had sent from McDowell to menace Fremont, who was concentrating at Franklin in Pendleton County, where he remained in blissful ignorance that Jackson had left McDowell, till he learned by telegraph some days later that Jackson had fallen upon Banks at Front Royal and driven him through Winchester and across the Potomac.
Two hours after receiving this telegram from General Johnston, Jackson was en route for Harrisonburg, where he came upon the great Valley turnpike. By forced marches he reached New Market in two days. Detachments of cavalry guarded every road beyond him, so that Banks remained in total ignorance of his approach. This Federal commander had the larger part of his force well fortified at and near Strasburg, but he kept a strong detachment at Front Royal, about eight miles distant and facing the Luray or Page Valley.
From New Market Jackson disappeared so suddenly that the people of the Valley were again mystified. He crossed the Massanutten Mountain, and, passing Luray, hurried toward Front Royal. He sometimes made thirty miles in twenty-four hours with his entire army, thus gaining for his infantry the sobriquet of "Jackson's foot cavalry." Very early in the afternoon of May 23rd he struck Front Royal. The surprise was complete and disastrous to the enemy, who were commanded by Colonel John R. Kenly. After a fruitless resistance they fled toward Winchester, twenty miles distant, with Jackson at their heels. A large number were captured within four miles by a splendid cavalry dash of Colonel Flournoy and Lieutenant-Colonel Watts.
News of this disaster reached Banks at Strasburg, by which he learned that Jackson was rapidly gaining his rear toward Newtown. The works Banks had constructed had not been made for defense in that direction, so he abandoned them and set out with all haste for Winchester; but, en route, near Newtown (May 24th), Jackson struck his flank, inflicting heavy loss, and making large captures of property, consisting of wagons, teams, camp-equipage, provisions, ammunition, and over nine thousand stand of arms, all new and in perfect order, besides a large number of prisoners.
Jackson now chased Banks's fleeing army to Winchester, where the latter made a stand, but after a sharp engagement with Ewell's division on the 25th he fled again, not halting till he had crossed the Potomac, congratulating himself and his Government in a dispatch that his army was at last safe in Maryland. General Saxton, with some 7000 men, held Harper's Ferry, 32 miles from Winchester. Jackson paid his respects to this fortified post, by marching a large part of his forces close to it, threatening an assault, long enough to allow all the captured property at Winchester to be sent away toward Staunton, and then returned to Winchester. His problem now was to escape the clutches of Fremont, knowing that that officer would be promptly advised by wire of what had befallen Banks. He could go back the way he came, by the Luray Valley, but that would expose Staunton (the most important depot in the valley) to capture by Fremont, and he had made his plans to save it.
I had been left at Staunton organizing my recruits. On his way to attack Banks, Jackson sent me an order from New Market to throw as many men as I could arm, and as quickly as possible, into Brock's Gap, west of Harrisonburg, and into any other mountain-pass through which Fremont could reach the valley at or south of Harrisonburg. I knew that within four miles of Franklin, on the main road leading to Harrisonburg, there was a narrow defile hemmed in on both sides by nearly perpendicular cliffs, over five hundred feet high. I sent about fifty men, well armed with long-range guns, to occupy these cliffs, and defend the passage to the last extremity.
On the 25th of May, as soon as Fremont learned of Banks's defeat and retreat to the Potomac, he put his army of about 14,000 in motion from Franklin to cut off Jackson's retreat up the valley. Ashby's men were still in his front toward McDowell, with an unknown force; so Fremont did not attempt that route, but sent his cavalry to feel the way toward Brock's Gap, on the direct road to Harrisonburg. The men I had sent to the cliffs let the head of the column get well into the defile or gorge, when, from a position of perfect safety to themselves, they poured a deadly volley into the close column. The attack being unexpected, and coming from a foe of unknown strength, the Federal column halted and hesitated to advance. Another volley and the "rebel yell" from the cliffs turned them back, never to appear again. Fremont took the road to Moorefield, and thence to Strasburg, though he had been peremptorily ordered on May 24th by President Lincoln to proceed direct to Harrisonburg. It shows how close had been Jackson's calculation of chances, to state that as his rear-guard marched up Fisher's Hill, two miles from Strasburg, Fremont's advance came in sight on the mountain-side on the road from Moorefield, and a sharp skirmish took place. Jackson continued to Harrisonburg, hotly pursued by Fremont, but avoiding a conflict.
The news of Banks's defeat created consternation at Washington, and Shields was ordered to return from east of the Blue Ridge to the Luray Valley in all haste to cooperate with Fremont. Jackson was advised of Shields's approach, and his aim was to prevent a junction of their forces till he reached a point where he could strike them in quick succession. He therefore sent cavalry detachments along the Shenandoah to burn the bridges as far as Port Republic, the river being at that time too full for fording. At Harrisonburg he took the road leading to Port Republic, and ordered me from Staunton, with a mixed battery and battalion of cavalry, to the bridge over North River near Mount Crawford, to prevent a cavalry force passing to his rear.
At Cross Keys, about six miles from Harrisonburg, he delivered battle to Fremont, on June 8th, and, after a long and bloody conflict, as night closed in he was master of the field. Leaving one division—Ewells—on the ground, to resist Fremont if he should return next day, he that night marched the rest of his army to Port Republic, which lies in the forks of the river, and made his arrangements to attack the troops of Shields's command next morning on the Lewis farm, just below the town.
On the day of the conflict at Cross Keys I held the bridge across North River at Mount Crawford with a battalion of cavalry, four howitzers, and a Parrott gun, to prevent a cavalry flank movement on Jackson's trains at Port Republic. About 10 o'clock at night I received a note from Jackson, written in pencil on the blank margin of a newspaper, directing me to report with my command at Port Republic before daybreak. On the same slip, and as a postscript, he wrote, "Poor Ashby is dead. He fell gloriously.... I know you will join with me in mourning the loss of our friend, one of the noblest men and soldiers in the Confederate army." I carried that slip of paper till it was literally worn to tatters.
It was early, Sunday, June 8th, when Jackson and his staff reached the bridge at Port Republic. General E. B. Tyler, who, with two brigades of Shields's division, was near by on the east side of the river, had sent two guns and a few men, under a green and inefficient officer to the bridge. They arrived about the same time as Jackson, but, his troops soon coming up, the Federal officer and his supports made great haste back to the Lewis farm, losing a gun at the bridge.
I reached Port Republic an hour before daybreak of June 9th, and sought the house occupied by Jackson; but not wishing to disturb him so early, I asked the sentinel what room was occupied by "Sandy" Pendleton, Jackson's adjutant-general. "Upstairs, first room on the right," he replied.
Supposing he meant our right as we faced the house, I went up, softly opened the door, and discovered General Jackson lying on his face across the bed, fully dressed, with sword, sash, and boots all on. The low-burnt tallow candle on the table shed a dim light, yet enough by which to recognize him. I endeavored to withdraw without waking him. He turned over, sat up on the bed, and called out, "Who is that?"
He checked my apology with "That is all right. It's time to be up. I am glad to see you. Were the men all up as you came through camp?"
"Yes, General, and cooking."
"That's right. We move at daybreak. Sit down. I want to talk to you."
I had learned never to ask him questions about his plans, for he would never answer such to any one. I therefore waited for him to speak first. He referred very feelingly to Ashby's death, and spoke of it as an irreparable loss. When he paused I said, "General, you made a glorious winding-up of your four weeks' work yesterday."
He replied, "Yes, God blessed our army again yesterday, and I hope with his protection and blessing we shall do still better today."
Then seating himself, for the first time in all my intercourse with him, he outlined the day's proposed operations. I remember perfectly his conversation He said: "Charley Winder will cross the river at daybreak and attack Shields on the Lewis farm. I shall support him with all the other troops as fast as they can be put in line. General 'Dick' Taylor will move through the woods on the side of the mountain with his Louisiana brigade, and rush upon their left flank by the time the action becomes general. By 10 o'clock we shall get them on the run, and I'll now tell you what I want with you. Send the big new rifle-gun you have [a 12-pounder Parrott] to Poague [commander of the Rockbridge artillery] and let your mounted men report to the cavalry. I want you in person to take your mountain howitzers to the field, in some safe position in rear of the line, keeping everything packed on the mules, ready at any moment to take to the mountain-side. Three miles below Lewis's there is a defile on the Luray road. Shields may rally and make a stand there. If he does, I can't reach him with the field-batteries on account of the woods. You can carry your 12-pounder howitzers on the mules up the mountain-side, and at some good place unpack and shell the enemy out of the defile, and the cavalry will do the rest."
This plan of battle was carried out to the letter. I took position in a ravine about two hundred yards in rear of Poague's battery in the center of the line. General Tyler, who had two brigades of Shields's division, made a very stubborn fight, and by 9 o'clock matters began to look very serious for us. Dick Taylor had not yet come down out of the woods on Tyler's left flank.
Meanwhile I was having a remarkable time with our mules in the ravine...News came up the line from the left that Winder's brigade near the river was giving way. Jackson rode down in that direction to see what it meant. As he passed on the brink of our ravine, his eye caught the scene, and, reining up a moment, he accosted me with, "Colonel, you seem to have trouble down there." I made some reply which drew forth a hearty laugh, and he said, "Get your mules to the mountain as soon as you can, and be ready to move."
Then he dashed on. He found his old brigade had yielded slightly to overwhelming pressure. Galloping up, he was received with a cheer; and, calling out at the top of his voice, "The 'Stonewall' brigade never retreats; follow me!" led them back to their original line. Taylor soon made his appearance, and the flank attack settled the work of the day. A wild retreat began. The pursuit was vigorous. No stand was made in the defile. We pursued them eight miles. I rode back with Jackson, and at sunset we were on the battlefield at the Lewis mansion....
Fremont, hearing the noise of the battle, had hurried out from near Harrisonburg to help Tyler; but Jackson had burnt the bridge at Port Republic, after Ewell had held Fremont in check some time on the west side of the river and escaped, so that when Fremont came in sight of Tyler's battlefield, the latter's troops had been routed and the river could not be crossed.
The next day I returned to Staunton, and found General W. H. C. Whiting, my old commander after the fall of General Bee at Bull Run, arriving with a division of troops to reinforce Jackson. Taking him and his staff to my house as guests, General Whiting left soon after breakfast with a guide to call on Jackson at Swift Run Gap, near Port Republic, where he was resting his troops. The distance from Staunton was about twenty miles, but Whiting returned after midnight. He was in a towering passion, and declared that Jackson had treated him outrageously. I asked, "How is that possible, General, for he is very polite to every one?"
"Oh! hang him, he was polite enough. But he didn't say one word about his plans. I finally asked him for orders, telling him what troops I had. He simply told me to go back to Staunton, and he would send me orders tomorrow. I haven't the slightest idea what they will be. I believe he hasn't any more sense than my horse."
Seeing his frame of mind, and he being a guest in my house, I said little. Just after breakfast, next morning, a courier arrived with a terse order to embark his troops on the railroad trains and move to Gordonsville at once, where he would receive further orders. This brought on a new explosion of wrath. "Didn't I tell you he was a fool, and doesn't this prove it? Why, I just came through Gordonsville day before yesterday."
However, he obeyed the order; and when he reached Gordonsville he found Jackson there, and his little Valley army coming after him; a few days later McClellan was astounded to learn that Jackson was on his right flank on the Chickahominy. Shortly after the seven days' battle around Richmond, I met Whiting again, and he then said, "I didn't know Jackson when I was at your house. I have found out now what his plans were, and they were worthy of a Napoleon. But I still think he ought to have told me his plans; for if he had died McClellan would have captured Richmond. I wouldn't have known what he was driving at, and might have made a mess of it. But I take back all I said about his being a fool."
From the date of Jackson's arrival at Staunton till the battle of Port Republic was thirty-five days. He marched from Staunton to McDowell, 40 miles, from McDowell to Front Royal, about 110, from Front Royal to Winchester, 20 miles, Winchester to Port Republic, 75 miles, a total of 245 miles, fighting in the meantime 4 desperate battles, and winning them all.
On the 17th of June, leaving only his cavalry, under Brigadier-General B. H. Robertson, and Chew's battery, and the little force I was enlisting in the valley (which was now no longer threatened by the enemy), Jackson moved all his troops south-east, and on the 25th arrived at Ashland, seventeen miles from Richmond. This withdrawal from the valley was so skillfully managed that his absence from the scene of his late triumphs was unsuspected at Washington. On the contrary, something like a panic prevailed there, and the Government was afraid to permit McDowell to unite his forces with McClellan's lest it should uncover and expose the capital to Jackson's supposed movement on it.
Jackson's military operations were always unexpected and mysterious. In my personal intercourse with him in the early part of the war, before he had become famous, he often said there were two things never to be lost sight of by a military commander: "Always mystify, mislead, and surprise the enemy, if possible; and when you strike and overcome him, never let up in the pursuit so long as your men have strength to follow; for an army routed, if hotly pursued, becomes panic-stricken, and can then be destroyed by half their number. The other rule is, never fight against heavy odds, if by any possible maneuvering you can hurl your own force on only a part, and that the weakest part, of your enemy and crush it. Such tactics will win every time, and a small army may thus destroy a large one in detail, and repeated victory will make it invincible."
His celerity of movement was a simple matter. He never broke down his men by too-long-continued marching. He rested the whole column very often, but only for a few minutes at a time. I remember that he liked to see the men lie down flat on the ground to rest, and would say, "A man rests all over when he lies down."