Sunday, December 24, 2006

Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862

Dates: 23 March to 17 June 1862


Union : Major Generals John Fremont, Irwin McDowell, and Nathaniel Banks, each commanding a division with a combined total of nearly 50,000.

Confederate: Major General Thomas Jackson, commanding the Army of the Valley, and Major General Richard Ewell, commanding a division attacked to Jackson. Total of 17,000.

Prelude: The Spring of 1862 was a time of great anxiety for the Confederacy. Things have been relatively quiet but there is a wonder what the Federals will do next. There was a belief that Major General George McClellan will do something. There has to be some confusion as to why McClellan, with an overwhelming force at his command, has not done anything yet.

Jackson was not the sort of man to sit. The former Virginia Military Institute professor had already received a reputation for hard fighting at the First Battle of Manassas where the nickname “Stonewall” was applied to him. He always felt it was right to apply the nickname to the brigade he led, not to him. (His former brigade was known as the Stonewall Brigade.)

At this tine Jackson held an independent command in Virginia, as the army guarding the Confederate capital of Richmond was not yet known as the Army of Northern Virginia. That army was commanded by General Joseph Johnston while its future commander, General Robert E. Lee, was presently the military advisor to President Jefferson Davis.

20 March 1862: Upon receiving intelligence of a Union formation entering the Shenandoah River Valley, Jackson and his 6000 men move to meet them. The Union force, under Brigadier General James Shields, begins moving back towards the town of Winchester. This is a ploy in order to split Jackson from the main Confederate force.

22 March 1862: Jackson’s troops approach Kernstown, south of Winchester. Shields has his troops dig in. There is a brief, sharp action, during which Shields is wounded.

23 March 1862: Battle of Kernstown (Winchester): Jackson believes that there are only 3000 Federal troops facing him. In fact there are 8500 commanded by Colonel Nathan Kimball, who took over for the wounded Shields.

12:00 noon: Jackson opens the battle with a artillery barrage. He then begins a series of assaults hoping to dislodge the Union forces from their trenches.

3:00 p.m.: Kimball launches an attack on Jackson’s left flank, forcing them back and causing a near rout. Jackson has no choice but to order a retreat and the force heads for Mount Jackson, to the southwest.

This is the only defeat Jackson will suffer in his entire military career!

Banks is happy with that result and begins to send some of his forces to reinforce McClellan, who is enroute to Fort Monroe to start the Peninsular Campaign. However, it was feared in Washington that Jackson’s attack was an opening move that could lead to the Confederates taking Harper’s Ferry. Banks is ordered to stop moving his corps and concentrate at Winchester. Meanwhile, a corps commanded by McDowell is taken from McClellan’s forces and assigned to the defense of the Federal capital.

25 March, 1862: Union troops break off the pursuit of Jackson at Woodstock.

29 March, 1862: Fremont takes over as commander of Union forces in Western Virginia (the future State of West Virginia).

30 March, 1862: Jackson force reaches Harrisonburg, where they will remain for the next three weeks.

As Jackson’s men are licking their wounds, two Federal corps, Banks and McDowell, are pushing their way into the Valley.

There is not much action during the month of April in the Valley. All of the action at the time is in the Peninsula (but that is another Timeline).

30 April, 1862: Jackson receives help in the form of reinforcements led by Ewell. He now has a force of 17,000 and can soon take the offensive.

3 May, 1862: Jackson pulls his troops out of the Valley to Mechum River Station, where they will head west to Staunton.

Jackson enjoyed two advantages; first, the Federal forces are scattered, Banks is at Strasburg, McDowell is preparing to move on Richmond, and Fremont is at Franklin (Western Virginia). Jackson is closer to each Federal formation then they are to each other. Second, Jackson had lived in nearby Western Virginia as a child, and would know the area. He decided to use that to his advantage and his Fremont first.

8 May, 1862: Battle of McDowell: The leading formation of Fremont reached the town of McDowell. Under Brigadier General Robert Milroy, the advancing column deploys into line of battle and assault Jackson. Jackson sees the attacking Federal force and orders an attack of his own. This stops the Federal assault and sends then into a retreat, with the Confederates in pursuit.

The pursuit continues until both forces reach Franklin. Jackson then orders his forces to break off the pursuit and return to Harrisonburg. This keeps Fremont from joining Banks.

14 May, 1862: Jackson’s army is concentrated at Harrisonburg. He decides to make Banks his next target.

20 May, 1862: Jackson makes his move, first moving up the Shenandoah Valley, then switching to the Luray Valley by making a right turn at New Market, then turning back to the north at Luray Town.

Around this time, McClellan wanted McDowell, who at this time was advancing near Fredericksburg, to join him on the Peninsula. This would have further complicated the already poor tactical situation in the Valley.

22 May, 1862: Jackson’s troops push on toward Front Royal, where a small Federal garrison is stationed.

23 May, 1862: Battle of Front Royal: Facing Jackson is the small Federal command of Colonel J.R. Kenley, about 1400. The full might of Jackson descends on Kenley about noon, sweeping them away with a loss of 932 Federals killed or injured.

24 May, 1862: In response to the troubling situation in the Valley (and the possible threat to Washington), President Abraham Lincoln orders Fremont to enter the Valley and take Harrisonburg. He also vetoes the transfer of McDowell to McClellan’s command. McClellan had over 100,000 in his command, surely that was enough to defeat Johnston and take Richmond.

Banks, upon hearing of the defeat at Front Royal, pulls back to Winchester in order to concentrate his forces.

25 May, 1862: Battle of Winchester: Jackson manages to catch up to Banks south of Winchester. At dawn, he launches a series of attacks that last five hours and results in Banks ordering a withdrawal to the Potomac River. Jackson also captures Bank’s supply depot, one of several similar occurrences that will earn Banks the nickname “Commissary.” Of course, the addition of so many Federal supplies was a shot in the arm to Jackson’s men. Jackson does not let his men enjoy the windfall for too lone, and orders a pursuit of Banks.

26 May, 1862: Banks manages to cross the Potomac before Jackson can cut him off. Still, this eliminates one Union army from the area and gives Jackson control of the Valley. This also places a Confederate army within striking distance of Washington, which must have given the civilian leadership there fits.

Lincoln orders McDowell to break off his advance on Richmond and concentrate near Harper’s Ferry, about 40,000 men to take on Jackson. Jackson sees three Federal columns coming to destroy him and does the smart thing, a gradual pull back into the Valley.
30 May, 1862: There is a brief skirmish near front Royal as Federal troops reoccupy the town.

31 May, 1862: While Johnston’s main force is battling McClellan at Fair Oaks, Johnston is wounded. This resulted in a change in the dynamics of the general situation at Lee is ordered to assume command.

On this same day, Jackson escapes an attempt by Fremont to trap him at Winchester and the Confederates continue movement to the south.

2 June, 1862: Skirmishing continues as Jackson continues to draw Fremont and McDowell south.

6 June, 1862: Jackson suffers a blow when his most gifted cavalry, Brigadier general Turner Ashby, is killed in a skirmish near Harrisonburg.

8 June, 1862: Battle of Cross Keys: Jackson finds himself between Fremont and McDowell and knows that the two can not meet. He sends Ewell against Fremont.

Ewell places his forces on a ridge near the Cross Keys Tavern. Fremont, not sure of the amount of Confederates facing him, made a series of probes that did not do too much. At this rate, Fremont found himself tied down as Jackson took his remaining forces to the east. That night, Ewell pulls out and marches to rejoin Jackson.

9 June, 1862: Battle of Port Republic: After a skirmish the day before, which almost resulted in his capture, Jackson throws his full might on Shields’ division of McDowell’s army. After a series of frontal assaults that are repulsed, Jackson launches a frontal assault with a flanking movement, using a division that marched through dense forest to get into position, which peels back the Federals. Fremont arrives in the area but can not come up in support; the bridge across the Shenandoah was taken down on Jackson’s orders to prevent just that. Both Fremont and McDowell begin to pull back their armies, leaving Jackson the master of the Shenandoah Valley.

Jackson managed to do three things, he first tied up close to 64,000 troops, preventing them from assisting McClellan or threatening Richmond, second, he managed to threaten Washington, even if he could do nothing about it, and third, he secured the Shenandoah Valley, the Breadbasket of the Confederacy.

17 June, 1862: After a few days of rest, Jackson begins marching his forces to join Lee. He would make himself apparent at the Battle of Mechanicsville and ultimately a corps commander under Lee.

After a military reorganization that would place him under Major General John Pope, Fremont resigned his command, and would never receive another one.

McDowell would command the III Corps of the Army of Virginia (Pope’s command) and after a leave of absence would see the war’s end as Commander, Department of the Pacific.

Banks would spend the war in various commands, including II Corps, Army of Virginia, Commander, Military District of Washington, XIX Corps, Department of the Gulf, and finally commander of the Department of the Gulf. Banks would be known for several ill-fated attempts to conquer the Confederacy west of the Mississippi River, including the Red River Campaign.

Jackson would lead a corps in the Army of Northern Virginia and experience the Confederate victories at Second Manassas, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville, where he was wounded as he was coming back from a scouting mission near the Federal lines. Jackson would die of the pneumonia that resulted.

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