From his headquarters at Winchester in January 1862, Jackson, with 9,000 men, launched an offensive called the Romney Campaign that cleared of Union troops the region immediately northwest of the Valley, but was otherwise of no importance.
Lincoln had conditioned his approval on McClellan leaving enough troops at Manassas Junction to "leave Washington entirely secure." McClellan intended to fulfill that obligation with Banks's corps. On March 13 he ordered Banks to transfer his headquarters and one of his two divisions to Manassas Junction; three days later he directed him to leave just one brigade in the Valley.
Before leaving, Banks directed the commander of his second division, Brigadier General James Shields, to conduct a reconnaissance in force to Strasburg. Finding nothing, Shields withdrew to Winchester on March 20. Confederate chief of cavalry Colonel Turner Ashby followed Shields. On March 22 he told Jackson that Banks had left the Valley and that only a handful of Union troops remained near Winchester, when in fact Shields's entire division, just over 10,000 strong, was there.
Despite a tactical defeat at Kernstown, Jackson had gained a strategic victory. The battle compelled Banks to return to the Valley. On April 3, after he learned that McClellan had intended for Banks to be the covering force at Manassas Junction, Lincoln countermanded the embarkation of 40,000 troops under Union general Irvin McDowell for the Peninsula and instead held them near Fredericksburg. McDowell was named commander of the newly created Department of the Rappahannock. Lincoln reduced McClellan from general-in-chief to commander of the Army of the Potomac. He also created the Mountain Department for John C. Frémont. Unity of command was lost. There were now three independent departments between the Alleghenies and the Peninsula, all of which reported to President Lincoln and Edwin M. Stanton, secretary of war.
Bad weather in the Valley prevented any movements until April 17, when Banks started south for Harrisonburg. The strategic situation by then had changed. Johnston had redeployed to the Peninsula with 55,000 men to oppose McClellan's 110,000. Robert E. Lee had become military advisor to President Davis. Between Johnston and Jackson was Confederate general Richard S. Ewell's division.
Jackson was willing to concede the Valley as far south as North River to maintain contact with Ewell. When Banks occupied Harrisonburg on April 25, Jackson withdrew to Swift Run Gap, which placed him in position to outflank Banks should he push beyond Harrisonburg or to move his own command east to join Johnston.
Jackson benefited from Banks's erroneous conclusion that Jackson had left the Valley. On May 1 Lincoln withdrew Banks to Strasburg and ordered Shields's division to join McDowell at Fredericksburg, leaving the road open to Jackson.
After returning to the Shenandoah Valley, Jackson decided to move with Ewell against Banks at Strasburg. Fearing such a move to be in the offing, Banks asked but was refused permission to abandon Strasburg. To protect his left flank and rear, he dispatched the 900-man 1st Maryland Infantry (Union) to Front Royal on May 21.
Contradictory orders from Johnston based on a poor understanding of the situation in the Valley almost derailed plans. But in the end, Johnston, partly on the advice of Lee, permitted Jackson to conduct a rapid attack on Banks. Jackson was to push Banks through Winchester and demonstrate toward the Potomac River in order to draw Shields back to the Valley.
On May 24 Banks retreated to Winchester. He escaped with minimal loss because of poor coordination between Jackson and Ewell; a lackluster performance by Confederate general George H. Steuart, whose two cavalry regiments missed a chance to cut Banks's column in two at Middletown; and superior use of his own rear guard.
On the night of May 24 Banks deployed his 3,500-man command south of Winchester. Although he knew that defeat was certain against Jackson's 16,000 troops, he elected to fight in order to give his trains of 550 wagons a head start toward Williamsport, 35 miles distant on the Potomac. Jackson attacked at dawn on May 25, and after two hours of sharp fighting drove Banks from Winchester. Once again Stuart failed to obey orders to strike at Banks. That, along with the absence of Ashby's cavalry—Ashby never accounted for his whereabouts—and the exhaustion of the Confederate infantry, prevented Jackson from pursuing Banks.
On June 1 Frémont skirmished inconclusively with a blocking force under Ewell. McDowell failed to move at all, and the Confederates slipped through Strasburg and up the Shenandoah Valley. Assuming that Jackson intended to leave the Valley at Swift Run Gap and rejoin the army at Richmond, Shields obtained McDowell's half-hearted concurrence to take his division down Page Valley and cut off Jackson's escape route while Frémont pressed him from behind up the Valley Pike.
The battles of Cross Keys and Port Republic were unnecessary, as Lincoln already had ordered an end to the campaign. Neither Frémont nor Shields had received the recall orders in time to avoid the needless carnage.
The perceived brilliance of Jackson's accomplishments in the Valley—particularly the twin victories of Cross Keys and Port Republic—lifted him to the status of a national idol. After a spring of setbacks, the South was starved for such victories, and Jackson had gained for the Confederacy something more precious than merely a morale boost; he provided time to improve on the defenses of Richmond, and with that came a new lease on life for the Confederacy.
But Jackson's success was, in part, a consequence of Lincoln's strategic errors. Had he allowed McDowell to march south on Richmond, Johnston would have been compelled to strike McClellan before the two Union forces joined up, an action that undoubtedly would have gone against the Confederates. With the weight of McDowell's added numbers, not even one as cautious as McClellan or as apt to overestimate the enemy's strength could have failed to take Richmond and destroy Johnston's army.
Jackson took his success in stride. Uncomfortable with the fame that had been thrust upon him, he told his pastor the night before leaving the Valley for Richmond, "I am afraid that our people are looking to the wrong source for help, and ascribing our success to those to whom they are not due. If we fail to Trust in God and give Him all the glory, our cause is ruined."
November 4, 1861 - Confederate general Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson arrives in Winchester to assume command of the Valley District, organized as part of the Department of Northern Virginia.
June 9, 1862 - Confederate general Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson defeats the Union brigades of Samuel S. Carroll and Erastus B. Tyler at the Battle of Port Republic, ending the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862.
- Civil War, American (1861–1865)
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First published: January 28, 2010 | Last modified: November 29, 2012