Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley

by (Confederate) General John Daniel Imboden
Late 1800s

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 6,000 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 10,000 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 mall "Stonewall" Jackson was.

In that terrible winter's march and exposure, Jackson endured all 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 100,000 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 5,000 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 8,000 to 10,000 men.

On the day of the conflict at Cross Keys [June 8, 1862] 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 gum 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 ear]y, 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 anyone. 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 [Brigadier-General commanding his old 'Stonewall' brigade] will cross the river at daybreak and attack Shields on the Lewis farm [two miles below]. 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 200 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. Some of the shot aimed at Poague came bounding over our heads, and occasionally a shell would burst there. The mules became frantic. They kicked, plunged, and squealed. It was impossible to quiet them, and it took three or four men to hold one mule from breaking away. Each mule had about 300 pounds weight on him, so securely fastened that the load could not be dislodged by any of his capers. Several of them lay down and tried to wallow their loads off. The men held these down, and that suggested the idea of throwing them all on the ground and holding them there. The ravine sheltered us so that we were in no danger from the shot or shell which passed over us.

Just about the time our mule "circus" was at its height, 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.

Jackson accosted a medical officer, and said, "Have you brought off all the wounded?" "Yes, all of ours, but not all of the enemy's." "Why not?" "Because we were shelled from across the river." "Had you your hospital flag on the field?" "Yes." "And they shelled that?" "Yes." "Well, take your men to their quarters; I would rather let them all die than have one of my men shot intentionally under the yellow flag when trying to save their wounded."

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 20 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 GordonsvilIe 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 35 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.E. 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 southeast, and on the 25th arrived at Ashland, 17 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." |