Tag: Thomas Stonewall Jackson

Stonewall Jackson Begins Shenandoah Campaign

How the Legend of Stonewall Jackson Began

On 1 January 1862, Confederate General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson began his spectacular Shenandoah Campaign from Winchester, Virginia.  The campaign was designed to keep Union forces to the west from joining in the early war pressure on the Confederate Army’s positions in Richmond, Virginia. Jackson would be successful in this mission with some significant setbacks, but his reputation would grow immensely during this time. Jackson was the sort who would ask much of his troops, but never more than he would give himself. Most of the serious fighting in the Shenandoah would not occur until the Spring, but on 3 January, near the town of Bath in present day West Virginia, Jackson set the tone of his legend to come.

A Hard, Puritanical Man

Jackson was from Clarksburg, Virginia (present day West Virginia), so he was familiar with the terrain and people of the Shenandoah. When some of the troops under Brigadier General William Wing Loring complained to the Confederate leadership about the hard nature of Jackson’s command, Jackson resigned in disgust that the charges were taken seriously. Luckily for the Confederacy, calmer heads, including the Virginia Governor John Letcher and General Joseph E. Johnston, prevailed and Jackson wasn’t questioned further. Jackson was a hard, puritanical man, but only asked of his men what he himself would endure. One story tells of Confederate soldiers waking up near Bath with a dusting of snow on their blankets. They began to complain about Jackson, but they were startled to find Jackson stand up amongst them and shake the snow off his blanket as well. This kind of leadership was what allowed Jackson to literally walk his men’s shoes off and run circles around the Union units during the Shenandoah Campaign throughout the first half of 1862.

Stonewall Jackson Begins Shenandoah Campaign Motorcycle Ride

For a good feel for the northern part of the Shenandoah and the early part of the campaign, try this ride from Winchester, VA to Bath, WV to Romney, WV and back to Winchester.

American Civil War Battle of Fredericksburg (Part 1) 11 December 1862

On 11 December 1862, the long build up to the Battle of Fredricksburg was over and the fighting began in earnest. The week of 11-15 December 1862 was to be a bloody one, especially for the Union forces of Ambrose Burnside. Given the almost limitless time to fortify and prepare positions, the Rebels, under Thomas J. (Stonewall) Jackson and James Longstreet, were in a superior position and they took full advantage of it.

In the early hours of 11 December, Burnside sent his engineers to erect pontoon bridges over the Rappahannock and Rebel General William Barksdale’s Mississippi brigade began a hellacious sniper attack from the town. Union forces tried to protect the engineers with heavy artillery fire that left Fredricksburg a smoking pile. By mid afternoon of the 11th, Union forces, in an action of remarkable bravery, were able to cross the Rappahannock on pontoons, but then faced house to house fighting with Barksdale’s, slowly and methodically, retreating brigade. Slowly,
the Yankees cleared the the town. By evening, Barksdale was pulling back to the Rebel lines above the town. Burnside had his crossing, but at a terrible price. Worse was to follow. Tune in tomorrow for more.

The map above of the situation before the December battles shows just how close this fighting was to Washington, D.C. and how tenuous the Union’s hold on the country was at the time.

To get a feel for the great river Rappahannock, take US 17 from Fredericksburg southeast to Gloucester. At Tappahannock, you can get another good view of the river as it widens on its way into Chesapeake Bay. From Gloucester, you can go another 15 miles to cross the York river and into Yorktown.

Image courtesy of the United States Military Academy’s History Department’s Atlas Collection.

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