Tag: West Virginia

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.

Second Battle of Winchester 13-15 June 1863

The Second Battle of Winchester

Before Gettysburg came the preparation of the route north. After the victory at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Robert E. Lee decided to move north to secure provisions for his increasingly ragged troops. As well as this practical matter, Lee hoped the move would encourage the peace activists of the north by threatening Washington, Baltimore, and Philadelphia from the west. Whilst encamped in Culpeper, Virginia with his infantry (LG Richard Ewell’s and Longstreet’s two Corps), Lee’s cavalry under J.E.B. Stuart met a large Federal Cavalry force led by Alfred Pleasanton near Brandy Station on 9 June 1863. This ended up being the largest cavalry battle of the entire war. It ended in a tactical draw, but had two significant outcomes. First, Stuart was successful in screening Lee’s force in Culpeper and the Union left the field not knowing where Lee was, but suspected he was amassing a large army on its doorstep. Second, the aggressive fighting of the Federal cavalry marked the end of Stuart’s domination of the cavalry field in the eastern theatre. The legend of the southern cavalry had been broken by excellent cavalry leaders, such as John Buford. Regardless of who won at Brandy Station, Lee’s army was still in Northern Virginia and on the move northward with determination to cause havoc.

Lee sent Ewell’s II Corps to clear the Winchester area of the Shenandoah Valley of known Union emplacements there. This was to be the route north and Lee wanted nothing slowing him down when he began his big gamble. The Union forces at Winchester were commanded by BG Robert Milroy and were significantly smaller than Ewell’s numbers. The emplacements were made up of the the “Star” fort to the west of Winchester and the main fort in the town itself. Because of the general havoc created by the advancing Confederates and the Union’s shallow numbers, Milroy had been ordered to withdrawal from Winchester to Harpers Ferry. However, after skirmishing all around Winchester on the 13th, Milroy decided to try to hold the town. This decision would later get him relieved of command, but the Confederates would relieve him of many of this troops before then.

On the 14th of June, Ewell began in earnest by sending Jubal Early’s Division to take the Star Fort during the day and increasing pressure on the main fort into the evening. As the Confederates closed on Winchester, Milroy was starting to think better of his option of withdrawal. After a quick counsel of war, he decided to retreat to the north. However, Ewell had anticipated this and sent Edward “Allegheny” Johnson’s division to cut him off. Johnson’s forces met Milroy’s retreat in the early morning hours of the 15th at Stephenson’s Depot on the Harpers Ferry road to the north of Winchester. Johnson created chaos around the Federals and Milroy’s command collapsed in panic. Milroy and some of his cavalry got away, but virtually all of the remaining infantry were killed or captured along with a great number of artillery, horses and supplies. By the morning of the 15th, all that was left was to mop up the stragglers.

The road was now clear for Lee to march northward with the mountains and Stuart’s cavalry as a screen. Gettysburg and destiny awaited.

Second Battle of Winchester Ride Recommendation

I’m writing about the Second Battle of Winchester, because I never miss a chance to recommend a ride in the Shenandoah Valley, especially any part of the Skyline Drive. I’ve also included some lesser known roads in West Virginia that are worth the ride. The Skyline Drive ends near Front Royal which is where Ewell staged from before the Second Battle of Winchester.

Map Credit:By U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1880–1901. (U.S. War Department,) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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