Stonewall in the Valley
The Valley Campaign
Shenandoah Valley, Virginia
View of the Shenandoah Valley from the Blue Ridge.
During the spring of 1862, the Confederacy seemed on the brink of collapse. In the east, Federal armies had gained control of most of the Atlantic Coast, and Maj. General George McClellan's Army of the Potomac was making its way toward Richmond by way of the Virginia Peninsula. In the west, Kentucky, Tennessee and Missouri were securely under Union control. And in the south, the navy had taken New Orleans, at the mouth of the Mississippi River. The Federals had also made progress in western Virginia, massing troops in the lower Shenandoah Valley.
Holding the Shenandoah Valley was a priority for the Confederacy, as it was one of their most fertile agricultural regions. The Valley, if secure, also offered a protected route to the north, giving the Confederate army the potential to move into Pennsylvania without fear of attack. Additionally, a Northern army invading Virginia through the Valley would be vulnerable to flanking attacks from entrenched Confederate forces along the Blue Ridge. Maj. General Thomas J. 'Stonewall' Jackson was ordered to take control of the Shenandoah, and subsequently led his men on a 48-day, 646-mile march through the Valley.
The campaign began inauspiciously with Jackson's sole defeat of the war, the First Battle of Kernstown on March 23rd. Jackson had received incorrect intelligence that a small detachment of Maj. General Nathaniel P. Banks’ Union army was vulnerable, but it turned out to be a full infantry division. The Confederates were driven from the field. However, there was no effective Union pursuit, and the loss turned out to be a strategic Confederate victory when President Lincoln reinforced the Valley with troops that had originally been designated for the Peninsula.
After more than a month of skirmishing with Banks, Jackson’s reinforced army, now 17,000 strong, made a surprise move to the west of the Valley. On May 8th, the Confederates overwhelmed Maj. General John Charles Frémont's army in the Battle of McDowell, preventing Frémont's men from combining with Banks’ army. Jackson then moved to confront Banks, marching his men through the Luray Valley to conceal their advance. On May 23rd, joining forces with Maj. General Richard Ewell's division, the Confederates captured the Federal garrison at Front Royal. Curtis retreated to the North, but Jackson pursued and defeated the Northern army, once again, in the First Battle of Winchester on May 25th.
At the end of May, with reinforcements from the east, Brig. General James Shields recaptured Front Royal for the Union, and moved his men to link up with Frémont’s army. Three small Union armies, totaling 51,000 men, now threatened Jackson as he withdrew up the Valley, pursued by both Frémont and Shields. On June 8, Ewell's Confederates defeated Frémont’s army in the Battle of Cross Keys and, on the following day, crossed the North River to join forces with Jackson where they defeated Shields in the Battle of Port Republic. The Northerners were pushed out of the Valley, and Jackson was now the most famous general in the South.