May 20, 1862 (Tuesday)
Stonewall Jackson was not one to let the grass of the Shenandoah Valley grow under the feet of his “foot cavalry.” The May 18th decision to disregard General Johnston’s orders seemed to be working well. On the 19th, both Jackson and General Ewell began to rapidly concentrate their forces to attack Union General Nathaniel Banks’ 8,000 men at Strasburg. By the morning of this date, Jackson’s troops had passed through Harrisonburg and were on their way to New Market, the rendezvous point.
General Ewell’s men were more spread out, but at least a brigade would make it to New Market by the end of the day. Jackson had dispatched Turner Ashby’s cavalry to block roads that could be used by Union General Fremont at Franklin to come to the aid of Banks. Other scouts were sent to find back roads that would allow Jackson’s force to surprise the Federals at Strasburg. Everything was falling perfectly into place.1
That is, until the morning of this date. All of the troops were in the Shenandoah Valley but General Branch’s Brigade, which was on the east side of the Blue Ridge Mountains. With orders to cross the mountains into the Valley, General Branch had stepped off at 5am, like the rest of troops. By this morning, he was moving his North Carolinians up and over the Blue Ridge. Before the sun was barely up, a courier from General Johnston overtook him, telling him that soon formal orders would arrive that would require him to head towards Richmond to join the Army of Northern Virginia, facing off against General McClellan and his Union Army of the Potomac.
Realizing that this was the exact opposite of Jackson and Ewell’s plans, he halted his men, returned to Madison Court House and sent a messenger to Ewell, telling him the bad news. Receiving it in the afternoon, Ewell was sure that Jackson wouldn’t be thrilled about losing a whole brigade. But before he could pen a message to him, a courier rode in from General Johnston himself, and the news got a whole lot worse.2
Like the previous dispatch sent from Johnston in an attempt to wrench Ewell from the Valley, it was outdated by three days. “If Banks is fortifying near Strasburg,” warned Johnston, “the attack would be too hazardous.” Since Banks was indeed fortifying near Strasburg, Jackson was to “observe him” while Ewell came eastward. Not only was Branch being recalled, but Ewell was being recalled as well. Johnston even made mention of Jackson leaving the Valley. Though it might seem strange, Jackson had not been completely opposed to this idea. In a dispatch to Ewell on the same date as Johnston’s, Jackson suggested the same idea if Banks completely left the Valley. However, Banks had not and so Jackson wished to fall upon him. 3
Ewell himself rode to Jackson’s headquarters at Tenth Legion, between Harrisonburg and New Market, to break the news. They found some privacy in a grove of trees and Ewell explained the order while Jackson took it all in. Just as nobody in Richmond could know the situation in the Valley, neither Jackson nor Ewell could know the situation at Richmond. Perhaps things were so bad there that Jackson’s entire command was indeed needed. The orders were very clear. Ewell was to head east. For him to stay would be true insubordination. There was, however, a sliver of hope.
Johnston’s latest outdated dispatch was written before Jackson’s message explaining why he needed Ewell had arrived. There was a chance that new orders were on their way. Hoping to cut through the smoke, Jackson sent a rider to Staunton to blast off a telegram to General Robert E. Lee, the President’s military advisor. This was going over Johnston’s head, but Lee had already given Jackson permission to launch the campaign.4
“I am of opinion that an attempt should be made to defeat Banks,” wrote Jackson, “but under instructions just received from General Johnston I do not feel at liberty to make an attack. Please answer by telegraph at once.”5
Lee probably got the message that night and, not being Jackson’s commander, passed it along to Johnston. Because of the three-day lag in messages, however, Johnston had already responded to Jackson’s earlier, similar messages. That dispatch, written on the 18th, was ridden into Ewell’s camp in the evening.
“The whole question is, whether or not General Jackson & yourself are too late to attack Banks,” mused the suddenly open-minded Johnston. “If so the march eastward should be made. If not (supposing your strength be sufficient) then attack.”6
Jackson, of course, chose to attack.
Confederate Tucson Falls to the Union
Confederates under Captain Sherod Hunter had occupied Tucson, Arizona since February 28. From there, they made several forays westward, even fighting with the vanguard of the Union “California Column” gathering at Fort Yuma.
The number of Confederates was small, perhaps only sixty (though some sources have them in the hundreds). The “California Column” numbered roughly 1,800. They had been culled from several forts in California, herded towards Fort Yuma and were pressing eastward, hoping to recapture the US Territory of New Mexico, the bottom half of which, the Rebels claimed as the CS Territory of Arizona.
On this date, the first Union troops under Lt. Col. Joseph West marched into the city. They found it completely devoid of Confederates. Even the secessionists had fled into Mexico.
With the defeat of the Confederate Army of New Mexico under General Sibley, it was hoped that the Column could continue all the way to Mesilla, opening the overland mail route and reestablishing quicker communication with the east. The ultimate goal, of course, was to bring all of New Mexico under the rule of the United States.7
- Stonewall Jackson by James I. Robertson, MacMillian Books, 1997. [↩]
- Stonewall in the Valley by Robert G. Tanner, Stackpole Books, 1996. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 3, p896-897. [↩]
- Shenandoah 1862 by Peter Cozzens, University of North Carolina Press, 2007. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 3, p898. [↩]
- Stonewall Jackson by James I. Robertson, MacMillan, 1997. [↩]
- Records of California Men in the War of the Rebellion 1861 to 1867, p50-51. [↩]