Jackson Falls into Old Habbits, Both Good and Bad, at the Battle of Cedar Mountain

August 9, 1862 (Saturday)

Culpeper Court House

Union General John Pope was doing what he could to concentrate his Army of Virginia at Culpeper Court House. He knew that Stonewall Jackson’s entire force of 22,500 was rapidly moving towards him from the south, and suspected that General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia would be along shortly. While his own army, roughly 45,000-strong, was enough to deal with Jackson, it was not enough to deal with both Confederate commanders.

The plan, then, was to stall Jackson near Cedar Mountain, eight miles south of Culpeper, with General Samuel Crawford’s Brigade and some cavalry while the rest of his army gathered to defeat the Rebel legend. After Jackson was whipped, he would move back against the Blue Ridge Mountains and await Lee and hope for McClellan’s Army of the Potomac, removed from the Peninsula, to even the score.

But General Franz Sigel, whom he had yesterday called “slow and stupid,” was late on arriving with his corps. He wouldn’t come in time, and when he did, he would come with starving, exhausted men without rations. General Irvin McDowell’s Corps was divided between Culpeper and Fredericksburg, and wouldn’t be together for at least a couple of days. This left General Nathaniel Banks’ Corps, which Pope ordered forward to assist Crawford against the coming enemy.1

Federal battery fording a stream en route to Cedar Mountain.

Pope’s orders to Banks, however, were verbal. Over the passing of 150 years, the exact language has been lost and was argued about almost immediately. According to Pope, at 9:45am, he instructed Banks to take up a good position and wait for Jackson to attack. He was to throw out his skirmishers and when Jackson arrived, he was to tell Pope, who would order Rickett’s Division (and Sigel’s, should he bother to show up) to the front.

But, this is not how Banks remembers it. The orders were delivered by an aide, who told him to throw out his skirmishers and attack Jackson as soon as he appeared. He would be reinforced after that.

The aide, Colonel Louis H. Marshall, oddly, a nephew of Robert E. Lee, later claimed that both Pope and Banks had it wrong. The exact order, according to Marshall, was that Banks was to join Crawford and attack Jackson if Jackson appeared like he was going to attack him. He was to hit Jackson with his (Banks’) skirmishers well out in front.

Cedar Mountain

This may have been the exact order given, but it was not Pope’s intension and could all have been avoided if the commanding officer of the Army of Virginia would have simply written the damn thing down. It could also have been cleared up an hour later, when Banks dropped in at Pope’s headquarters. There, Pope gave him a guide to show him the way, but, according to Banks, made no mention of the specific orders. According to Pope, however, he did clear it up, reiterating the order as he had previously stated.2

As Banks marched his corps south towards Cedar Mountain, Stonewall Jackson moved his army north. Jackson’s cavalry had been reporting the gathering Federals, and by noon it was determined that Cedar Mountain was where they were making their stand.

While on a rest from the sultry march, Jackson was overtaken by General Charles Winder, who commanded Jackson’s old division. Winder was very sick and had been ordered to stay in bed by his doctor. Upon hearing that the army was moving forward, however, he couldn’t obey the physician and had finally caught up to his troops.

From an adjacent hill, Jackson could see what he believed to be Union cavalry drawn up before them with clouds of dust rising to the north, indicating Union infantry was on its way.

Jackson quickly jumped into action, sending General Jubal Early’s Brigade, of Ewell’s Division in on the left, while Ewell moved with the rest of his division on the right, ending up nearly on the other side of Cedar Mountain. Closing the huge gap between them was Jackson’s artillery, and they began to hammer away.3

The reply came from the Federal artillery, indicating that the enemy infantry was up. However, the utter mess of a march that Jackson undertook the previous day still haunted him as he deployed for battle. General A.P. Hill’s huge division was picking their way around wagon trains on the double quick and wouldn’t be available for some time. Only half of his force was up, and yet Jackson, knowing only that General Banks was before him, decided to attack.

General Winder’s Division was moving into position when Stonewall divulged his plan to both Winder and Ewell. While Early moved along the road to Culpeper, the rest of Ewell’s Division would turn the Federal left flank. Winder would support Early, while extending his own flank to envelope the Federal right. With artillery in the center, right and left, the Federals would soon be crushed.

As the infantry marched to readiness, the artillery dueled. For two hours shot, shell, fire and blood exploded up and down the lines. A.P. Hill’s Division was still miles away.

General Winder

Around 3pm, Winder, still very ill, got his division into position, while the temperatures climbed into the high nineties. The Rebel artillery was doing its job, pushing back the Federal artillery, who put up a staunch fight. Winder, using opera glasses for a telescope, was personally directing the fire of the Rockbridge Artillery. As he was calling out orders to a gunner, a Federal shell hit its mark, tearing through his body and shredding his arm. Though he would die a few hours later, the General’s body lay twitching on the ground as the only man on the Confederate left who knew of Stonewall’s plan passed out of consciousness.4

Jackson’s plan, however, was a good one. But it required enough commanders to lead it and Union General Banks to remain in position to receive it. There were not and he (Banks) did not. Following what he believed to be his orders, Banks attacked. Hitting Early’s men on his left, the fighting devolved into chaos, with neither side able to make gains. On the Union right, however, Crawford’s Brigade smashed into Winder’s confused division, immediately taking out two brigades. With their hackles up, the Federals smashed another and even sent Early reeling back on his heels.

Banks seemed to be doing the unthinkable. Banks, who had been soundly whipped in the Valley, was giving Stonewall the drubbing of his life.5 But then Jackson did something most considered unthinkable. Seeing that his army was about to suffer an indignant defeat, he raised his sword above his head and grabbed a battle flag.

“Rally brave men, and press forward!” yelled Stonewall at the top of his lungs, “Your general will lead you. Jackson will lead you. Follow me!” It worked. Though an officer hurried Jackson to relative safety, the men began to rally. The Federal tide was cresting.

As Jackson rode to the rear, he saw A.P. Hill’s wayward division on the approach to the battlefield. Greeting Hill in a cordial, but probably cold, manner, he personally ordered the first two brigades into position, shoring up Early’s crumbling line and replacing Winder’s dismantled one. The Federals were still advancing when Hill’s men hit them.

As Hill pushed the Union troops back, Ewell, launched a spirited flank attack putting an end to it.6

Union commander, General Pope, had arrived on the field just in time to see Banks’ troops in full retreat, nearly a third of them left behind on the field. Evening brought darkness and an end to the late-starting battle. Pope replaced Banks’ shell of a command with General Rickett’s Division, which just arrived on the field in time to skirmish with a few of Hill’s fresh brigades.

Stonewall Jackson, exhausted as his army, threw himself to the ground on the side of the road. “I want rest,” he mumbled to his staff, “nothing but rest.”

The Rebel artillery under William Pegram boomed away until General Pope, believing it was his own, sent an aide ordering them to cease fire. Pegram, believing the aide was from General Jackson, promptly limbered up and left the field. 7

General Pope’s Federals lost dearly with 314 killed, 1445 wounded and 622 captured. Jackson faired better with 223 killed, 1060 wounded and only 31 missing.8

  1. Counter-Thrust; The the Peninsula to the Antietam by Benjamin Franklin Cooling, University of Nebraska Press, 2007. This is actually a very thoughtful book. I’m liking it, especially the writing style. []
  2. John Pope by Peter Cozzens, University of Illinois Press, 2000. []
  3. Make Me a Map of the Valley by Jedediah Hotchkiss, Southern Methodist University, 1973. []
  4. Stonewall Jackson by James I. Robertson, MacMillan, 1997. []
  5. Counter-Thrust; The the Peninsula to the Antietam by Benjamin Franklin Cooling, University of Nebraska Press, 2007. []
  6. Stonewall Jackson by James I. Robertson, MacMillan, 1997. []
  7. Counter-Thrust; The the Peninsula to the Antietam by Benjamin Franklin Cooling, University of Nebraska Press, 2007. []
  8. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 2, p139 (Federal), 185 (Confederate). []
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Jackson Falls into Old Habbits, Both Good and Bad, at the Battle of Cedar Mountain by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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