June 12, 1862 (Thursday)
“Gentlemen, in ten minutes every man must be in his saddle,” announced the Rebel cavalier, General James Ewell Brown Stuart. It was 2am, and the Confederate cavalry at Richmond was about to make history as they began their ride around the entire Union Army of the Potomac.
In five minutes, all present were dressed and mounted. Rations for three days had been prepared and each soldier was ready.1 Stuart’s command was overseen by two colonels, Fitzhugh Lee and Rooney Lee, the nephew and son of General Robert E. Lee. To ensure secrecy, none by the officers knew of the plan.
Stuart assembled his 1,200 at Kilby’s Station, where he crossed the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad. Keeping the rails on his right, he moved north. In hopes of fooling the Federals into believing that he was on his way to the Shenandoah Valley to reinforce Stonewall Jackson, Stuart first headed north towards Ashland. Through the day, as they rode northward, pickets and scouts probed on the right, in the direction of the Federal lines.
As the Confederates had maintained a loose control over this stretch of road, there were no serious encounters with the Federals. That night, after riding twenty-two miles, Stuart’s cavalry encamped opposite Hanover Court House, near the railroad bridge that crossed the South Anna River.
It had been an uneventful day, and any Federals that may have chanced a glimpse of the Rebel cavalry most certainly believed they were on their way to the Shenandoah Valley.2
Jackson Recrosses the River; Fremont Retreats Even Farther
The past two nights, Stonewall Jackson’s army had camped at Brown’s Gap, spreading themselves along both sides of the Blue Ridge Mountains. This position afforded great protection should the Federals under either Generals Fremont or Shields decide to attack. Since both Union forces were retreating north, however, Jackson felt it was safe to return to the Shenandoah Valley with his newly-reinforced command.
His topographer, Jedediah Hotchkiss, had improved two fords across the South River into Port Republic, and on this date, Jackson began to move his troops to a much better location. The General oversaw the crossing near the town, while Hotchkiss moved a few miles south to Patterson’s Mill to ensure the safety of the supply wagons.
Jackson made his camp in the park-like fields and forests between the Middle and South Rivers near Weyer’s Cave.3 Though close enough for the stragglers to explore, few soldiers entered the cave.
Henry Kyd Douglas, one of Jackson’s staff, had a mind to tour the depths of the cavern. To another staff member, he suggested the jaunt. “No thanks,” replied the officer. “Chances are that we will get underground soon enough and I have greater curiosity to know what I’ll see then, than I have in regard to Weyer’s Cave.” The introspective Douglas considered his friend’s philosophy and steered clear of the cave.4
As Jackson was settling in, his cavalry, under Col. Thomas Munford, was in Harrisonburg. Union General Fremont’s force had pulled north, leaving behind about 200 wounded from the battle of Cross Keys, which Munford claimed as prisoners. They also captured abandoned supplies, medicine, wagons, and 200 Belgian rifles. Munford’s picket followed Fremont’s trek to New Market and then Mount Jackson, twenty-five miles north of Harrisonburg.5
President Lincoln had ordered General Fremont to stay at Harrisonburg, but feeling that his force of 14,000 could not hold it against what he believed were Jackson’s 35,000, he asked Lincoln for permission to retreat north to Mount Jackson, and then arrived there before receiving a response. There was little Lincoln could do other than grant his approval for Fremont’s move, probably realizing that it had already occurred.6
The morning found Fremont in a frustrated, angry state. He believed his army to be neglected, as it wanted for shoes, supplies and munitions. This irritation was expressed by General Carl Shurz, one of Lincoln’s trusted friends, in a letter to the President.
In it, he defended Fremont’s decision to retreat to Mount Jackson, and, like General Shields the previous day, described the sorry state of his command. “Fremont’s force has dwindled down to 10,000 combatants at the outside,” wrote Shurz, “and these in a wretched condition.” Many of the infantry were barefooted. The cavalry and artillery were both in need of horses, the latter “hardly able to draw their pieces.” Such a force, so “weak and exhausted,” stood no chance at defeating Jackson, whose numbers he placed at 29,000.7
Not everyone believed Mount Jackson was the best place to meet the enemy, however. General Nathaniel Banks, commanding around 12,000 troops at Winchester, about forty-five miles north of Fremont’s camp, believed the best place to be Middletown. This small village along the Valley Turnpike, was only fifteen miles south of Winchester, and, if held, commanded both the Shenandoah and the adjacent Luray Valleys. Banks, like Shurz, believed that only by combining the two Union forces, could they defeat Stonewall Jackson.8
As Lincoln had ordered General Irvin McDowell’s entire First Corps (including Shields, Ord and King) to leave the Valley to join McClellan before Richmond, both Fremont and Banks were worried about Jackson’s growing numbers.
- Memoirs of the Confederate War for Independence, Volume 2 by Heros von Borcke, W. Blackwood and Sons, 1866. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 11, Part 1, p1036. Stuart’s Report. [↩]
- Make Me a Map of the Valley by Jedediah Hotchkiss, Southern Methodist University, 1973. [↩]
- I Rode With Stonewall by Henry Kyd Douglas, University of North Carolina Press, 1940. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 1, p732. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 1, p25. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 3, p379. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 3, p372-373. [↩]