On the Victorious Retreat with Jackson

June 2, 1862 (Monday)

Again before dawn, Stonewall Jackson’s troops were marching south up the Shenandoah Valley. The previous day saw their narrow, almost miraculous escape between two Federal forces, commanded by General John C. Fremont to the west and General Irvin McDowell to the east. The Rebels were strung out and exhausted from weeks of hard marching and hard fighting.

The no-good cavalry general, George Steuart (not to be confused with the similarly named and much better qualified, Jeb Stuart).

It had rained through the night, turning even the macadamized Valley Pike to a stew of ankle-deep mud. General Fremont’s Union cavalry nipped ever closer at their heels. Even before dawn, the Federals nearly broke through Jackson’s rear guard. Jackson, more commonly remembered as commanding “foot cavalry,” was at the head of a column that started and stopped incessantly all morning.

At Woodstock, ten miles south of Strasburg (from where they started the previous evening), a rear guard of Confederate cavalry under General George Steuart were routed yet again. This time, they nearly lost their battery of artillery. So poorly did General Steuart perform his duties, two officers under him went to Jackson requesting that their commands be transfered to serve under Col. Turner Ashby. At some point in the day, Jackson agreed and placed all of his cavalry under Turner Ashby.

In the meantime, Ashby also had his hands full, mostly rescuing Steuart’s cavalry from the precarious positions their leader placed them in. At one point, Ashby sent a frantic message to Jackson, asking for infantry support, telling the General that if he didn’t receive it, they would possibly lose the artillery.1

Turner Ashby's got it all under control.

As Steuart’s troopers retreated, they ran into the Stonewall Brigade, bringing up the end of the infantry. One regiment mistook their comrades for the enemy and opened fire. Another, fixed bayonets ready to fight. Col. Ashby quickly gathered together whatever stragglers he could find and threw them into a makeshift unit to meet Fremont’s cavalry, riding hot upon Steuart’s retreating men. They they drew close, Ashby ordered his motley regiment to fire. The volley sent the Federals reeling, buying time for a regiment of the Stonewall Brigade to bolster Ashby’s numbers.2

As Fremont’s troops steamed after Jackson on the Valley Pike, General James Shields of McDowell’s command, pursued a different path. Hoping to cut off Jackson at New Market, Sheilds took his division up the Luray Valley, running parallel to the Shenandoah. Though doing everything he could, he complained to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton that Jackson’s numbers were exaggerated and that they (the Federals) had too many men chasing after him.

Around 5pm, Shields’ Division was poised to cross the Shenandoah River and take the road west towards New Market. Much to his utter dismay, however, he found that the White House Bridge and the Columbia Bridge had both been burned by Jackson’s men. With the river swollen from the innumerable series of spring storms, he found it impossible to string together boats, making an impromptu pontoon bridge. The only hope Shields had of crossing was the bridge at Conrad’s Store, over twenty miles farther south. And so, he sloshed on.3

Here's today's rather large map of the happenings in Virginia.

In a fit, Shields petitioned President Lincoln to send McDowell’s entire First Corps, 41,000-strong, back to Fredericksburg so they could add their weight to General McClellan’s Army of the Potomac outside the gates of Richmond. That would leave 14,000 under Fremont and 11,000 or so under General Nathaniel Banks.

Though it was unknown to General Shields, the troops at Williamsport, Maryland and Harpers Ferry, formerly under General Banks, had just received a new commander. Stepping off the train at Harpers Ferry at dawn was General Franz Sigel.

General Franz Sigel goes to fight mit Banks.

The rumors of his death following the Battle of Pea Ridge in March were greatly exaggerated, and he received a Major-General’s star for his efforts during the fight. Sigel remained out west through the month, but when his health began to decline, he took a leave of absence until mid-May when he was summoned to Washington, arriving on June 1.

There, Secretary Stanton gave Sigel command of 8,000 troops at Harpers Ferry, forming a division in General Banks’ Corps, and by the morning of this date, he arrived to lead them.4

Sigel found the Harpers Ferry soldiers not up to his standards. Of the 8,000, Sigel reported that “1,200 are useless, and all the balance are undrilled and undisciplined.” Nevertheless, he planned to form them into two brigades and march them to Winchester.5

As Sigel was gathering his raw recruits, Jackson continued his slog up the Valley with Fremont in close pursuit. Another rainstorm had kicked up and it was nearing dusk. General Jackson had ridden at the head of the column for the entire day, trusting his rear guard to to their duty. The rains had slowed his army to a dreary crawl when he received a dispatch from Turner Ashby. Without infantry support, said the message, they would lose their artillery.

General Shields is about to lose it.

Jackson snapped to. They were three miles from Ashby and he would have to fight through the mud and marching troops to come to his aid. His men parted as if he were Moses, and Jackson took flight to the rear.

He wasted no time, galloping past regiment and brigade until he came upon Ashby who was calmly and slowly riding along the road. The cavalier was wrapped in several gum blankets to stave off the weather, and when he saw Jackson, explained that the enemy had simply stopped for the night.

Confounded, Jackson handed Ashby his own note. With a smile, he returned it to his commander, saying that it was written at 8am, what must have seemed like months ago, and that he had forgotten all about it. Taking it all in Jackson said nothing more than “a water haul,” as he bowed to the horseman and rode back up the column.6

  1. Shenandoah 1862 by Peter Cozzens, University of North Carlina, 2008. []
  2. Stonewall in the Valley by Robert G. Tanner, Stackpole Books, 1996. []
  3. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 3, p322, 325. []
  4. Yankee Dutchman: The Life of Franz Sigel by Stephen D. Engle, LSU Press, 1999. []
  5. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 3, p323. []
  6. Shenandoah 1862 by Peter Cozzens, University of North Carolina Press, 2008. []
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On the Victorious Retreat with Jackson by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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2 thoughts on “On the Victorious Retreat with Jackson

  1. In addition to my appreciation for your research on the Civil War, and all that I learn from your efforts I also admire proper use of such words as: “macadamized”. I’m somewhat a history nerd and I accumulate bits of useless knowledge such as road building techniques. Thanks for laying it all out there, including odd little details like that! It adds a great deal to the flavor of the story.

    1. Being the road-geek that I am, I was thrilled to learn that macadam existed back then and that roads were (sort of) paved. The Chambersburg Pike, leading into Gettysburg, for example, wasn’t some dirt road, but a macadamized one.

      What does this tell you about the Civil War? Nothing! But hey, it’s fun to know. 🙂

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