April 19, 1862 (Saturday)
It was an incredibly rainy day in the Shenandoah Valley as General Stonewall Jackson’s army of 8,000 began another pre-dawn retreat south. They had slogged nearly 100 miles in the past month, following their dismantling at the Battle of Kernstown, the Federal cavalry nipping at their heels incessantly.
The Confederate cavalry, under Turner Ashby, had recently failed Jackson, twice being surprised, with a great number captured. To make good this day’s retreat from just south of Harrisonburg, he needed to burn a couple bridges over the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. This would keep the Federals out of the Luray Valley, which was important, since that is where Jackson was heading.
South of Harrisonburg, the Shenandoah Valley widened, leaving no place to make any sort of defensive stand. Fourteen miles southwest of Harrisonburg, however, was Swift Run Gap. This controlled not only the Luray Valley, but also covered Harrisonburg. This meant that if the Federals pushed south, beyond Harrisonburg, he could fall upon their rear. With the flooded South Fork to his front and the heights of the Blue Ridge Mountains for his fortifications, Jackson’s position was indeed a fine one.1
Having lost faith in his cavalry, Jackson dispatched Jedediah Hotchkiss, his topographer, to lead the horsemen to the bridges that needed to be fired. While the main body stepped off at 2am, Hotchkiss set out to find the cavalry. Before long, he found them at the Shenandoah Iron Works, “many of them under the influence of apple-jack.” With the men still drunk, Hotchkiss moved them north, leaving a company at the Red Bridge, with orders not to ignite it until he had time to make it to Honeyville to fire the Columbia bridge.
After securing both the Red and Columbia bridges, Hotchkiss set his mind on a third bridge, the White House Bridge, near Massanutten. The latter would cut off all travel between New Market (to where the Federals had advanced), and Luray.
Shortly following the egress of the company sent to fire the White House Bridge, they quickly came galloping back, hotly pursued by the enemy. Hotchkiss somewhat succeed in forming the still-sobering men at the Columbia bridge into a line of battle, but they did not hold long enough to even fire. When the blue coated horsemen drove near, they scattered. Abandoned by his men, Hotchkiss made his own escape back to Red Bridge, where he formed the company he left behind into a line. The enemy, however, had broken off the chase.
Unable to put either the Columbia or White House bridges to the torch, Hotchkiss managed to burn the Red bridge before returning to Jackson’s new headquarters at Conrad’s Store, the main body hidden by the Massanutten Range.2
Catching Up with Beauregard, Halleck and the West
Here’s to Toussaint Beauregard,
Who for the truth has no regard,
In Satan’s clutches he will cry,
I’ve got old Satan, Victori!
Following the Battle of Shiloh, Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard claimed that his defeated Army of Mississippi had, in fact, been victorious. When he and his bloodied men returned to Corinth, Mississippi, he asserted that it was a planned withdrawal. Most of the public, including Richmond, turned out to be a bit more pragmatic. Losing over 10,000 men, nearly a quarter of the force taken into battle, was no victory. The enchanted star over Beauregard, the hero of Fort Sumter and Manassas, was fizzling out.3
Expecting the Federal Army left behind at Shiloh to make a speedy descent upon Corinth, Beauregard wasted little time in organizing his force. General Earl Van Dorn’s Army of the West, dragging itself across Arkansas following their defeat at Pea Ridge, had crept into the picture too late to help out at Shiloh, but was now in the fold, adding 14,000 to the rosters.
Around Corinth, they were arrayed to cover the important railroads entering and exiting the town. General Van Dorn’s newly arrived troops from Arkansas and Missouri held high ground on the right. General Hardee’s Corps held the right-center, while Bragg held the dead center. General Polk held the left and the Mobile & Ohio Railroad. All totaled, nearly 50,000 held this significant railroad hub.4
Unlike the ground around Pittsburg Landing and Shiloh Church, which was, more or less, a good of a place as any to hold a slaughter, Corinth, Mississippi was of great strategic importance. If Corinth fell to the Federals, it would effectively sever communications and supplies coming from Atlanta. If the Confederates wished to retake Tennessee, Corinth had to be held.
Likewise, if the Federals wished to drive the Rebels fully out of Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky, sacking Corinth went a long way towards making this a reality.5
Though a Federal victory, the Battle of Shiloh had taken away 13,000 from the Armies of the Tennessee and the Ohio, commanded by Generals Grant and Buell, respectively. Grant’s Army, hit especially hard, needed to be reorganized. The overall commander, General Henry Halleck, in control of the Department of the Mississippi, oversaw quite a bit more of the west than the name might imply.
Halleck let only four days pass after the smoke had drifted from the battlefield to make his appearance. Having literally written the book on the military arts, General Halleck insisted that the troops, especially Grant’s were in no shape to even defend themselves. He prescribed drill, discipline and supply lines.6
Halleck’s reach stretched not just over Grant and Buell’s Armies, but over the Army of the Mississippi, commanded by General John Pope. Fresh from their victories at New Madrid and Island No. 10, Halleck had wanted Pope to continue on to Fort Pillow, a Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi, held by General Beauregard’s men. Though Shiloh was a Union victory, Halleck realized that it easily could have gone South. Wishing this possibility to never become a reality, he called Pope to join Grant and Buell at Shiloh. With Pope nearly at hand (he was, on this date, leaving Cairo, Illinois), Hallack had a much larger reorganization in mind.7
- Stonewall Jackson by James I. Robertson, MacMillan, 1997. [↩]
- Make Me a Map of the Valley; The Civil War Journal of Stonewall Jackson’s Topographer by Jedediah Hotchkiss, edited by Archie P. McDonald, Southern Methodist University Press, 1973. [↩]
- P.G.T. Beauregard; Napoleon in Gray by T. Harry Williams, LSU Press, 1955. [↩]
- The Army of Tennessee by Stanley F. Horn, University of Oklahoma Press, 1941. [↩]
- The Darkest Days of the War; The Battles of Iuka & Corinth by Peter Cozzens, University of North Carolina Press, 1997. [↩]
- Nothing But Victory; The Army of the Tennessee 1861-1865 by Steven E. Woodworth, Random House, 2005. [↩]
- General John Pope by Peter Cozzens, University of Illinois Press, 2000. [↩]