May 6, 1862 (Tuesday)
For the 8,000 men of Stonewall Jackson’s command, the past week had mostly been a needless slog through muddy and unmaintained roads. They had abandoned their camp near Swift Run Gap on April 30 to march upon Staunton, Virgina to bolter General Allegheny Johnson’s 3,600 facing off against part of General Fremont’s Federal army.
Jackson had a plan to fool Union General Nathaniel Banks into thinking that he was slipping away towards Richmond. His plan was to head east over the Blue Ridge Mountains, towards the capital, and then board his troops upon trains for a quick ride to Staunton. Basically, he would feign left and cut right.
From April 30 until May 3, the rains and the roads made it incredibly obvious that he was trying to fool Banks, who, with his 19,000, was still in Harrisonburg, and was onto Jackson’s ruse. The problem was that President Lincoln had ordered Banks to fall back to Strasburg, giving Jackson all the liberty needed to make his move to Staunton as obvious as he wanted.
So the whole sideways march was needless. It wore out Jackson’s men and fooled nobody. Banks even figured out that General Ewell had crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains to encamp on Jackson’s old spot at Swift Run Gap. There, they could act as a sort of buffer, reminding Banks that if he moved any farther south, he would have another 8,000 men to tangle with.1
Unknown to his men, Jackson had received a message from Allegheny Johnson that the Federals were swiftly moving on Staunton. Once across the Blue Ridge, and after they boarded trains to carry them back across the same mountains, they arrived in the town before dark of the 4th.2
The next day, Jackson received the luxury of a much-needed haircut and cast off his old blue uniform in favor of a brand new suit of Confederate Gray. The blues were his old United States Major’s uniform that he wore as a professor at the Virginia Military Institute. He had never bothered changing colors, as the suit still fit and wasn’t too worn. By this time, however, it must have been a bit threadbare.
Jackson sent his topographer, Jedediah Hotchkiss, to reconnoiter the Federal position. The General, after conferring with Johnson, had a mind to attack. Though the enemy was found in their camps on the 5th, on this date (the 6th), Hotchkiss discovered their camps to be abandoned. As his own troops rested, Jackson prepared to march out the following day. 3
By this time, Union General Fremont was also aware to the possibility that Jackson had joined up with Johnson at Staunton. On the 4th, he wrote to General Robert Milroy, commanding troops at Monterey, forty miles way from Staunton. It was the rapid approach of Milroy’s troops that Johnson had become so worried about. They had left their camps and were enroute to McDowell, a small village ten miles east of Monterey.4
It was towards McDowell Jackson and Johnson would march the next day.
The bulky Union Army of the Tennessee, General Henry Halleck commanding, had begun their march from the battlefield at Shiloh, towards Corinth, twenty-nine miles south, on May 2nd. Though such a short distance could typically be covered by infantry in a day and a half, Halleck was determined not to relive the mistakes of Shiloh.
He would not be surprised, as General Grant was, by a Confederate attack. Though his march to Corinth has been remembered as treacherously slow, by the 4th, General John Pope, commanding one of the three corps, was near Farmington, Mississippi, a few miles east of Corinth. Halleck himself was in Monterey, Tennessee, roughly midway between his old lines at Shiloh and the Rebel lines ahead.5
In a message to Washington, Halleck admitted that heavy rains had slowed them down, and reported that the “country was almost like a wilderness and very difficult to operate in.”6
Though the army, especially Pope’s wing, had begun their approach with some rapidity, from here on out, it would be slow going. Not only was the wilderness, road conditions and weather an issue, rumors were coming in that Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard was receiving more and more reinforcements every day. It was even rumored that General Mansfield Lovell from New Orleans was expected.
But while there were rumors of Rebel reinforcements, there were also rumors that they were abandoning Corinth. General Pope’s scouts reported as such.7
Far from planning to leave, General Beauregard spent the day shoring up his Confederate Army. He examined the lines and placed troops where he believed the Federals were soon make their attacks. So convinced that Halleck was about to attack, Beauregard created a system to signal the approach of the enemy. If Union forces attacked upon their right, three guns would sound (or if it was night, three rockets). If they attacked on the center, two guns or two rockets would be fired; if on the left, then one gun or rocket.
All the while, Beauregard’s patrols were keeping an eye upon the Union army as is descended upon them. They accurately reported the Federals near the state line and at Farmington.8
With the Union army so close, and the Confederate army putting the final touches on their defense, all looked ripe for a major battle in the next few days.
- Shenandoah 1862 by Peter Cozzens, University of North Carolina Press, 2008. [↩]
- Stonewall Jackson by James I. Robertson, MacMillan, 1997. [↩]
- Make Me a Map of the Valley by Jedediah Hotchkiss, Southern Methodist University, 1973. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 3, p137; 141. [↩]
- Grant Rises in the West; The First Year by Kenneth P. Williams, University of Nebraska Press, 1952. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 10, Part 1, p665. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 10, Part 2, p166-167. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 10, Part 2, p498. [↩]