Stonewall Jackson Grasps at Straws While Lander Oversteps His Command

January 17, 1862 (Friday)

Maybe Stonewall Jackson’s eyes were bigger than his belly. When he planned the Winter Romney Expedition, he expected to have more troops, less enemies and better weather. But even though he took Romney without firing a shot, and fulfilled what most believed to be the campaign’s objective, he was not satisfied.

His army had been divided by weather, and while the Stonewall Brigade had two days to regroup, General Loring’s three brigades were finally stumbling into town on this date. Jackson had asked Secretary of War Judah Benjamin for more troops, turning his gaze upon the Union’s medical stores in Cumberland, Maryland, but Benjamin had none to give.1

Faced with such a task and such odds, Jackson decided to divide his force again. He realized that he did not have enough troops to properly defend the region around Romney and Winchester from the Federals in Cumberland, Hancock, Hagerstown, Frederick, Harpers Ferry and Williamsport. It was then that he decided two things.

First, he was going on the defensive. When Loring’s men finally made it into Romney, they were there to stay. The Stonewall Brigade, commanded by General Dick Garnett, would move back to Winchester. He would send Virginia militia to Bath (Berkeley Springs) and Martinsburg.2

Second, there was still work to be done in the field, and he was not about to go into winter quarters so soon. With what he believed to be 12,000 Federals under General Lander in Cumberland, there was no way that he could seize the medical stores. Instead, he wanted to take the Stonewall Brigade and one of Loring’s brigades (Taliaferro’s) on a mission to destroy a B&O Railroad bridge spanning the Potomac near New Creek, seventeen miles west of Romney. This would, in Jackson’s opinion, cut off Union access to supplies coming from the west and cause General Lander to reduce the size of his force. Additionally, it would threaten Lander’s right flank and rear.3

Convinced that he could accomplish at least that much, Jackson issued marching orders for the two brigades to step off at daybreak.

It was clear that Jackson was grasping at straws. In his deep desire to do something, anything, rather than to go into winter quarters, he issued orders that even the dimmest foot soldier could see were folly.

Due to the issuing of furloughs and illness from the wretched weather, the Stonewall Brigade was now a third of its original size. Taliaferro’s brigade was in no better shape, with one of his regiments no larger than a company. And while most of the Stonewall Brigade clung to the hope that their leader and namesake was still in his right mind, Taliaferro’s command was in open rebellion. Desertions were heavy as entire picket patrols left their posts to go over to the Federals.

By dawn, Jackson would call off the raid.4

General Lander
In Cumberland, Maryland, General Lander was hardly in better shape. Still fuming from the retreat from Romney he never wanted to make, he asked General McClellan for more troops.

He and his men were at Patterson’s Creek, eight miles southeast of Cumberland, on the Virginia (now West Virginia) side of the Potomac. Here, Landers asked that he be reinforced by troops from the west, giving credence to Jackson’s plan to cut off supplies by destroying the railroad bridge west of Cumberland. Once reinforced, he planned to attack Jackson and take the Shenandoah Valley with 4,000 troops.

Not content in taking Romney, Lander mused a bit, writing to an unamused General McClellan that after his 4,000 troops defeated Jackson, they could join with General Williams at Hancock, recapture Bath, take Martinsburg (with an advance by General Banks near Harpers Ferry), and then move on to seize Winchester, or, if the spirit so invited, join up with General McCall’s troops near Leesburg.5

To begin this operation, Lander had already ordered General Williams to have his men ready with five days’ rations for a forced winter march. But there was the rub. General Lander had no authority over General Williams, and thus, could not issue any orders to him. With little delay, McClellan, still irritated over what he saw as General McDowell’s attempted putsch, he demanded from Lander an explanation.

General Williams
General Williams was also curious, but mostly ignored Lander. Williams had no faith in Lander and considered him a liar and braggart. In the newspapers and to General McClellan, Lander had boasted of opening the railroad from Cumberland to Hancock for Williams’ Brigade, but, wrote Williams to his wife, “I have had possession of all his road from Hancock to Cumberland for nearly four weeks, and have twice established the telegraph line over the whole route.”

While Williams may have been more amused than annoyed, McClellan was tired of Lander and, with half an eye to his original Peninsula plan, had an entirely different angle on what to do about this area of the Potomac. If McClellan was thinking clearly, he was not about to allow Lander to cross the Potomac to attack Stonewall Jackson on ground of Jackson’s choosing. It could have wound up as this winter’s very own Ball’s Bluff.6

  1. Shenandoah 1862 by Peter Cozzens. []
  2. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 5, p1034;1036. Information is compiled from two dispatches sent by Jackson on the 16th and 17th. []
  3. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 5, p1039. With help for clarity from Shenandoah 1862 by Peter Cozzens. []
  4. Stonewall in the Valley by Robert G. Tanner. With a little help from my friend Shenandoah 1862 by Peter Cozzens. Surprised? []
  5. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 5, p702-703. This letter to McClellan was written on the 16th, but was still valid on this date. []
  6. Army of the Potomac; McClellan Takes Command by Russel H. Beatie. []
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Stonewall Jackson Grasps at Straws While Lander Oversteps His Command by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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2 thoughts on “Stonewall Jackson Grasps at Straws While Lander Oversteps His Command

  1. frederick lander is without a doubt one of the most forgotten heroes of the union army-one wonders what he could or would have done with mcclellans army,this guy was a man of action everything he did was moving forward to end the war.

    1. Very true. It’s hard to tell from his short career how he would have done, but he most definitely would have been a corps commander in the AoP. That also means he would have been a contender for AoP commander at some point – unless his charming personality rubbed everyone in Washington the wrong way (which is very possible).

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