November 22, 1862, (Saturday)
While Generals Robert E. Lee and Ambrose Burnside positioned and settled their respective armies on either side of the Rappahannock River near Fredericksburg, Stonewall Jackson, commanding over 38,000 men – his largest command – was somewhere near Winchester, a march of about 175 miles away.
Detached from the Union Army of the Potomac to keep an eye on Jackson were the IX and XII Corps of the Union Army of the Potomac, the former at Centreville, the latter at Harpers Ferry. In addition, all of western Virginia was put on alert in the fear that Jackson would make a dash into the mountains or play upon the B&O Railroad.
It wasn’t as if they didn’t know where Jackson was encamped. His Corps had been more or less in the same spot for over a month. It was just that in the shuffle of changing commanders, from McClellan to Burnside, he was sort of an enigma. They knew he was there, but were so unsure about what he was doing, they didn’t know what to do with him.
While his command had stayed in the same general location, it was not stagnant. Jackson made changes, shifting brigades and divisions between Winchester and Manassas Gap. Sometimes, they would raid towards the railroad and sometimes they would do nothing.
The men serving under Jackson had always been proud. At times they were confused as to his intensions or irate over their commander’s seemingly insane ideas, but in the end, he never led them astray. He was a legend, a demigod, and they were his servants.
In the autumn of 1862, however, they were his inadequately dressed, poorly armed and very weary servants. They were in need of blankets and, most of all, shoes. According to Sandie Pendleton of Jackson’s staff, no less than 6,000 were barefooted when the snow began to fall. As the temperatures dropped, the men began to seriously fear that they would freeze to death. Even Jackson had to move from his tent into a house in Winchester to stave off the biting cold.
Mid-November wasn’t all shivers, though. Union forces, probably cavalry, crossed the Potomac River one chilly night and made off with four of Jacksons 112 pieces of artillery. By the 20th, things were starting to really heat up. The skirmishing near Shepherdstown had grown from potshots to a fully pitched battle, with A.P. Hill’s Division advancing upon a force of Yankees that had made their way to the south bank. Under the galling pounds of Federal artillery, Hill’s men pushed the enemy into the river. It was a sound victory, but it was becoming clearer and clearer to everybody that Jackson’s time was soon up.
Jackson and Lee and been in near constant communication. As Hill was duking it out with the Federals, Jackson was reading Lee’s latest missive, which allowed him to “remain in the valley as long as you see your presence there cripples and embarrasses the general movement of the enemy, and yet leaves you free to unite with Longstreet for a battle.”
Jackson never received orders to pull out of the Shenandoah Valley. Lee took no personal command of his divisions, placing them as he had placed Longstreet’s. He simple gave Jackson a few ideas and trusted his right arm to do the right thing.
By the 21st, the day after Hill’s tangle, Jackson heeded Lee’s words. No longer could he both confuse the enemy and stay connected with Longstreet. And, because staying in the Valley would probably mean fighting in the Valley, he had to make his egress.
Jackson would not gather together his entire command and move them in one body, of course. On the night of the 21st, some units received orders to prepare two days’ worth of rations, while others were moved yet again through Jackson’s Winchester Confederacy. Soon, however, all would be on the road to Fredericksburg. Of the forces he was moving first, they pulled out of their defenses and their newly-constructed winter cabins and marched through Winchester as snow once again covered the ground.
They passed up the Valley Turnpike, across the Kernstown battlefield, where a much smaller command under Jackson had fought what seemed like eons ago. As he and his staff moved over the field, Jackson, acting as tour guide, interpreted the battle for those assembled. The same scenario would be repeated over the next few days as Jackson marched south through Middletown, Strasburg, Mount Jackson and New Market. At each stop, he would relive the battles, the evasions and horror.
The move, for at least two or three days, was a complete secret to everybody, even (and especially) those doing the marching. Jackson told nobody where he was going. He didn’t even inform General Lee that he was leaving Winchester for Fredericksburg.
It was about this time that Lee could have used a bit of reassuring. When he first arrived in Fredericksburg, he could see quite a few Federal troops on the other side of the river. Towards evening on this date, however, he saw less and less. At first, he believed that they were again moving their base – that Fredericksburg was just a stop along the way to somewhere else. After a bit of contemplation, Lee considered his enemy. It was not a change of base, but a simple shift to avoid any potential Confederate artillery. Burnside, concluded Lee, was here to stay. He couldn’t leave this place without a fight.
But a fight was, at this moment, was Lee did not want. Only four of his ten divisions were up. George Pickett of Longstreet’s Corps was still on his way, and Jackson was 175 miles distant. “If the enemy attempt to cross the river,” wrote Lee to Richmond, “I shall resist it, though the ground is favorable to him.” At Fredericksburg, Lee certainly had good ground, but he was outnumbered by nearly 100,000 men. Should Burnside attempt a crossing, there was very little Lee could do but be defeated. Still, he would not give up the advantage of having Jackson mysteriously lurking on the Union right flank, hanging like a ghost. And it was that small sliver of apprehension that Lee slid between Burnside and everything the Federals were trying to accomplish.
((Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 21, p1021, 1026, 1029; Stonewall Jackson by James I. Robertson; The Fredericksburg Campaign by Francis Augustin O’Reilly; Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War, Volume 2 by George Francis Robert Henderson; Narrative of the War Between the States by Jubal A. Early; Lee’s Young Artillerist: William R.J. Pegram by Peter S. Carmichael; Fredericksburg, a Study in War by George William Redway.))