December 24, 1861 (Tuesday, Christmas Eve)
Since the Battle of Allegheny Mountain, a week and a half ago, Confederate General William Loring’s Army of the Northwest had been slowly filtering into Winchester, Virginia to fortify General Stonewall Jackson’s numbers for a winter campaign towards Romney.
During the long wait, an anxious Jackson again attempted to break Dam No. 5. This time, Jackson accompanied his men, but still could do no permanent damage to the dam. Though a full breach would have been wonderful, for Jackson, this seemed as if it were merely something to pass the time until General Loring finally made it to Winchester.
By the 21st, Jackson was back from the dam busting and, still, Loring was absent. Three days later, on the morning of Christmas Eve, Jackson wrote to the head of the Department of Northern Virginia, full of worry.1
“As yet General Loring has not arrived,” wrote a distraught Jackson, “and as he has not reported to me the strength of his command I am unable to give it, except by estimate based upon the number of his regiments.” Through scouts, Jackson had learned that the Union troops near Romney now numbered nearly 10,000 and were being reinforced daily. With Loring’s Army, he would perhaps have 7,500 at his disposal.
“I would respectfully urge upon the commanding general of the department the importance of sending me at once 5,000 good infantry and the First Virginia Cavalry, or its equivalent, and also a battery of four guns,” Jackson asked, hoping for the best. To possibly sweeten the deal, he promised to return all reinforcements “after the Federal forces shall have been captured or driven out of Hampshire County.”
Jackson then tried to read the minds of the Union generals. He mused that General Kelley in Romney was most likely planning on moving his force, first to Martinsburg, where he would join forces with General Banks. Naturally, Jackson wanted to hit Kelley before he had a chance to either gain more reinforcements or join with Banks.
While Jackson was writing the dispatch, General Loring rode into camp and immediately got under Jackson’s skin by telling him that Secretary of War Judah Benjamin “left it optional with him whether to bring his troops from the Monterey line or not, and he has decided not to bring any more of these troops here.”
With the enemy gaining more troops every day, and Jackson set to receive no more, there was only one thing that he could do: “attack him at the earliest practicable moment.”2
Floyd to Kentucky, but Not Quite Yet
Confederate General John Floyd, former Secretary of War under President Buchanan, had been licked in Western Virginia. The remnants of his Army of the Kanawha had retreated to Dublin, Virginia, fifty miles southwest of Roanoke. They were cold, penniless and, according to Floyd, “going off rapidly.”
To curb their flight, Floyd wished for both money and supplies as, “many of our people are without a dollar and in great need.”3
On December 16, Floyd and all but one regiment of his command was ordered to reinforce General Albert Sidney Johnston in Bowling Green, Kentucky as soon as possible.
By Christmas Eve, however, it was still impossible to move his men. Secretary Benjamin told Floyd to make sure that “no further delay occur in making this movement than such as may be absolutely necessary to put your troops in proper condition for movement.”4
Floyd’s move to central Kentucky was not only anticipated by the Union forces in that region, but, on this date, James Barnet Fry, General Buell’s adjutant, reported that Floyd’s brigade had already arrived at Bowling Green. In reality, Floyd was about 400 miles east.5
It had only been four days since General A.S. Johnston asked for Floyd to be sent to Kentucky. Secretary Benjamin promised that Floyd’s 2,500 men would be there by Christmas.6
It would take Floyd a bit longer, though, surprisingly, not by much.