Turmoil and Fear in the Shenandoah, Even without Jackson

June 21, 1862 (Saturday)

General Irvin McDowell is deep in... thought?

In the minds of the various Union commanders spread throughout the Shenandoah Valley, a crisis was at hand. Over a month had passed since General Irvin McDowell’s First Corps had been ordered by President Lincoln to march from Fredericksburg, Virginia to the Valley and defeat Stonewall Jackson. Additional forces under Generals Nathaniel Banks and John C. Fremont were already there, bringing to bear nearly 70,000 in and near the Shenandoah Valley.

Concentrating so many Federals against the 16,000 or so troops that Jackson typically had at hand almost assured a Union victory. But at each of the major battles, McDowell, Front Royal, Cross Keys and Port Republic, Jackson managed to thoroughly best his assailants. In all but one, Cross Keys, the Confederates managed to greatly outnumber their enemies by taking advantage of the spread out Federal placement and by quick marches.

The disembodied head of General Shields was slowly moving its division to Bristoe.

To reinforce General McClellan’s Army of the Potomac, locked in a stalemate against the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, at the gates of Richmond, General Irvin McDowell’s First Corps was ordered back to the lines around the Rebel capital. All but parts of General James Shields’ Division was on their way. Unknown to Banks and Fremont, the remaining Union commanders, Stonewall Jackson’s force was likewise ordered east.

By this date, most of the Rebel troops that had been in the Shenandoah Valley were across the Blue Ridge Mountains at Gordonsville. Soon, they would be filing towards Richmond by rail.1

As Union General Shields was preparing to leave the Valley from Front Royal, General Banks was growing nervous. “He ought not to move until the purpose of the enemy are more fully developed,” wrote Banks to the Secretary of War on the 19th. “There can be no doubt whatever that another immediate movement down the valley, is intended with a force of 30,000 or more.”2

It's the situation in Virginia!

Rather than storming down the Valley with 30,000, Jackson had, on that date, just crossed the Blue Ridge, leaving only a cavalry screen under Thomas Mumford in his wake.

The next day, Banks appealed to the President himself, echoing what he wrote to Secretary Edwin Stanton, though there was “nothing new to report of the enemy.” Banks again wrote to Stanton, pleading his case.3 Perhaps there was nothing new to report as not a single infantry unit under Jackson remained in the Valley.

On this date, Stanton took the question to General McDowell, but it was already too late. The advance elements of Shields’ Division were well out of the Valley, had marched through Manassas and were at Bristoe Station, awaiting trains to take them south. Additionally, Shields’ command was in a sorry state, with, as McDowell put it, “officers resigning and even men deserting.” The position at Front Royal, thought the General, was too precarious for such a force.4 Also, McDowell had never been in favor of his Corps being part of the Shenandoah Valley contingent. He wanted to be alongside McClellan opposite Richmond in what many believed would be the pivotal conflict.

The loneliness felt by General Nathaniel Banks had surprisingly little to do with his misunderstood bow tie.

Secretary Stanton immediately relayed the message to General Banks, who sent a reply that evening. “We know of no immediate danger from enemy which requires Shields’ division to move,” argued Banks. “If McDowell has information which renders this sudden and general movement of General Shields’ force,” he continued, “we, who are subject to the same dangers, ought at least to know what it is.”5

While Banks had a point – if Shields’ was truly in danger, he should know about it – he was also caught in a loop of logic. If there was no danger confronting Shields, that was more of a reason for him to leave the Valley than to stay. Of course, the same would also be true in McDowell’s case. If the danger to the Federals in the Valley was so great, it might be better for Shields to remain. This was all pointless by the end of the day, however, as Shields’ entire command was across the pass, leaving General Banks holding the reigns at Front Royal.


Stanton Orders Pope to Washington

Generals Banks and Fremont each commanded independent forces. Totaling but 20,000 battle-ready men uniting their commands under one officer was a good idea. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and President Lincoln had General John Pope, field commander under General Henry Halleck, near Corinth, Mississippi, in mind for such a promotion.

Come as you are, John Pope.

On the 19th, Stanton wired Pope directly, bypassing Halleck, asking him to come to Washington.

Pope, who had just become a father, was visiting his wife in St. Louis when he received the telegram. The next day, he replied to Stanton: “I leave for Washington in the morning.” To his immediate commander, General Halleck, Pope asked the required permission to be away from his post. It was not an order from the Secretary, just a desire “to see me in Washington for a day or two if it will not interfere with your plans by going.”6

To ask permission is to seek denial. And Halleck denied the request. “The Secretary of War can order you to Washington if he deem proper,” allowed Halleck, “but I cannot give you leave, as I think your services here of the greatest possible importance.”7

Forcing the issue, the Secretary of War was forced to order General Pope to Washington. Pope would arrive on the 24th.8


General Beauregard Learns of His Dismissal

General Beauregard under the weather and thrown under the omnibus.

General Pope’s troops were the closest Federals to the Rebel army in Tupelo, Mississippi. Until recently, that army had been under the command of General Beauregard. Due to illness, Beauregard informed his superiors in Richmond that he would be taking a leave of absence for a week or ten days to recuperate. Unlike General Pope, Beauregard did not seek permission. President Jefferson Davis, who had been looking for a good way to get rid of the General, quickly took advantage.

Beauregard had temporarily left General Braxton Bragg in command of the army before leaving. After heading to Mobile for some time off, Davis made the change permanent. Though Bragg was informed, Beauregard was not. Davis left that duty up to the new commander.

“I have a dispatch, from the President direct, to relieve you permanently in command of this department,” wrote Bragg to Beauregard, adding in conclusion, “I envy you, and am almost in despair.”

Beauregard was shocked, but understood that it was Davis and not Bragg who had sought the dismissal.

“I cannot congratulate you,” wrote the stoic Beauregard, “but am happy for the change. It will take me some time to recuperate. I will leave my Staff with you until required by me. You will find it very useful.”9

  1. Stonewall Jackson by James I. Robertson, MacMillan, 1997. []
  2. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 3, p411. []
  3. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 3, p415. []
  4. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 3, p417. []
  5. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 3, p417. []
  6. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 17, Part 2, p18. []
  7. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 17, Part 2, p20. []
  8. John Pope by Peter Cozzens, University of Illinois, 2000. []
  9. The Military Operations of General Beauregard, Vol. 1 by Alfred Roman, Harper & brothers, 1884. []
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Turmoil and Fear in the Shenandoah, Even without Jackson by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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One thought on “Turmoil and Fear in the Shenandoah, Even without Jackson

  1. Oh the old ‘is it better to beg forgiveness or ask permission” question. Beauregard and Pope both found out in their own way.


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