by Andy Mateja

The month of May always brings to memory the campaign that became a model for military strategists around the world- Jackson’s Valley Campaign.
After the First Battle of Bull Run Stonewall Jackson was promoted to Major General and given command of the Shenandoah Valley District with 10,000 men. WW Loring’s division was assigned to him in the latter part of 1861. With the added troops, Jackson decided to take the initiative and attack Romney -30 miles west of Winchester. He was originally planning an attack into Pennsylvania through Pittsburgh and wanted to consolidate recruiting efforts in NW Virginia (Now West Virginia) while Joe Johnston advanced on Harrisburg PA. Both forces would then join forces for a combined movement on Philadelphia.
Jackson’s campaign began on January 1st 1862 and did not achieve all that was intended. Extremely cold weather and the lack or cooperation from WW Loring. Loring and his men felt Jackson was cruel and ruthless on the march, even though Jackson subjected himself to the same hardships as the troops. Loring’s troops were on the verge of rebellion and Loring and his officers sent numerous complaints directly to Richmond instead of to Jackson. Initially Confederate Sec of Way Judah Benjamin sided with Loring but when Jackson tendered his resignation, Joe Johnston and Virginia Governor Letcher supported Jackson and Benjamin backed down. Johnston recommended Loring be transferred out of the Shenandoah Valley which occurred immediately, leaving Jackson with only 5000 men.
The Union forces under Nathaniel Banks advanced into the Valley in March 1862 with 23,000 men. Johnston wanted Jackson to fall back but Jackson was reluctant to do so. As Banks advanced up the valley, Jackson would wait and look for an opportunity to pounce even though he was outnumbered almost 5-to-1. Jackson wanted to undertake a night attack on Banks to through him into confusion , but his officers could not agree on a course of action which frustrated Jackson greatly. The opportunity was lost and Jackson decided never again to call a “council of war” – he would decide his army’s course of action himself.
On March 17thmost of Bank’s Union forces were transferred out of the Valley to support McClellan’s advance on Richmond leaving 9000 men to keep Jackson in check. When Jackson learned this he immediately attacked, marching 36 miles in two days. However Jackson did not perform adequate reconnaissance and nearly fell into the trap set by the Union troops at Kernstown. After a fierce battle Jacksons troops withdrew from the field due principally to lack of ammunition However Jackson was incensed with the commander who ordered the withdrawal and relieved him from command pending court-martial. Jackson would not accept defeat and felt his men still could have won the battle –with bayonets and audacity. This would be the hallmark of his battlefield principle –never surrender the initiative.
To Jackson’s benefit, the strategic impact of Kernstown on Washington DC was immediate and far reaching. Reinforcements intended for McClellan were re-directed to the Valley. Lincoln also became angry with McClellan for not making Washington DC fully secure and detached Banks and McDowell’s troops from McClellan’s command to protect the capitol. Jackson’s 5000 men now had over 60,000 Union troops tied up in the defense of Washington DC. Banks proceeded cautiously after Jackson, assuming Confederate reinforcements were on the way. Even when reports showed Jackson had not received and reinforcements and was running low on supplies, Banks would not attack as he felt Jackson was far more familiar with the Valley terrain than he was and did not want to risk a “military loss” .
All Jackson had to do with his meager force was to keep Banks and Fremont, coming in from the West with another Union army, from joining forces. If necessary Jackson could then unite with Joe Johnston’s forces faster that Banks could unite with McClellan. Jackson needed to secure the pass at New Market, 50 miles away, where he could also unite with Richard Ewell’s 8500 Confederates on the upper Rappahannock. Edward Johnson’s 2500 men also joined up with Jackson , bringing his aggregate forces up to 17,000 including several thousand cavalry and 48 cannon.
Jackson regained the initiative and pretended to leave the Valley for Richmond. However, he secretly reversed his direction, and leaving Ewell at Swift Run Gap, marched to attack Fremont’s army at McDowell, over the mountains and 50 miles to the west.
Jackson did not inform Ewell of his plans – he just told him to “watch Banks” Jackson did not want word of his bold move to leak out , since he was heading in the opposite direction of where the major conflict was going to occur around Richmond. Jackson easily defeated the lead elements of Fremont’s army at McDowell on May 8th but had to quickly get to Front Royal where it appeared some of the Union troops were going to be detached from the Valley to reinforce McClellan. Washington apparently became convinced they had more than enough troops to keep Jackson in check and wanted to send 10,000 to McClellan. They were also going to release McDowell’s 37,000 man corps back to McClellan on May 26th
It was time for Jackson’s boldest move – strike Bank’s outpost force at Front Royal. Again Jackson kept everything secret, even from his own men until they got into position for the attack. Banks was “in the dark” about Jacksons movements and assumed he was 45 miles away at Harrisonburg. Jackson’s surprise attack at Front Royal on May 23rd was so rapid and aggressive, that of the 1000 union soldiers in position, his force killed and wounded 150 of them troops and captured 600 more with the loss of only 26 of his own men. Banks, with the bulk of his forces only a few miles away assumed Jackson’s attack was only cavalry and nothing to worry about – he still assumed Jackson was 45 miles away. Banks received the shock of his life the next day when he found out Jackson was behind him and moving to attack his rear. Despite Jackson’s efforts to keep Banks from escaping the trap, his men were so tired from the fighting and fast marching that Banks was able to get away. Jackson was particularly angry with his cavalry chief, Turner Ashby who instead of cutting off and capturing Bank’s supply wagons, stopped instead to plunder the supplies left behind.
Banks troops retreated down the Valley pike toward Winchester arriving the night of May 24-25 with Jackson in hot pursuit. Jackson attacked immediately at daylight on the 25th. Banks, worried about being cut off from crossing the Potomac, immediately retreated leaving men and supplies behind. The retreating Union troops, in total confusion, kept going until they reached Williamsport and crossed into the safety of Maryland. Once again Jackson’s cavalry let him down as they were supposed to cut Banks off from Williamsport to allow Jackson to destroy or capture Banks’ entire force. Two days later the last remaining Union force in the area was pushed back to Harpers Ferry by Jackson’s triumphant force.
Lincoln became alarmed once again and ordered McDowell back to the valley with his 37,000 men and Fremont with his 15,000 men to attack Jackson from the West. It was believed Jacksons little army would be crushed between these larger forces. Jackson was many miles to the north down the Valley and the military experts in Washington DC felt he would be cut off from reinforcements and destroyed by the Union forces converging from the West and Southeast. Jackson however moved swiftly, making sure to protect the vast amount of supplies captured from Bank’s and marched 80 miles south to Harrisonburg with minimal Union resistance. It seemed Fremont and McDowell’s lead division under James Shield did not want to tangle with Jackson and assumed once again that he was leaving the Valley
When it became obvious that Jackson was going to remain at Harrisonburg, the Union plan now was to try to box Jackson in between the two Union forces and prevent him from escaping. Jackson anticipated this and thwarted their plans by burning the bridges at White House, Columbia and Conrad’s Store.
Jackson awaited their combined attack southwest of Harrisonburg. The combined Union forces were estimated at 25,000 while Jackson had somewhere near 16,000 men. Jackson suffered a setback with the death of his cavalry chief Turner Ashby on June 6th impacting his plans on how to deal with the two separate Union forces.
What Jackson decided to do was to have Ewell with his division hold Fremont back at Cross Keys while he, with the main part of the army, finished off Shields at Port Republic, only 4 miles away.
All went according to plan on June 9th with Jackson attacking Shields at Port Republic while Fremont was cooling his heels at Cross Keys after making a feeble attempt to break through Ewell’s lines the day before. Fremont was not sure if he was facing Jackson’s whole force at Cross Keys and was apparently not eager to find out. At Port Republic the Union troops fought the hardest of the entire Valley campaign and came close to winning the battle. However Jackson’s troops persevered despite heavy casualties. Fremont could have easily flanked Ewell and turned the tide at Port Republic but he was content to sit and do nothing.
After fighting five battles and marching over 400 miles in 31 days, Jack was not sure he should press his luck and challenge Fremont at Cross Keys so he pulled his troops out and moved 6 miles southeast to Browns Gap in the direction of Richmond. Jackson was sure Fremont would not pursue and he was right. For the next 10 days Jackson continued to make it appear his little army posed a threat on Washington with cavalry excursions and “fake “ reinforcement trains moving into the Valley. The ruse worked as it kept McDowell from reinforcing McClellan outside Richmond, while Jackson slipped away from the Valley to reinforce Robt E Lee in defeating McClellan during the celebrated Seven Day’s Battles.
The Valley Campaign established Jackson in the South and North alike as a general who had proved himself a master of warfare. Future military leaders from around the world had studied Jackson’s Valley Campaign strategy with several including Erwin Rommel actually visiting the sites in Virginia and West Virginia. Stonewall Jackson proved is worth to the Confederate cause and a valuable asset to Robert E Lee and his future victories at Seven Days, Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg and especially at Chancellorsville.