Stonewall in the Valley


This book by Robert G. Tanner was the first book-length treatment of Stonewall Jackson’s 1862 Valley Campaign since 1880.

The book is a military history of the campaign, and I thought it was very well done.

Instead of accepting the conventional wisdom about the campaign, Tanner delved into the correspondence and soldier accounts.  He tells us, for instance, “That the Battle of Winchester should be credited with stampeding the North is attributable to two additional misconceptions that seem welded to the Campaign.  First is the view that Jackson, pursuing the inspiration of General Robert E. Lee, maneuvered throughout the spring of 1862 to offer the Valley Army as a standing threat to President Abraham Lincoln. … A second misconception is a logical extension of the first.  It holds that Lee and Jackson’s feint succeeded and that Lincoln twice scrambled Union troop movements for fear the Valley Army was about to overrun Washington.” [p. xvi]  He tells us, “Major Robert Dabney, Jackson’s chief of staff during the Campaign, wrote of Lincoln’s reaction to the Battle of Winchester: ‘… the terror inspired by Jackson caused the President to refuse his consent [to General McDowell’s march from Fredericksburg to Richmond]; he was unwilling to expose his Capital to a sudden blow from this ubiquitous leader; and instead of sending McDowell forward, he commanded him to retire nearer to Washington.’  Colonel Allen joined Dabney in this view.  And yet a careful reading of the correspondence reveals that Jackson was not dispatched to harass Washington via the Shenandoah and that Lincoln’s fateful decisions in the spring of 1862 did not result from fear of the Valley Army.” [pp. xvi-xvii]  He does repeat the myth that Jackson constantly sucked on lemons [p. 31], but other than that the book is generally very accurate.

He begins with a short history of the Valley itself and its logistical development, then goes on to a short history of Jackson’s early actions in the Valley before the campaign began.  “Jackson left Centreville to assume command of the Valley Army on November 4, 1861, with a staff of two men.  One was Colonel J. T. L. Preston, a founder of the Virginia Military Institute and Jackson’s principal administrative officer in his capacity as assistant adjutant general.  Soon Preston would vacate this post to return to V.M.I.  The second aide was twenty-one-year-old Lieutenant Sandie Pendleton, who would remain with Stonewall until the General’s death.” [p. 43]

In discussing the situation in March of 1862, Tanner focuses on Maj General George B. McClellan’s decision to move up the Virginia Peninsula to get to Richmond.  “Strategically, McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign was grounded on two assumptions: one, that the rebels would mass around Richmond rather than counterattack Washington while the Army of the Potomac was steaming down Chesapeake Bay; and two, that if the enemy did counterattack, Banks could handle it after he reached Manassas.  thinking only in military terms, McClellan accepted these assumptions as facts and assured everyone that Washington faced no danger; Johnston was certain to concentrate on the Peninsula, he said.  Should the rebels do the unexpected, the capital was well fortified, and there were thousands of militia in Pennsylvania and New York to succor the city.  McClellan insisted that a standing force of 30,000 men was ample shield for the capital and its environs.  McClellan convinced many that his strategy was sound, even brilliant.  There remained, however, one doubter, President Abraham Lincoln.  And Lincoln, with final control over Union strategy, was the one man who had to be satisfied about the Peninsula offensive.  McClellan never devoted the time he should have to convincing Lincoln about his plan, perhaps because the latter had so far wielded his constitutional powers as Commander-in-Chief sparingly.  But if McClellan had any question about Lincoln’s willingness to intervene and plot the course of armies when he thought it necessary, the general was destined for a shock.  Lincoln approved the goal of seizing Richmond, but he preferred a march against it by way of Manassas and Fredericksburg so as to keep McClellan between the rebels and Washington.  Lincoln’s ambassadors had doubtless cautioned him that Europeans might equate surrender of the national capital with the collapse of the Union; if Washington fell, foreign recognition of the Confederacy was a likely result.  The loss of Washington would also shatter morale on the home front.  Lincoln, in short, did not like McClellan’s plan.” [p. 101]

McClellan was insistent on his plan, so Lincoln put conditions on his acceptance.  “The President demanded that Washington should be left entirely secure when the Army of the Potomac sailed, and Lincoln ordered McClellan and his corps commanders to determine the force necessary to provide this security, an indirect means of requiring that[McClellan’s subordinates approve his dispositions. … At a proper council of war a majority of corps commanders decided that complete security for Washington translated into 25,000 men at Manassas Junction and 30,000 within the city itself. McClellan could agree to this because he was still counting on Banks’s forces from the lower Valley to provide an ample garrison for Manassas, but it would shortly become evident that McClellan regarded this commitment as one to be met if all went according to plan and not, as Lincoln conceived it, as a precondition to the Peninsula offense.” [p. 102]

The Battle of Kernstown, on March 23, 1862, was the first battle of the Valley Campaign.  While it was a Union victory it had a favorable outcome for the confederates.  “Jackson knew Union troops had been leaving the Valley. He had struck a very hard blow against the remaining Federals, and although his own force was battered, he believed the enemy had suffered more.  This battle could not be ignored, and it was logical to assume it would delay and perhaps prevent additional enemy departures from the Shenandoah.  This was exactly what Jackson had been ordered to do.” [p. 127]  It led to Federal units turning around and returning to the Valley.  This spoiled McClellan’s plan to have Banks garrison Manassas.  “Stanton buttonholed the first generals he found and posed one question: Was Washington entirely secure?  Their answer came back promptly: No.  Lincoln’s response to the information Stanton fed him shackled Union operations during the coming months.  The President began to seek some means to establish the conditions under which the Peninsula Campaign was supposed to have begun–that is, 55,000 men stationed in and around Washington.  Contrary to what Jackson’s most enthusiastic admirers might assert, there is no evidence that Lincoln was concerned about the Valley Army at this time or, indeed, that he saw any immediate threat to Washington from any quarter.  Lincoln simply was aware that his capital was not ‘entirely secure.’  The President wished to correct this, and he found the means in General Irvin McDowell’s 30,000-man corps.” [p. 130]  McDowell’s corps was lost to McClellan.  But it didn’t end there.

“Next, Lincoln virtually stripped McClellan of all command over Federal forces in northern Virginia and the Valley, and, by not appointing a successor, the President kept the job for himself.  Lincoln narrowed McClellan’s authority to the Army of the Potomac and its drive toward Richmond.  McDowell and Banks, whose corps heretofore had acted directly under McClellan, were made independent of the Young Napoleon.  Lincoln created an autonomous military department extending from Washington east to the Blue Ridge and south toward Richmond for McDowell.  His immediate task was to garrison Manassas Junction, from whence he would eventually advance south to Fredericksburg.  The Shenandoah was designated a separate department for Banks.  His mission was to beat back Jackson.  On March 11 Lincoln had carved another independent department in Virginia.  This one superseded the Department of Western Virginia in the Alleghenies and was known as the Mountain Department.  Major General John C. Fremont, the famous ‘Pathfinder’ who led America’s 1848 expansion through the Rocky Mountains to California, was given command here. … Fremont wanted reinforcements for his Knoxville adventure, and Lincoln provided them by detaching Brigadier General Louis Blenker’s division from McClellan; this transfer cost the Army of the Potomac another 10,000 men.  No longer authorized to command his former subordinates McDowell, Banks, and Fremont, McClellan had reason to be concerned when he landed on the Peninsula in early April, and Kernstown was the source of his woes.  That tiny battle had two immense results: it lured the Union to open and sustain a new sector of operations, and (an unexpected bonus for the South) it disarranged Washington’s defense, setting the stage for Lincoln’s crippling remedy.” [pp. 130-131]

Jackson fought battles at McDowell [May 8], Front Royal [May 23], Winchester [May 25], Cross Keys [June 8], and Port Republic [June 9].  Jackson’s main objective was Banks “and by his defeat, the immobilization of McDowell’s hosts at Fredericksburg and those of McClellan on the Peninsula as well.” [p. 178]  Through fast marching, audacity, and hard fighting Jackson was able to stymie Federal forces in the Valley, befuddle the Lincoln administration, and frustrate George McClellan and his plans.  Tanner provides a lucid, highly readable account of the campaign, and he analyzes the campaign in a logical manner, in terms of the principles of war and how Federal forces failing to adhere to these principles and Jackson’s adherence to them led to confederate success and Federal frustration.  This is not to say any of participants should have known what the principles of war are, because they were laid out in the 20th Century; however, they do provide an excellent framework for analyzing military operations throughout history.

This is an excellent book that provides an accounting of the Valley Campaign, though mostly from the confederate point of view.  I can highly recommend it.



  1. Bob Nelson · · Reply

    Yes, a really good book. When I toured the Shenandoah with Pete Taylor, we used it as our point of reference. Excellent coverage of one of the greatest campaigns in military history.

  2. Ryan Quint · · Reply

    How would you compare it to Cozzens’ treatment? Better, worse, on par?

    1. Stand by. I’m reading Cozzens right now.

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