The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862

SVC1862

This is another in the “Military Campaigns of the Civil War” series from the University of North Carolina Press and edited by Gary Gallagher.  As with the other volumes in the series, this isn’t a standard history of the campaign, but is a book of essays covering various subjects related to the campaign.

The first essay, “You Must Either Attack Richmond or Give Up the Job and Come to the Defence of Washington:  Abraham Lincoln and the 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign,” by Gary Gallagher, gives us a view of Lincoln’s actions during the campaign.  “Far from panicking when Jackson advanced toward the Potomac River during the last week of May, Lincoln used the rebel threat in an effort to force Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan to attack the Confederate army protecting Richmond.  He manifested a sound grasp of Union and Confederate strategy, an understanding of his generals’ personalities, and a resolute determination to prod–almost to will–his commanders to act in such a way as to forge victories outside Richmond and in the Shenandoah Valley.” [p. 3]  After Jackson’s attack at Front Royal, Lincoln ordered John C. Fremont to cut Jackson off at Harrisonburg.  “At 5:00 P.M. on May 24, Lincoln ordered Irvin McDowell to contribute 20,000 men to the effort against Jackson.  McClellan had hoped McDowell’s 40,000 men, massed near Fredericksburg, would soon swell the ranks of the Union force at Richmond.  On May 23 Lincoln and Stanton had visited McDowell’s force at Fredericksburg and agreed that it would advance toward Richmond three days hence.  Jackson’s appearance in the lower Valley prompted Lincoln’s new instructions to McDowell.” [p. 11]  Professor Gallagher tells us that this was Lincoln taking the offensive.  “If fear for Washington’s safety stood paramount, McDowell could have marched directly toward the city to bolster its defenses.  The destruction of Jackson’s army, not the protection of the capital, dominated Lincoln’s thinking.” [Ibid.]  This was an excellent essay that showed us how hands-on Lincoln was during the campaign.

Robert K. Krick talks about “The Metamorphosis in Stonewall Jackson’s Public Image.”  He tells us the initial image of Jackson focused on his eccentricities, and the Romney expedition resulted in a rebellion of sorts against Jackson in the form of William W. Loring and William B. Taliaferro writing to Secretary of War Judah Benjamin and President Jefferson Davis to complain about Jackson.  “The out-of-channels rebellion, launched by two of Jackson’s ranking subordinates straight to the secretary of war, that grew out of the Romney expedition has been frequently described.  What is not widely reported is the extent to which the revolt had support among regimental commanders.  Gen. William W. Loring, a querulous fellow of no particular talent, fomented the mutiny, abetted by William B. Taliaferro; the inept and meddlesome secretary of war, Judah P. Benjamin, believed and encouraged the malcontents, as did the equally underinformed Jefferson Davis.  (Taliaferro, ironically, did not hesitate to bask dishonestly in the reflected glow of Jackson’s subsequent fame and produced an adulatory chapter for Mrs. Jackson’s book about her husband long after the war.)  The original document, however, also includes the signatures of Col. Samuel V. Fulkerson of the 37th Virginia and of the commanders of the 3rd Arkansas, the 1st Georgia, and the 23rd Virginia.  Jackson obviously never saw the grumbling letter, because Fulkerson remained ‘a great favorite’ with him.  When the colonel died at the head of his regiment a few months later, Jackson cried at the news.” [pp. 26-27]  Several of Jackson’s subordinate officers thought he was insane, incompetent, or both–at first.  By the end of the Valley Campaign, not all but most had changed their minds and believed that, while he was strange and eccentric to them, he was a key to victory.  “The utterly unknown military school professor had, by the time of his death, become ‘the great dread of the Yankees’ in the admiring phrase of one of his men.  The legend continued to expand after the general’s demise.” [p. 34]

William J. Miller contributed, “Such Men as Shields, Banks, and Fremont:  Federal Command in Western Virginia, March-June 1862.”  This is one of the few works that covers the Valley Campaign from the Union point of view.  He tells us, “In late February Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks led two divisions–his own and that of Brig. Gen. James Shields–across the Potomac into Virginia.  Banks was, according to McClellan’s orders, to occupy Winchester, about twenty-five miles south of Harpers Ferry, and secure the surrounding country.  Within a week Banks and his 20,000 men had taken the city without a fight, having driven off Stonewall Jackson and his command of fewer than 4,000 Confederates.  On March 16 McClellan sent new orders to Banks that clarified the commanding general’s defensive policy.  Banks was to rebuild the Manassas Gap Railroad to Strasburg, entrench a brigade (with cavalry) at Front Royal or Strasburg, and ‘occupy Winchester & thoroughly scout the country south of the R.R. & up the Shenandoah valley.’  McClellan thought Banks’s men might protect these vital points by building blockhouses at railroad crossings and stressed the importance of cavalry scouting ‘well to the front.’  He also urged Banks to take ‘Great care to obtain full & early information as to the enemy.’ In sum, McClellan stated, the ‘General object [was] to cover the line of Potomac and Washington.’  That done, Banks could then move with most of his troops to Manassas Junction, near Washington, and thence perhaps, to Richmond.  McClellan’s designs in the Shenandoah in mid-March were wholly defensive, but two events that month threw the Federal program into chaos.  First, on March 11 Lincoln created the Mountain Department, a vast tract of land between the Shenandoah Valley on the east and Ohio on the west, and appointed Maj. Gen. John C. Fremont to command it. … The second event that deranged McClellan’s plans west of the Blue Ridge was Stonewall Jackson’s impetuous attack on Banks’s force at Kernstown on March 23.  Banks, convinced that Jackson and his 4,000 men were no threat, had begun to execute McClellan’s orders to move most of his force toward Washington.  Shields’s 9,000-man division, by direction of McClellan, would remain in the Valley to protect the railroads while the rest of Banks’s soldiers, some 10,000 strong, moved to Manassas.  On March 22 Brig. Gen. Alpheus S. Williams’s division broke camp in Winchester and headed eastward toward the Blue Ridge.  The next day, Jackson struck at Kernstown.  The Federals suffered 574 casualties, but Jackson lost 737 and the field as well.  Forced to withdraw again, Stonewall slunk southward to Narrow Passage and on to Rude’s Hill, just north of New Market.  The small battle at Kernstown, though, a Union victory, caused an extreme overreaction in the mind of George McClellan.  Viewed rationally, Jackson’s sally at Kernstown need not have altered McClellan’s plans or his defensive posture in the Valley. … After Kernstown and continuing through to the final week in May, Federal plans in the Valley region became ill defined or ill considered or both.  Confusion marked the operations of Banks and Fremont.” [pp. 45-51]  In discussing the effects of the campaign’s early battles, Miller tells us, “The fight at McDowell had national repercussions, at least for southerners, in providing a much-needed boost to flagging Confederate morale.  Though Jackson’s men had again been worsted tactically, despite immense advantages in terrain, they could claim a strategic victory.  To the Federals, however, McDowell meant little.  The withdrawal of two brigades that served primarily as an advanced outpost or a ‘corps of observation’ on the road to Staunton had almost no influence on Fremont’s operational plans.  From his headquarters at Franklin, the Pathfinder let Jackson withdraw unmolested.  In fact, Fremont treated the Virginian’s foray into the mountains as merely an annoyance, after which he returned to his primary business: solving his supply problems and making a lodgment on the Southwest Virginia & Tennessee Railroad.  In the words of Gen. Jacob Cox, ‘Fremont resumed preparation for his original campaign.’ ” [pp. 61-62]  He tells us, “Fremont spent fifteen days at Franklin following the fight at McDowell.  In the same period the Lincoln administration drastically reduced its forces in the region and ordered Banks to assume a purely defensive posture.  This cycle of Federal passivity greatly assisted Jackson, who filled the time with extraordinary activity.  In the twenty-five days between April 30 and May 24, Jackson increased his force from 6,000 to 17,000, marched his command about 270 miles, and fought two significant engagements 90 air miles apart.” [p. 63]  In discussing why the Federals didn’t have more care about what Jackson was doing, he tells us, “Because virtually every history of the campaign has focused on Confederate intentions and performance and drawn on hindsight, students have not had a fair opportunity to consider Federal intentions and performance.  From the Confederate viewpoint, Jackson’s hyperactivity in May makes the Federals seem inert and foolish.  The slothlike Yankees seem to play right into the hands of Stonewall, who marched another 150 miles and won three significant victories against three different Federal forces in eighteen days in late May and early June.  From a northern perspective, however, neither Jackson nor the region in which he was operating gained importance until the final week of May.  Richmond was the goal.  Washington’s primary military concern was supporting McClellan’s move on the Confederate capital.  No other military movement–whether in western Virginia, Tennessee, or Mississippi–mattered as much.  The North cared about controlling the Shenandoah that spring only as the strategic flank of the Army of the Potomac’s operations against Richmond.  By mid-May the War Department deemed that McClellan’s grand army had drawn in close enough for a killing blow against the heart of the rebellion.  Furthermore, in Washington’s understanding of Virginia’s strategic landscape in mid-May 1862, Jackson posed no threat.  Hindsight leads us to decry the Federals’ cavalier disregard of the soldier we know as a formidable foe, but in May 1862 Jackson and his men were mere mortals rather than the legends they would become.  Much changed on May 24 after Jackson’s attack at Front Royal.” [Ibid.]  Stanton and Lincoln depended on Gen. John White Geary to keep them informed on events in the Valley.  He failed miserably, providing badly misleading information leading to more errors on the part of the Federals by convincing the administration that Washington was endangered.  “Always solicitous for the safety of the nation’s capital, and crippled by the lack of accurate information about the Confederate advance, Lincoln put aside recent plans to support McClellan in driving on Richmond and worked to defuse what looked like a crisis.  He had to be certain of Washington’s safety, so the first step was defensive.  The president ordered McDowell, who had begun his advance on Richmond from Fredericksburg, to Manassas, thirty miles from the capital.  Next Lincoln sent Brit. Gen. Rufus Saxton to Harpers Ferry with orders to organize the troops there, protect the railroad bridge, discourage Jackson from taking the town or crossing the Potomac, and perhaps most important, keep Washington informed of what was happening in the Valley.  Lincoln’s second step was offensive.  He was determined to respond in kind to Jackson’s aggressiveness.  Shields’s division, which had been detached from Banks’s force a week or so earlier, had just arrived at Fredericksburg but was immediately ordered back to the Valley in the hope of catching Jackson somewhere near Front Royal.  More indicative of Lincoln’s determination to catch Jackson, however, were his orders to John C. Fremont.  The president saw in Jackson’s deep penetration of northern Virginia not just a threat but a strategic opportunity, and Fremont was the key.  On May 24 he ordered Fremont to aid Banks by moving ‘against Jackson at Harrisonburg … immediately.’  Harrisonburg, deep in Jackson’s rear, lay on the Valley army’s supply route.  A lodgment there would cut Jackson off from Staunton, his supply base, and the most important transportation center in the Valley.  To be certain that he had made himself perfectly clear, Lincoln sent another dispatch urging Fremont to ‘put the utmost speed into it.  Do not lose a minute.’ ” [p. 65]  Unfortunately, with the obstacles Fremont had to face, “Lincoln’s isolation from the realities of campaigning in the mountains had prompted him to direct Fremont to do the impossible.” [p. 66]  “The president looked at his map and saw that a direct road connected the two towns [Franklin and Harrisonburg].  He did not know that the road, steep and unsurfaced, crossed two mountain ranges.  One of the more tortuous routes in that part of Virginia, it represented a nightmare for Fremont’s supply wagons.  Apart from failing to appreciate the poor quality of the road, Lincoln apparently did not consider how Fremont would feed his men once they reached Harrisonburg.” [p. 67]  This led to an unraveling of Lincoln’s plans.  This essay was a very eye-opening consideration of the problems the Union faced in the Valley beyond facing Jackson himself.  Many of their problems were self-imposed, but there were also problems that were sometimes out of their control.

The next essay, by Jonathan Berkey, is “In the Very Midst of the War Track:  The Valley’s Civilians and the Shenandoah Campaign.”  While most studies of the campaign get into the damage Union troops, especially Blenker’s Division, caused in the Valley, Berkey also talks about damage caused by the confederates.  “John Casler, who served in the Stonewall Brigade, recalled with some humor that the soldiers would not allow anyone’s chickens to come out into the road nad bite them.  ‘We would not steal them!’ he recalled, ‘No! Who ever heard of a soldier stealing?  But simply take them.’  David W. Barton of Frederick County noted that Confederate stragglers caused many problems for local noncombatants.  ‘They are more troublesome than the Yankees,’ he said, ‘because they go anywhere without fear.’  Civilians especially felt the pinch of military necessity as Jackson hurried back up the Valley in late May and early June.  From Front Royal, Maj. John A. Harman, Jackson’s profane quartermaster, impressed horses and wagons throughout the upper Valley n order to move captured Federal stores to a safe place.  Confederate officers were directed to collect ‘everything that can be made available to haul stores’ and send them to Front Royal.” [pp. 88-89]  That’s not the only type of property loss Valley civilians had to face.  “The disruption caused by the Shenandoah campaign weakened the foundations of the master-slave relationship.  African-American residents of the Valley often played an active role in weakening the bonds of slavery, but their actions usually depended on military movements.  The proximity of U.S. forces provided the key, affording slaves a reasonable chance to escape their bondage.  Valley civilians, white and black alike, quickly acknowledged through actions and words that one of the most crucial effects of Jackson’s campaign was the erosion of the ‘peculiar institution.’ … In 1860 the Valley held about 5 percent of the state’s slaves.  Most slaveholders owned a very small number of slaves, and only one planter had more than 100.  Valley inhabitants commonly hired out slaves for housekeeping and agricultural work.  Because of this practice, many nonslaveowning Valley residents believed that they had a stake in perpetuating slavery.”[p. 91]  Large numbers of enslaved people left and grabbed their freedom with Union forces.  “Even when slaves remained with their owners, the occupation of much of the Valley by Federal troops loosened the bonds of the masters’ authority.” [p. 93]  These changes actually traumatized many white Valley residents.  Reactions among the white civilians varied.  “Anna Andrews reacted to the uncertain status of her family’s slaves with scorn.  ‘They are nothing but an ungrateful, discontented lot,’ she wrote, ‘& I don’t care how soon I get rid of mine except that I don’t like Lincoln’s gang to do it.’ ” [p. 95]  This was another excellent essay with great information.

Keith Bohannon contributed “Placed on the Pages of History in Letters of Blood:  Reporting on and Remembering the 12th Georgia Infantry in the 1862 Valley Campaign.”  He tells us, “The 12th Georgia Infantry was organized in Richmond, Virginia, in early June 1861 from ten companies raised primarily in counties of the lower eastern Piedmont and central cotton-belt regions of Georgia.  These counties produced some of the largest cotton yields in the state in 1860, and in at least half of them slaves comprised the majority of the population.  The planters’ sons and small farmers who joined the 12th Georgia, noted contemporary observers, were the ‘flower of the young manhood’ in their neighborhoods.” [p. 116]  The essay follows the regiment into the Valley and into battle in the Valley.  One of the company commanders, Capt. William Furlow, was a 26-year-old planter who was killed at the Battle of McDowell.  He was eulogized in a poem published in the Sumter Republican.  “The poetic tribute to Captain Furlow in the Sumter Republican accompanied a lengthy obituary that praised the dead officer for fulfilling his Christian responsibilities as a slaveowner.  Furlow had ‘devoted his attention entirely to the interests of his farm,’ claimed the eulogist, ‘not forgetting … to make provision for all the wants of his negroes.’  He had also built for the slaves ‘a house of worship, principally at his own expense, in order that they might have the Gospel preached to them.’  Several Georgia newspapers reported ‘with much pleasure’ the faithfulness of Captain Furlow’s black servant Peter, who went to great lengths after McDowell to procure coffins for the bodies of his master and two other officers and then assisted in transporting them back to Georgia.  ‘We commend this instance of genuine and unyielding affection, of the slave for the master,’ wrote the editor of the Sumter Republican, ‘to the false friends of the race who are warring upon us.’  The highly publicized actions of servants such as Peter bolstered the long-standing southern defense of slavery as a benevolent institution.’  While Peter might have shown loyalty to his master, Furlow’s other slaves had not, something that, not surprisingly, went unmentioned in the newspaper tributes.  Four months prior to McDowell, on January 10, 1862, Furlow wrote the Confederate secretary of war asking for a sixty-day leave because his slaves were in ‘a high state of insubordination,’ made worse after their overseer had shot one of them, supposedly in self-defense.  Prior to his enlistment, Furlow had ‘always personally superintended’ his plantations and never left them ‘under the full control of an overseer.’  The slaves ‘have been gradually growing more open in their disobedience,’ he continued, ‘until it has created considerable excitement throughout the whole country.’  If allowed to go home, Furlow promised to ‘quiet all excitement and quell all insubordination’ by administering ‘the proper corrections.’  In an ominous postscript, the young officer warned, ‘If one of my negroes were to kill my overseer, the community incensed would hang half my negroes and probably hang many innocent negroes–without law or jury.’  Confederate authorities granted Furlow a leave.” [pp. 125-127] After the Battle of Front Royal, the commanding officer of the 12th Georgia, Colonel Zephaniah Turner Conner, in a famous incident from the Valley Campaign, got into trouble with Stonewall Jackson.  “Upon entering Stonewall’s office, Conner asked, ‘Gen. I suppose you have heard of my misfortune at Front Royal?’ ‘Yes,’ Jackson replied.  ‘Well Gen. I did the best fighting I could,’ stated Conner, ‘but we were overpowered.’  ‘Col Conner how many men did you have killed?’ asked Stonewall.  ‘I had no men killed Gen.’  ‘Col Conner do you call that fighting?’ was Jackson’s response.  Conner then left the room along with Jackson’s chief commissary officer, Maj. Wells J. Hawks.  Turning to Hawks, Conner said, ‘Major I believe Gen Jackson is crazy.’  Stonewall’s assistant adjutant general, Alexander S. Pendleton, then told Conner, ‘Col. consider yourself under arrest.’  Conner said to Hawks, ‘Now I know he is crazy.’ ” [pp. 130-131]  Conner was eventually court-martialed, found guilty, and dismissed from confederate service.  The essay also gets into the general coverage the 12th Georgia had in newspapers.  “The contemporary newspaper coverage of the 12th Georgia’s role in the 1862 Valley campaign clearly illustrates an assertion made by J. Cutler Andrews in his fine study of Confederate journalism, The South Reports the Civil War.  The conflicting aims of news and propaganda, he wrote, ‘made it difficult if not virtually impossible for a Southern correspondent to tell the whole truth about the military situation.’  Many southern newspaper editors were clearly uncomfortable commenting on or running articles or letters about incidents that reflected poorly on hometown soldiers.  Years later, aged Confederate veterans such as Henry Thomas were also unwilling to mention unpleasant topics in print, especially given the dictates of polite Victorian society and the pervasive influence that Lost Cause mythology held over the former Confederacy at the turn of the century.” [pp. 136-137]

Pete Carmichael was next with “Turner Ashby’s Appeal.”  This is an excellent analysis of Jackson’s cavalryman.  In telling us about Ashby as a businessman, Pete writes, “his endeavors reflected a personal willingness to merge capitalism and slavery, a process that was occurring across the state in the 1850s.  A new economic order had gained strength in Virginia, based on a growing class of merchants, small manufacturers, and commercial farmers.  These men welcomed the scientific and mechanical improvements of the day, firmly convinced they lived in a modern slave society committed to republicanism, Christianity, and economic development.  Although a slaveholder, Ashby aligned with this new class and its ethos, which more closely resembled the dominant ideology of the New South than the insulated world of the old planter elite.” [p. 150]  Ashby’s troopers were known for lack of discipline.  “War in the Shenandoah Valley had a brutal dimension.  Confederates routinely persecuted Unionists, slaves, free blacks, and southern dissenters.  The region’s mixed loyalties encouraged abuses by both armies, which had difficulty discerning friend from foe.  Frustration led to abuses. … Like their Union counterparts, Ashby’s troopers routinely violated that ‘civilized’ line between civilian and soldier.  To describe their actions as atrocities would be grossly inaccurate; most amounted to petty vandalism.” [Ibid.]  Ashby’s poor discipline got him in trouble because it led to critical mistakes and also led to his cavalry being useless on occasions.  Pete tells us, “While Ashby might have been too liberal in granting absences without leave, his leadership style made sense during the first two years of the war when soldiers were adjusting to the realities and restraints of army life.  They might have looked like soldiers, but they still had a civilian outlook and a strong attachment to home.  Ashby’s loose organizational system also gave company-grade officers more freedom in dealing with their men.  One of Ashby’s staff members endorsed the company organization as ‘most excellent.’  ‘This was entirely satisfactory to the men,’ he added. … Had Ashby followed Stonewall’s stern measures of discipline, however, he probably would have ignited a rebellion in the ranks.” [p. 165]  I have to disagree with him here.  Time after time, throughout military history, we have examples of strong discipline turning civilians into soldiers in the shortest amount of time.  A defense of Ashby’s poor discipline is just wrong.  We can point to numerous examples in the Civil War, including Jackson himself and Ulysses S. Grant’s taking over the problem-plagued 21st Illinois.  We can point to George S. Patton’s taking over the demoralized II Corps after the Battle of Kasserine Pass in World War II and imposing discipline and quickly turning those young, defeated soldiers into a crack outfit that beat Rommel’s Afrika Korps.  Other than that, though, the essay was terrific.

The penultimate essay is Robert E. L. Krick’s “Maryland’s Ablest Confederate:  General Charles S. Winder of the Stonewall Brigade.”  Winder took command of the Stonewall Brigade after Stonewall Jackson arrested the highly popular Richard Garnett.  The soldiers in the brigade weren’t happy to see him.  Winder turned out to be a strict disciplinarian, which would endear him to Stonewall.  He also got along well with the other generals.  “Winder also cultivated friendships with two key officers in the Valley army: Richard Taylor and Turner Ashby.  The former was Winder’s frequent companion on the march.  Similar social and intellectual backgrounds may have drawn Taylor and Winder together, as might their joint status as rookies in Jackson’s army.  It is harder to discern what built the bonds with Ashby.  Winder must have abhorred the bushy-bearded cavalry wizard’s indolent nature and proud disregard for discipline, yet the two got along famously.  When Ashby threatened to leave the army after an episode with Jackson in April, Winder acted as mediator.  He met with Ashby at least twice during the crisis and repaired the cavalier’s feelings sufficiently to retain his services for the army.” [p. 197]  Winder delivered excellent service to Jackson up to his death at the Battle of Cedar Mountain.  “Uncharacteristically, the position he had selected was not a sound one for artillery.  Converging wood lines formed a right angle that hemmed in the cannons and permitted the Federal batteries to deliver a converging fire on Winder’s corner of the field.  The general had dismounted and was standing in his shirtsleeves beside a pine tree, using an opera glass to spot the effect of his artillery fire.  He was bellowing orders, with his hands cupped around his mouth to project his voice over the noise of the cannonade, when a Federal shell struck him almost squarely” [p. 207]  This was a terrific article that went beyond what we normally read about in studies of this campaign.

The book’s final essay, “Prejudices and Partialities:  The Garnett Controversy Revisited,” is by A. Cash Koeniger.  This essay examines Jackson’s arrest of and charges against Richard B. Garnett.  Koeniger gives us context regarding the retreat without orders at Kernstown, including Jackson’s previous dislike of Garnett and Jackson’s predilection for arresting officers in his command.  “Some of the men who ran afoul of Jackson were incompetent or transgressors who fully deserved censure.  But such a pattern of personnel relations begins at some point to tell us more about Jackson than about the men he arrested, and what it conveys is a less-than-attractive dimension of his personality and a less-than-effective style of managing people.  Jackson’s devout piety and unquestionable brilliance as a commander should not obscure his human imperfections.  He was difficult to please.  He so lacked tact as to be clumsy or even inept in personal relations.  He was easily angered and slow to forgive–in the unlikely event that he forgave at all.  If he did not like someone’s performance, which happened often, he seldom took the transgressing party aside for constructive criticism–or any criticism at all.  He usually did not ask for an explanation and rarely wanted to hear the other side of the story.  His typical solution was to place the unfortunate offender under arrest.” [p. 229]  This is another essay that takes us beyond what the typical histories of the campaign normally tell us.

This excellent book belongs on the shelf of every serious student of the war.  I highly recommend it.

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