- 23 May 2020 13:35
May 24, Saturday
During a long night, the seriousness of the situation General Jackson has placed him in begins to sink in on General Banks. At about 3 am he orders that his sick and wounded be sent to Winchester. At mid-morning, he finally puts his infantry on the road, grandiloquently explaining to Washington that he has determined “to enter the lists with the enemy in a race or a battle (as he should choose) for the possession of Winchester.”
During his campfire vigil the same long night, Jackson has pondered the Front Royal-Strasburg-Winchester road system—the key to intercepting Banks’s forces. Jackson can see that General Banks has several options. One of them—cross the Alleghenies to join Fremont on the South Fork of the South Branch of the Potomac—can be safely ruled out; on its east-west line of march, the Federal column would be exposed to a flank attack from the south. A second choice seems just as unlikely: Even in his most sanguine moments, Jackson can hardly imagine Banks being stupid enough to fight it out from his isolated location at Strasburg. The two realistic possibilities are a Federal dash for Winchester or, if Jackson abandons Front Royal in his own rush for Winchester, slipping behind the Confederates, pass through Front Royal, and run for refuge across the Blue Ridge. The plan Jackson decides on hinges on another road, one running diagonally from the Front Royal-Winchester road at Cedarville to the Valley pike at Middletown, five miles north of Strasburg. If Banks moves toward Winchester, Jackson can slice across and strike the marching column while it is passing through Middletown. However, until Jackson receives news of such a Federal movement, the bulk of his army will have to remain near enough to Front Royal to cut off Banks in case he tries to escape across the Blue Ridge.
The word arrives by courier at 11 am. The message is from cavalry sent cross-country to Newtown, four miles north of Middletown. The cavalry had reached their destination—where they found the Valley pike choked with Federal supply wagons making haste toward Winchester. No more time can be lost. Colonel Ashby takes the lead on the crossroad to Middletown. With him goes horse artillery, two rifled guns, and the Louisiana Tigers battalion, with the rest of Taylor’s brigade and the regiments of the Valley army driving hard behind them. The remainder of Ewell’s command stays on the Cedarville-Winchester road, poised either to act as a reserve at Middletown or to march on Winchester later. Despite Jackson’s sense of urgency, the drive to Middletown is slow, for seven companies of Federal calvary force the Confederates to stop frequently and fight. Finally, just before 3 pm, Jackson’s men come upon a rise overlooking Middletown, and feast their eyes on Banks’s force in full retreat to Winchester. Instants later Jackson’s guns roar, plowing gap after gap through the Federal column. Then the Tigers pounce, slashing and pillaging (the latter ending instantly when their commander catches up). Suddenly, at about 4 pm, the booming of cannon comes from the south, where Federal artillery and infantry appear to have taken a strong position just west of the turnpike. While Taylor wheels to meet their threat, Jackson orders the artillery and Ashby’s cavalrymen to pursue and punish the bluecoats fleeing north. Taylor’s deployment takes time, and before it is completed the Federals who have confronted him withdraw.
Not until now does Jackson realize that he has been distracted by a rear guard making a valiant stand. The main body of Banks’s army has already passed through Middletown and is even now escaping the trap Jackson has so laboriously laid. Jackson now sends word to Ewell, north of Cedarville, to proceed to Winchester and deploy for an attack south of town. Then Jackson quickly sends his foot soldiers on a chase down the Valley pike. They catch up with the Confederate cavalry and artillery just beyond Newtown. There artillery commander Crutchfield seethes in a towering fury. Far from pressing the pursuit, Ashby’s cavalry have stopped to plunder the wagons abandoned along the turnpike. Having defied Crutchfield’s shouted curses and threats, many of the cavalrymen are now drunk on whiskey from Federal kegs. The foot soldiers are allowed no respite. The command from Jackson is to push on, and the men move into the night. Impeded by abandoned Federal wagons, beset by ambushes, groping in the darkness, they measure their progress by yards. Sometime after 1 am, Colonel Sam Fulkerson, commander of the 37th Virginia, approaches Jackson with a request for a pause of an hour or so; his men are falling by the roadside from exhaustion. Jackson replies that he is “obliged to sweat them tonight, that I may save their blood tomorrow. The line of hills southwest of Winchester must not be occupied by the enemy’s artillery. My own must be there and in position by daylight.” Nevertheless, he grants two hours rest. The men sleep where they fall.
Meanwhile, upon his arrival in Winchester Banks orders his wagon trains north toward Williamsport on the Potomac. Feeling reasonably secure, he deploys his troops for defense, takes a warm bath, and goes to bed.
There is significant skirmishing at Berryville, Strasburg, and elsewhere in the Shenandoah.
In Washington, early in the morning, President Lincoln confers with Stanton and others and issues new orders. He intends to end the threat to Washington from the Shenandoah Valley with a plan involving three separate Federal commands. Lincoln believes that Jackson’s incursion is more than merely a raid, that the Confederates will continue their northward thrust through Winchester and probably to the Potomac. To make certain that Jackson doesn’t cross the Potomac and turn southeast for an advance on Washington, the President will heavily reinforce the hapless Banks. Then, while Jackson snaps and snarls on the south side of the Potomac, Lincoln will lay a trap behind him, and spring it shut.
With the front door closed, Lincoln now needs to close the back door. The first prong is John C. Fremont, presently awaiting a call to action at Franklin, in the Alleghenies only 30 miles northwest of Harrisonburg. A rapid march by Fremont to Harrisonburg will place him 80 miles to Jackson’s rear, squarely athwart the Confederate supply line and in a position to block any attempt by the Valley army to escape southward along the turnpike. Thus, the President orders Fremont to march to Harrisonburg with all possible haste and to “operate against the enemy in such a way as to relieve Banks.” With Fremont taken care of, Lincoln turns to his second prong, General McDowell near Fredericksburg. Lincoln orders McDowell to prepare to move part of his force to the Valley at Front Royal, where it will remain poised along the route of Jackson’s retreat. When and if Jackson withdraws to the south, Banks will harry his rear. At the same time, McDowell’s detachment at Front Royal will be ready to attack and pursue, pounding the Valley army against Fremont’s position at Harrisonburg. Thus, McDowell and Banks will be the Federal hammers, and Fremont the anvil.
The President’s plan is no less than a move to destroy the Valley army. It is also a highly complex scheme that depends for its success on close coordination and crisp execution. By this point in the war Lincoln is sorely aware of his generals’ almost infinite capacity for failing to follow his instructions, so he decides to send a personal representative to see that McDowell complies with his instructions: The Treasury Secretary, Salmon P. Chase.
In two messages to McClellan, Lincoln explains that the defeat at Front Royal in the Valley was due to thinning the line to get troops for elsewhere. And later the President reluctantly writes, “In consequence of Gen. Banks’ critical position I have been compelled to suspend Gen. McDowell’s movement to join you....” Diversion of McDowell gives McClellan another excuse to blame the Administration for his delays and failures on the Peninsula, and to say he is undermanned, despite his more than 100,000 troops. However, it has also placed McClellan in an awkward spot. In expectation of McDowell’s arrival, he has deployed three corps in a northwesterly direction, so that they stretch from the railroad along the north bank of the curving Chickahominy for a distance of about 10 miles, with the extreme right near Mechanicsville, six miles northeast of Richmond. South of the Chickahominy, meanwhile, McClellan has deployed his left wing westward along the Williamsburg Road and dug in near the crossroads called Seven Pines, six miles east of Richmond. The tips of both wings are so close to Richmond that the troops on the far left and far right can set their watches by the chimes of the capital’s churches. But now McClellan has not only lost McDowell’s 40,000 men, but his army is dangerously split with three corps on the north side of the Chickahominy and two corps south of it. This strange river is as quirky as its name. In dry weather, the stream is sluggish and measures less than 15 yards wide over most of its course. But a slight rise in the river can quickly inundate the surrounding marshes and wooded bottom lands for as much as a mile. And the Chickahominy is reaching its highest level in twenty years. McClellan realizes the river threatens to cut communications between the two wings of his army, and he puts his men to work building no fewer than eleven bridges across the river in a twelve-mile stretch from Bottom’s Bridge northwest to Mechanicsville. Though the narrow main channel of the river can be bridged by short spans, the waterlogged bottom lands on either side have to be overlaid with lengthy, elaborate corduroy approaches.
At New Bridge, Seven Pines, Mechanicsville, and Hanover Court House, Virginia, there is fighting as a part of the main campaign against Richmond. To the west the skirmishing is closer to Corinth, Mississippi, and there is action near Spring Hill, Missouri, and Winchester, Tennessee.
We are all ignorant, only in different ways, and no one is as ignorant as an educated man outside his own field.
To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.