- 23 Dec 2019 13:17
I’m playing a bit of catch-up today, doing some research over the weekend on Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley before the campaigns of 1862 I found I’d gotten to it almost two months too late.
December 23, Monday
As a result of his interview with Secretary of State Seward on the previous Saturday, Lord Lyons writes to Lord Russell, Foreign Minister, “I am so convinced that unless we give our friends here a good lesson this time, we shall have the same trouble from them again very soon.... Surrender or war have a very good effect on them.”
Lord Lyons has misread Seward badly, perhaps because the Secretary of State knows that he needs to write a response that will satisfy not only the British demands (as softened as they are) but also the Northern public. He closets himself in his office this day and the following Christmas Eve to do just that.
When General Stonewall Jackson assumed command of the defense of the Shenandoah Valley and established his headquarters at Winchester on November 5th, he found the situation not at all to his liking. The problem isn’t Winchester’s location, the pleasant little colonial town is, among other things, the hub for nine important roadways. Confederate control of Winchester offers the inviting possibilities of invasions into Maryland or Pennsylvania; it also provides a base for raids against the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. But his Army of the Valley faced 18,000 Federals under General Nathaniel P. Banks holding western Maryland along the bank of the Potomac. In addition, more than 22,000 Federals led by Brigadier General William S. Rosecrans were established in western Virginia, just across the Alleghenies. And, of most immediate concern, Brigadier General Benjamin F. Kelley and his 5,000 Federals had recently captured the village of Romney, posing a threat to Jackson’s western flank and even to his headquarters—only forty miles away from Winchester by a fine road. To counter these forces, Jackson had pitiable resources—1,651 militia armed with converted flintlocks and desperately short of ammunition, scattered in little infantry and cavalry detachments with the largest group of 442 men at Winchester. Additionally, Jackson could call on 485 undisciplined cavalry troopers under Colonel Angus McDonald, a 60-year-old Southern patriot whose rheumatic afflictions would soon force him to resign in favor of his flamboyant second-in-command, Colonel Turner Ashby. Finally, Jackson had two artillery pieces, which the gunners didn’t know how to load. On his first day in command, Jackson ordered his dispersed militiamen to concentrate at Winchester, issued a call for all Valley militia not already in the field, and dispatched his adjutant to warn Richmond that the Shenandoah Valley is defenseless. In fact, the weakness of the Valley defenses was so obvious that it was recognized by the Confederate Secretary of War, Judah P. Benjamin, whose ignorance of military matters was surpassed only by his optimism. Even before Colonel J.T.L. Preston arrived, Benjamin had decided to send Jackson the Stonewall Brigade that he had just left.
But Jackson’s extremely limited resources don’t discourage him from wanting to take the offensive. On November 20, he wrote to Secretary Benjamin that an offensive movement in the Valley might deceive the Federal authorities that he had been reinforced by General Joseph Johnston with troops from the Manassas-Centreville area. Believing that even the unadventurous General McClellan might be tempted to attack Johnston’s supposedly weakened army, Jackson pledges that in that event the Valley army would turn from whatever it is doing and rush to Johnston’s side—in short, a repeat of the triumph at Bull Run/Manassas. And Jackson’s plan didn’t end with McClellan’s defeat. Thereafter, he argued, his troops could return to the Valley and then “move rapidly westward to the waters of the Monongahela and Little Kanawha” in Virginia’s Allegheny region. “I deem it of very great importance that Northwestern Virginia be occupied by Confederate troops this winter.”
In the Shenandoah Valley, whatever his long-range goals, General Stonewall Jackson’s immediate objective is to recapture Romney. Not only is the Union force there a threat to Jackson’s headquarters at Winchester, but a road runs southwest from the town through the Alleghenies to Monterey, intersecting there the vital highway from Staunton to Parkersburg, on the Ohio River. And arcing around Romney at an average distance of 20 miles is a 60-mile stretch of the Baltimore & Ohio railroad, previously put out of commission by Confederate raids but now being repaired by Federal work crews. To set his scheme into operation, Jackson needed help, and he requested the Confederate Army of the Northwest under Brigadier General William W. Loring, after a dismal campaign under Robert E. Lee in northwestern Virginia now doing little more in the Alleghenies than guarding the Staunton-Parkersburg road. Secretary Benjamin agreed with Jackson’s plans and suggested to Loring that the Army of the Northwest would join Jackson. Loring consented, but said he would require two or three weeks of “every exertion” to get ready to march, and would bring only three of his four brigades—about 6,000 men—leaving the last brigade to guard the Allegheny passes.
Jackson had little choice but to wait for Romney. In the meantime, to keep the Stonewall Brigade occupied, he took them on a short winter campaign against a dam on the 60-foot-wide Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, capable of handling barges of up to 100 tons. With the B&O tracks broken, the Federals depend heavily on the canal to provide their stoves with Appalachian coal. Jackson decided to cut this artery near Martinsburg at Dam No. 5. He set out on December 16 and arrived at the dam by dusk the next day, and in spite of bombardment from the Maryland side of the river worked at night over the next few days to eventually breach the dam before leaving to return to Winchester on the 20th. But the damage was minor, and repaired before Jackson arrived back at Winchester this day do find that only one of Loring’s brigades has arrived.
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.