In the Shenandoah Valley the day is clear and cool. Early in the morning, the Reverend Major Dabney asks Jackson if any military operations might be expected. “No,” Jackson replies, “you know I always try to keep the Sabbath if the enemy will let me.” Assuming services will be held, Dabney returns to his cot to contemplate his sermon.
At about 9 am General Jackson and his staff are waiting for their horses to be brought around so they can cross the North River and rejoin the army on the far bank when a messenger gallops up with news that Federal cavalry, brushing aside a lax Confederate guard detachment, have crossed the northernmost South River ford and are entering Port Republic. The sound of musketry rises at the far end of town, and Jackson starts toward the firing on foot only to see enemy horsemen pounding toward him down Main Street. At that moment someone brings up his horse and Stonewall Jackson gallops for safety across the North River bridge. Even as the general gains the heights, a Union gun is deployed at the Port Republic end of the bridge. Jackson orders his Rockbridge Artillery to fire on it, and a brisk little artillery duel commences. To end it, Jackson turns to Colonel Sam Fulkerson, who has hurried up with his 37th Virginia, and orders him to “Charge right through, Colonel.” Quickly clearing the bridge, Fulkerson pushes on through the town, driving out the Federals. As Jackson watches the Federal retreat from a bluff, he exultantly raises both hands skyward—and the men in the town below, seeing him silhouetted against the sky, burst into a wild cheer. It is soon drowned out by the rumble of artillery to the northwest. General Fremont has at last decided to give battle.
Advancing gingerly, Fremont’s skirmishers are held off for more than an hour by Ewell’s stubborn pickets, and Fremont’s guns aren’t moved into position until nearly 10 am. On a ridge about a mile from the Federal artillery, General Ewell is more than ready for the opening of battle. His position is ideal. A creek meanders across his immediate front. Beyond it spreads several hundred acres of rolling fields that an attacking enemy will have to cross. Both of his flanks are guarded by dense woods. Watching the Federals deploy, Ewell determines that his line is most vulnerable at its center, which is bisected by a road. There he posts four batteries, and backs them with a two-regiment infantry brigade. As Ewell predicted, the Federal guns open against his center. An artillery exchange commences, continuing until almost noon, when lines of bluecoated infantry finally begin to move across the fields against the Confederate right, where they are eagerly awaited by a brigade under Brigadier General Isaac R. Trimble. As the Union brigade advances in parade-ground order, Trimble rides up and down his line ordering his men to hold fire until the enemy is at point-blank range. The Confederates remain still and quiet as the Federals cross the fields and come up the slope, until at the last second Trimble gives the order, and the men rise with a shout and unleash a solid sheet of fire. The attackers’ front ranks crumple, try to re-form and are staggered by a second volley. They retreat in near panic, throwing the second line into confusion.
Of the 24 regiments Fremont has brought to the field, he has so far sent forward only five. Ewell expects another attack—this time in great strength. But fifteen minutes pass without sign of a new assault. Seething with impatience, Trimble decides to go over to the offensive himself. Spying a Union battery moving into position half a mile away, he sends his men on a headlong charge to capture the guns. The Federal artillerists hastily withdraw before being overrun by the yelling Confederates. Trimble’s furious drive carries him a mile beyond Ewell’s ridge—and there, daring an enemy attack, he remains all day. The Federal lassitude invites an advance of the entire Confederate line, but Ewell and Jackson, who has by now arrived at the scene, have no real choice but to remain on the defensive. Ewell’s command is outnumbered by about 2 to 1, and there is an ominous report of enemy movement on the Confederate left. Late in the day, the fiery Trimble conceives the idea of a night attack. When Ewell disapproves, Trimble rides off to see Jackson, who is back in Port Republic. But Jackson advises him to consult General Ewell, and when Trimble again seeks his division commander’s consent to attack Ewell gently refuses.
So ends the frustrating little Battle of Cross Keys. The Confederates don’t come out unscathed, two of Ewell’s brigade commanders are badly wounded. Against Fremont’s losses of 684 out of 10,500 men, Ewell has suffered just 288 out of his 6,500. Better yet for the Confederates, Ewell remains between Fremont and Port Republic, freeing Jackson to deal with whatever Shields might offer tomorrow.
There is skirmishing near Fair Oaks and on the New Market Road near the Chickahominy, and once more McDowell’s Federals, having failed to defeat Jackson, are ordered to operate in the direction of Richmond.
There is a skirmish at Muddy Creek, western Virginia, as well.
At Charleston, South Carolina, there are affairs and skirmishes for two days as Federals try to enlarge their holdings on the key islands near Charleston Harbor.
—G. K. Chesterton