- 22 Mar 2020 13:34
March 23, Sunday
At a chilly, windy 2 pm at the village of Kernstown, Virginia, a few miles south of Winchester in the Shenandoah Valley, “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederates arrive to meet Confederate cavalry under Turner Ashby and the happy news of the enemy’s supposed weakness. Jackson now faces a dilemma. His men are weary, having already left 1,500 stragglers along the trail as they marched 25 miles yesterday and 16 more today. Even more distressing, it’s Sunday—a day Jackson takes so seriously that he won’t even post a letter if he thinks it might be in transit on the Sabbath. On the other hand, he has been looking all along for an opportunity to pounce upon an isolated fragment of Banks’s host—and he will never have a better chance than this. Quickly overcoming his doubts, and without further reconnaissance, Jackson decides on his deployment. To his right front, east of the Valley Turnpike, the enemy appears to be concentrated in an open wheat field; they are supported by two Federal batteries placed on a knoll west of the highway. An assault on the right would be hard going, so on that side nothing more than a holding action will be attempted; the assignment falls to Ashby’s cavalrymen, supported by a small brigade. The left looks better—much better. There, perhaps two miles west of the turnpike and roughly paralleling it from southwest to northeast, runs a low, wooded ridge that appears virtually empty of hostile troops. If Jackson can seize that ridge, his men can sweep along its spine beyond the enemy’s right flank, then swing down to the east and cut the Federal force off from Winchester. Two brigades, including the Stonewall Brigade minus its largest regiment, will make the assault. The 5th Virginia will act as Jackson’s reserve.
At about 3:30 the troops begin to move along the cowpaths that crisscross the areas. Artillery opens the battle, one Confederate battery sending a shell smashing into a barn filled with Federals. Federal guns reply with unexpected strength, and under cover of the artillery duel the Confederates run for the key ridge. Brigadier General Garnett, coming up behind with his Stonewall Brigade, is already having problems: Orders that sometimes conflict with his own are being sent by Jackson directly to regimental commanders. Swarming onto the ridge, the lead Confederate regiments approach a clearing bisected by a stone wall. Just then Federal appear at the far end of the field, and the two sides race for the barrier. The Confederates win the race, crouching behind the wall and leveling a deadly fire at the onrushing enemy. The Federals fall back, then another Federal regiment appears out of the woods to the north and rushes toward the stone wall only to also be repulsed. Observing from a nearby hill, Jackson is pleased—for a brief while. But the enemy troops keep pouring out of the woods and, having twice been beaten back by the Confederate left, they now aim their assault at the center, where Garnett’s Stonewall Brigade has taken position in line. Increasingly aware that he is facing no mere rear guard, Jackson belatedly sends an aide to reconnoiter. The officer soon reports that he estimates 10,000 Federals are on Jackson’s front. “Say nothing about it,” Jackson says. “We are in for it.”
Pulling six regiments from his left, where Ashby clearly poses little threat, the Union’s Colonel Kimball hurls wave after wave against the Stonewall Brigade, fighting of the hardest sort that rages for better than two hours. But the Federals keep coming, and the Stonewall Brigade is running out of ammunition. Garnett awaits orders from Jackson, but none arrive—Jackson is busy trying to hurry his reserve, Harman’s 5th Virginia, into battle. At last, calculating that he has no other choice, Garnett orders the Stonewall Brigade to retire. An enraged Jackson tries to order the retreating men to rally without the slightest effect on the flood of men to the rear, and they are now joined by the Confederates at the first stone wall. Jackson has one more hope, his reserve, but will later learn to his enduring displeasure that Garnett has ordered Harman to form a line of battle and cover the retreat. In that assignment Harman performs ably, holding back the enemy while Jackson collects his wounded.
This evening, while Jackson warms himself at a campfire four and a half miles south of the battleground, he is approached by a soldier with more courage than sense. “The Yankees don’t seem willing to quit Winchester, General,” he says. Jackson replies, “Winchester is a very pleasant place to stay in, sir.” The young man persists, “It was reported that they were retreating, but I guess they’re retreating after us.” Without turning his face from the fire, Jackson answers, “I think I may say I am satisfied, sir.” Jackson may well be simply trying to save face or keep morale up. He has suffered 80 killed, 375 wounded, and 263 missing, total 718, to the Federals’ 118 killed, 450 wounded, and 22 missing for 590. By almost every standard, his performance at Kernstown has been imperfect: he unquestioningly accepted Ashby’s secondhand report of the enemy’s weakness, threw his tired troops into combat without ordering an adequate reconnaissance, his tactics were shrewd but flawed in execution by confused and even conflicting orders, and his reserve arrived too late to turn the tide.
But in spite of Jackson’s mistakes and shortcomings, Kernstown has its effect: General J.E. Johnston has directed Jackson to divert Federal attention from his main army and keep troops from the gathering Army of the Potomac. Jackson does so by attacking. Washington, fearing a threat to Harper’s Ferry and Washington, orders Banks and his Federal troops to return to the valley and others that have been heading for the Peninsula are withdrawn from McClellan’s command. The threat also influences Lincoln to keep Irvin McDowell’s large corps south of Washington, instead of sending it by sea to the Peninsula, for Lincoln has discovered that McClellan has not fully honored his agreement to protect Washington properly. Finally, Lincoln removes the Valley district from McClellan’s overall command, forestalling any claims that McClellan might make on the forces under Banks and leaving Banks answerable to the President himself. Clearly, Lincoln intends to become an active participant in the game of wits being played with Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley. Thus, what will become known as the First Battle of Kernstown is a small battle with large results. For the remainder of March, Jackson will withdraw up the Shenandoah, protected by Ashby’s cavalry, while Banks and his Federals slowly pursue as far as Strasburg.
Elsewhere there is an affair at Smyrna, Florida, and a Federal expedition from Point Pleasant, near New Madrid, Missouri, to Little River.
Fort Macon is a brick fort on a long, narrow, sandy island near the town of Beaufort, North Carolina, which has been garrisoned by a small command of Confederates. Burnside, as part of his attempted Federal conquest of North Carolina, orders Brigadier General John G. Parke to move against the old-style fortification. Now Parke and his command arrive at the fort and demand surrender, which is refused. The Federals then institute siege operations.
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.