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Posted on Oct 22, 2007 in Front Page Features, War College

Stonewall Jackson: Triumphant in Defeat

By Lawrence Weber

Jackson marched from Winchester to a town called Strasburg, eighteen miles away.  At Strasburg, the men set up camp for several days, and were able to re-supply with a limited amount of essential items necessary for battle.  Unfortunately for Jackson the equipment was poor and the men remained fatigued.  Jackson’s stay in Strasburg was short.  While Jackson was deciding on his next move, General Banks had been ordered to detach a division of 9,500 men under the command of Brigadier General James Shields to pursue Jackson up the valley.  As Shields and his men closed in on Jackson, Jackson recognized the same type of threat faced at Winchester. Jackson came to the same conclusion: withdraw.  On March 15, 1862, Jackson and his men left Strasburg and continued to search for a more strategically sound piece of land. 


Jackson found this geographic location at a place called Rude’s Hill, three miles south of Mt. Jackson.  Rude’s Hill was an excellent defensive location, and it was there that he established camp.  On March 19, he set-up his headquarters near the settlement of Hawkinstown, located three miles north of Mt. Jackson.  Utilizing this geography allowed Jackson to assess the situation in the valley and provided him with an opportunity to figure out what to do next.  It was at Rude’s Hill that Jackson began to get word of a larger plan that was unfolding regarding the movements of the Army of the Potomac. 

In early spring of 1862, the Union Army of the Potomac, led by Major General George McClellan was poised for a major assault on the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia.  It was thought that this peninsula campaign might be the decisive blow to the Confederacy that would bring about the end of the Civil War.  This opinion was not without merit, for McClellan’s plan was a sound one.  Using the United States Navy in tandem with the army, McClellan wanted to land on the Virginia peninsula, and begin a march towards Richmond with the navy providing protection of the army flanks along the York and James rivers.  If his plan was successful, McClellan would be hailed as the savior of the Union.  "The moment for action has arrived, and I know that I can trust in you to save our country" McClellan informed his men.  

General McClellan felt that Banks and his men had done an excellent job of dislodging the Confederates from the Shenandoah, specifically the Winchester and the Manassas Gap Railroad areas.  Feeling that the area was secure, McClellan instructed General Banks to begin moving eastward across the Blue Ridge Mountains to join forces for an assault on Richmond.  McClellan ordered Banks to leave several regiments behind to guard the railroad bridge, and to provide protection to the V Corps.  General James Shields was chosen by Banks to remain in the valley along with several divisions. 

According to faulty reports from Jackson’s cavalry chief Colonel Turner Ashby, General Banks entire army was leaving the valley to join forces with General George B. McClellan on the Virginia peninsula. 

“CAMP NEAR WOODSTOCK, VA., March 1862. DEAR SIR: Having followed the enemy in his hasty retreat from Strasburg on Saturday evening, I came upon the forces remaining in Winchester within a mile of that place and became satisfied that he had but four regiments, and learned that they had orders to march in the direction of Harper’s Ferry….I moved my force of cavalry, battery of three guns, and four companies of infantry…to Kernstown…I learned that the enemy was increasing his force and intended making a stand. Respectfully, TURNER ASHBY, Colonel, Commanding Cavalry.”  

On Saturday evening, March 22nd, Colonel Ashby and his men began to skirmish with the Union forces in the Winchester and Kernstown areas in an attempt to disrupt the movements of the V Corps.   After receiving this report from Col. Ashby, Jackson felt that together they could attack the limited Union forces stationed around Winchester, and possibly disrupt General Banks’ march towards McClellan on the peninsula. “On the preceding Friday evening a dispatch was received from Col. Turner Ashby, commanding the cavalry, stating that the enemy had evacuated Strasburg. Apprehensive that the Federals would leave this military district, I determined to follow them with all my available force.”  Unfortunately for Jackson and his men, information gathered by Ashby was incorrect.  What Ashby reported as a group of retreating Union forces of limited number was actually a brigade of 9,500 men, intent on securing the Shenandoah and providing cover for General Banks’ men. 

If General Banks was successful in linking up with McClellan, they might launch an assault on Richmond that could end the war.  It was clear that Colonel Ashby was attempting to cut-off the Union’s regiments, now it was up to Jackson to decide what he wanted to do about this turn of events.  Jackson felt that his only options were to either intercept Banks before he could join forces with McClellan, or to cause a major disruption in the Shenandoah Valley that would pull forces away from McClellan, possibly threaten Washington D.C., and stall the campaign on the Virginia peninsula.  For Jackson, it was time to march back to Winchester and fight.  It is clear that Jackson recognized the threat of what would eventually be known as the Peninsula Campaign, but what Jackson did not realize was that on that Sunday, March 23, 1862, the Lord’s Day, he would be beginning a campaign that would make him a legend.  On that day, Jackson would engage in what would come to be known as the First Battle of Kernstown, Virginia.  This battle at Kernstown was the first battle in Jackson’s famous Shenandoah Valley Campaign.  The First Battle of Kernstown was also significant for Jackson because it marked a unique event in his legendary military life: he lost.

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  1. Hi mr weber I kristie can’t believe u wrote something that is actually on the Internet. – kristie

    Good job A++- Lisa

    Love your students,

    Kristie and Lisa

  2. After reading this, I have a way better understanding of this battle. Ashby was a damn hero. So sad he died so soon in the war. Also so sad that the great Gen. Stonewall died of friendly fire, although after watching a documentary (filmed in the exact area where he received the friendly fire, it’s understandable how it happened). When Gen. Lee said after Stonewall died “I have lost my right arm” he was correct. Stonewall Jackson was a great tactician general, upon studying his character and battles, he should go down in the ranks with Napoleon (who he studied) and Hannibal. I have no doubt, that if Stonewall and his brigade were able to show up on the Gettysburg battlefield, the battle and history as we know it would have been different.