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

Stonewall Jackson: Triumphant in Defeat

By Lawrence Weber

Early in the morning of March 23, 1862 Jackson and his men began their march towards the Winchester area.   Covering roughly fifteen miles through the valley, Jackson halted the march around 2 p.m., about one mile outside of Kernstown and three miles south of Winchester.  He ordered his men to set up tents.  “All the regiments, except the Forty-eighth (Col. John A. Campbell’s), which was the rear guard, arrived within a mile or two of Kernstown by 2 p.m. on the 23d, and directions were given for bivouacking.”   Jackson originally had no intentions of engaging the enemy on the 23rd since it was a Sunday and Sunday was the Lord’s Day, but information was presented to him during the morning march that caused him to reconsider.  “During the march information had reached me from a reliable source that the Federals were sending off their stores and troops from Winchester, and after arriving near Kernstown I learned from a source which had been remarkable for its reliability that the enemy’s infantry force at Winchester did not exceed four regiments.”   Even with this important information, Jackson felt that attacking the enemy was not the most prudent decision, and that early Monday morning would be better, but when Jackson and his men arrived outside of Kernstown in the afternoon of March 23, he noticed that their positions were visible to the Union soldiers and therefore compromised and vulnerable.   “Ascertaining that the Federals had a position from which our threes could be seen, I concluded that it would be dangerous to postpone it until the next day, as re-enforcements might be brought up during the night.  After ascertaining that the troops, part of which had marched over 14 miles since dawn, and Garnett’s and Burks’ brigades, which had made a forced march of near 25 miles the day previous, were in good spirits at the prospect of meeting the enemy, I determined to advance at once.”   Thus around mid-afternoon on March 23, 1862, Stonewall Jackson began the First Battle of Kernstown, commencing his Shenandoah Valley Campaign. 


The Union side of the battle at First Kernstown was due to be commanded by General James Shields who was stationed in and around the Winchester area. On Saturday, March 22, 1862 Shields was severely wounded in a skirmish with Confederate Colonel Ashby.  During the confusion an artillery shell exploded near Shields and a fragment struck him in the upper arm causing a break in the bone. The wound was severe enough to cause General Shields to be removed from the field.  Thus as the First Battle of Kernstown began the following day, senior officer Colonel Nathan Kimball was placed in command of the First Brigade.  Writing to General Shields, Colonel Kimball recalled the morning of the 23rd: “SIR: I have the honor to submit the following report of the battle which was fought near Winchester, Va., on Sunday, the 23d instant, between the forces composing the division which I had the honor to command and the rebel forces under General Jackson: Early in the morning of the 23d the enemy (Ashby’s forces) commenced the attack, advancing from Kernstown and occupying a position with their batteries on the heights to the right of the road and the woods in the plain to the left of the road with cavalry and infantry and one battery.”   As Jackson and Ashby attempted to turn the Union flanks during the battle, Kimball and his men held strong. 

I at once advanced the Eighth Ohio, Colonel Carroll with four companies taking the left and Lieutenant-Colonel Sawyer with three companies the right of the turnpike road. Colonel Carroll advanced steadily, coming up with two companies of the Sixty-seventh Ohio, who had been out as pickets. Uniting them with his command, he drove one of the enemy’s batteries which had opened a heavy fire upon him, and after a sharp skirmish routing five Companies of the enemy, which were posted behind a stone wall and supported by cavalry, holding his position during the whole day, thus frustrating the attempts of the enemy to turn our left. The right of the Eighth Ohio remained in front until about 4 o’clock p.m., when they were recalled to support one of our batteries on the heights. The Sixty-seventh Ohio were thrown on a hill to our right to support Jenks’ battery, which had been advanced to a position commanding the village of Kernstown and the wood on the right. The Fourteenth Indiana was sent forward to support Clark’s battery, which advanced along the road. The Eighty-fourth Pennsylvania was thrown over the hills to the right to prevent a flank movement of the enemy. The Second Brigade, commanded by Colonel Sullivan, Thirteenth Indiana, composed of the Thirteenth Indiana, Fifth Ohio, Sixty-second Ohio, and Thirty-ninth Illinois, was sent to the left, supporting Carroll’s skirmishers, a section of Daum’s battery, and Robinson’s First Ohio Battery, [L], and to prevent an attempt which was made to turn that flank. We had succeeded in driving the enemy from both flanks and the front until about 4 o’clock p.m.

It was around 4 p.m. that Jackson unleashed his most severe attacks of the battle. He went on to describe these following hours in his official report as such:

Colonel Fulkerson having advanced his brigade, consisting of the Twenty-third and Thirty-seventh, which were, respectively, commanded by Lieut. Cols. A. O. Taliaferro and R. P. Carson, to the left of Colonel Echols, judiciously posted it behind a stone wall toward which the enemy was rapidly advancing, and opened a destructive fire, which drove back the Northern forces in great disorder after sustaining a heavy loss and leaving the colors of one of their regiments upon the field. This part of the enemy’s routed troops having to some extent rallied in another position was also driven from this by Colonel Fulkerson. The officers and men of this brigade merit special mention.  Soon after the Twenty-seventh had become engaged General Garnett, with the Second, Fourth, and Thirty-third Regiments, commanded, respectively, by Col. J. W. Allen, Lieut. Col. C. A. Ronald, and Col. A. C. Cummings, moved forward and joined in the battle, which now became general. The First Virginia Battalion, Provisional Army Confederate States, under Capt. D. B. Bridgford, though it unfortunately became separated in advancing, was in the engagement, and from near 5 to 6.30 p.m. there was almost a continuous roar of musketry. The enemy’s repulsed regiments were replaced by fresh ones from his large reserve. As the ammunition of some of our men became exhausted noble instances were seen of their borrowing from comrades, by whose sides they continued to fight, as though resolved to die rather than give way.

During this intense period of the battle, Jackson thought that his men were actually breaking through the Union lines and carrying the field.  It was here that Jackson made a critical mistake.  Thinking that the Union forces were moving back into defensive positions, he sent his reserves forward to end the battle.  All of a sudden a massive explosion occurred to Jackson’s left, and federal artillery that was not observed in Colonel Ashby’s reports, came pounding into the center and left of Jackson’s lines.  Jackson knew he was in trouble.  Attempting to assess the trouble, Jackson sent a member of his staff, Sandie Pendleton to find out where the extra Union artillery was coming from.  Pendleton reported back to Jackson that the enemy did not have four regiments, but at least three times that number and all were being engaged.  Jackson supposedly responded back to Pendleton, “Say nothing about it, but we are in for it.”    In the center of the storm was Jackson’s beloved “Stonewall Brigade,” literally engaged in the fight of their lives.  Jackson surveyed the field and felt that it was time to fall back into safer positions.  “Though our troops were fighting under great disadvantages, I regret that General Garnett should have given the order to fall back, as otherwise the enemy’s advance would at least have been retarded, and the remaining part of my infantry reserve have had a better opportunity for coming up and taking part in the engagement if the enemy continued to press forward. As General Garnett fell back he was pursued by the enemy, who, thus turning Colonel Fulkerson’s right, forced him to fall back.”

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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.