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

Stonewall Jackson: Triumphant in Defeat

By Lawrence Weber

Colonel Kimball described the surprise artillery attack and its results in his official reports:

At this juncture I ordered the Third Brigade, Col. E. B. Tyler, Seventh Ohio, commanding, composed of the Seventh and Twenty-ninth Ohio, First Virginia, Seventh Indiana, and One hundred and tenth Pennsylvania, to move to the right to gain the flank of the enemy, and charge them through the wood to their batteries posted on the hill. They moved forward steadily and gallantly, opening a galling fire on the enemy’s infantry. The right wing of the Eighth Ohio, the Fourteenth and Thirteenth Indiana Regiments, Sixty-seventh Ohio, Eighty-fourth Pennsylvania, and Fifth Ohio, were sent forward to support Tyler’s brigade, each one in its turn moving gallantly forward, sustaining a heavy fire from both the enemy’s batteries and musketry. Soon all of the regiments above named were pouring forth a well-directed fire, which was promptly answered by the enemy, and after a hotly contested action of two hours, just as night closed in, the enemy gave way and were soon completely routed, leaving their dead and wounded on the field, together with two pieces of artillery and four caissons.


Jackson gave the battle one last push, and then with night falling, decided to retreat.

Soon after this the Fifth Regiment, under Col. W. H. Harman, came up, and I directed it to advance and support our infantry; but before it met the enemy General Garnett ordered it back, and thus the enemy were permitted unresisted to continue the pursuit. So soon as I saw Colonel Harman filing his regiment to the rear I took steps to remedy, as far as practicable, this ill-timed movement by directing him to occupy and hold the woods immediately in his rear; and calling General Garnett’s attention to the importance of rallying his troops, he turned and assigned the Fifth a position, which it held until the arrival of Colonel Burks with the Forty-second, under Lieut. Col. D. A. Langhorne. Colonel Barks and the officers and men of the Forty-second proved themselves worthy of the cause they were defending by the spirit with which this regiment took and held its position until its left was turned by the Federals, pressing upon the Fifth as it fell back.  Col. John A. Campbell was rapidly advancing with his regiment to take part in the struggle, but night and an indisposition on the part of the enemy to press farther had terminated the battle, which had commenced near 4 p.m.

By 8 p.m. the First Battle of Kernstown was over.  Of the 12, 300 men engaged in the struggle, there were 1,308 casualties.  On the Union side there were 590 casualties, to the Confederate’s 718.  Clearly, Colonel Ashby’s faulty report to Jackson was a major contributing factor in Jackson’s loss.  Jackson’s major mistake in sending in his reserves during the mid-point of the battle was based in large part on Ashby’s report.  For his part, Colonel Ashby admitted his erroneous intelligence in his official report, stating that he believed that the enemy had but four regiments withdrawing from Winchester to Harpers Ferry.  “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.”   Nevertheless, the information may have caused Jackson’s only loss.  Jackson was magnanimous in his defeat, and even praised Ashby in his official report of the battle.  “During the engagement Colonel Ashby, with a portion of his command, including Chew’s battery, which rendered valuable service, remained on our right, and not only protected our rear in the vicinity of the Valley turnpike, but also served to threaten the enemy’s front and left. Colonel Ashby fully sustained his deservedly high reputation by the able manner in which he discharged the important trust confided to him.”   Jackson went on to give praise to ladies of Winchester, who tended to the injured and sick, the citizens of Winchester who buried the dead, and a host of others who performed their duty to the best of their ability. 

The Battle of First Kernstown remained Stonewall Jackson’s only major tactical loss during the Civil War.  While the Union succeeded in forcing Jackson’s men off the field and into retreat the following day, Jackson did accomplish some of his original objectives.  President Lincoln upon learning of the action in the Shenandoah became concerned over the potential threat to Washington D.C.  Lincoln ordered two full divisions from General Banks Corps back into the Valley, and sent General Irvin McDowell’s I Corps men back to Washington D.C. in defense, drawing at least 50,000 valuable men away from General McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign.  The absence of these men may have been a contributing factor in McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign loss.  In this way, First Kernstown could be considered a strategic victory for Jackson and the Confederates.  Jackson spent the remaining months of spring engaged in his Valley Campaign constantly disrupting Union forces, and preventing them from reinforcing General McClellan.  The Battles of McDowell, Front Royal, First Winchester, Cross Keys, and Port Republic were all victories for Jackson.  By the time the Battle of Port Republic was over in early June of 1862, Jackson was able to Join General Robert E. Lee for the Seven Days Battles, where Lee successfully defeated McClellan, forcing him to retreat back to the Virginia Peninsula, thus ending the Peninsula Campaign, but continuing the Civil War for another two and a half blood soaked years.

Colonel Nathan Kimball was promoted to Brigadier General on April 16, 1862, and went on to fight at places like Second Bull Run, Antietam, and Fredericksburg, where he was wounded severely in the leg.  After recovering from his injury, he went back to the Army and continued fighting at places like Corinth and Vicksburg.  He was with General William Tecumseh Sherman during the beginning of the Atlanta Campaign; and he fought at Franklin and Nashville.  On February 1, 1865 he was brevetted Major General, and was mustered out of the Army in August of that same year.  After the Civil War ended, Kimball entered politics in Indiana and eventually Utah.  General Nathan Kimball died January 21, 1898 and is buried in Weber, Utah. 

Colonel Turner Ashby did not live to see the end of 1862.  On June 6, 1862 while General Jackson was moving from Harrisonburg toward Port Republic, Ashby’s men were attacked.  Ashby and his men successfully thwarted the Union attack, but Ashby’s horse was shot-out from underneath him.  On foot, Ashby charged toward the retreating Union soldiers when he was shot in the heart and killed instantly.  Ten days before his death, Ashby had been promoted to Brigadier General.  Originally buried in the University of Virginia Cemetery, he was moved to the Stonewall Confederate Cemetery in Winchester, Virginia in 1866.

General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson went on to immortality as one of the greatest generals in American history.  The remainder of his Shenandoah Valley Campaign was a complete success, and he never lost again in battle.  Jackson fought conspicuously at places like The Seven Days Battles, Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville.  It was at Chancellorsville on May 2, 1863 where Jackson was accidentally shot by friendly fire, and had to have his left arm amputated.  Unfortunately for Jackson, post-surgical infection set in and he died on May 10, 1863.  Jackson’s death had a profound effect on the South.  Historians have argued for many years that Jackson’s death may have contributed to Lee’s great defeat at Gettysburg; a battle that many feel turned the tide in favor of the North during the Civil War.  His last words were: “Let us cross over the river and rest in the shade of the trees.”  Stonewall Jackson is buried in Lexington, Virginia in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley.  For his role at First Kernstown, Jackson received commendation from the Confederate Congress, and his superior officers. 

General Orders No. 37.


Rapidan, April 8, 1862.

The commanding general has the pleasure to publish to the troops under his command the following resolution of Congress, and at the same time to express his own sense of the admirable conduct of Major-General Jackson and his division, by which they fully earned the high reward bestowed by Congress:

Resolved by the Congress of the Confederate States of America, That the thanks of Congress are due, and they are hereby tendered, to Maj. Gen. T. J. Jackson and the officers and men under his command for their gallant and meritorious service in the, successful engagement with a greatly superior force of the enemy, near Kernstown, Frederick County, Virginia, on the 23d day of March, 1862.

By command of Major-General Johnston:
Assistant Adjutant-General.

While many students of history are able to recall Jackson’s major accomplishments at places like First Bull Run, Second Bull Run, Antietam and Fredericksburg, perhaps it is time to recognize where much of his legend began: The Shenandoah Valley, and First Kernstown.  Similarly, names like Turner Ashby and Nathan Kimball are not well known to most.  It is the hope of the author of this paper that we may begin to bring the events in these men’s lives back to into our collective memories, and recognize their role in shaping the great crossroad story of American History: The Civil War.

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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.