Shenandoah 1862: Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign
by Peter Cozzens, University of North Carolina Press
In his revealing set-piece opening chapter, Peter Cozzens, an independent researcher and prolific Civil War author, captures the essence of Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson’s battlefield philosophy by quoting from a letter he wrote to his wife, Anna, in the summer of 1861: “We must give [the enemy] no time to think. We must bewilder them and keep them bewildered. Our fighting must be sharp, impetuous, continuous.”
Between March and June 1862, Jack – son put this philosophy into action in the Shenandoah Valley, a campaign that would solidify his place in the Confederacy’s pantheon of heroes. But has the mythos that surrounds Jackson the icon overwhelmed the human foibles and military failures that bedeviled Jackson the man? Cozzens offers a magisterial examination of the Valley Campaign to answer this and many other questions. He brings scrupulous research and a keen analytic eye to Jackson’s logistics and tactics. The result is a vigorous account that captures both Union and Confederate perspectives and brings a much-needed modern interpretation to one of the war’s most storied campaigns.
Jackson did not experience victory from the beginning. Cozzens cites Michael C. Harman, Jackson’s acting chief quartermaster, on the ill-fated Romney Campaign: “It was a desperate time. Sleet, snow, horses falling and breaking their legs, wagons stalled and overturned, soldiers shrieking from painful frozen wounds, men lying frozen dead in fence corners and straw stacks with only the snow for a winding sheet.” Cozzens concludes that Jackson “was uninterested in the hardships his men endured”—a far cry from the Stone – wall celebrated in song and story.
Jackson had other foibles. Most damning was his propensity for secrecy. Cozzens quotes Jackson’s refusal to ever hold another council of war after his division commanders recommended abandoning Winchester in March 1862, even though militarily it was the right thing to do.
Jackson mismanaged his first serious battle at Kernstown on March 11, 1862. Captain William F. Harrison of the 23rd Virginia wrote his wife: “General Jackson was completely taken in. The won der is why the Yankees didn’t capture our whole army.” Although the engagement was a tactical defeat (Jackson suffered more casualties and left the field in Union hands), he gained a strategic victory; the Lincoln administration insisted on keeping a large Federal presence in the Valley to keep tabs on the unpredictable Jackson.
The jury was still out on Jackson after the army’s retreat up the Valley to Staunton, pursued gingerly by Union forces under Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks. But Jackson had already made plans to combine his small army with troops commanded by feisty Brig. Gen. Edward “Allegheny” Johnson to attack the Union garrison at McDowell. This time the bluecoats relinquished the field. Cozzens says the defeat was inconsequential for the North, but for the South “it was a tonic they imbibed eagerly. Stonewall’s reputation was beginning to spread beyond Virginia.”
Jackson now set his sights on Banks. Joining Maj. Gen. Richard S. Ewell, Jackson decided to attack the small Union detachment at Front Royal. Upon hearing news of the Rebels’ easy victory there, Banks retreated to Winchester, the strategic key to the entire Lower Valley. Both armies raced for the town, skirmishing all the way. The Federals arrived first. Banks conducted a skillful retreat and saved most of his supply train. Although the outnumbered Federals lost the battle on May 25, Cozzens notes that “Despite enjoying a four-to-one superiority in numbers, Jackson had not destroyed Banks’ army.” In fact, Banks’ handling of the retreat to the Potomac River earned him his men’s admiration.
Jackson had little time to savor his victories. His foot cavalry had to confront a fresh Union army under the celebrated “Pathfinder,” Maj. Gen. John Charles Frémont. After Richard Ewell’s victory at Cross Keys on June 9 and Jackson’s at Port Republic the next day, “Old Jack” became the “Game Cock of the Valley,” according to the Richmond Whig. But General Robert E. Lee soon ordered him to leave the Valley to join the Army of Northern Virginia. Jackson, and thousands of his Valley veterans, never returned alive.
Originally published in the April 2009 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.