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Jackson's Valley Campaign Begins: The Battle of Kernstown

Discussion in 'Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson' started by James N., Mar 11, 2016.

  1. James N.

    James N. Captain Forum Host Civil War Photo Contest
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    Part I - The Campaign Opens
    b-kernstown-by-rocco.jpg Shenandoah Valley native Kieth Rocco depicts the climax of the Battle of Kernstown as Union troops drive the Stonewall Brigade of Richard B. Garnett away from their position at the stone wall on Sandy Ridge.

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    The evening of March 11, 1862 was a gloomy one indeed at the Winchester headquarters of Major General Thomas J. Jackson (#1 above; numbers correspond to map in Part III) as he announced his plans to attack the advance Union force of Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks which threatened the town from the north, east, and possibly west. There is no record of that meeting between Jackson and his regimental and brigade commanders, but it's likely they tried to discourage him, seeing as how for the past several days their men had been marching to and fro, occasionally skirmishing with the enemy, and were then scattered in small groups around town. The deciding moment came when Jackson was informed the bulk of his infantry had marched seven miles south in search of their supply wagons, too far to return for the risky night assault Jackson contemplated. The meeting broke up, the officers ordered to head their units south away from the Federals. As he rode in silence with his medical officer, Dr. Hunter McGuire, a Winchester native who was weeping at the thought of abandoning his home, Jackson suddenly exploded, "That's the last council of war I'll ever hold!" And so it was.

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    Since assuming command in the Shenandoah Valley with Winchester as his headquarters in November, 1861, Jackson had sought an active pursuit of the war, with a January campaign to nearby Romney in miserable weather that nevertheless compelled Union troops to abandon the region for the winter. Things finally changed in late February, however, when the 10,000-man division (soon raised to the level of a corps) of Banks crossed the Potomac at Harpers Ferry and began a slow descent on Winchester, largest town in the area and center of a strategic road network. As the map below shows, Union troops also returned to Romney and Moorefield, now W. Va. By March 10, elements of the division of James Shields of Banks corps had arrived less than ten miles to the north at Stephenson's Depot, with more coming from the east through the gap in the direction of Leesburg.

    Jackson had been ordered by his superior, Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston, to try to hold his position in the Valley and to keep as many Federal soldiers possible there to prevent their moving east over the Blue Ridge Mountains to the main seat of war around Manassas Junction. Johnston himself had been forced to withdraw his army from Centreville back to Gordonsville and eventually all the way to Richmond, leaving Jackson isolated in the lower (northern) Shenandoah Valley. It was with a heavy heart that he abandoned Winchester and its primitive and incomplete fortifications like Ft. Collier (#2 above), trudging first to Strasburg where operations stalled for over a week; then on March 20 when Shields occupied that town, twenty miles further south to Mt. Jackson.

    Kernstown - Map by Hal Jesperson, www.cwmaps.jpg Map by Hal Jesperson, www.cwmaps

    Nathaniel Banks,below at left, received instructions to bring his corps to Manassas, from where it could either move to Alexandria to board transports that would take it to join Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan's army outside Richmond or march south to Fredericksburg. Banks considered Jackson defeated and likely on his way to join Johnston's main army, intending to leave only a brigade of Shields' division at Winchester. The morning of March 22, Banks himself left town for Harpers Ferry, taking with him the division of Brig. Gen. Alpheus Williams.

    Union Commanders at Kernstown.jpg

    Meanwhile, movement of the Federal forces had been constantly monitored by Jackson through his aggressive cavalry commander, Col. Turner Ashby, who determined that only a small brigade of four regiments had been left at Winchester, prompting Jackson to once again resume the offensive. Ashby's skirmishers drove in some of Shields' pickets; when the general (above at right) rode to the scene of the action, he was struck by a splinter from a shell thrown by one of the small cannon of the three-gun battery of Capt. Robert Chew that accompanied Ashby. Wounded, Shields played no part in the coming battle, turning over command to his senior brigade commander, Col. Nathan G. Kimball, above center, looking somewhat bemused in a CDV by Matthew Brady. Kimball had earlier defeated Gen. Robert E. Lee in the mountains of western (now West) Virginia and after Kernstown could boast of being the only Federal commander to best both Lee and Jackson!

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    Ashby withdrew his regiment and Chew's battery to the south of the village of Kernstown where the following morning he met Jackson near Opequon Church where the Civil War Centennial markers above now stand (#3). So far, Ashby had seen only a single brigade and its camps and so informed Jackson who determined to attack with his 4,500 men what he thought were only about 3000 Federals; in reality, Shields' entire division was present, over three times that number.
     
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2016

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  3. James N.

    James N. Captain Forum Host Civil War Photo Contest
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    Part II - The Battle of Kernstown
    DSC03493.JPG
    The Pritchard House on the slope of Pritchard's Hill (#4) stands in the center of the battle area, though no fighting actually occurred here. As Jackson's men began to deploy for his attack around noon of March 23, Kimball rushed his artillery to this height which was to dominate the battle. Former Virginia Military Institute artillery instructor Jackson, at right below in a photo taken later that year back in Winchester, recognized the significance of Pritchard's Hill and sent the tiny two-regiment brigade led by Col. Samuel V. Fulkerson, below at left in an 1860 photograph, forward to outflank the position to the west.

    Confederate Commanders at Kernstown.jpg

    In addition to Fulkerson, l. , and Jackson, r., are a possible photo of the elusive Brig. Gen. Richard B. Garnett commanding Jackson's old Stonewall Brigade, and a prewar photo of Col. Turner Ashby of the 7th Virginia Cavalry, whose faulty reconnaissance brought on the battle at Kernstown.

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    Col. Fulkerson, a prewar Virginia lawyer who'd had a very little military experience during the Mexican War, attempted to obey Jackson's orders, but blundered through the fire of the Union batteries to about this position at the edge of the current Kernstown battlefield reservation (#5) where he began to veer off to his left (right in this photo looking south) towards the protection of woods at the base of Sandy Ridge as shown below in a period map by Jackson's cartographer, Jedediah Hotchkiss. From this point the battle assumed a different character as Jackson gave up any direct attempts on Pritchard's Hill, concentrating instead on placing his own artillery on Sandy Ridge and continuing flanking movements there with his infantry; Ashby remained relatively quiet guarding the Valley Turnpike with his cavalry and Chew's Battery.

    The-First-Battle-of-Kernstown-Hotchkiss.jpg

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    Above, an interpretive sign near the summit of Pritchard's Hill (#6) looking west toward Sandy Ridge; from these two positions the artillery of both sides dueled throughout the remainder of the afternoon. Kimball first moved the brigade of Col. Erastus B. Tyler to the north end of Sandy Ridge to thwart Jackson's attempt. Jackson sent his artillery, Fulkerson's tiny brigade, the Stonewall Brigade led by Richard Garnett, and finally the reserve brigade of Col. Jesse S. Burks towards Sandy Ridge, seen in the background on the horizon below (#7). Late in the day Kimball's own brigade crossed the intervening ground in an attempt to hit the flank of the Stonewall Brigade which was on the right of the Confederate line.

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    As the day's light began to fade, the exhausted Confederates began to run out of ammunition; without waiting for orders he wasn't likely to receive, Garnett ordered the Stonewall Brigade to retreat, uncovering Fulkerson's flank, thereby forcing Fulkerson to fall back also. The Federals advanced and swept the Confederates from behind one of the many stone walls that criss-crossed Sandy Ridge, sending them into headlong retreat as depicted in Alfred Waud's woodcut for Harper's Weekly below. (Though one suspects it looked more like the Keith Rocco painting of the same subject at the head of this thread!)

    march23kernstown.jpg

    Jackson was outraged by Garnett's unauthorized retreat, soon arresting and bringing charges against him and replacing him with Brig. Gen. Charles Winder. That night, however, Jackson was accosted by one of Ashby's troopers who said, "The Yankees don't seem willing to quit Winchester, General." The reply came, "Winchester is a very pleasant place to stay in, sir." When pressed a little further by the bold cavalryman, Jackson's last retort was "I think I may say I am satisfied, sir!" Well he should have been; though Kernstown was a defeat and an inauspicious beginning to his legendary Valley Campaign, it accomplished one of the main - if not the main - objectives of his orders: to keep as many Federals as possible in the Valley and away from Richmond. Following the victory, Shields - who took full credit - expressed doubts he could hold the region by himself; Banks was forced to return with William's division; an additional 10,000 men under Brig. Gen. Louis Blenker were detached from McClellan's army and sent to western Virginia; and the large corps of Maj. Gen. Irvin McDowell was held in place to "protect" Washington, D.C. As Jackson stated in his official report,

    "Though Winchester was not recovered, yet the more important object for the present, that of calling back troops that were leaving the valley, and thus preventing a junction of Banks' command with other forces, was accomplished. I feel justified in saying that though the battlefield is in the possession of the enemy, yet the most essential fruits of the victory are ours."

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    Jackson conducted his retreat largely unopposed, covered by Ashby's cavalry. Wounded from both sides filled all the houses around the battlefield, like the Glass House above (#8) which stands on the western base of Sandy Ridge near Fulkerson's left flank. Jackson's little force had suffered a loss of eighty killed, 375 wounded, and 263 missing, most of them captured, to total Union losses of 590. Most of the Confederates who had been made prisoners and stragglers that were scooped up by the Federals in the pursuit found themselves penned up in Winchester's 1849 county courthouse below (#9) which was at the time surrounded by a high plank fence.

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    Last edited: Mar 12, 2016
  4. Buckeye Bill

    Buckeye Bill 1st Lieutenant

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    I absolutely adore this Virginia city and its American Revolutionary War and Civil War sites! A must see.......

    Fantastic thread, James!

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    Bill
     
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  5. Btc49VA

    Btc49VA Private

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    The Lincoln Administration required us to raise 3 regiments. Tell them we have done so!
     
  6. Bee

    Bee 1st Lieutenant

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    It took me a bit to realize that this was thee event that changed Garnett's life. Thank you for the full picture, James.
     
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  7. W. Richardson

    W. Richardson 1st Lieutenant

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    Great thread James. Thank you for putting it together and sharing it.



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    Respectfully,
    William
     
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  8. pfcjking

    pfcjking Sergeant Major

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    And then Garnett was one of Jackson's pallbearers at his funeral.
     
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  9. NedBaldwin

    NedBaldwin Captain

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    I think there needs to be more attention to timing and location here.
    In early March Johnston withdrew his army from Centreville to Culpeper, which brought him closer to Jackson.
    When he received the news of Kernstown, Johnston tried to aid Jackson by sending 5,000 men under DR Jones toward Front Royal, though they were called back before reaching Jackson.
    Johnston didnt leave for Richmond until about two weeks after Kernstown.

    The reason Lincoln gave for his decision to hold McDowell's Corps in northern Virginia was not Jackson but rather the presence of Johnston along the Rappahannnock:
    "After you left I ascertained that less.than 20,000 unorganized.men, without a single field battery, were all you designed to be left for the defense of Washington and Manassas Junction, and part of this even was to go to General Hooker's old position. General Banks's corps, once designed for Manassas Junction, was diverted and tied up on the line of Winchester and Strasburg, and could not leave it without again exposing the Upper Potomac and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. This presented (or would present when McDowell and Sumner should be gone) a great temptation to the enemy to turn back from the Rappahannock and sack Washington. My explicit order that Washington should, by the judgment of all the commanders of the army corps, be left entirely secure, had been neglected. It was precisely this that drove me to detain McDowell. " -- Lincoln to McClellan April9th 1862​
     
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  10. James N.

    James N. Captain Forum Host Civil War Photo Contest
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    Part III - Visiting the Battlefield Today
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    Kernstown has suffered in various ways throughout the years due to its proximity to nearby Winchester. Even in the beginning this was first known as the Battle of Winchester; note the caption Shields at Winchester in the group of portraits of Union commanders in the post above. That changed two months later in May when Jackson returned, sending his old opponent Banks "whirling through Winchester" after a battle in the southern outskirts of town. Later in 1864 there was a Second Battle of Kernstown which saw Jubal Early defeat the small force of Col. James Mulligan on the grounds of the Pritchard Farm; Mulligan even died of wounds inside the Pritchard House above. Back during the Civil War Centennial the Stonewall Jackson Foundation and other groups placed the signage shown in photo #3 along the Valley Turnpike, then and now U.S. 11, but these give only a very general idea and provide no real geographic or topographic information to interpret the battle. These signs have more recently been moved from alongside the busy highway down a lane leading to the modern Opequon Church where they overlook much the same landscape.

    CWT Kernstown Map.jpg

    The map above form the Civil War Trust has numbers inserted that correspond to my photos in the text and also serve to show another problem in visiting here: there is no single park or coordinated driving tour. The bulk of the preserved land falls into two main holdings, that consisting mainly of the Pritchard Farm administered by the Kernstown Battlefield Foundation; and Sandy Ridge where most of the battle took place, owned by the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley. At the times of my two visits last spring and summer Sandy Ridge was inaccessible, though there are plans for a walking trail with interpretive markers. The nearest I could get was the Glass House, which serves as housing for the administrator of the Museum and was therefore likewise inaccessible. Most problematic, however, is the existence of a modern four-lane elevated and divided limited-access highway that bisects the properties from each other. This was built as a bypass for Winchester and crosses Sandy Ridge at an angle that goes through the center of Garnett's position behind the Stone Wall; pull-off parking here is impossible.

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    The Kernstown Battlefield at the Pritchard Farm provides a welcome visiting experience by contrast with its largely inaccessible neighbor but has the downside that virtually none of the battle occurred here. It was however the center of the Second Battle of Kernstown, so is worthwhile in that respect. Until fairly recently this was still a working farm and although the Pritchard House is vacant and open only occasionally, the more modern barn and a nearby shed serve as visitor center, museum, and exhibit space. The cannon seen here are displayed inside the shed; the bronze one is a beautiful example of an original Mexican War vintage six-pounder gun made by the Ames Manufacturing Company in Chicopee, Mass. Unfortunately, the battlefield park and museum are open erratically in all but the summer months, so it's best to check before planning a visit: I had to return here in the summer to see it.


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    Last edited: Mar 23, 2016
  11. James N.

    James N. Captain Forum Host Civil War Photo Contest
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    Agreed; it was only upon reading the revised edition of Tanner's Stonewall in the Valley between my visits here last year that I fully appreciated the extreme effects of inter-related and sometimes rather small events like these on the overall strategies employed by both sides. For example, I'd never seen anywhere else the fruitless saga of the brigade of L. O'B. Branch and its part in Jackson's thinking; also the real contribution of Joe Johnston to Jackson's overall instructions. Another recently-read book enlightened me to the travails of the division of Louis Blenker wandering aimlessly around Northern Virginia trying to locate Fremont! Unfortunately, my account here, like that of many others, suffers from the constraints imposed by the format and need for a synopsis rather than a real analysis!
     
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2016
  12. James N.

    James N. Captain Forum Host Civil War Photo Contest
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    According to Robert Tanner's Stonewall in the Valley, trouble had already been brewing between the two; supposedly Jackson was displeased by the way Garnett had handled the Stonewall Brigade during the Romney Campaign, and I think there had been other minor incidents as well. Kernstown merely proved the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back.
     
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  13. nextcity

    nextcity Corporal Trivia Game Winner

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    Great info and pictures. Thanks.

    One of the few battlefields I have yet to see, as every time I have been in the area it was midweek (the battlefield is only open on weekends).
     
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  14. Bee

    Bee 1st Lieutenant

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    Another lead to pursue! I have read Professor Robertson's The Stonewall Brigade (an old family copy). Because I am interested in what happened between Jackson and Garnett, I will have to look into Stonewall in the Valley. It is nice that you present just enough information that we still need to go do the legwork, ourselves, James.
     
  15. James N.

    James N. Captain Forum Host Civil War Photo Contest
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    See my reply to NedBaldwin above: "Unfortunately, my account here, like that of many others, suffers from the constraints imposed by the format and need for a synopsis rather than a real analysis!"
     
  16. Bee

    Bee 1st Lieutenant

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    Your presentations are excellent as they are.
     
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  17. James N.

    James N. Captain Forum Host Civil War Photo Contest
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    I would've liked to go much more into the actual fighting, but most of that occurred on the inaccessible land I was unable to photograph, and of course my narrative is directly tied to the pictures, which can be a real disadvantage at times!
     
  18. Bee

    Bee 1st Lieutenant

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    Looking at the maps and pictures, I see that the land becomes more rugged as you head into the hills. Is it the terrain that makes this part of the tour difficult, or do they prohibit visitors in this area?
     
  19. James N.

    James N. Captain Forum Host Civil War Photo Contest
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    That part to the northeast on Sandy Ridge has NO roads apart from the highway bypass; also, there's absolutely NO signage to let you know what it is you're looking at. The road to the Glass House is unmarked, although I understand the trail leading from it that I mentioned in Part III should be complete by now, so things *may* be improved over last year. (On the other hand, they seem so sluggish about it, maybe not!) Also, the Winchester Visitor Center located near the Interstate gives outdated and otherwise incorrect information regarding things like this that are only peripherally related (in their viewpoint) to visiting Winchester. For example, they had absolutely NO idea about the extensive three-mile walking tour of the battlefield of Third Winchester developed by the Civil War Trust!
     
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  20. pfcjking

    pfcjking Sergeant Major

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    You know, when I was 22, I moved from Monroe, LA to Front Royal, VA. In Monroe, there is very little by way of ACW history to see. I was blown away by the saturation of history... ACW history all throughout that beautiful valley. It's so saturated that some sights fall through the cracks unless people like you shine the light on them. Thanks.
     
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  21. pfcjking

    pfcjking Sergeant Major

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    It's very sad, but I bought a set of tires just 2 miles down the road from there in Winchester about 10 years ago, and through willful ignorance, did not even think about walking down the street and seeing the sights. I knew full-well about this battle, too. I guess I was just young & dumb.
     
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