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Jackson's Valley Campaign: The Battle of Port Republic

Discussion in 'Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson' started by James N., Jun 8, 2015.

  1. James N.

    James N. Captain Forum Host Civil War Photo Contest
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    Part I - Stonewall Jackson's Narrow Escape
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    The importance of the small Shenandoah Valley town of Port Republic lay in its position in the forks of the North and South Rivers which flow generally northeast and meet to form the South Fork of the Shenandoah River which thence continues northeastward through the Luray Valley to its junction with the North Fork at Front Royal. The Confederate Army of the Valley led by Maj. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson in June, 1862, nearing the end of his famous Valley Campaign headed here where it would presumably be safe from either the army of Maj. Gen. John C. Fremont, following Jackson from Harrisonburg, or the division of Maj. Gen. James Shields advancing up the Luray Valley from Front Royal. Previously, Jackson had ordered the several bridges across both of the branches of the Shenandoah, swollen by recent torrential rains, burned to impede the Federal advances. Only a single span remained, a covered wooden bridge at the site above over the North River leading into Port Republic; it became the lifeline for the Valley army for the days of the battles of Cross Keys and Port Republic, fought June 8 and 9, 1862.

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    Jedediah Hotchkiss' map shows the town of Port Republc and its position at the Point where the rivers meet; as well as the open fields to the east over which the battle of June 9, 1862, took place.

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    Jackson left the 3,500-man division of Maj. Gen. Richard S. Ewell at Cross Keys on June 6, to hold off Fremont's 10,500 while he led the rest, preceeded by a vast wagon train of supplies captured from the defeated army of Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks. Jackson passed the camps of his own division which was strung out and lying exhausted in the muddy fields along the road into town, and established his headquarters on a hill at Madison Hall, the home of Dr. George Kemper, which stood on the site of the more recent house above. Only a small picket accompanied Jackson into town and was positioned near the house; the rest of his division remained on high ground across the river. However, most of the wagons were parked in the fields around the house, a tempting target for Federal raiders.

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    In town at the intersection of the main road and Water St. stands the Frank Kemper House, above, now the very interesting Port Republic Museum. It was here that the body of the commander of Jackson's cavalry, the redoubtable Brig. Gen. Turner Ashby had been brought for preparation for burial following Ashby's death in the small battle at Harrisonburg on June 6. A display in the museum below depicts Ashby's body, dressed in his finest uniform, lying in its coffin where it was photographed and placed beneath an open side window where mourners, including Jackson, could pass and give their respects.

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    Port Republic got its name from having once been an important center of trade and minor manufacturing, dependent on the river and its tributaries for its livelihood and commerce. Today several period houses remain along its two streets, including the very odd structure below which consists of a brick wing to the left, joined to a wooden wing to the right by an elaborate and highly incongruous pillared portico between them! By the time of the battle, however, "The Port's" importance had declined considerably, river traffic being overtaken by railroad service to Front Royal and Strasburg in the north and Staunton to the south.

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    Above and below are two views of another period structure being readied for restoration; the lower part had largely rotted away and is being prepared for replacement, but as can be seen, the upper frame remains sound, even after 150-plus years.

    It was into the sleepy town that 150 Union cavalry of Col. Samuel S. Carroll dashed on the morning of Sunday, June 8, nearly capturing Jackson and his staff at Madison Hall. Fortunately, his horse Little Sorrel was saddled and ready to take the general to Church services and he quickly escaped, though several members of his staff were captured. Dr. Hunter McGuire was preparing the local church which stood near this house for use as a field hospital for the battle everyone knew was coming, and he barely managed to escape out an open window in the sanctuary. Jackson managed to race across the bridge to get help from his nearest unit, the 27th Virginia of the Stonewall Brigade, which soon drove Carroll's unsupported troopers out of town and back to the north.

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    Next time, the Battle of Port Republic.
     
    Last edited: Jun 8, 2015

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  3. James N.

    James N. Captain Forum Host Civil War Photo Contest
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    Part II - Battle at Port Republic
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    Following his repulse, Carroll didn't have to go very far, falling back only to the vicinity of Conrad's Store on the Luray Valley Road where there were two brigades of Shields' division under Brig. Gen. Erastus Tyler. The morning of June 9, Jackson sent the Stonewall Brigade led by Brig. Gen. Charles Winder to meet Tyler's approach north of town. A hastily built bridge, made of planks laid over wagon bodies at the ford over the South Branch pictured above was both a lifeline and a bottleneck for Jackson's entire army during the ensuing battle.

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    Jackson intended to unite his entire force to crush Tyler's two brigades before the rest of Shields' division could arrive, but the double bottlenecks at the covered bridge, damaged during Carroll's foray, and the improvised bridge caused considerable delay. Tyler was able to form a line between the South Fork of the Shenandoah on his right and a large cleared hill above known locally as the Coaling on his left. The Coaling, actually a spur of the Blue Ridge, was an area that had been cleared by burning to produce charcoal and made a fine platform for a battery of Union artillery; the high ground here dominated the then-open agricultural fields over which the Confederates had to advance. The photo below is from the Union artillery position; the more recent house at left center stands where the wartime Lewiston stood; from there to the right along the road and behind a fence stretched Tyler's battleline all the way to the river.

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    From this position Tyler's regiments easily repulsed Winder's Stonewall Brigade and even pursued it a distance as Jackson slowly got his units across the bridges and piecemeal into action. The climax came when the 2,500-man brigade of Brig. Gen. Richard Taylor arrived and moved unseen toward the Coaling through the woods at left above. Taylor overran the position; lost it to a counterattack; then seized it again in a bloody see-saw fight that finally ended with most of the battery horses killed and the cannoneers in flight. With the high ground in Rebel hands outflanking his lines and with his men finally running out of ammunition, Tyler had little choice but to retreat. His men fled northward along this road back toward Conrad's Store in the direction of the rest of Shields' division.

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    Left to right: Maj. Chatham Roberdeau Wheat of the Louisiana Tiger Battalion in a pre-war photo; Brig. Gen. Richard Taylor commanding the Louisiana Brigade in Ewell's Division; and Union brigade commander Col. Samuel R. Carroll whose raid had almost captured Jackson the previous day.

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    Near the end of the battle, the army of John C. Fremont put in its belated appearance on the west side of the Shenandoah and its North River tributary. Ewell's men burned the covered bridge once all had crossed leaving Fremont stranded on the far bank as a mere witness to the final action at the Coaling. Not to be outdone, Fremont placed some of his artillery around the Strayer House, Bogota, still a private residence partly visible through the trees above.

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    The Strayer family had watched the battle from their second-story portico, but took refuge inside once the mostly-German would-be looters from Fremont's force appeared demanding food and valuables. Fortunately, they were terrorized only briefly once an appeal for protection was made to one of their officers. The view below is from the Strayer family cemetery and looks out over the South Fork of the Shenandoah River; from here near their house across the road Fremont's artillery saw men and wagons moving in the distance and sent shells that landed among burial details and ambulance crews working to remove the wounded from the otherwise quiet battlefield. Fortunately for Jackson, there was then no bridge or ford here, and following the battle he withdrew unmolested into Brown's Gap of the Blue Ridge to await further developments. Unknown to everyone at the time, Stonewall Jackson's great Valley Campaign had drawn to a close with the Battle of Port Republic, last and largest of the entire series of engagements.

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    Last edited: May 9, 2016
  4. Delhi Rangers

    Delhi Rangers First Sergeant

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    This print depicts the Fighting at "The Coaling". I believe it is a Keith Rocco print. I have it hanging in my hall at home.

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  5. AUG351

    AUG351 Captain Forum Host

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    Great photos & write up!

    Taylor's Louisianans sure had a hell of a fight at The Coaling. In Taylor's memoirs he mentions that after the battle was over and the guns captured, "Jackson came up, with intense light in his eyes, grasped my hand, and said the brigade should have captured the battery. I thought the men would go mad with cheering, especially the Irishmen. A huge fellow, with one eye closed and half his whiskers burned by powder, was riding cock-horse on a gun, and, catching my attention, yelled out, 'We told you to bet on your boys.'"
     
  6. James N.

    James N. Captain Forum Host Civil War Photo Contest
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    Thanks for that - I'd forgotten about the Kieth Rocco, who I learned while on this trip in April is actually a native of the Shenandoah Valley! The only representation I remembered is the Bradley Schmehl version, The Grim Harvest of War, which I have hanging in my hall over the telephone table:

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  7. James N.

    James N. Captain Forum Host Civil War Photo Contest
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    Since today marks the anniversary of this final battle of Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign, here's a *BUMP* for this thread!
     
  8. PotomacDan

    PotomacDan Private

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    Virginia is always so beautifull. In the green spring it reminds me of Ireland.
     
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