After entering Luray Gap two days before, Jackson and Ewell continued their march towards the outlying Federal post in Front Royal. They began their march at 5 am on the morning of May 23rd. Jackson had learned that there was only one regiment in Front Royal, along with a few other detachments, to resist his entire army. The one regiment in the town was the 1st Maryland. The Confederates had their own 1st Maryland, as the state's loyalties were divided. So Jackson ordered the 1st Maryland to the front to lead the attack. Jackson did not know, however, that the 1st Confederate Maryland was in a state of revolt because they thought their term of service had expired. A full half of the regiment was under arrest. Receiving Jackson's order, Colonel Bradley Johnston stood before them, and said:
“You have heard this personal order from General Jackson. You are in a pretty condition to obey it. You are the sole hope of Maryland. ... Shame on you-shame on you. I shall return this order to General Jackson with the endorsement, 'The First Maryland refuses to face the enemy,' for I will not trust the honor of the glorious old state to discontented, dissatisfied men. ... If I can get ten good men, I'll take the Maryland colors with them and will stand for home and honor; but never again call yourselves Marylanders! Nor Marylander ever threw down his arms and deserted his colors in the presence of the enemy...! Go!”After this rousing speech the Marylanders agreed to go, and began their 12 mile march to the front of the column. They were positioned to lead the attack supported by Richard Taylor's Louisiana Brigade containing the famous Louisiana Tigers.
|Colonel Bradley Johnson|
When the Confederates reached their positions and charged into the town, they caught the Federals completely by surprise. The Rebels drove them through the town in house-to-house fighting, and the Federals finally made a stand north of the town on Richardson's hill. Colonel John Kenly, the Union commander, had 700 men and several cannon. He decided to hold out as long as possible, not knowing he was being attacked by a force 20 times his number. He mistakenly thought it was only a small raid.
Meanwhile, Bradley Johnson ordered the 1st Confederate Maryland to charge. Entering a flat meadow north of the town, the Federal cannon opened on them. The Marylanders could not oppose this heavy fire, so they halted and took cover behind a stone wall at the base of the hill. Jackson needed artillery to support an infantry attack. His chief of artillery, Colonel Stapleton Crutchfield, was not a very good officer. He did not know what guns Ewell had. He did not know where the rifled artillery was, and he would need rifled artillery to reach the Union position. There was a long delay in getting the right guns into position. Jackson was also not bringing up infantry to join the Marylanders in their attack on the hill. Two hours into the battle the Federals still had more men than Jackson actually engaged in combat.
|Field North of Front Royal, Massenhutten Mountain in the background|
At 4:15 however, the situation completely changed. Kenly saw a force of cavalry riding up in his rear. At first he thought that they were reinforcements, but then he realized they were Confederates. It was a raiding party Jackson had sent behind Front Royal to cut the telegraph line to prevent news of the attack from reaching Banks at Strasburg. After doing that they rode to the north side of Front Royal. Kenly realized that he would have to retreat fast before he was trapped in the forks of the Shenandoah River, just north of the town. He retreated quickly abandoning his supplies, set the bridges on fire, and positioned himself on Guard Hill, right across the river. But then he continued to retreat when he saw the infantry had put out the bridges, and the cavalry were fording the river. He set out north as fast as possible, pursued by the Confederate cavalry under the eye of Jackson himself. The mounted Confederates soon caught up at a place called Cedarville. The Confederate cavalry charged, and although outnumbered, they beat down the Union defense in hand to hand combat, capturing those who tried to flee. The battle of Front Royal was over. Of Kenly's 975 men 800 were captured and 75 were killed or wounded. Only 100 escaped. The Confederates only had 36 killed and wounded. As at McDowell, Jackson had brilliantly maneuvered his troops into position. But once on the fiield things slowed down. He was only able to capture most of the Union force because of the Providential arrival of the cavalry.