Thursday, July 24, 2014

Second Battle of Kernstown

After his invasion of the north in which he marched to the very gates of Washington, Jubal Early fell back with his army to the Shenandoah Valley. The Federals were soon after him. With the Union troops pressing on his flanks, Early retreated from Winchester, abandoning some supplies. The Yankees were convinced that the Confederates were retreating in earnest up the Valley because of the victories they won in skirmishing. Therefore two corps were withdrawn from the theater and sent back to join Grant at Petersburg, leaving only three Union divisions in the Valley. This left about 10,000 Federals to face 13,000 – 14,000 Confederates. When Jubal Early learned this news from prisoners, he realized the opportunity he had to strike a successful blow and lure those two corps back from the war's main front.

George Crook
On July 24th, 150 years ago, Early moved north towards the Federal Army of the Valley, under the command of George Crook, a West Point Graduate and an Indian fighter. The two forces met at Kernstown, the sight of Stonewall Jackson's first independent battle back in 1862. As the Confederates arrived on the battlefield, Early sent in his cavalry first, deploying the infantry under the cover of woods. This confirmed Crook's belief that the main Confederate army had left the valley, and he ordered his troops to attack what he assumed to be a small party.

Pritchard House, around which the battle was fought
At 1 PM Mulligan's division advanced, supported by the brigade of Rutherford B. Hayes, future president of the United States. As Hayes command marched down a road towards the Confederate position, they were surprised by a sudden attack on their flank. Rebels came streaming out of a ravine, catching Hayes' men off guard and throwing them into retreat. A gap had opened up on Mulligan's other flank, which John B. Gordon's division exploited. With Mulligan caught between two Confederate commands, he ordered his division to retreat. He himself fell as he fruitlessly tried to stop the retreat from turning into a rout. The Federal cavalry attempted to stop the Confederate column, but the southern troopers halted and broke them, adding to the Federal confusion. Soon the entire Union army was scattered and retreating before Early's victorious men.

Rutherford B. Hayes
Crook retreated quickly with his battered army, crossing the Potomac into Maryland on July 26th. With the Federals again cleared from the Valley, Early took the opportunity again raid the north, sending cavalry into Federal territory which burned Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. 


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