Friday, May 25, 2012

Battle of Winchester

via Shenandoah at War
In the Shenandoah Valley, Jackson and Ewell had flanked Banks at the Battle of Front Royal, and pursued him the next day and night. Now they were south of Winchester on either side of the pike, opposite the army of Banks. Jackson had his tired men moving at 4:30 am. He sent the Stonewall Brigade forward to occupy Bower's Hill, a strong artillery position just south of the town. They encountered a Union brigade under George Gordon. He positioned his four regiments along a stone fence on a ridge, his right flank on Bower's Hill and his left on the Valley Turnpike. His position was supported by 6 cannon. As Winder deployed the Stonewall Brigade at the foot of the hill, the Union artillery opened a heavy fire on him. On the other side of the Valley Pike, Ewell's artillery was opening fire. Opposing him was a brigade under Dudley Donnelly, who also had six guns which responded to the Confederate cannon. Ewell ordered three regiments forward, but there was a Union regiment hidden on their flank, which stood up and fired on them. After a brief fight the Confederates fell back. In his portion of the line, Jackson deployed more troops to support Winder. A thick fog settled over the battlefield, but Jackson brought up cannon and silenced many of the Union gun. At 7:30 Jackson ordered Richard Taylor's Louisiana brigade forward. Taylor's brigade, led by the Louisiana Tigers, would move far to the left of Winder and hit Gordon's left flank.
"The proper ground gained, the column faced to the front and began the ascent. ... As we mounted we came in full view of both armies, whose efforts in other quarters had been slackened to await the result of our movement. I felt an anxiety amounting to pain for the brigade to acquit itself handsomely; and this feeling was shared by every man in it. About half-way up, the enemy's horse from his right charged; and to meet it, I directed Lieutenant-Colonel Nicholls, whose regiment, the 8th, was on the left, to withhold slightly his two flank companies. By one volley, which emptied some saddles, Nicholls drove off the horse, but was soon after severely wounded. Progress was not stayed by this incident. Closing the many gaps made by the fierce fire, steadied the rather by it, and preserving an alignment that would have been creditable on the parade, the brigade, with cadenced step and eyes on the foe, swept grandly over copse and ledge and fence, to crown the heights from which the enemy had melted. Loud cheers went up from our army, prolonged to the east, where warmhearted Ewell cheered himself hoarse, and led forward his men with renewed energy."
As Taylor hit the Union line, Winder advanced as well, and the Union line crumpled. Donnelly, seeing his rear was threatened, retreated as well. The Federals streamed through the town, the Confederates staying close on their backs. Banks was completely beaten. However, the Confederates were very tired from their night march. They slowed down quickly. They were worn out from marching and fighting for three days with little food and sleep. Jackson needed cavalry to continue the pursuit of Banks. He could not find Turner Ashby's men, who although they were often effective, were undisciplined and were not present at the critical time. So he ordered George Steuart, commander of Ewell's cavalry. to pursue. However, Steuart would not move. He had spent many years in the army, and refused to move because officially the order had to come through Ewell. He finally went forward after Ewell authorized the other. By that time it was too late and the pursuit was ineffective.
Richard Taylor

The first part of Jackson's Shenandoah Valley campaign was over. At Front Royal and Winchester Jackson had lost a total of about 400 killed and wounded, while Banks lost 2769, most of which were captured.
"Within four weeks this army has made long and rapid marches, fought six combats and two battles — signally defeating the enemy in each one — capturing several stands of colors and pieces of artillery, with numerous prisoners, and vast medical, ordnance, and army stores; and, finally, driving the boastful host which was ravaging our beautiful country into utter rout. The general commanding would warmly express to the officers and men under his command his joy in their achievements, and his thanks for their brilliant gallantry in action and their patient obedience under the hardships of forced marches, often more painful to the brave soldier than the dangers of battle. The explanation of the severe exertions to which the commanding general called the army, which were endured by them with such cheerful confidence in him, is now given in the victory of yesterday. He receives this proof of their confidence in the past with pride and gratitude, and asks only a similar confidence in the future. But his chief duty to-day, and that of the army, is to recognize devoutly the hand of a protecting Providence in the brilliant successes of the last three days — which have given us the results of a great victory without great losses — and to make the oblation of our thanks to God for His mercies to us and our country in heartfelt acts of religious worship."
Jackson had conducted a campaign that would go down in military history. He had become a national hero in a time which some would call the Confederacy's darkest hour. Militarily, Jackson's true victory was not in men or materials. The real results he achieved were given him by Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln feared that Jackson would move on Washington. He decided on May 24th that McDowell would not join McClellan as had been planned. Instead he ordered McDowell to attack Jackson in the Valley. However, these troops might have made the difference between victory and defeat for McClellan's attack on Richmond.


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