Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Jackson Moves to Luray Gap

A few days before, in the Shenandoah Valley, Stonewall Jackson had defeated part of Fremont's army in the battle of McDowell. He attempted to pursue, but rains set in and he could not catch up. So he turned his men around and headed back to the Shenandoah Valley. Richard Ewell's division was there, and Jackson wished to join with him to destroy the army of Nathaniel Banks. Bank's army was in Strasburg, towards the north part of the valley. He was entrenched there with superior forces, so Jackson did not want to hazard an attack. Instead he would move on Front Royal, to the east of Strasburg. Using Massanutten Mountain as a shield to hide his movements from the Federals, he would cross through Luray Gap and strike the smaller garrison of Front Royal.

However, it would not be that easy. The Confederate high command would get involved. Joseph E. Johnston sent a letter to Ewell saying, "If Banks is fortifying near Strasburg the attack would be too hazardous. In such an event we must leave him in his works. General Jackson can observe him and you come eastward. .... We want troops here; none, therefore, must keep away, unless employing a greatly superior force of the enemy." Since Banks was in Strasburg, this would mean that Ewell was ordered to go east to join Johnston. Both Ewell and Jackson knew they needed to obey orders, but they also did not want the plans to be derailed. So they took a bold course. Ewell was officially part of Johnston's army, but was operating under Jackson's command. So Jackson sent a message to Johnston protesting the move, and Ewell agreed to ignore the order until a response would arrive. In the meanwhile they would strike, hoping that victory would vindicate the decision.


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