Battle of Cross Keys (8 June 1862)
"I had rather be a private in such an Army than a Field Officer in any other Army," wrote a Confederate soldier about Gen. Stonewall Jackson's Shenandoah Valley campaign, in which Jackson's 16,000 man "foot cavalry" marched about 400 miles in 38 days, outmaneuvering federal forces totaling about 40,000 men.
Confederate Commander: Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Jackson, Brig. Gen. Richard Ewell
Union Forces Maj. Gen. John C. Fremont
Forces Engaged: Confederate Forces included Issac Trimble's, Arnold Elzey's, George Steuart's brigades of Ewell's division along with George Patton's brigade, about 8,500 engaged;
Union Forces included Blenker's infantry division of three brigades, three attached brigades of Cluseret, Milroy, and Schenck, Bayard's cavalry, and nine batteries, about 11,500 men
Why was this battle significant?:
The battles of Cross Keys and Port Republic were the decisive victories of Maj. Gen. Thomas J. ``Stonewall'' Jackson's 1862 Valley Campaign. At Cross Keys, one of Jackson's divisions beat back the army of Maj. Gen. John C. Fremont approaching from Harrisonburg, while elements of a second division held back the vanguard of Brig. Gen. James Shields' division advancing toward Port Republic on the Luray Road. During the night of 8-9 June, Jackson withdrew from in front of Fremont and at dawn attacked two of Shields's four brigades (commanded by Brig. Gen. E. B. Tyler), precipitating the battle of Port Republic. Fremont reached the vicinity too late to aid Tyler, who was badly beaten. With the retreat of both US armies, Jackson was freed to join the CS army commanded by General Robert E. Lee in the Seven Days' Battles against McClellan's army before Richmond.
In addition to its importance in Jackson's overall strategy of defeating two separated armies in detail, Cross Keys provides interesting lessons at the tactical level. By deft maneuver and clever use of the terrain, Confederate Brig. Gen. Isaac Trimble shattered a larger US force and stalled remont's attack. The ground where this tactical action occurred is pristine and enables understanding of this phase of the conflict.
The small town of Port Republic lies on a neck of land between the North and South rivers at the point where they conjoin. On 6-7 June 1862, the army of Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Jackson, numbering about 16,000, bivouacked north of Port Republic, Ewell's division along the banks of Mill Creek near Goods Mill, and Winder's division on the north bank of North River near the bridge. One regiment the 15th Alabama, was left to block the roads at Union Church. Jackson's headquarters were in Madison Hall, the home of Dr. Kemper, at Port Republic. The army trains were parked nearby.
Two US columns converged on Jackson's position. The army of Maj. Gen. John C. Fremont, about 15,000 strong, moved south on the Valley Pike and reached the vicinity of Harrisonburg on 6 June.The division of General Shields, about 10,000 strong, advanced south from Front Royal in the Luray Page) Valley, but was badly strung out because of the muddy Luray Road. At Port Republic, Jackson possessed the last intact bridge on the North River and the fords on the South River by which Fremont and Shields could unite. Jackson determined to check Fremont's advance at Mill Creek, while meeting Shields on the east bank of the North Fork. A CS signal station at Peaks Mountain on the Massanutten monitored US progress. Ewell posted his men in an excellent defensive position on a ridge overlooking fields near the small village of Cross Keys.
Skirmishing at Cross Keys TavernLate in the day on 7 June, Fremont's advance guard encountered Jackson's pickets near Cross Keys Tavern. A few shots were fired and the US cavalry fell back onto their main body, which was approaching. Darkness prevented further developments and both sides settled into camp for the evening.
Surprise Raid on Port Republic
Colonel Samuel Carroll at the head of a regiment of cavalry, supported by a battery and a brigade of infantry, was sent ahead by Shields to secure the North River Bridge at Port Republic. Shortly after dawn (8 June), Carroll scattered the CS pickets, forded the South River, and dashed into Port Republic.
Jackson and several members of his staff raced down the main street from headquarters and across the bridge, narrowly eluding capture (two members of his staff were temporarily captured). Carroll deployed one gun aimed at the bridge and brought up another. Jackson directed the defense, ordering Poague's battery to unlimber on the north bank. Captain CarringtonCS)brought up a gun from the vicinity of Madison Hall to rake the Main St. The 37th VA Infantry charged across the bridge to drive the US cavalry out of the town. Carroll retreated in confusion, losing his two guns, before his infantry could come within range. Three CS batteries unlimbered on the bluffs east of Port Republic on the north bank of the South Fork and fired on the retreating Federals. Carroll retired several miles north on the Luray Road. Jackson stationed Taliaferro's brigade in Port Republic and positioned the Stonewall Brigade near Bogota with the artillery to prevent any further surprises.
Meanwhile, Fremont, with Cluseret's brigade in the lead, renewed his advance from the vicinity of Harrisonburg. After driving away the CS skirmishers, Cluseret reached and deployed his right flank along the Keezletown Road near Union Church. One by one, the US brigades came into line: Schenck on Cluseret's right, Milroy on his left, and Stahel on the far left, his left flank near Congers Creek. Bohlen's and Koltes' brigades were held in reserve near the center of the line. A regiment of US cavalry moved south on the road to secure the right flank. Batteries were brought to the front.
The Confederate Deployment
Gen. Richard Ewell deployed his infantry division behind Mill Creek, Trimble's brigade on the right across the Port Republic Road, Elzey's in the center along the high bluffs. Ewell concentrated his artillery (4 batteries) at the center of the line. As US troops deployed along Keezletown Road, Trimble advanced his brigade a quarter of a mile to Victory Hill and deployed Courtenay's (Latimer's) battery on a hill to his left supported by the 21st NC Infantry Regiment. The 15rh Alabama, which had been skirmishing near Union Church, rejoined the brigade. Trimble held his regiments out of sight behind the crest of the hill.
The US Attack and Repulse
Fremont determined to advance his battle line with the evident intention of developing the CS position, assumed to be behind Mill Creek. This maneuver required an elaborate right wheel. Stahel's brigade on the far left had the farthest distance to cover and advanced first. Milroy moved forward on Stahel's right and rear. Several Union batteries were advanced with infantry lines south of Keezletown Road and engaged CS batteries. Stahel appeared oblivious to Trimble's advanced position. His battle line passed down into the valley, crossed the run, and began climbing Victory Hill. At a distance of "sixty paces," Trimble's infantry stood up and delivered a devastating volley. Stahel's brigade recoiled in confusion with heavy casualties. The Union brigade regrouped on the height opposite Victory Hill but made no effort to renew their assault.
Trimble's Flanking AttacksStahel did not renew his attack but brought up a Buell's battery to support his position. Trimble moved the 15th Alabama by the right flank and up a ravine to get on the battery's left. In the meantime, Ewell sent the 13th and 25th Virginia and two regiments along the ridge to Trimble's right, attracting a severe fire from the US battery. With a shout, the 15th Alabama emerged from their ravine and began to climb the hill toward the battery, precipitating a fight. Trimble advanced his other two regiments, the 16th Mississippi on the left and the 21st Georgia on right from their position on Victory Hill, forcing back the US line. The US battery limbered hastily and withdrew, saving its guns.
A US regiment counter-attacked briefly striking the left flank of the 16MS but was forced back in desperate fighting.
Trimble continued advancing up the ravine on the CS right, outflanking successive US positions. In the meantime, Milroy advanced on Stahel's right supported by artillery. Milroy's line came within rifle-musket range of the CS center behind Mill Creek and opened fire. US batteries continued to engage CS batteries in an artillery duel. Bohlen advanced on the far US left to stiffen Stahel's crumbling defense. Milroy's left flank was endangered by Stahel's retreat, and Fremont ordered him to withdraw. Jackson brought Taylor's brigade forward to support Ewell if needed, but Taylor remained in reserve on the Port Republic Road near the Dunker Church.
US Attacks on the Right
Seemingly paralyzed by the decimation of Stahel's brigade on his left, Fremont was unable to mount a coordinated attack. He ordered Schenck's brigade forward to find the CS left flank south of Union Church. Ewell reinforced his left with elements of Elzey's brigade. Severe firing erupted along the line but quickly died down. CS brigadiers Elzey and Steuart were wounded in this exchange. Fremont withdrew his force to Keezletown Road, placing his artillery on the heights to his rear (Oak Ridge). Artillery firing continued. At dusk, Trimble pushed his battle line forward to within a quarter mile of the US position, anticipating a night assault. CS accounts describe the US soldiers going into camp, lighting fires and making coffee. Outnumbered two to one, Ewell decided against advancing further and held his position.
The little battle was over, with Union forces suffering 684 casualties and the Confederates only 288. Specific casualties included 42 killed, 230 wounded and 15 misssing for the Confederates while Union forces suffered 114 killed, 443 wounded and 127 missing.
That night, Jackson brought Ewell's forces to Port Republic, leaving only a blocking force to confront Fremont. Pleased with the success, Jackson planned two battles for the next day: First he would defeat Shields, then he would go after Fremont again.
Interesting Fact: Issac Trimble was a strong secessionist who was railroad executive from Baltimore. At the start of the war, he commandeered a train and rode northward from Baltimore, burning bridges in order to delay Union troops moving toward Washington.
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