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The Civil War in the Shenandoah Valley

Battles and Battlefields of the Shenandoah Valley

Valley Campaigns 1861-1865

Battlefield of the Shenandoah Valley

Fisher's Hill Battlefield as viewed from Banks' Fort in Strasburg

Actions in 1861


After the bombardment of Fort Sumter, South Carolina, and President Lincoln's call for 75,000 volunteers, Virginia seceded on April 17, 1861. At once, Virginia State militia moved to secure the railroad assets, musket factories, and the Federal armory and arsenal at Harpers Ferry. Although Union forces attempted to burn the facilities, most of the rifle-musket manufacturing equipment was salvaged and shipped south to bolster the Confederate ordnance effort. Former VMI professor Thomas J. Jackson assumed command of a newly formed brigade at Harpers Ferry in the spring and moved to consolidate Confederate strength in the area. In July 1861, Confederate reinforcements traveled from the Shenandoah Valley to Manassas Junction on the Manassas Gap Railroad to reach the fighting at Bull Run, marking the first time in modern warfare that troops were moved by train to a battlefield. On the battlefield of Manassas, Jackson earned the sobriquet "Stonewall.''

Although the remainder of the year saw sporadic skirmishing and an engagement at Falling Waters along the Potomac River, most of the fighting during the summer and fall of 1861 occurred farther to the west. During this time, Confederate forces gradually lost political and military control of the c ounties that would later be incorporated into the new state of West Virginia. In winter 1861-1862, Jackson conducted a campaign against Union forces at Romney, West Virginia.

Actions of 1862


Jackson's Valley Campaign (March-June 1862)

Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Jackson's Valley Campaign of 1862 is one of the most studied campaigns of military history. This campaign demonstrates how a numerically inferior force can defeat larger forces by fast movement, surprise attack, and intelligent use of the terrain. In March 1862, as a Federal force under Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks began to advance cautiously up the Valley, General Jackson retreated to Mount Jackson where he could defend the Valley Turnpike. His task was two-fold--to prevent deep penetration into the Valley and to tie down as many opposing forces as possible. When he learned that Banks was ready to detach part of his force to assist the Army of the Potomac then being concentrated on the Peninsula to threaten Richmond, Jackson marched down the Turnpike and fought the First Battle of Kernstown on March 23.

Although defeated, Jackson's aggressive move convinced Washington that Confederate forces in the Valley posed a real threat to Washington, and Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, with his army preparing to move on Richmond, was denied reinforcements at a critical moment in the Peninsular Campaign.

In late April, Jackson left part of his enlarged command under Maj. Gen. Richard S. Ewell at Swift Run Gap to confront Banks and marched with about 9,000 men through Staunton to meet a second Union army under Maj. Gen. John C. Fremont, whose vanguard approached on the Parkersburg Road from western Virginia. Banks was convinced that Jackson was leaving the Valley to join the Confederate army at Richmond. But on May 8, Jackson turned up to defeat two brigades of Fremont's force, under Brig. Gens. Robert Milroy and Robert Schenck, at McDowell. Although the Confederates suffered more casualties than their counterparts the Battle of McDowell was a victory for the South.

After a short pursuit of the fleeing Federals, Jackson abruptly turned and marched swiftly back in the heart of the Valley to unite with Ewell against Banks. On May 23, Jackson overran a detached Union force at Front Royal and advanced toward Winchester, threatening to cut off the Union army that was concentrated around Strasburg. After a running battle on the 24th along the Valley Turnpike from Middletown to Newtown (Stephens City), Banks made a stand on the heights south of Winchester. On May 25, Jackson attacked and overwhelmed the Union defenders, who broke and fled in a panic to the Potomac River. Banks was reinforced and again started up the Valley Turnpike, intending to link up with Brig. Gen. James Shields's Union division near Strasburg. Shields's division spearheaded the march of Irwin McDowell's corps recalled from Fredericksburg, while Fremont's army converged on Strasburg  from the west. Jackson withdrew, narrowly avoiding being cut off from his line of retreat by these converging columns.

The Union armies now began a three-prong offensive against Jackson. Fremont's troops advanced up the Valley Turnpike while Shields's column marched up the Luray Road along the South Fork. At this point nearly 25,000 men were being brought to bear on Jackson's 17,000. Jackson's cavalry commander, Brig. Gen. Turner Ashby was killed while fighting a rear guard action near Harrisonburg on June 6.

Jackson concentrated his forces near the bridge at Port Republic, situating himself between the two Union columns that were separated by the mountain and the rain-swollen Shenandoah South Fork. On June 8, Fremont attacked Ewell's division at Cross Keys but was driven back. The next morning (June 9), Jackson with his remaining force attacked Shields east and north of Port Republic, while Ewell withdrew from Fremont's front burning the bridge behind him. Ewell joined with Jackson to defeat Shields. Both Union forces retreated north, freeing Jackson's army to reinforce the Confederate army at Richmond.

In five weeks, Jackson's army had marched more than 650 miles and inflicted more than 7,000 casualties, at a cost of only 2,500. More importantly, Jackson's campaign had tied up Union forces three times his strength. Jackson's victories infused new hope and enthusiasm for the Confederate cause, and materially contributed to the defeat of McClellan's campaign against Richmond.

Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign (March-June 1862)

The First Battle of Kernstown
The Battle of McDowell
The Battle of Front Royal
The First Battle of Winchester
The Battle of Cross Keys

The Battle of Port Republic

Lee's Maryland Campaign (September 1862)

The Gettysburg Campaign (June-July 1863)

The Battle of Second Winchester

The Lynchburg Campaign (May-June 1864)

Battle of New Market
Battle of the Piedmont
Battle of Lynchburg

Jubal Early's Maryland Campaign (June-August 1864)

Fort Stevens
Cool Spring
Rutherford's Farm
Battle of Second Kernstown
Folck's Mill

Philip Sheridan's Valley Campaign (August 1864-March 1865)

Guard Hill
Summit Point
Smithfield Crossing
The Battle of the Opequon (Third Winchester)
The Battle of Fisher's Hill
The Battle of Tom's Brook
The Battle of Cedar Creek

Battles, Actions, and Skrimishes Listed by Year

Battles of 1861
Battles of 1862
Battles of 1863
Battles of 1864
Sheridan's Valley Campaign
Battles of 1865

Special thanks, acknowledgements and credits

Hal F. Sharpe


Old Valley Pike Country StoreThis information is brought to you by the Shenandoah Valley History Center at the Old Valley Pike Country Store, at 2576 Old Valley Pike (US 11) New Market, VA, 22844, one mile north of New Market directly across from the 54th Pennsylvania Monument on the New Market Battlefield. Telephone: (540) 740-2787

Copyright June 26, 2010