Volume XXIX Issue #2 • An Excerpt From:

Second Manassas
Thoroughfare Gap to Kearny's Attack
August 28-29, 1862

by Scott Patchan

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Note: All Blue & Gray feature articles are annotated.

Site of the bridge over the North Fork of the Shenandoah River near Rude’s Hill. Remains of the bridge can be seen on the opposite bank.

This is the third Blue & Gray feature in as many years on the final, thrilling weeks of the 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign. The first two featured movements through the Luray Valley with battles near each mouth of that valley at Front Royal on May 23, and Port Republic on June 9. This feature serves as a bridge between the previous two Luray Valley campaigns. The action stretches 100 miles from Harpers Ferry on May 27 and concludes with the Battle of Cross Keys on June 8, 1862.

Whereas the previous issues highlighted segments of Nathaniel P. Banks’ Army of the Shenandoah and James Shields’ division in Irvin McDowell’s Army of the Rappahannock, this feature focuses upon John C. Frémont’s Mountain Department and its brief sojourn in the Shenandoah Valley. The commonality of all three features is Stonewall Jackson and his Valley Army. The 13 days covered in the following pages serve as a fresh yet scholarly depiction of the actions in the Valley, as well as its impact on opposing War Departments and the influence of decisions made by the commanders-in-chief of the United States of America and the Confederate States of America.

On May 27, 1862, a drizzly Tuesday morning in Richmond, Adjt. Gen. Samuel Cooper received a dispatch wired in from Staunton in the Shenandoah Valley. Authored by Maj. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, the message provided welcome news for the beleaguered Confederate nation: “During the last three days, God has blessed our arms with brilliant success.” Jackson’s laconic dispatch went on to explain the victories at Front Royal on May 23, and Winchester on May 25, highlighting the capture of many prisoners and “a large amount of medical, ordnance and other stores.” The news in the Valley was joyously conveyed throughout the South. “The whole country is ringing with the brilliant victory of the ‘Stonewall’ army . . . ,” raved the Southern Churchman, a Richmond newspaper. “It is one of the most complete victories of the war.”

The immediate reaction by the Confederate high command suggested that the newspaper editorial was not tainted with hyperbole. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, Jackson’s immediate superior, likely had misgivings earlier in the month. Jackson was leading the Confederacy’s fourth largest field army when Johnston had an immediate need for those men to help him protect Richmond. Johnston was then contending with the persistent yet plodding advance of Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac as it crept within ten miles of Richmond by the completion of the third week of May. McClellan’s present-for-duty strength exceeded 90,000 officers and men, which was about a two-to-one advantage over Johnston, but the latter had both of his flanks well protected by rivers. McClellan was relying on a huge surge of reinforcements to carry out his attack upon the Confederate capital. Those reinforcements had been scheduled to appear in the form of Maj. Gen. Irvin McDowell and the Army of the Rappahannock, 38,000 troops and 80 cannons expected to transfer 50 miles from Falmouth to McClellan’s right flank. Even President Abraham Lincoln, well known to be critical of what he called McClellan’s “slows,” endorsed the plodding tactic by informing McClellan on May 24, “I wish you to move cautiously and safely,” ostensibly to bide his time while waiting for McDowell to arrive before the close of May.

The brass in Richmond also expected—with dread—McDowell’s arrival to aid McClellan, for when it happened the Union army would boast over 130,000 soldiers and 300 cannons. Confederate strategy for nearly the entire spring season had been to prevent that devastating concentration of troops.

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