Shiven reasons why General Jackson chose to


War Battles Project – Shenandoah valley campaign

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the spring of 1862 Southern morale was low, and prospects for the CSA’s
survival seemed bleak. Union armies under Ulysses S. Grant and others had
captured Southern territory and won significant battles at Shiloh and Fort
Donelson. General George B. McClellan’s massive Army of the Potomac was
approaching Richmond from the southeast in the Peninsula Campaign, and General
Irvin McDowell’s large corps we set to hit Richmond from the north. This
pressure on Richmond and loss of Confederate morale were some of the reasons why
the valley campaign occurred – the Confederacy needed a boost in morale if the
war was to continue, and it also needed to take the “heat” off of Richmond,
lest the Union capture it and bring the war to a conclusion.

these weren’t the only reasons why General Jackson chose to campaign in the
Shenandoah valley. The valley was highly strategically important for quite a
few reasons. (In fact, it was so important that Jackson wrote to a staff member
“If this Valley is lost, Virginia is lost.”) Shenandoah valley passed between
the Blue Ridge Mountains on the east and the Allegheny Mountains to the west,
at an average width of 25 miles (though at points the width was less than 3
miles). The Valley offered a few important strategic advantages to the
Confederates. First, a Northern army invading Virginia could be subjected to
Confederate attacks from gaps in the Blue Ridge Mountains on the eastern side
of the valley, and would have little room to maneuver because of small width of
the valley. Second, the Valley offered a protected path that allowed
Confederate armies to head north into Pennsylvania, delivering them only 60
miles from Washington D.C, the Union capitol. In contrast, the orientation of
the Valley offered little advantage to a Northern army headed toward Richmond,
not only would a Northern army be susceptible to ambush, but the valley put
Union armies farther away from Richmond. However, denying the Valley to the
Confederacy would be a significant tactical victory for the North. The valley was
agriculturally rich, producing 2.5 million bushels of wheat and 19% of the crops
of the state of Virginia in 1860. The Valley was also rich in livestock, which
was used for Virginia’s armies and the Confederate capital of Richmond. Furthermore,
if the Union could reach the Southern end of the Valley, they would threaten
the important Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, which ran resources from the Mississippi
River to Richmond. In short, whichever side controlled the
valley had a significant advantage.

Nathaniel P. Banks, progressing through the valley, was dangerously close to
achieving these strategic advantages for the Union, and the Confederacy
couldn’t afford to give the Union that advantage if it was to survive. Thus,
the stage was set for General Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley campaign.


were 6 battles during Jackson’s valley campaign of 1862: Kernstown (March 23rd),
McDowell (May 8th), Front Royal (May 23rd), Winchester
(May 25th), Cross Keys (June 8th), and Port Republic
(June 9th). The battles generally resulted in more Union casualties
than Confederate, despite Jackson having an army less than a third of the
combined Union armies (The Confederacy had 18,000 troops to the Union’s
60,000). Jackson won by attacking the thinly spread and uncommunicative Union
forces one by one, giving him comparatively better numerical odds in each of
his battles. The individual battles were often tactical victories, and were all
strategic victories.

the Army of the Potomac advanced towards Richmond, it seemed increasingly
likely that Banks would leave to reinforce the army. The Confederacy couldn’t
allow this – it needed Union troops spread as thinly as possible if it was to
survive. As such, Jackson’s orders were to occupy Banks and ensure that he
wouldn’t be able to leave the valley, while simultaneously ensuring that Banks
stayed in the northern side of the valley (to ensure he wouldn’t threaten
valuable confederate farmland and railroad lines).

first clashed with Union forces at the battle of Kernstown on March 23rd.
Confederate sympathizers had mistakenly informed that Shields (under Banks) had
left Kernstown mostly undefended, with less than 3,000 men and a few cannons.
In fact, Shields had simply marched 75% of his troops and halted nearby to stay
in reserve. Jackson launched a quick attack with 3,000 men, believing that he
would have a numerical advantage, when in fact, he would be fighting 9,000 men.
Jackson’s forces were able to reach a stone wall before Union soldiers could,
and temporarily repulsed Union attacks, despite a numerical disadvantage. However,
by 6pm, the confederate forces were forced to retreat due to lack of
ammunition. Though this was a tactical loss for the Confederacy, it was a
strategic victory because it forced the Union to draw troops from Richmond
offensives to Shenandoah valley.

clashed again with Union forces on May 8th at McDowell. Union Generals
Schenck and Milroy had moved eastward to threaten Shenandoah Valley from
western Virginia. In response, Jackson deceived Union generals by marching
towards Richmond and then returning his army to Shenandoah valley by rail to
Staunton. He then quickly marched westward along the Staunton and Parkersburg
Turnpike toward McDowell. Late in the afternoon of May 8, Jackson took up
positions along Sitlington’s Hill. Despite being heavily outnumbered, Milroy (a
Union officer) seized the initiative and assaulted the Confederate position.
After four hours of extremely fierce fighting, the Union forces were repulsed,
leaving behind valuable land in the Shenandoah valley – making this both a
strategic as well as tactical victory for the Confederacy.

his victory at McDowell, Jackson returned his army to the Shenandoah Valley and
set his sights on Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks’ command, which defended a line from
Strasburg to Front Royal. To destroy Banks and sever his line of supply and
communication along the Manassas Gap Railroad, Jackson sought to strike Banks’s
eastern flank at Front Royal, defended by 1,000 men under John R. Kenly. Despite
being outnumbered 3 to 1, Kenly successfully formed a defensive line on
Richardson’s Hill and repelled Jackson’s forces for nearly two hours.  When rebel cavalry approached from the west,
Kenly was forced to retreat across the Shenandoah River.  After crossing, he tried to burn the bridges
behind him, but the fires were soon put out. Jackson, fearing that Kenly might
escape, ordered some cavalry to pursue. The horsemen caught up with Kenly a few
miles north of Front Royal. After a brief fight, Kenly surrendered, leaving 300
union soldiers dead, and the rest (700) captured. This was a great tactical and
strategic victory for the Confederacy, opening the possibility of destroying
the rest of Banks’s defense.

with his defense exposed after Front Royal, quickly retreated North to
Winchester, with Jackson in hot pursuit. By the night of May 24th,
Banks’s men were in a defensive position on the north side of Abram’s Creek,
bracing for rapidly advancing Confederates. At the dawn of May 25th,
gunfire initiated the battle. The first Confederate attack occurred against the
Union left flank on Camp Hill.  After multiple
failed attempts to seize the hill, Jackson turned his attention to Banks’s
right flank on Bowers Hill.  Around 7:30
a.m. a flank attack led by Gen. Richard Taylor’s Louisiana Brigade dislodged
Banks’s defenders. In less than an hour Banks’s line broke, and Union soldiers
fled north through the streets of Winchester. Jackson’s men pursued as far
north as Stephenson’s Depot, but with insufficient cavalry and a tired army, Banks
was able to escape. This was a tactical and strategic victory because it
encouraged Lincoln to send more troops and generals to secure the valley,
drawing them away from Richmond and prolonging the war.

battles of Cross Keys and Port Republic inflicted significant casualties on
Union forces, as Jackson exploited the divided nature of the different commands
to attack two separate Union armies on two days (Freemont and Shields
respectively). While less significant than Winchester, these battles served to
convince Union armies to stay out of the Southern Shenandoah valley, giving the
Confederates valuable farmland to support their armies.


the main effect of this war was to prolong it. By drawing Union troops towards
himself, Jackson distracted them from conquering Richmond – which would have
brought an early end to the Civil War. Furthermore, Jackson secured the lower
Shenandoah valley, providing a back door for further attacks on Washington D.C.
and providing farmland to feed the Confederacy’s armies. Jackson’s reputation
and Confederate morale surged, providing a boost to the Confederates when Union
victories were gaining ground. Essentially, it reversed the tide of the war, at
least for a while.




Generals, Troops, and Casualties





P. Banks
C. Frémont
C. Schenck

J. Jackson
S. Ewell
S. Winder