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Life of Lieut.-Gen. Thomas J. Jackson (Stonewall Jackson) online

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but the officer next in rank concluded that the June-


ture rec[iiired immediate action to rescue the army from
capture. He tirerefore evacuated his strong position on
the mountain, and retired to West View, only six miles
M^est of Staunton, prepared to evade the approach of Banks
on that place, and retire to the Blue Eidge. Thus the
advanced forces of Milroy were brought within ten miles
of Staunton, and he was about to establish his communi-
cations with the Federalists at Harrisonburg. General
Jackson therefore pressed forward from Whitehall to
Staunton, reaching the latter place at evening on the
Sabbath, to the unspeakable delight of the inhabitants,
who had only heard that the army had disappeared again
into Eastern Virginia, no one knew whither. By Monday
evening the whole army came up, and the junction with
General Johnson was virtually effected.

Meantime General Banks no sooner learned that General
Ewell had reached Elk Eun, and that General Jackson
had vanished thence, than he hastily evacuated Harrison-
burg, and retreated to Strasbourg, followed by the cavalry
of Ashby. The imagination of the Federal leader was
affrighted with the notion of an attack in front from Ewell,
while the mysterious Jackson should fall upon his flank or
rear, from some unimagined quarter. Yet his force present
at Harrisonburg, about twenty thousand men, was superior
to that of both generals united !

On Wednesday morning. May 7th, a day having been
employed in collecting and refreshing the troops. General
Johnson broke up his camp at West View at an early
hour, and marched against the enemy, followed by General
Jackson in supporting distance, with the brigade of General


Taliaferro in front, that of Colonel Campbell next, and the
Stonewall Brigade, now commanded by General Cliarles
S. Winder, in the rear. The Corps of Cadets, from the
Military Academy, forming a gallant battalion of four
companies of infantry, under their teachers, was also
attached to the expedition. The spruce equipments and
exact drill of these youths formed a strong contrast with
the war-worn and nonchalant veterans, as they stepped
out, full of enthusiasm, to take their first actual look upon
the horrid visage of War, under their renowned Professor.

The first collision with the enemy occurred about mid-
day, at the intersection of the Harrisonburg and Parkers-
burg turnpikes. There a Federal picket was surprised,
and nearly captured, escaping with the loss of a few men
and horses. Their advanced posts at the eastern and
western bases of the Shenandoah Mountain were immedi-
ately deserted, with some military stores, and the position
upon the top of the mountain, lately held by the Con-
federates ; and they retired across the Bull Pasture Moun-
tain to il'Dowell, making no other resistance to the advance
of the Confederates than a few ineffectual cannon shots.
The latter paused for the night upon both sides of the
Shenandoah Mountain, with the rear brigades many miles
behind the front. On Thursday morning, ilay 8th, the
march was resumed early, with General Johnson's regi-
ments still in advance, and the ascent of the Bull Pasture
Mountain was commenced. This ridge, unlike its neigh-
bours, has a breadth of a couple of miles upon its top,
which might be correctly termed a table-land, were it not
occupied by clusters of precipitous hills, which are them -



selves almost mountainous in their dimensions and rugged -
ness. The Parkersburg turnpike, proceeding westward,
ascends to this table-land, passes across it, and descends
to the Bull Pasture Eiver, by a sinuous course, along the
ravines which seam the sides and top of the mountain
alike ; so that it is almost everywhere commanded, on
one or both sides, by the steep and wooded banks of the
valleys which it threads. On the right and left of the
road, the western portions of the rough plateau which has
been described, were occupied by pasture lands, covered
with the richest greensward, with here and there the
prostrate trunk of a forest tree long since girdled and
killed. The chasm which separates the higher reaches of
these lofty pastures is a mile in width ; and far down in
its bottom, the turnpike descends toward the river, until
it debouches through a straight gorge of a few hruidred
yards in length, upon the bridge. Artillery, planted upon
a hillock beyond the river, commanded this reach of the
road with a murderous fire.

Generals Jackson and Johnson having ascended the
mouatain cautiously, and driven away a picket of the
enemy which quartered its top, proceeded to the western
ridge of the pasture lands on the left of the road, and
occupied the forenoon in examining the position of the
enemy. The grounds here belonged to a patriotic citizen
named Sithngton ; while the rival heights, on the right of
the turnpike, fed the cattle of a proprietor named Hull.
The latter were found to be occupied by two regiments of
Federal riflemen ; but the distance was too great for effec-
tive volleys. Beneath them lay the smiling hamlet of


M'Dowell, crowded with Federal troops, stores, and artil-
lery, while beyond, the champaign stretched away with a
smooth and gentle ascent to the westward for a number of
mHes. The edges of the vale next to the position of the
Confederate Generals were fringed by a forest, which
covered the steeper and more barren slopes of the moun-
tain's foot. This wood was speedily found to be infested
by the enemy's skirmishers ; but a detachment of General
Johnson's riflemen easily kept them at bay, and chastised
their audacity whenever they attempted to advance from
cover. The open field itself, of a mile's length, was heaved
iato confused and billowy ridges, presenting, on the whole,
the concavity of an irregular crescent toward the west.
The raviue by which the Confederates reached this field
from the turnpike is narrow and precipitous, and occupied
both by the forest and by a stream of rude boulders, which
the rains had precipitated from the ridge above. Yet it
was judged that, by the strenuous exertions of men and
horses, field-guns might have been carried up after several
hours' labour.

From the ridges of the pasture-field General Jackson
quietly watched the enemy far below him for a number of
hours ; while they cannonaded him and his escort from a
battery on the further side of the vale, v hose guns had
their muzzles elevated toward the sky, and their traUs
thrust into trenches in the ground. It was no part of his
purpose to engage them that day, nor on that ground.
He had reason to hope that they were ignorant of his
junction with General Johnson, and that they supposed
they had only the six regiments of the latter to deal with.


His troops had not all come up ; and the Stonewall
Brigade especially was many miles in the rear. His pur-
pose was to amuse the enemy, while his engineers dili-
gently explored the mountain to the right and left for a
road which might lead him to their rear. To the zeal of
his artillery officers, who offered to bring up batteries, he
quietly replied: "Thank you; not yet;" and at length
added to one of tliem : " Perhaps Providence may open a
way toward Monterey for you to-morrow." (Monterey is
the next village, ten miles west of M'DoweU ; and was in
the enemy's rear.) In truth, his explorations had already
been successfal in leading him to a rude mountain road,
practicable for artillery, which, passing far to the right of
Hull's mountain pastures, enters the highway five miles in
the rear of M'DoweU; and his orders were just issued to
move a formidable park of artillery, with sufficient escort,
by this road during tlie night, who were to assrnne a good
position behind the enemy. His preponderance of force
would have enabled him thus to envelop and crush the
army of Milroy.

But that officer had astuteness enough, though ignorant
of these formidable preparations, to apprehend something
of the danger of his position. If once the lofty fields
occupied l3y Generals Jackson and Johnson were crowned
with artillery, their plunging fire would have made the
whole valley of M'DoweU untenable for him ; and the
altitude forbade an effective reply. At mid-day General
Schenck arrived with three thousand additional bayonets ;
and they resolved to take the initiative, and drive the
Confederates from their threatening position at once. How


little purpose General Jackson had of commencing the
action that evening appears from the fact, that as the
afternoon advanced he had dismissed all his staff, save
two members, upon different errands, with kindly instruc-
tions to seek the repose of their quarters when they had
fulfilled those functions, and had sent orders to the Stone-
wall Brigade, which was at length approaching the top of
the mountain, to descend again and seek a suitable en-
campment. But the advance of the enemy did not, for all
this, find him unprepared. Although he had carefully
avoided making any display of force upon the open hills,
the regiments of General Johnson were close at hand, and
the brigades of Taliaferro and Campbell within supporting
distance. The aggressive intentions of the enemy now
becoming manifest, the 5 2d Virginia regiment was brought
upon the field, and posted upon the left, speedily followed
by the 58th and 44:th Virginia, and the 12 th Georgia
regiments. The 52d Virginia having been disposed as
skirmishers, were speedily engaged in a brisk encounter
with the enemy's skirmishers, whom they handsomely
repulsed. The other three regiments then arriving, were
soon afterwards posted as follows : the 12th Georgia on
the crest of the hill, and forming the centre of the Con-
federate line, the 58th Virginia on the left to support the
52d, and the 44th Virginia on the right near a ravine.

General Milroy's advance now began in good earnest.
He was protected in his approach by the convexity of the
hills, and by the wood interposed in the Confederate front,
until he emerged from it, and engaged their skirmishers.
These he drove before him, and poured a galling fire into


the Confederate right, which was returned, and a Ijrisk
and animated contest was kept up for some time ; when
General Johnson's two remaining regiments, the 25th and
31st Virginia came up and were posted on the right. The
fire was now rapid and well-sustained on both sides, and
the conflict fierce and sanguinary. The narrow and rough
ravine by which the Confederate troops ascended from the
left side of the turnpike to the field of battle has been
described. If the enemy advanced along the highway and
seized its mouth, the results would be disastrous. To pre-
vent the possibility of such a movement, the 31st Virginia
was posted on both sides of the road between that point
and the enemy. It was not long after ordered to join its
brigade in action; and its place was taken by the 21st
Virginia. To the commander of this regiment General
Jackson gave Ms orders in person. They were, that he
should avail himself of every inequality of the ground to
protect his men, and then hold the turnpike against all
odds, and at every cost.

The engagement had now not only become general along
the entire line, but so furious, that General Jackson ordered
General Taliaferro to the support of General Johnson.
Accordingly, the 23d and 37th Virginia regiments were
advanced to the centre of the line which was then held
by the 12 th Georgia with heroic gallantry; and the 10th
Virginia was ordered to support the 52d Virginia, which
had already driven the enemy from the left, and had now
advanced to make a flank movement on him. At this
time the Federalists were pressing forward in strong force
on the extreme right of the Confederates, with a view of


turning that position. This movement was speedily de-
tected, and met by General Taliaferro's brigade and the
12th Georgia with great promptitude. Further to check
it, portions of the 2.5th and 31st Virginia regiments were
sent to occupy an elevated piece of woodland on the right
and rear, so situated as fully to command the position of
the enemy. The brigade commanded by Colonel Campbell
coming up about this time, was ordered, together with the
10th Virginia, down the ridge into the woods, to guard
against designs upon the right flank. This duty they, in
connexion with the other force, effectually performed.
The battle had now raged from half-past four to half-past
eight o'clock p.m., and the shades of night had descended.
Every attempt of the enemy by front or flank movement
to attain the crest of the hills where General Jackson's
line was formed, was signally and effectually repidsed ;
and they finally ceased firing and retired from the field.
During all the earlier portions of the engagement, the
enemy's artillery on the further side of the valley was
actively employed in throwing shot and shell, until their
infantry approached too closely. But the elevation of the
mountain, and the shelter of the sharp ridges rendered
their fhe ineffectual. Only one of the Confederate slain
lost his life by a cannon shot. General Jackson brought
up no artillery ; assigning as his reason, that in case of
disaster, there was no road by which it could be promptly
withdrawn. The battle may therefore be said to have been
fought with musketry alone.

By nine o'clock the roar of the struggle had passed
away ; and the green battle-field reposed under the star-


liglit as calmly as when it had been occupied only by its
peaceful herds. Detachments of soldiers were silently ex-
ploring the ground for their wounded comrades, while the
tired troops were slowly filing off to their bivouac. At
midnight the last sufferer had been removed, and the last
picket posted ; and then only did General Jackson turn
to seek a few hours' repose in a farm-house at the eastern
base of the mountain. The valley of M'Dowell lay be-
neath him in equal quiet. The camp-fires of the Federals
blazed ostentatiously in long and regular lines, and their
host seemed to be wrapped in sleep. At one o'clock a.m.,
the General reached his quarters, and threw himself upon
a bed. When his faithful servant, knowing that he had
eaten nothing since morning, came with food, he said, " I
want none ; nothing but sleep,'' and in a minute was
slumbering like a healthy infant. The dawn found him
in the saddle, and ascending the mountain again. AVlien
he reached the crest of the battle-field he saw the vale
beneath him deserted ; the foe had decamped in the night,
leaving their dead, and partially destroying their camp
equipage and stores. The pebbly bottom of the neigh-
bouring stream was found strewn with tens of thousands
of musket-cartridges, and vast heaps of bread were still
smoking amidst the ashes of the store -houses which had
sheltered them. After marching west for a few miles.
General Milroy sought the sources of the south branch of
the Potomac, and turned northward down that stream,
along which a good highway led toward Franklin and
Eomney. His aim was to meet the reinforcements of
General Fremont, which he hoped were approaching by


that route, from the Baltimore and Ohio Eailroad. The
line of his retreat was marked by the graves of his
wounded, and the wreck of an occasional carriage.

The loss of the Confederates in this engagement was
sixty-nine killed, and three hundred and ninety-one
wounded ; making a total of four hundred and sixty men.
The greatest carnage occurred in the ranks of the famous
12th Georgia regiment, which had thirty- five killed, and
one hundred and forty wounded. This noble body, trained
under the eye of General Edward Johnson, when Colonel,
held the centre of the battle from the beginning to the
end. But their heavy loss was also due to their own
zeal and chivalry. Having been advanced at first in
front of the crest of the bills, where their line showed to
their enemies from beneath, in bold relief against the sky,
they could not be persuaded to retire to the reverse of the
ridge, where many of the other regiments found partial
protection without sacrificing the efficiency of their fire.
Their commander, perceiving their useless exposure, en-
deavoured again and again to withdraw them ; but amidst
the roar of the musketry his voice was lifted up in vain ;
and when by passing along the ranks he persuaded or
entreated one wing of the regiment to recede, they rushed
again to the front while he was gone to expostulate with
the other. A tall Georgia youth expressed the spirit of
his comrades, when he replied the next day to the ques-
tion, why they did not retreat to the shelter of the ridge
behind them, whence they could fight the battle equally
well : " We did not come all this way to Virginia to run
before Yankees."


Just before the close of the engagement, General John-
son received a painful wound in the ankle, which, break-
ing one of its bones, compelled him to leave the field.
General Jackson paid him the following merited tribute
in his report : " General Johnson, to whom I had intrusted
the management of the troops engaged, proved himself
eminently wortliy of the confidence reposed in him, by the
skill, gallantry, and presence of mind which he displayed
on the occasion." Colonel Gibbons, commanding the 10th
Virginia, a Christian gentleman and soldier, beloved by
all bis comrades, fell dead as he was bringing his men into
position ; and he was the only person in his regiment who
was struck. Colonel Harman, of the 52d Virginia, Colonei
Smith, and ilajor Higginbotham, of the 25tli, and Major
Campbell, of the 42d Virginia, were wounded. At the
beginning of the action. General Jackson was, for the
reason stated above, accompanied by only two of his staff:
Captain Lee, his ordnance officer, and Lieutenant Meade,
his Aide. These two, by their zeal and courage, temporarily
supplied the place of all ; and Captain Lee received a severe
wound in the head. The Federal loss was estimated by
General Johnson, who witnessed nearly the whole struggle,
to be double that of the Confederates ; but this reckoning
was probably too large. Few prisoners were taken on
either side ; but among those captured by Jackson was the
colonel of an Ohio regiment. Some quarter-master's and
commissary stores,- arms, ammunition, and cavalry equip-
ments remained with the victors. The force of General
MUroy was supposed to be 8000 men. Of General Jack-
son's, about GOOO, or only half his force, were engaged.


From M'Dowell, General Jackson sent tlie following
modest and laconic despatch, the first of those missives
which, during the remauider of his career, so frequently
electrified the country with joy :

"Valley Dlsteiot, May Qth, 1862.
"To Gen. S. Cooper :

" God blessed our arms with victory at M'Dowell yester-
day." T. J. Jackson, Major- General."

This announcement was received by the people of Vir-
ginia and of the Confederate States with peculiar delight,
because it was the first blush of the returning day of
triumphs after a season of gloomy disasters. The cam-
paign had opened with the fall of Fort Donelson and the
occupation of XashviLle. Tlie fruitless victory of Shiloh
had been counterpoised in April by the fall of 'New
Orleans, a loss as unexpected by the Confederates as it
was momentous. On the 4th of May, while Generals
Jackson and Johnson were effecting their junction at
Staunton, Torktown was deserted by the Confederates,
and, on the next day, Williamsburg fell into their hands
after a bloody combat. On the 9th, ISTorfolk surrendered
to the enemy, and, on the lltli, the gallant ship Virginia,
the pride and confidence of the people, was destroyed by
her own commander. The victory of M'Dowell was the
one gleam of brightness athwart aU these clouds ; and the
eyes of the people turned with hope and joy to the young
soldier who had achieved it, and recognised in this happy
beginning the vigour and genius of the great commander.

General Jackson immediately threw forward a few


companies of cavalry, under Captain Sheetz, to harass the
enemy's rear, and collected his infantry in the valley
beyond jM'Dowell to prepare for a close pursuit. The
moimtain passes by which General Banks might have
communicated succours to Milroy were immediately ob-
structed, and an active officer was sent by a circuitous
route to the northern parts of Pendleton county, below
Franklin, to collect the partisan soldiers of the mountains
in the enemy's rear. They were exhorted to fill the roads
with felled timber, to tear down the walls which supported
the turnpike along the precipitous cliffs, and to destroy
the bridges, in order that the retreat of Milroy might be
retarded, and the advance of Fremont to his aid checked,
until his flying army was again beaten and dispersed.
Saturday morning the victors resumed their march, re-
freshed by a night of quiet rest, and pressed the enemy
so hard, that General Jackson hoped in the afternoon to
bring them to bay. Their rear-guard assumed a position,
and held the Confederate cavalry in check. General
Jackson disposed his troops, and issued his orders for
battle with a stern joy ; but the slippery game soon con-
tinued its flight. The next morning was the Sabbath;
but after anxious deliberation, the Confederate General
concluded that the importance of overtaking the enemy,
who would certainly not pause from any reverence for the
sacred day, and of inflictuig another disaster before the
reinforcements of General Fremont arrived, required him
to disregard its claims. When he began to urge the
enemy again, the Federals resorted to the expedient of
setting fire to the forests upon the mountain sides, in order


to envelop their flight in obscurity. Soon the sky was
overcast with volumes of smoke, which almost hid the
scene, and wrapped every distant object in a veil, impene-
trable alike to the eyes and the telescopes of the officers.
Through this sultry fog the pursuing army felt its way
cautiously along, cannonaded by the enemy from every
advantageous position ; while it was protected from am-
buscades only by detachments of skirmishers, who scoured
the burning woods on each side of the highway. As fast
as these could scramble over the precipitous hills, and
through the blazing thickets, the great column crept along
the main road, like a lazy serpent; their General often
far in advance of its head, in his eagerness to overtake the
foe. He declared that this smoke was the most adroit
expedient to which a retreating army could resort to
embarrass pursuit, and that it entailed upon him all the
disadvantages of a night attack. By slow approaches, and
constant skirmishing, the enemy were driven to the village
of Franklin ; when the double darkness of the night and
the fog again arrested his progress.

"\Alien the morning of Monday arrived. General Jackson
resolved to discontinue his pursuit of Milroy, and return
to pay his respects to General Banks. Several considera-
tions weighed together to determine his judgment. He
ascertained that his orders for obstructing the turnpike
below Franklin had been disregarded by the citizens ! and
their supineness and timidity filled him with disgust. It
was now obvious that his cunning adversary, with an
unobstructed road for retreat, and all the advantages of a
mountainous country for defence, would not be brought to


a battle until he received the support of General Fremont.
On the other hand, the concentration of the Confederates
was only half completed, for the excellent division of
General Ewell was still to be associated with the forces of
Jackson ; and prudence dictated that the risk of such a
collision as that, with Fremont and Milroy united, should
not be taken without the advantage of all the strength
attainable by him. Moreover, time was precious ; for he
knew not how soon a new emergency at Fredericksburg or
at Eichmond might occasion the recall of General Ewell to
the east, and deprive him of the power to strike any effec-
tive blow against General Banks. The motive last men-
tioned was perhaps the most operative of all ; for he knew
that the loan of General Ewell's aid to him by the Con-
federate authorities at Richmond was not entirely hearty,

Online LibraryRobert Lewis DabneyLife of Lieut.-Gen. Thomas J. Jackson (Stonewall Jackson) → online text (page 6 of 37)