Battles and campaigns

Kernstown, Jackson's First Battle

Report by John Murray

 

Stonewall Jackson's first battle in the Shenandoah Valley, at Kernstown, was a sound tactical defeat and the subject of Lieutenant Colonel James Falkner's talk at the National Army Museum on 14 December 2002.

 

 


The overall Union plan, with Banks in the Valley, was to attack Richmond from two directions. McDowell would advance overland across Northern Virginia while McClellan would move up through the peninsula from the east. McDowell would fix Johnston and Banks would shift troops east to join him to begin the pincer movement. McDowell was to get hold of and control the important railroad network.

 

In March 1862, with Jackson in Winchester, Banks moved his 20,000 troops from Harper's Ferry forcing Jackson back towards Strasbourg and Fisher's Hill to Mount Jackson and thus pulling the Union troops after him . Banks stayed at Winchester and planned to move troops to McDowell. Jackson learned that Banks was leaving the Valley. Information from sources in Winchester indicated there were only 3 or 4 Federal regiments in the town. This was confirmed to Jackson by Turner Ashby.

 

On 23 March, after a hard march and suffering from straggling, Jackson approached Kernstown and there was a fierce skirmish at Hogg Run. As Jackson's approach could be seen, there was to be no frontal attack at Hogg Run but rather a flanking attack through nearby woods. The 5th Virginia moved to Sandy Ridge to where Shields' Union troops were also advancing.

 

James considered Jackson's plan a simple one but not a bad one. The difficulty was that Union formations were well placed on Sandy Ridge. While the Confederates found crossing the country heavy going, Union troops were able to use good tracks. Both sides spotted a stone wall and made a dash to secure it. Confederates got there first and fired point blank into the 84th Pennsylvania whose first rank disappeared. There followed a see-saw battle in the woods and slowly the Union's numerical superiority began to take its effect.

 

By 5.00 p.m., Jackson was in a fix on the ridge. Richard Garnett, on the right flank, pulled his men out. This unhinged the troops still holding the stone wall and they fell back too. Jackson ordered Garnett's men to stand fast. But it was too late. Jackson concentrated on the narrow frontage and called for the 48th Virginia ( his baggage guard). However, he was pushed back and lost two guns.

 

Union troops had the opportunity to encircle Jackson’s force but Turner Ashby held them back at Hogg Run. In fading light and by a slim margin, Jackson managed to get his troops off the ridge. He concentrated his forces and retired to Strasbourg. The Union Generals thought they had done enough for the day.

 

Banks was advised of the attack on Shields and retraced his steps to support him. In the alarm that followed, McDowell was ordered to send troops to Banks and Fremont was ordered to go to the Valley. Some 40,000 troops were diverted, and McDowell's overland campaign was crippled.

 

With the direction of the Shenandoah Valley leading towards Washington but at the same time away from Richmond, the strategic effect of the battle of Kernstown was profound. Jackson could understandably say ‘I am satisfied.'