In the spring of 1862, a Union army of 100,000 was approaching Richmond from the southeast, attempting to take the Confederate capital. The plan also called for Gen. Irvin McDowell, with 30,000 men near Fredericksburg, to advance on Richmond from the north. By unleashing a vigorous offensive in the Shenandoah Valley, Confederate Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson kept McDowell in Fredericksburg, wresting the initiative away from the Federal campaign.
Despite an initial tactical setback on March 23 at Kernstown, Jackson quickly recovered, then moved south, pausing at Conrads Store (present-day Elkton) to develop the vision for what would come to be known as his Valley Campaign. To deceive Federal forces, Jackson’s army marched out of the Valley toward Charlottesville and returned by train to Staunton – then headed west into the mountains of Highland County, planning to close the Valley’s western “back door”. On May 8 at McDowell, he turned back Union troops from Gen. John C. Fremont’s army. Learning that another Union army was approaching from the north, he then quickly moved in that direction and, with reinforcements, defeated Federal forces under Gen. Nathaniel Banks at Front Royal (May 23) and Winchester (May 25).
Jackson pursued Banks north, almost to Harpers Ferry. In early June, two separate Union armies of 20,000 each moved to unite near Strasburg and crush Jackson in a trap. Jackson raced south, eluding the trap—the two northern armies pursuing him on either side of the Massanutten Mountain, which runs down the spine of the Shenandoah Valley. At the Massanutten’s southern tip, Jackson’s army fought masterful back-to-back battles at Cross Keys (June 8) and Port Republic (June 9), preventing the Federals from combining. After these “twin battles” and defeats, Union forces withdrew from the Valley. Jackson, having accomplished his mission, moved east and joined Gen. Robert E. Lee in front of Richmond.
In a swift feat of marching, deception, counter-marching and sheer boldness, Jackson had conducted one of the most audacious and brilliant campaigns in American military history. With only 18,000 men, marching several hundred miles over the course of a few weeks, Jackson inflicted twice as many casualties as he suffered, seized countless supplies, and tied up elements of three separate Federal armies totaling more than 60,000 men that would otherwise have been used against Richmond.
Explore the Story Today:
Following Stonewall Jackson’s famous Valley Campaign is a favorite activity of Civil War historians and enthusiasts. But following that path is not easy, for many of the same reasons that it wasn’t easy for the soldiers who marched these roads 150 years ago. Jackson’s army marched up and down and back up the Valley, tracing and retracing their own steps and earning the nickname “Foot Cavalry.” Following the trail of Jackson’s troops chronologically can therefore be a challenge for even the hardiest traveler. The link below will help you find the sites related to the campaign, but for true enthusiasts who would prefer to follow Jackson’s path, the timeline on the left will help you understand how to revise the order of those sites so you can follow in the very footsteps of Jackson and his men.