The Battle of Port Republic was a ferocious, hard-fought victory that brought a triumphant end to Stonewall Jackson's famed Valley Campaign, freeing his army to leave the Valley and aid Robert E. Lee in the defense of Richmond.
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Prelude to Port Republic
Late in the 1862 Valley Campaign, Gen. Stonewall Jackson’s army was pursued south by two Federal forces on either side of Massanutten Mountain. Reaching the mountain’s southern tip, Jackson stopped to face his pursuers. On June 8, Confederate troops under Gen. Richard S. Ewell defeated Union Gen. John C. Frémont at Cross Keys. The next day, Jackson turned towards the other Federal force east of Port Republic.
Having successfully held off Fremont, Jackson quickly turned his attention to Shield’s smaller force. Joined by Ewell, Jackson’s plan was to concentrate his army against Shields and quickly crush him with overwhelming numbers.
The logistics of moving most of his men from Cross Keys to, and then beyond, Port Republic, proved more difficult than Jackson had anticipated. As the action began on the flat plain of the South Fork of the Shenandoah two miles beyond Port Republic, the Confederates were actually outnumbered. The Union’s compact line (commanded by Gen. Erastus Tyler, as Gen. Shields was not on the field) stretched from the river (on its right) to the shoulder of the Blue Ridge (on the left). Artillery occupied this open crest, which dominated the field, known locally as “The Coaling.”
“They poured a volley into our ranks when we without delay returned the compliment…Here was the place to try mens [souls].” – Union Sgt. John Hadley, 7th Indiana
Victory depended on who controlled “The Coaling” and the focus of the battle centered on this open ridge. As his troops trickled onto the field, Jackson sent the majority against this position; with the initial Confederate assaults being repulsed. Eventually, the crack Louisianan brigade of Gen. Richard Taylor swarmed over the Union guns, capturing the position in a vicious hand-to-hand fight.
“In every great battle of the war there was a hell-spot. At Port Republic it was on the mountain side.” – Quotation by Louisiana Confederate soldier from Robert K. Krick, Conquering the Valley
After failing to re-take “The Coaling” with their own determined counterattacks, the Union troops had no choice but to withdraw. Fremont’s command soon reached the field, but was unable to reinforce Tyler because Ewell had burned all of the bridges spanning the South Fork during his retreat. Although his plan had gone astray, Jackson still managed to win his second battle in two days.
The Campaign Ends
After Port Republic, Union forces withdrew north, bringing the Valley Campaign to a close. Having accomplished his mission by tying up more than 60,000 Federal troops that would otherwise have been used against Richmond, Jackson was free to join Gen. Robert E. Lee in the defense of the capital.