Second Kernstown was the last major Confederate victory in the Shenandoah Valley and temporarily removed Federal control of Winchester and the northern Shenandoah Valley.
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The battle was fought on much of the same ground as the First Battle of Kernstown in 1862. It is interesting that Federal forces under Col. Hayes, who later became the President of the United States, fought directly against Gen. Breckinridge, who was a former Vice President of the United States and also the Democratic candidate for president in 1860.
Believing Jubal Early’s Confederate army was no longer a threat in the Shenandoah Valley, Federal Gen. Horatio Wright abandoned his pursuit and ordered the VI and XIX Corps to return to Washington, where they were to be sent to join Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Federal forces at Petersburg. Wright left Gen. George Crook with three Federal divisions in the Valley and some cavalry to hold Winchester.
Under orders to prevent reinforcements from being sent to Grant, Early marched north on July 24 against Crook. After an hour of stubborn resistance at Pritchard’s Hill, the Federal line collapsed and Crook’s divisions streamed back in disarray through the streets of Winchester. Federal Col. James Mulligan, commanding Crook’s 3rd Division, was mortally wounded. Future U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes commanded a Federal brigade that fought against Confederate Gen. John C. Breckinridge’s division.
Crook retreated to the Potomac River and crossed near Williamsport, Maryland on July 26. Because of this defeat and the subsequent burning of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, on July 30, Grant ordered the VI and XIX Corps back to the Shenandoah Valley and unified several Federal commands in the region under Gen. Philip Sheridan.