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The Union Scores a Victory for the Confederacy
The Shenandoah Valley lies in western Virginia, running northeasterly between the Allegheny Mountains and the Blue Ridge. It is a rich breadbasket and source of small manufactures for the Confederacy, and a secure channel for aggression against the Yankees. For weeks, Stonewall Jackson had been struggling to score a success in the Valley and nearby, with no luck. Since yesterday, however, Jackson’s Confederates have been driving the Federal forces of James Shields northward through the Valley. Today, they clash in open battle near the village of Kernstown, near the northern end of the Valley. (Above, a sketch of the battle.)
Thanks to bad intelligence, Jackson doesn’t realize his 3,500 men are up against 9,000 Union soldiers. He attacks ferociously, but the Union line holds. Angry, perhaps, because the highly religious Jackson had been forced to fight on the Sabbath, he arrests one of his generals, who had ordered a withdrawal when his men began to run out of ammunition. (Within months, the disgraced general will return to the war under another commander and die later, fighting bravely, at Gettysburg.)
Jackson cannot halt the retreat, and so it seemed as if the Union has won the day. But this seeming loss will prove a boon to the Confederates. Alarmed at Jackson’s fierceness and assuming his forces were stronger than they are, the Union war managers make several panicky mistakes. Troops that could bolster McClellan in his Peninsula Campaign or crush Jackson in the Valley were diverted elsewhere, most of all to the protection of Washington.
As a result, Jackson, though still outnumbered, is able to conduct a winning campaign against the Federals in the Shenandoah Valley for the next several weeks, scoring so many wins through expert maneuvering, that his tactics are studied in the Twenty-First Century. And, deservedly, the words “Jackson’s Shenandoah valley Campaign of 1862” seldom appear without the word “brilliant.”
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