May 26, 1862
Within four weeks this army has made long and rapid marches, fought six combats and two battles, signally defeated the enemy in each one, captured several stands of colors, and pieces of artillery, with numerous prisoners, and vast medical ordnance, and army stores; and, finally, driving the boastful host which was ravaging our beautiful country, into utter rout. The General commanding would warmly express to the officers and men under his command, his joy in their achievements, and his thanks for their brilliant gallantry in action and their patient obedience under the hardships of forced marches; often more painful to the brave soldier than the dangers of battle. The explanation of the severe exertions to which the Commanding General called the army, which were endured by them with such cheerful confidence in him, is now given, in the victory of yesterday. He receives this proof of their confidence in the past with pride and gratitude, and asks only a similar confidence in the future.
But his chief duty today, and that of the army, is, to recognize devoutly the hand of a protecting Providence in the brilliant successes of the last three days (which have given us the results of a great victory without great losses); and to make the oblation of our thanks to God for his mercies to us and our country, in heartfelt acts of religious worship. For this purpose the troops will remain in camp today, suspending as far as practicable all military exercises; and the Chaplains of regiments will hold divine services in their several charges at 4 o’clock, P.M.
General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, Orders to the Army, May 26, 1862
The 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign
As McClellan advanced toward Richmond in the spring of 1862, other Union armies threatened the Shenandoah Valley. The Shenandoah Valley (western part of the state) was an important agricultural region and it was the “backdoor” to both the Union and Confederate capitals. If an army got into the valley, it’s movements could be semi-sheltered and hidden by the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains.
General Jackson commanded the Valley District at the beginning of 1862 and had orders from his superiors in Richmond to defend the valley and, if possible, threaten Washington D.C. to keep McClellan from receiving reinforcements. It was a tall order, but Jackson was the general for the job. Recognizing the strategic importance of the region, he declared, “If the Valley is lost, Virginia is lost” – establishing his mentality for the regions defense.
The Valley Campaign didn’t start off well for Jackson and his army; in March, they withdrew from Winchester (the largest town in the northern part of the valley) and on the 23rd suffered defeat at the Battle of Kernstown. While Union armies occupied and headed into new regions of the military district, Jackson pulled his army south and waited for reinforcements. At the beginning of May, he launched his offensive, striking toward invading armies and moving with speed to keep his foes off-guard. On May 25th, Winchester was liberated from Union occupation and one Yankee army was driven to the Potomac River. Jackson and his army would return to the central valley and fight two more battles to defeat the remaining Union forces at the beginning of June.
In total, the Confederates would march approximately 646 miles and fight 6 battles within 48 days. Jackson became a much-needed hero for the struggling Confederacy and gained fame in the Shenandoah Valley.
About 646 miles. That would exhaust anybody, and Jackson’s army was exhausted by the end of the Valley Campaign. Jackson believed speed was essential to success and drove his men to victory. Their reactions alternated between hate, admiration, disgust, and pride. Their general asked the “impossible,” and they would try to fulfill the commands.
During the campaign, Jackson’s men got a new nickname: foot cavalry. The name reflected their speed and tenacity.
Aside from impressive marching and victories, what did the Shenandoah Valley Campaign accomplish?
First, it scared Union headquarters in Washington D.C. – three of their armies got defeated, and that “Stonewall” was still on the loose.
Second, given that situation and the speed of Jackson’s army, there was no way McClellan was not going to get more reinforcements! No way, those troops had to stay near the U.S. capital.
Third, it gave “Stonewall” and his army a reputation. So…when they snuck out of the Shenandoah Valley and appeared to defend Richmond – well, that will have to be a story for another day. But let’s just say, their reputations preceded them.
P.S. Did you know that we talk about the Valley Campaign from a civilian perspective in living history scenarios? Come visit the McGuire Home at Southern California Civil War events.