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Staff Riding the Valley Campaign of 1862, pt. 1

Kernstown1A few months ago, Michael Pearlman, author of Truman and MacArthur: Policy, Politics, and the Hunger for Honor and Renown and Warmaking and American Democracy: The Struggle over Military Strategy, 1700 to the Present , and a former colleague here at CGSC, asked if I would be interested in leading a staff ride of the Shenandoah Valley in the days prior to the opening of the Society for Military History’s Annual Meeting in Lexington, Virginia. I agreed and on Wednesday, 19 May, Mike, Tim Nenninger of the National Archives, Samuel Watson of the U.S. Military Academy, and I spent a very full day studying the 1862 Valley Campaign. Mike asked if we could work in Cedar Creek and some of the other 1864 operations, as he was tired in his prep reading of the Yankees playing the role of the Washington Generals to the Confederate Globetrotters, but that simply proved impracticable. In any case, I told him we would get to see the Yankees win one at First Kernstown.

We started out by rendezvousing at the parking lot for Harpers Ferry National Historical Park on Cavalier Heights. Because the shuttle buses were not yet running down to the town, we had an excuse for combining into a single car, and driving to Lower Town. After finding parking on Potomac Street, we went to the Point where the Shenandoah River flows into the Potomac and discussed Harpers Ferry, the Valley, Jackson’s early command at Harpers Ferry, and the Federal “lockjaw” operation in which Nathaniel Banks’s command occupied Kernstown2 Harpers Ferry in early 1862, as well as Federal plans for 1862 in Virginia and how Banks’s and Jackson’s forces figured into them.

After spending about an hour in Harpers Ferry, we returned to Cavalier Heights, got in our cars, then proceeded up the Valley to Winchester to study the Federal victory at First Kernstown on 23 March 1862. We started at Opequon Presbyterian Church just south of Pritchard’s Hill. The first two photos to the right provide a view looking north toward the Pritchard-Grim Farm from the church parking lot, where an unreconciled Sam made a point of calling attention to the part of the sign that clearly indicates this was, at least in 1862, a Union victory. (The 24 July 1864 Battle of Second Kernstown–also fought on the Pritchard-Grim Farm–did not work out so well for the Federals.)

We then went over to the Pritchard-Grim Farm, the 315-acre section of the battlefield that is owned and managed by the Kernstown Battlefield Association. A call in advance ensured the KBA would have someone on hand to open the visitor center (pictured on the right) when we arrived, and we began our visit by seeing the exhibits. We then went up to Pritchard’s Hill where the Federal commander at Kernstown, Nathan Kimball (James Shields having been wounded the day before), posted his artillery and had his command post during the battle.

19May1004The bottom photo on the right was taken near the military crest of Pritchard’s Hill and is looking west toward Sandy Ridge. It was on Sandy Ridge that Jackson’s attempt to turn the strong Federal position on Pritchard’s Hill was turned back, setting the stage for the rout of his command. It was also on Sandy Ridge where Richard Garnett made the decision to withdraw the Stonewall Brigade without orders that led to his relief from command and court-martial.

After Kernstown, we backtracked to Winchester. The First Winchester battlefield has been lost to development to the point that, while it is possible to do a pretty good tour of the battlefield and see where the significant actions took place, the sight lines are not particularly great. Thus, given our fairly limited time, we did not bother going up to the Federal line on Bowers Hill and Camp Hill. Instead, we just stopped at the Winchester Visitors Center at Abram’s Delight, which is just off the road along which Richard Ewell’s command on the Confederate right made its attack on Camp Hill during the 25 May rout of Banks’s command at First Winchester. There, in addition to taking advantage of the facilities and bookshop, we used the large maps of the Shenandoah Valley on display to discuss and trace the course of the campaign from First Kernstown to McDowell (the latter an absolutely wonderful battlefield that distance, of course, it made impracticable for us to visit on this trip) to Front Royal and First Winchester.
We then headed south and east on the old Winchester-Front Royal Road to our next stop at Cedarville a few miles north of the town of Front Royal and the confluence of the north and south forks of the Shenandoah River. It was at Cedarville that the closing engagement of the 23 May Battle of Front Royal between Jackson’s command and a force of about a thousand Federals commanded by John Kenly occurred. The battle that began south of the town and saw Jackson’s men overwhelm a series of positions from which Kenly tried to vainly fend off the Confederates and saw the First Maryland Confederate do battle with the First Maryland Union. Here we discussed the course of the decidedly uneven battle at Front Royal and its consequences. The most important of the latter, of course, being President Lincoln’s decision to compromise Federal operations against Richmond on the York-James Peninsula in order to deal with Jackson. We then went into Front Royal for lunch before heading south on I-81 to study the operations in Rockingham County that closed the campaign in June 1862.

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