Friday, May 25, 2012

150th of the Battle of Winchester

Winchester, Virginia was often the focus of activity during the American Civil War.  Today, 25 May, in 1862, a battle was fought at Winchester that, despite all of the other actions in the area, has gone down in history as the Battle of Winchester, or First Winchester.

The Battle of Winchester was continuation of Stonewall Jackson's Shenandoah Valley Campaign.  Jackson, with his Confederate Army of the Valley, faced with three Union armies in his quest to control Virginia's breadbasket of the Shenandoah Valley at to tie down Union troops to defend Washington, DC and Northern Virginia.  He had blunted US Major General Fremont's Mountain force at McDowell at the beginning of May, forcing the Pathfinder of the West back into the area of modern West Virginia.  The Rappahannock force of US Major Gen McDowell, off to the east, had not yet entered the Shenandoah Valley.  He now moved against the former Speaker of the House, US Major Gen. Nathaniel Banks of Massachusetts, who commanded the Army of the Shenandoah.

Stonewall Jackson.jpg
The Foes: CS Major Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson (Left) and US Major Gen. Nathaniel Banks (Right)

On 23 May 1862, Jackson had evaded Banks, and overwhelmed the Union garrison at Front Royal.  This gave Jackson a straight route to Winchester, and forced Banks to evacuate his defenses at Strasburg, VA.  The two forces proceeded to race to get to Winchester first -- Jackson from Front Royal, and Banks from Strasburg.  Banks would arrive first, and his arrival would set the stage for the Battle of Winchester on 25 May.

The routes of the two armies to Winchester; Map by Hal Jespersen

In the circumstances, Nathaniel Banks faced Stonewall Jackson rather outnumbered.  It would be the particular talent of Stonewall Jackson in his 1862 Valley Campaign to generally outnumber his foe on the field of battle, when outnumbered overall in the campaign.

File:Jackson's Valley Campaign May 21 - June 9, 1862.png
Map of the Shenandoah Valley Campaign -- notice the dotted blue lines showing Banks withdrawal to Winchester after the 23 May battle of Front Royal, that Jackson followed Banks as far as Charles Town, WV after the victory at Winchester on 25 May 1862, and that the action of the campaign would move south to the Harrisonburg, VA area.  Map by Hal Jespersen

Banks and his army stood little chances, and would be routed by Jackson and his force -- the Louisiana Bridge outflanking his force on Bower's Hill being the decisive blow.

The National Park Service account his here:

Here is the description from the Civil War Daily Gazette:

Stonewall Jackson would pursue the fleeing army of Banks toward Harpers Ferry, but would eventually have to turn south toward Harrisonburg, VA, lest he be trapped in the lower valley with the arrival of both the armies of Fremont (Mountain) and McDowell (Rappahannock).  At least that of Banks (Shenandoah) was dealt with!

As a side note, US Major General Banks and his army dropped so much in the way of supplies and provisions in these few days of late May that the Union General received the nickname "Commissary Banks" from his Confederate foes...

Live well!

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