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Jackson’s 1862 Valley Campaign

 

In western Virginia, the year 1861 closed with two Confederate victories. The Battle of Greenbrier River fought on October 3 and the December 13 Battle of Allegheny Mountain. In both engagements the Confederate forces being greatly numbered, drove the forces of northern aggression from the field. The 12th Georgia wintered at Camp Allegheny from November 16 to April 2, 1862. General Johnson’s command consisted of the 12th Georgia, four Virginia regiments, four batteries of artillery, and some Calvary. The men were excited when ordered to break camp. They were finally leaving after enduring months of bushwhacking, disease, and bad weather—which was always miserable with rain and snow that ”cut like a knife.” The 12th was heading for the valley.

 

Stonewall Jackson was about to start his valley campaign, but first he needed to secure his western flank. Jackson marched along the Parkersburg Road to confront two of General Fremont's brigades that were marching toward the Shenandoah Valley from western Virginia. The Federal brigades were commanded by Generals Milroy and Schenck. On May 8, the opposing forces met at McDowell, a small village on the Bullpasture River with the Confederates taking up position on Sitlington Hill, overlooking the town.

 

Johnson placed the 52nd Virginia on the left, with the 58th Virginia in support. The 12th Georgia, with about 500 men, occupied the center on the crest of the hill. The 44th Virginia was on the right near a ravine. The Georgians being slightly forward were exposed to fire on three sides. The Battle of McDowell lasted a grueling four hours.  All attempts of the Federals to advance were repulsed with dreadful slaughter. The 12th Georgia suffered the most Confederate casualties with 52 killed including six officers and 123 wounded.  This was partly due because their battle lines showed in bold relief against the sky, and they refused to seek shelter on the reverse side of the hill. As one company was ordered back, it would rush back in as the next was retracted. General Johnson was shot in the ankle during the battle. “The battlefield looked like a slaughter pen”, wrote Colonel Conner. ”Stood like veterans” wrote another. The next day when asked why they did not retire, one Georgia private stated, "We did not come all this way to Virginia to run before Yankees."   Brig. Gen. Johnson's forces now marched to New Market where they joined General Ewell on May 20 and would be part of Elzey's Brigade.

 

Jackson turned his attention to Gen. Nathaniel Banks at Strasburg. The Confederate forces crossed the Massanutten Mountain and marched down the valley (north) from Luray toward Front Royal. On Friday, May 23, the 12th Georgia was engaged in the Battle of Front Royal which concluded with the men of the Federal garrison being captured or driven toward Strasburg. Large amounts of stores and arms were captured. Banks' position at Strasburg was now untenable and he withdrew his forces south of Winchester.

 

On May 25, the first Battle of Winchester, with the 12th Georgia held mainly in reserve commenced when 16,000 Confederates attacked the larger Federal force of nearly 25,000 men at Winchester. When the Confederates outflanked the Federals, panic engulfed their ranks and they fled through Winchester in an effort to escape the onslaught.  Banks suffered over 2,400 casualties to Jackson's 400. General Banks withdrew across the Potomac River in defeat.

 

On May 30th while guarding captured Federal supplies, the 12th Georgia was attacked at Front Royal by the First Rhode Island Calvary. Two officers and 128 enlisted Georgians were captured in the raid.  The company’s being scattered, Capt. William F. Brown of company “F” took command and marched the regiment to Winchester. Colonel Conner would be placed under arrest by Gen. Jackson for his losses at Front Royal.

 

By the end of May, Jackson learned that two Federal armies were moving toward him, Gen. Fremont's army from the west and Gen. Shields' division from the east. Jackson withdrew up the valley (south) with the two armies in pursuit. Jackson’s army made its escape up the valley fighting a defensive retreat. He relied on Turner Ashby’s Cavalry to guard fords and burn bridges. Stonewall Jackson’s army arrived at Port Republic on June 6. The Battle of Cross Keys began when Fremont's pursuing army encountered Ewell's division on June 8, 1862. Gen. Ewell had selected his position on a ridge with Trimble's brigade posted in advance of the center. The Confederate artillery positioned at the center and the 12th Georgia to the rear of the center. The Federals attack was repulsed and Fremont withdrew. On May 9, Trimble's and Patton's brigades held Fremont in check while Ewell's force crossed the river to assist Jackson at Port Republic.

 

On May 9, Jackson concentrated his forces at Port Republic against the isolated Federal brigades of Brigadier Generals Tyler and Carroll of Shields' division. The Confederate forces at Cross Keys joined Jackson after burning the North River Bridge to prevent Fremont from using it. Initial Confederate assaults were repulsed with heavy casualties, but a flanking attack turned the Federal left wing and forced the Federals to retreat. General Fremont arrived in time to watch the Battle of Port Republic helplessly from across the river. After being involved in five battles and marching over 400 miles in 30 days, the 12th Georgia would count 140 men in its ranks, losing over 325 killed, wounded, and captured. The soldiers would camp near Weyer’s Cave and write home about being part of Jackson’s “foot cavalry.”