Thursday, January 3, 2008

ON THIS DAY: Saturday, Jan. 4, 1862

Jackson is coming!

Thomas J. Jackson, nicknamed “Stonewall” for his role in the Battle of Bull Run, was a strange man, a former professor at a military school where the students called him “Tom Fool” and “the worst teacher God ever made.” Jackson had peculiar ideas about diet and health, sometimes pumping an arm in the air to aid circulation, and his religiosity was unbending, moved by the demanding God of the Old Testament. Jackson memorized his lectures, meaning he had to re-start a lecture from the beginning whenever he lost his place. He had no sense of humor.

But Jackson quickly won respect in the Confederate army, was promoted to major general in October 1861, and in November was assigned command of the Confederacy’s Shenandoah Valley district. The Shenandoah bordered on Union-held western Virginia, meaning that Jackson could leave the security of the Valley and easily attack the Federals, causing considerable mischief, if he so chose.

An attacker by nature, Jackson so chose, believing he could re-take the western third of Virginia that Union troops had dominated since June. In January Jackson left Winchester, Virginia, with 9,000 men. He began a series of attacks on the panhandle that formed the dangling, extreme eastern region of western Virginia, destroying dams on the Potomac River and breaking up the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad that connected Washington to the West.

Yesterday, Jackson’s Confederates approached Bath, a resort town known for its mineral waters, and today they occupy the little town. Confederates also skirmish nearby with the Federals at Slane’s Cross Roads, Great Cacapon Bridge, Sir John’s Run, and Alpine Depot. These little engagements involved, on the Union side, a hodgepodge of regiments from Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. At Bath, the Federals lost three killed and eight captured. Only a few Confederates were wounded.

So began Stonewall Jackson’s so-called "Romney Campaign." It looks promising. Will he be able to take western Virginia back from the Federals?

ELSEWHERE: Increasingly concerned about the plight of Unionists in East Tennessee, President Lincoln wires Don Carlos Buell in Kentucky. He asks if the general has forwarded weapons to the Union loyalists, who Lincoln is desperate to help. But, like his friend McClellan, Buell has other ideas about what needs to be done next, when, and where, so--like McClellan-- he stalls. His inaction on this will not be the last time he will frustrate Lincoln’s desires.

IT’S COMING SOONER THAN YOU THINK: April 12, 2011—less than 3½ years from now!—will be the 150th anniversary of the outbreak of the Civil War. In 1861, April 12 was the day Confederates opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor.

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