Sunday, March 23, 2008

ON THIS DAY: Sunday, March 23, 1862

The Union Scores a Victory for the Confederacy

The Shenandoah Valley lies in western Virginia, running northeasterly between the Allegheny Mountains and the Blue Ridge. It is a rich breadbasket and source of small manufactures for the Confederacy, and a secure channel for aggression against the Yankees. For weeks, Stonewall Jackson had been struggling to score a success in the Valley and nearby, with no luck. Since yesterday, however, Jackson’s Confederates have been driving the Federal forces of James Shields northward through the Valley. Today, they clash in open battle near the village of Kernstown, near the northern end of the Valley. (Above, a sketch of the battle.)

Thanks to bad intelligence, Jackson doesn’t realize his 3,500 men are up against 9,000 Union soldiers. He attacks ferociously, but the Union line holds. Angry, perhaps, because the highly religious Jackson had been forced to fight on the Sabbath, he arrests one of his generals, who had ordered a withdrawal when his men began to run out of ammunition. (Within months, the disgraced general will return to the war under another commander and die later, fighting bravely, at Gettysburg.)

Jackson cannot halt the retreat, and so it seemed as if the Union has won the day. But this seeming loss will prove a boon to the Confederates. Alarmed at Jackson’s fierceness and assuming his forces were stronger than they are, the Union war managers make several panicky mistakes. Troops that could bolster McClellan in his Peninsula Campaign or crush Jackson in the Valley were diverted elsewhere, most of all to the protection of Washington.

As a result, Jackson, though still outnumbered, is able to conduct a winning campaign against the Federals in the Shenandoah Valley for the next several weeks, scoring so many wins through expert maneuvering, that his tactics are studied in the Twenty-First Century. And, deservedly, the words “Jackson’s Shenandoah valley Campaign of 1862” seldom appear without the word “brilliant.”


At his field headquarters in Savannah, Tennessee, Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, commander of what will come to be known as the “Army of the Tennessee,” is waiting for muddy roads to dry up before attacking the Confederates gathering less than 30 miles away in Corinth, Mississippi.

He decides to write Julia again. He wrote her yesterday, too, but things are slow, so he has the time to do it and besides, he likes writing to Julia.

There’s another reason: Julia and the four Grant children—ages 4 to 11—have been staying with his family in Covington, Kentucky (just across the river from Cincinnati). They have not been enjoying it.

“I see plainly from your letter that will be impossible for you to stay in Covington,” Ulys writes Julia. “Such unmitigated meanness as is shown by the girls makes me ashamed of them. You may go to Columbus and board or to Galena and keep house.

“It will be impossible for you to join me. It will be but a short time before I shall be in the…field…” (When stationed at Cairo, Illinois, Grant had brought Julia to live at his headquarters.)

Grant’s parents originally had had seven children: three brothers (one of whom died last year) and three sisters. Two or three of the sisters are tormenting Julia, the sorest point being the paying of board, to Grant’s parents, for the Grant children. Apparently, the sisters think Julia should be paying more, and have not hesitated to make an issue of it. Stunned by this lack of familial generosity, Grant tells Julia, “I could not raise my head again” if he were even to ask one sister to pay board to him, were it needed.

Ulys concludes to Julia, “You had best leave at once for some place. Tell them [his sisters] I direct it and the reason why.

“Kiss the children and accept the same for yourself.”

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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