Friday, March 21, 2008

ON THIS DAY: Thursday, March 20, 1862

A Shadow Falls on the Shenandoah

Until today, Stonewall Jackson’s Confederates have been retreating in the Shenandoah Valley, pursued most recently by Federals under Brig. Gen. James Shields. Born in Ireland, Shields is a man of many talents, but military command is not one of them. Moreover, whatever luck he brought with him from Ireland is going to run out, for Union strength in the Valley has just been reduced.

Shields’ ally (and superior) had been Brig. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks, a daring but inept commander from Massachusetts. Banks’ assignment had been to drive Jackson from the Valley. When a cavalry report about Jackson’s location reached him, he concluded, “Mission accomplished,” and headed eastward, out of the Valley, to begin a new mission, that of shielding Washington from attack.

But the cavalry report was wrong: Jackson hadn’t fled the valley at all, and the tables were about to turn. Jackson’s retreats in the Valley had merely been strategic. Today he begins pushing back and it is the Federals’ turn, under Shields, to begin retreating. One of the most brilliant campaigns of the war—“Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign”—is about to unfold.


Being very careful to report regularly to the touchy Halleck, Grant sends him a report detailing just about everything that has happened along the Tennessee River in the past 24 hours. Grant says he will accompany the expedition as far as the Confederate base at Corinth, Mississippi, hastening to add, “I will take no risk at Corinth under the instructions I now have. If a battle on anything like equal terms seems to be inevitable,’ Grant promises, “I shall find it out in time” to attack some other place along the Confederate railroad,” in an attempt to accomplish something without a battle.”

Grant thinks he will be ready to launch such an expedition in three or four days. In the meantime, however, Confederate troops are pouring into Corinth. Although most of Albert Sidney Johnston’s arm, which is coming from Murfreesboro, is stretched across northern Alabama and Mississippi, two brigades have arrived to join Beauregard’s men who are already there.

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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