Sunday, December 18, 2016

'Stonewall' in the Valley (3): The Campaign Begins...

The CSA Army of the Valley, commanded by
Major-General T. J. (Stonewall) Jackson.

I thought I should begin the narrative in medias res - sort of ... jump right in the middle.  The action at Kernstown was some six weeks back, and then General Jackson had taken his own Division, leaving General R.S. Ewell's at Pine Run Gap, and struck a blow at part of General Fremont's command at McDowell.  Now he was back at the head of the Shenandoah Valley, his Army united, and ready to strike ... and set the Union army once more into a frenzy of action.

In the following I thought I would relate the story more by way of the mechanics, just interspersing it here and there with the historian's narrative.

The campaign begins - in medias res.
Evening 18 May 1862

Jackson in the Valley Campaign

I'll make a start on the Shenandoah thing today, beginning with the location of the forces, and weather charts. Logistics will be handled by line-of-communication.  My preliminary thoughts are these.
Dispositions of the 3 Union positions begin (roughly) as they were on Sunday 18 May 1862. The campaign opens on  Monday,19th May.

Sitting in his headquarters, Major-General Nathaniel P. Banks was feeling more than a little lonely as cut off from the rest of the world.  A few days before his army was at Harrisonburg, far up the southern end of the North Fork valley of the Shenadoah River.  Where had Jackson gone?  And now, he was back here at Strasburg; thirty miles to the south, the Confederate Army of the Valley had once more made its appearance, and with a very bellicose look about it.  General Banks figured he needed support, and needed it fast.  

First off, he detached part of his command to Front Royal - a precaution against anything the Rebs might try via the South Fork valley.  Then he telegraphed Washington to request assistance from the Command of Brig-Genl James Shields, known to lie half a day's march east of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  He had already sent a courier with a small mounted escort to General Fremont of the Mountain District.  Even so, it would be several days before either could intervene...

- Fremont is at Franklin, his leading Division having received a knock at McDowell:
- Shields is off the map somewhere a half day's march east of Warrenton, with  (possibly) a small detachment at Rectortown (Brig-Genl Geary). Shields moves onto the  map at Warrenton at the beginning of Campaign move 2.
- Banks is at Strasburg, having prepared defences against attack.  He has left a detachment at Front Royal (probably dice for this) against a flanking move up the South Fork valley.
- Saxton remains at Harper's Ferry

Situation: Noon to Evening 19 May 1862.
Uncertainty reigns in Union headquarters.
 Where is Jackson?


Begin at Harrisonburg.  Two possible moves:

A:   Move straight up the North fork Valley to Strasburg and attack Banks whilst he is isolated from his pals.  He can arrive in front of at mid day  20th May. In view of this he may delay a half-day to arrive at nightfall, for attack on the 21st (Tuesday).

B.  The historical move: march up the North Fork valley to New Market, then cross the Massanutten mountain range, take the White House Bridge, into Luray and then up to front Royal, with the view to carrying or seizing the river crossings to Cedarville and take Strasburg in the rear.  If unopposed, the army would arrive at Front Royal at mid-afternoon on the 20th.  
C:   Allegheny Johnson is at McDowell looking as menacing as he can.  

One of A or B is a 'ghost' - Dame Rumour roaming the countryside.

Major-General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, 'Old Blue Light' to his loyal soldiers, had at last decided it was high time to strike a serious blow in the valley; really make Washington notice.  Kernstown had not been very satisfactory, though it had succeeded in drawing off some support from the major Union effort in tidewater Virginia.  McDowell had eased the pressure in the southwest mountain passes.  But they had been pinpricks, and tactically indecisive at that.  There was Banks's command - no help for days.  Time to strike!

Let's call the situation at noon 20th May.
- Fremont has marched hard to reach a half-way point between Petersburg and Moorefield.  He has kept his cavalry by him, one leading, the other covering his ... rear.
- Shields is a half day's march east of the Manassas gap.
- Banks is quaking at Strasburg wondering whether to go or to stay.  

The detachment (if any) at Front Royal will have been joined by the detachment under Geary (if any) at dusk the previous day.

Dawn  to Noon 20 May 1862
General Banks in a quandary  Is Jackson marching directly upon
him, or has he crossed the Massanutten Mountains into the
South Branch Valley?


- 1.  

I have been talking of a 12-move day game, which I reduced from a 24-move that goes with my figure and ground scale (900:1 ground; 30:1 time).  But a 6-move half-day battle is too short, let alone a 3-move late afternoon one.  I think I'll have to retain the 24-move battle game.  You will see what the impact of this decision is later on.  That:

- a) assumes, that if he marches direct on Strasburg, Genl Jackson will order a frontal attack on the place, which I think he must.  No need to roll a die for this: TJ came to attack, attack he will. 

- b) Banks has to decide whether to stand and fight, or retreat.  This must be decided BEFORE we roll to see whether the forces on the other side of Fisher's Hill are real or rumour.  It can be done on a die roll, or I can simply decide he'll stay.  General Banks might not have been the cleverest general, but he was prepared to fight, so I reckon he's likely to stay.  This was in fact determined by a die roll, but I made it two-to-one on his staying put, He did.
- 2

I suddenly realise that I have issued far too many cannon, 18 Union and 9 Confederate. What was I thinking?  Was I thinking?  I've halved the numbers, except that Chew's battery remains part of Jackson's cavalry command.  Fremont and Shields have three, and, to redress a mistake I made concerning Banks, his command gets four.  One of these has been detached and is with Col Knipe at Front Royal.

Continuing the narrative:

Having decided that Banks will accept battle we roll the die. 50-50 call: ODDs real, EVENs, rumour... AND IT'S... ... rumour.

Probably just as well.  I've looked at the Strasburg area, and it looks like a tricky place to attack from the south - awkward on account of a big loop of the Shenandoah across the right half of the front, and an enormous forest de-marking the field on the left (it would have formed a table edge.)

What that means is that the real force is identified as three hours south of Front Royal.  If the Union has any force at that town, it will have to fight for 6 late afternoon game moves - supposing Jackson marches directly upon that place...

It turns out there was no detachment under Brig-Gen Geary at Rectorstown (I had a range of possibilities ranging from nothing (D6=1,2) to 2 Ft, 1 Cav and 1 gun (D6-6) from Shields's Division .  I rolled a 2, but Banks had stationed at Port Royal a force of 2 infantry regiments, 1 Cavalry battalion and a section (1 gun) of artillery.  The CSA has 6 hours to clear away this force and to carry the bridges.  As it transpired, Col Knipe was left at Front Royal with an artillery battery, and yet Banks still has three with him as events will show.  But giving Banks four batteries retains the overall two-to-one ratio of Union to Confederate ordnance (10 to 5 from 18 to 9).  

Afternoon 20 May 1862
Banks discovers there is no threat to his front, but that
surely means...?

Meanwhile, Genl Banks, made aware that a large Rebel force is about to descend upon his flank guard has to decide what to do about it: nothing, retreat, or take part or the whole of his command at Strasburg off to help.  Even if he marches at once, (starting at midday) he will not reach Front Royal but will still be just across the South Fork River from Front Royal at dusk.  Shields will be closer, to the east, having crossed the Manassas Gap during the afternoon. On these grounds, Banks makes an uncharacteristically bold decision.

This could be interesting, depending on Banks's decision, with the Rebs caught between two Union Divisions come the morning of 21 May.

What does Banks do?
1. Nothing
2. Fall back to Middleton
3. Send balance of brigade at once to Front Royal after '1 hex (one hour)' delay ( 2 infantry)
4. Send balance of Brigade (2 infantry regiments) to Front Royal immediately
5. March with whole force to Front Royal after '1 hex' delay.
6. March with whole force to Front Royal immediately, sending the cavalry battalion on ahead (Cav arrives FR at 4pm).

The roll was a ‘5’ – Banks took an hour to gather together his army and march to Front Royal.  He will be two hours short of the place at nightfall.

Late afternoon 20 May 1862.  General Banks has found
Genl Jackson's Army.  Though it is perhaps fairer said that
Jackson's army has found him!

Late Afternoon 20 May 1862

Genl Jackson had arrived at McCoy’s Ford, and not having yet made contact with enemy, took the opportunity of further mystifying the enemy.  The peregrinations of the Army of the Valley was to take another strange turn.  Would they continue straight on to Front Royal, or, having reached McCoy's ford across the Shenadoah South Fork, take that route and place themselves between the commands of Banks and Knipe?

There being no contact at this point, it was possible, and reasonable to create a second 'ghost' army.  The options were:
A. March straight on to Front Royal and carry the place (ODDs roll); or
B. Cross the ford and strike for the Starsburg-Front Royal Road (EVENs roll).
I made the decision a 50-50 call, but as pushing on would have been the more likely (not to say historical!), a 66-33 bias would have been reasonable. 

As contact with the Front Royal garrison takes place slightly before that with Banks, the roll was made with 6 'game' moves (3 hours) left of the day, I simply decided to determine which was the real army, which pretty much was going to lead to a fight. Probably I was being generous to Col Knipe.  In the real campaign, one Col Z.T. Conner (CSA)  was to be left in command of the place, and didn't make much of it. 

'Do you call that fighting, sir?' was Stonewall's blistering response to Conner's abject report.

The roll clearly determined that 'Dame Rumour' has once more given vent to her lies, and that Jackson, though close, was not on the road directly south.  As there was no occasion to call into being another 'ghost' army (which must always begin its moves from the same point as the real one), there was going to be a collision towards the end of the day. Four game moves remain of the day.  Will General Jackson engage at once using what remains of the afternoon?  Or will he await the dawn? 

General N.P. Banks's command, less detachments at
Front Royal.  In the coming encounter at 'Passage Creek'
they will be outnumbered, two to one.
And what of the commands of Shields and Fremont?  At this time, Fremont was still a good two days' march from Strasburg.  But Shields was closer, much closer.  Already his columns were snaking through the Blue Ridge Mountain pass at Manassas Gap...

To be continued: 20th May 1862: Battle of ‘Bridgewood Farm’ or ‘Passage Creek’ .


  1. Nice report! And a very nice map--did you create this, or is it from a game? If you did it, GREAT job!

    Best regards,

    Chris Johnson

    1. Thanks, Chris -
      I made the map myself on a store-bought hex sheet. This was at least twenty-five years ago, for just this sort of campaign. But I never actually got around to playing it until now. I have a couple of copies of the National Geographic Civil War Map (one falling to pieces, unfortunately, and the other in little better shape), which I used to work out the roads and distances. I think I made one or two mistakes, but ... it'll do. :-D

      You can see by the 'twinking' that I've recently redone the place names. They were written much too small to pick up in these sorts of pictures, and the ball pen used had faded a bit as well. I've also outlined the Valley Pike in black as an 'all-weather' road (it had already been Macadamised even way back in 1862).


  2. I have seen the map, it is like a holy scroll that I know Archduke has been dying to use and it is great to see it on the screen.


    1. Holy Scroll? By the way. I originally intended to show troop movements with counters, but I have used the Microsoft 'Paint' utility instead, to add symbols and commanders' names.

  3. This is a very clever and interesting way to run a solo campaign with a degree of friction and uncertainty built it. I've done something similar myself and it generates a very interesting battle. Looking forward to hearing what transpires!
    Dame Rumour is indeed a scourge of cautions generals.

    1. The challenge is to come up with two plausible courses of action for the Confederates to create the 'ghost' army. The other to find a range of reasonable responses for the Union. At the time I posted this, I have already fought out the late afternoon action between Jackson and Banks, and some - not all - of the events up to 10.30a.m. the following morning have been decided and/or played out. A busy day for the CSA!