Saturday, March 11, 2017

Stonewall In The Valley 11 - Hard Marching.

If Wednesday 21 May 1862 in the Shenandoah Valley was characterised by hard fighting (see here), the following day was one of hard marching - especially for the Army of the Shenandoah.  After the morning's action of the day before, the Union Division of General Nathaniel P. Banks had fallen back upon Middleton, whereat General Jackson turned his attention to developments behind him.  His successful action to clear his lines of communication resulted in the demise of Major-General Shields, and his Division's headlong retreat towards Front Royal.  There, Colonel Knipe separated his own small force from Shields's - now Colonel Erastus B. Tyler's - Division in order to rejoin Banks's command.  All this while, Major-General Fremont was making his best speed towards Strasburg.

Dawn, Thursday, 22 May 1862.  Union moves
and Confederate options.  
So matters stood as as the smoke of battle cleared and Tuesday's sun sank behind the West Virginia mountains.  Now Major-General T.J. Jackson was faced with having to decide what next to do.

This proved an interesting exercise, as I could think of four reasonable options:
1.  Meet Fremont's column somewhere west of Strasburg.
2. March through Strasburg, then switch north to attack Banks at Middletown from the south.
3. March east through Front Royal in pursuit of Tyler and Knipe, the switch north and west to attack  Banks at Middletown from the east.
4.  Pursue Tyler's command through the Manassas Gap.

Of the four, the first and third seemed to me the most likely, but events were to take a rather unexpected turn. 

As Col Knipe led his column through Cedarville, the rumour of the Confederate pursuit drew ever closer.  He was still three hours' march east of Middletown when  action seemed imminent.  The good Colonel refused, however, to be drawn, and chivvied his men onward.  As it transpired no further action developed.

Of course, this was the result of a die roll.  Upon facing the prospect of action, you may recall, before determining whether the Confederates approaching were real or rumour, the Union commander rolled to decide whether to accept or decline action.  That gave him an extra half-day's march, after which, supposing the pursuit was real, he would than be forced to accept action.  In this case, Knipe would successfully have rejoined Banks, though there would have been no prospect of either avoiding action then had Jackson really been pursuing.  But see what happens later in the day.

Moves up to 10 a.m.  The Confederates strike towards
Fremont's Division

As it transpired, the Stonewall had chosen Fremont as his target (also decided by a die roll, after the Knipe decision).  Shortly after midmorning the two columns met on the road west of Strasburg. Hitherto resolute in marching to action, Fremont's boldness suddenly failed him.  At once he ordered a retreat, back towards Watsontown.

(Again determined by die roll.  The eastern Confederate march being rumour, the west march was the real.  But the roll to determine whether the Union commander would accept or decline action once again fell in favour of ... discretion.  Quite a contrast this was to the bellicose behaviour exhibited hitherto!)
Fremont having recoiled hastily, Jackson switches across
towards Middletown where Banks has been rejoined
by Col Knipe's column.

What then for General Jackson? Pursue Fremont and bring on an action near Watsontown? Or switch back through Strasburg and thrust towards Middleton after all? Out comes the die once more and...
Fremont is allowed to escape,  General Banks is the target after all. At 2 p.m. The Union scouts see the Confederates rapidly approaching.  Feeling isolated, with Shields (Tyler) reported to have disappeared beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains, and no word from Fremont, General Banks orders a retreat (determined - you guessed it - by another die roll). 

For the third time that day, the dice rolled against accepting action.  By this time Col Knipe had at last reunited with Banks's command.  Earlier in the day he had 'declined' an action that seemed imminent, but this second approach was a whole new circumstance, requiring a whole new decision. Fortunately Knipe still had enough movement allowed to accompany Banks's retreat to Newtown. The Confederates following up would have caught up with Banks's Division at dusk, but the latter were permitted to drop back an extra short distance (one hex) overnight (the early part of the evening).   

Nightfall: General Banks beats a hasty retreat
 past Newtown, but Jackson is in hot pursuit.   The other
Union columns are distant at least a whole day's march.
Nightfall of 22nd May finds the Union columns, owing to their reluctance to try conclusions with the Army of the Valley, widely scattered. The central column, General Banks's battered Division, is about to be forced once more into an unlooked for battle.

Such has been the remarkable and unexpected outcome of the series of 50-50 propositions, with no combat resulting that day.  The morrow will offer something different.  In contact with Banks. there is no question of splitting the Rebel force into 'rumour' and 'reality'.  General N.P. 'Commissary' Banks will have once more to face the reality.


  1. Most exciting. You have I think caught the essence of what made the Valley campaigns so interesting.
    I tried something similar with Napoleonics, using informed random rolls for deciding operational moves as a way of generating a tabletop action and it was most satisfying. Looking forward to hearing how Banks will fare.

  2. The immediate outlook for General Banks's command isn't looking too flash. But watching this unfiold has been interesting to say the least. I was so expecting a battle west of Strasburg, too!