The Civil War Connections Blog

The Battle of Front Royal

Hello everyone, and welcome to the good ol’ blog! Today’s tidbit about me is: when I brush my teeth, I feel strongly reminded of a fast version of the tune “Turkey in the Straw.”

Hey! What's going on here?! I don't see ANY straw AT ALL!

 

150 years ago yesterday, the Union and Confederate armies met in battle at Front Royal, Virginia. As a crucial part of General Jackson’s Valley Campaign, the Battle of Front Royal allowed Jackson to attack the Union at Winchester and drive them from the Shenandoah Valley. But before we get too far into the nitty-gritty of the battle, let’s refresh our memories with what had happened in the Valley Campaign before Front Royal, so we can get some context.

The Valley Campaign was when the Union tried to send troops through the Shenandoah Valley to press Richmond from the west and to tie up Confederate forces so they couldn’t help defend their capitol. Jackson had around 18,000 men, while each of the three Union armies Jackson engaged during the campaign had around 20,000 men. On March 23rd, the Confederates were defeated at Kernstown near Winchester, VA, so Jackson just moved back to Staunton. Over a month later, while McClellan was finally starting to march past the fake Confederate defenses and resuming the march to Richmond, Union General Fremont tried to attack the Valley from West Virginia, but Jackson stopped him at the Battle of McDowell on May 8th. Here’s a mildly helpful map!

Notice how this whole time, McClellan is still fiddling around on the small, short Peninsula

 

Ok, so Jackson had repulsed Fremont, but the Union forces under General Banks were still a threat. So Jackson turned his men around, marching from McDowell through Staunton and all the way up to Front Royal in just 15 days. All the marching and re-marching that Jackson did during this campaign earned his soldiers the nickname “foot cavalry,” in reference to the speed and frequency with which they covered ground. This speed was important, because Banks thought Jackson was relaxing in Harrisonburg, and Jackson wanted him to keep thinking that. While Banks let his guard down, Jackson quickly and quietly moved his men up past New Market and through the mini-valley between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Massanutten. As he crept towards the Union forces near Strasburg, he saw his path blocked by a small Union garrison at Front Royal! The only thing to do was…ATTACK!!

No! ATTACK, not... oh, nevermind...

 

The vanguard of the Confederate attack, which included the 1st Maryland, smashed into Union pickets just outside the southern part of town. Interestingly, the pickets belonged to the Union 1st Maryland, from the same area as the Confederate 1st Maryland (article HERE.) After driving off the pickets, the Confederates pushed through the town, fighting as they went, until getting halted by the bulk of the garrison in the north end of town. The Union soldiers were trying to hold two bridges that were essential for crossing the small river that ran across the mini-valley, and when the Confederates pushed them back across those bridges, they tried to set them on fire. Instead of burning the bridges, though, the Union troops were flanked on the far side of the river by Confederate cavalry that had forded the river upstream. Meanwhile, the Confederate infantry in the town put out the fires and crossed the bridges to capture the Union soldiers. Of the Union’s 1,000 man garrison, about 900 men were lost. Of these, about 150 were combat casualties, the rest being captured. The Confederates, on the other hand, only lost about 50 men, all being combat casualties. On paper, this action seems like a big Confederate victory!

Yaay!

 

However, the victory was not as solid as one might think. Although the Confederates destroyed the Union troops, the battle made General Banks aware of the fact that Jackson was not relaxing in Harrisonburg, but was instead very close by with his army, about to attack from the flank. In response, Banks pulled out of his vulnerable position at Strasburg and moved away to the north near Winchester, where more fighting would take place. Jackson may have won the battle, but the fact that it occurred at all meant that he lost the opportunity to trap and smash General Banks at Strasburg. He would have to chance his luck at fighting Banks at Winchester instead, which was two days march to the north.

Well, we won't win this war by standin' around...

 

Well, that’s all for today – tune in later, and I’ll tell you all about the Battle of Winchester! Or not. I could be writing about something else entirely. Anyways, have a good one!