The unrelenting heat and humidity that had punished his soldiers for several days now was bad enough, but Confederate Maj. Gen. Richard S. Ewell had another reason to grumble on the morning of August 9, 1862: He still wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do that day. « I do not know whether we will march north, south, east or west, or whether we will march at all, » he told one of his chaplains, exasperation In his voice. « General Jackson has simply ordered me to have [my] division ready to move at dawn. » His troops to get the better of banks again

Ewell had experienced similar moments of uncertainty earlier that spring while fighting under Stonewall Jackson In the Shenandoah Valley. Though It was difficult to question Jackson’s tactical brilliance In battle, the general had the maddening habit of keeping his subordinates In the dark about his plans as he prepared to fight. And while that hadn’t hurt the Confederates during their run of success In April and May, « Old Bald Head » Ewell preferred a more structured style of command. He wasn’t ready to shrug off his commander’s eccentricities just yet.

But any complaints Ewell might have had about Jackson’s unorthodoxy quieted by nightfall, as Jackson had recorded another unlikely victory over a strong Union opponent–this time at Cedar Mountain, Va. It wasn’t graceful by any stretch of the imagination, and the Rebels faced certain defeat at one point, but Jackson had again found the right combinations to prevail.


Had been brewing for several weeks, the result of Robert E. Lee’s efforts to foil Union Maj. Gen. John Pope’s campaign to capture Richmond through Culpeper County, Va. Pope, commanding the new 50,000-man Army of Virginia, hoped to accomplish what Maj. Gen. George McClellan couldn’t during his recent Peninsula Campaign.

Pope’s opening target was the Important rail town of Gordonsville, a prime staging point for an attack on Richmond. Lee reacted quickly, sending Jackson and the Army of Northern Virginia’s 14,000-man Left Wing to defend the town on July 13. Two weeks later, he sent Jackson 10,000 more troops under Maj. Gen. A.P. Hill, a move that paid immediate dividends.

Jackson soon learned the Union force preparing to strike Gordonsville was spread thin between Sperryville in the Blue Ridge Mountains and Falmouth, near Fredericksburg. In early August, Franz Sigel’s I Corps and Irvin McDowell’s III Corps were to march to Culpeper to join Nathaniel Banks’ II Corps for a grand sweep on Gordonsville, 26 miles to the south. It was deja vu for Jackson. In the Shenandoah Valley, he had repeatedly caught the Federals off guard with quick strikes on isolated forces, and he believed the same strategy would work now. He’d first attack and crush Banks–his primary victim in the Valley–then Sigel and McDowell in turn.


On August 7, a day after Banks crossed into Culpeper County, Jackson started moving. The armies’ immediate enemy was the unbearable midsummer heat. With temperatures hovering near 100 degrees, a number of soldiers passed out from heat stroke and a few died. The Confederates’ progress was particularly slow. A communication mishap the night of August 7–mostly Jackson’s fault, though he never admitted it–limited the three Rebel divisions to marches of only 8, 4 and 2 miles on August 8. The next morning, Jackson wrongly feared that the gap between Banks’ force and his own was still too wide to make up for at least one more day.

Union cavalry had alerted Pope that a Rebel force was heading his way. He had Banks establish a defensive line near Cedar Mountain, about 6 miles from Culpeper, and ordered Sigel to rush forward reinforcements. He cautioned Banks not to bring on a general engagement until Sigel arrived, but Banks, still feeling the sting of his Valley ignominy, clearly wanted to fight. When Brig. Gen. Jubal Early’s Brigade appeared in front of him about noon to lead Ewell’s advance, Banks welcomed him with artillery fire.

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