First Battle of Kernstown

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First Battle of Kernstown
Part of the American Civil War
DateMarch 23, 1862 (1862-03-23)
Location
Result Union tactical victory, Confederate strategic victory
Belligerents
United States United States (Union) Confederate States of America CSA (Confederacy)
Commanders and leaders
Nathan Kimball Stonewall Jackson
Strength
8,500 (estimated)[a][3] 3,800 (estimated)[a][3]
Casualties and losses
590 total
118 killed
450 wounded
22 captured or missing[a][4]
737 total
139 killed
312 wounded
286 captured or missing[a][4]

The First Battle of Kernstown was fought on March 23, 1862, in Frederick County and Winchester, Virginia during the American Civil War.[4] Confederate General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson's Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862 was generally a success.[3] However, the First Battle of Kernstown was one his few defeats.[3]

Background[change | change source]

At the beginning of 1862, President Abraham Lincoln wanted his generals to attack in force against the Confederacy.[5] McClellan was massing his army for his Peninsula Campaign with the goal of capturing the Confederate capital of Richmond and ending the war. To do this McClellan had to weaken his forces protecting Washington, D.C..[5] This left only two Union forces to protect Washington. Besides Banks in the Shenandoah Valley, General Irwin McDowell had forces in Northern Virginia.[5] Banks was to clear the Shenandoah Valley of Confederate forces then move up towards Washington so McDowell's force of 30,000 to move against Richmond from the north.[6] Banks left General James Shields with a force of about 9,000 in the Valley while he would move east to Manassas, Virginia, to be closer to Washington, D.C.[6]

Stonewall Jackson was given the task of keeping the Federal Army busy in the Valley so they could not join McClellan.[7] Jackson's cavalry commander, Colonel Turner Ashby, learned that part of the Union forces were leaving the valley and only a small force remained.[b][7]

Skirmish, March 22[change | change source]

Jackson gave Ashby permission to attack while he moved the remainder of his forces up to join Ashby.[7] Unfortunately, Ashley's information was bad. While the Confederates thought they were attacking only four regiments (totalling about 3,000 men), there were actually about three times that number of Union soldiers.[10] The remaining Union troops remained out of sight during the skirmish.[10] General Shields was wounded in the fighting and turned command of the Union division over to Colonel Nathan Kimball.[3]

Battle, March 23[change | change source]

At about nine o'clock on the morning of March 23, Ashby's cavalry attacked. Kimball was not certain if this was another skirmish or the start of a battle. But just in case, he placed his forces in a strong defensive position on Pritchard Hill.[3] He placed his artillery there as well. On seeing this, Jackson concentrated his artillery on Sandy Ridge, west of Prichard Hill.[3] At about three-thirty, Jackson could see from Sandy Ridge that what he thought was a small Union force was actually much bigger.[3] Jackson told one of his officers "We are in for it."[3]

Kimball, believing he was up against a much larger Confederate force, decided to silence the Confederate guns on Sandy Ridge.[3] His attack was met with strong resistance from the Confederates and the battle soon became a stalemate.[3] Jackson kept sending in more Confederate troops, but he could not drive the Union line back.[3] Kimball still had fresh reserves he could send into the battle. By six o'clock the Confederates were running low on ammunition and were nearly exhausted. When one of his brigades ran out of ammunition completely, they had to withdraw from the battle.[10] The Union army attacked through the gap they left and Jackson's entire force had to quickly retreat.[10]

Notes[change | change source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 All Civil War casualty numbers are approximate, no matter what the source.[1] Three types of documents were used to estimate casualties. These were: enlistment rolls, muster rolls and casualty lists.[1] Aside from spelling and other errors, many of these were subjected to the weather, lost or damaged.[1] Many Confederate records were destroyed by the end of the war leaving Union numbers the more accurate of the two estimates.[1] To give some idea of how widely varied the numbers can be, estimates for the total number of those killed and wounded in the American Civil War range from 640,000 to 800,000.[2]
  2. At the start of the American Civil War, neither the North or the South had a centralized intelligence-gathering service.[8] Information was gathered at the local level and battlefield commanders had to find ways of gathering their own intelligence.[8] What American officers did know about intelligence was learned from history.[8] Frederick the Great wrote: "It is pardonable to be defeated, but not to be taken by surprise".[8] In this case, Ashby was able to talk to civilians in the area and learned that Shields' division was planning to completely leave the Valley.[9] At the time of the skirmish, several of Ashby's men said they saw only a few tents and that there were no enemy soldiers in nearby Winchester.[9] Unfortunately for Jackson, this information was all false.[9]

References[change | change source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 "Civil War Casualties". Civil War Trust. Retrieved 8 September 2016.
  2. "Civil War Casualties". HistoryNet. Retrieved 8 September 2016.
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 "Kernstown". Civil War Trust. Retrieved 8 September 2016.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Kati Singel. "The Battle of Kernstown". Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Retrieved 8 September 2016.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Richard Donegan. "The 7th OVI at The Battle of Kernstown—March, 1862". Oberlin Heritage Center. Retrieved 8 September 2016.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Spencer Tucker, Almanac of American Military History, Volume 1 (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2013), p. 872
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 "First Battle of Kernstown". Cedar Creek & Belle Grove National Historic Park, Virginia. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. Retrieved 8 September 2016.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Edward J. Glantz, 'Guide to Civil War Intelligence', The Intelligencer; Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies, Volume 18, Number 2 (Winter/Spring 2011), p. 55
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Jonathan A. Noyalas. ""Like a Wind from the Mountains": Stonewall Jackson's 1862 Valley Campaign". Essential Civil War Curriculum. Virginia Center for Civil War Studies at Virginia Tech. Retrieved 8 September 2016.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 "1862; Jackson is defeated at Kernstown". This Day in History. A&E Television Networks, LLC. Retrieved 8 September 2016.

Other websites[change | change source]