Jackson’s Valley Campaign: The Battle of McDowell: March 11-May 18, 1862
by Richard L. Armstrong
122 pp., 9 maps
The entries in the Virginia Battles & Leaders Series run the gamut from good to pretty bad. This particular entry was not one of the best, but it did have some redeeming qualities. Stonewall Jackson, after losing a battle at Kernstown on March 23, 1862, spent the next few weeks retreating slowly up the Shenandoah Valley, pursued by Union General Nathaniel Banks. The Federal government eventually believed Jackson had left the Valley entirely, headed for Richmond. Due to this belief, they started shuffling Banks’ forces and others towards Fredericksburg in anticipation of moving this force south to help George McClellan’s attempts to take Richmond. What the Yankees didn’t count on, however, was Jackson’s decision to move west of Staunton, link up with Ed “Allegheny” Johnson’s small Army of the Northwest, and attack Robert Milroy’s Union Brigade near McDowell, Virginia. Robert Schenck, another Union brigadier, was able to force march his brigade to reinforce Milroy at McDowell. After Jackson approached the town on May 8, 1862, Milroy decided to attack. After several hours of fierce fighting, it grew dark. Milroy decided to retreat that night. Jackson followed the retreating Yankees for some time, but eventually he was ordered back to the Valley to prevent banks from reinforcing McClellan. Jackson waged the highly successful Valley Campaign in the month that followed, managing to tie up three times his number of men in the process, and preventing McClellan from receiving badly needed reinforcements.
As I mentioned in the first paragraph, this book, while not one of the best entries in the series, does have some redeeming qualities. First, it is the only book written on the Battle of McDowell. It will have to do until something better on the battle comes along. Second, the book does go down to the regimental level as far as unit strengths go. This makes it especially valuable for wargamers. Third, the maps go down to the regimental level in most cases as well. Lastly, the book has some nice pictures of the McDowell Battlefield from varying eras. Now I need to get to the lesser parts. First, the text had quite a few typos in it. This was not debilitating, but it was certainly annoying. Second, the main overview map of the area is at the very back of the book. It would have made much more sense to place it near the front somewhere in the first chapter. Third, the story was told in a slightly unclear manner. I had a hard time understanding what was going on in some cases, and the text does not fit well with the maps. All in all, I would recommend the book because it is the only monograph on the battle, and because I feel the positives outweigh the negatives. While this is not what can be called a definitive study of the battle of McDowell, it is a book worth owning until said study is written.
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