Book Review: Stonewall Jackson’s Romney Campaign by Thomas M. Rankin

Books On Jackson’s 1862 Valley Campaign (and the Romney Campaign)

This is a review and summary of Thomas M. Rankin’s H.E. Howard “Virginia Civil War Battles and Leaders Series” book entitled Stonewall Jackson’s Romney Campaign: January 1 – February 20, 1862. The book traces Jackson’s unsuccessful campaign to take back some of the northwestern Virginia counties wrested away by George McClellan late in 1861. This is a signed first edition of the book, being number 703 of 1000. It contains 192 pages, with the text going to page 154, the end notes going from page 155-168, the bibliography occupying pages 169-174, and the index taking up the balance. There are only two maps, but since no major fighting occurred, I at first thought that this wasn’t ruinous. However, with the way the book is written, many more maps with at least some detail are really needed for a person to make complete sense of the Campaign.

In his first chapter, Rankin sets the stage with a brief overview of the war in Virginia up to January 1, 1862. He proceeds to show how, after becoming famous during the First Battle of Manassas, Jackson and his “Stonewall” Brigade became protectors of the Shenandoah Valley. Immediately after receiving his brigade, a battery of artillery, and a regiment of cavalry, Jackson asked the Confederate government for some of General William Loring’s Army of the Northwest operating in the Allegheny Mountains west of Staunton. The C.S. Government left it up to “Blizzards” Loring to decide how many troops of his three brigades to send to Jackson. Amazingly, he sent them all and accompanied them himself! Rankin recounts how Jackson’s march to Romney and back was made in extremely harsh weather, and that the troops involved came out of it with their confidence in their commander greatly shaken, especially Loring’s former Army. Rankin prepares to recount the Campaign in detail, noting that Romney changed hands almost 60 times during the war, second only to Winchester in this category.

Rankin next describes the early phases of the war near the town of Romney and in the Shenandoah Valley farther to the east. He recounts Jackson’s rise to command of the Rebel forces assembling at Harper’s Ferry, and how Jackson was superseded by Joe Johnston and commanded the First Brigade of Johnston’s Army of the Shenandoah. General Robert Patterson’s Army of 90-day Pennsylvania volunteers opposed Johnston’s men. The various movements of Johnston and Patterson near Harper’s Ferry, Bunker Hill, and Winchester are described, with Johnston of course moving off in his famous march to reach the battlefield of First Bull Run in time to save the day. Jackson’s men then played a major role in the fighting there. The chapter ends with the 7th Virginia Cavalry (soon to be Turner Ashby’s Cavalry) heading back to the Valley because it is in danger of being overrun by Federals.

Before First Manassas the Confederates that were to become Loring’s Army of the Northwest had a rough go of it. Rankin describes in detail the formation and assignment of various regiments, battalions, and companies to this force. He then recounts the disastrous results of their attempts to hold of a much larger Union force advancing from Parkersburg under George McClellan. Union victories at Rich Mountain and in a skirmish at Corrick’s Ford forced the Confederates to precipitously retreat east and southeast towards Staunton. Confederate General Robert Garnett lost his life at Corrick’s Ford, the first General on either side to do so. As a result, in late July 1861, almost 10 regiments of infantry and William Loring were sent to Monterey, Virginia as reinforcements. Robert E. Lee himself went with them.

After reinforcements came up, Loring’s Army of the Northwest consisted of about 11,500 men in 6 brigades, separated into one Division of four brigades and one Division of two brigades. The Union forces facing them had a strength of about 12,400. Loring’s Army established fortifications along the Greenbrier River, a little over 10 miles from the Union stronghold at Cheat Mountain. General William S. Rosecrans, now in command after McClellan had been called to Washington, snuck away from this front with the majority of his troops, joined Cox in the Kanawha Valley, and tried to overwhelm former Virginia Governors Wise and Floyd. The Confederates fought the Union to a standstill at Carnifix Ferry, but the superior Union numbers forced them to retreat. Lee ordered Loring to send a part of his Army off the Northwest to the rescue, and Loring did so. Rosecrans decided to retreat after a standoff of a few days. Then Loring moved his Army back to its old location facing Cheat Mountain. Rankin writes at this point that West Virginia’s citizens voted on October 21, 1861 to secede from Virginia and remain loyal to the United States. He mentions that the military might of Rosecrans’ troops then positioned in this area assured the reality of West Virginia’s secession. He concludes by mentioning events had caused Romney, 80 odd miles north on Loring’s flank and near the B&O Railroad, to become strategically important.

Rankin continues to set the stage for the coming Romney Campaign by mentioning exactly why Romney had become so strategically important. It was in the center of the weak spot in the Confederate strategic defense line. Shanks Evans’ Brigade of Johnston’s Rebel Army of the Potomac held its far left along the Potomac River almost to Harper’s Ferry, while Loring’s men extended northward as far as the headwaters of the south branch of the Potomac. McDonald’s Cavalry regiment and some militia held the long line in between with some 650 men total. To oppose this force, the Union had the Divisions of Banks and Stone, along with some men from the force that had been raised in Ohio and extreme western Virginia earlier. In this chapter, Rankin relates how Kelley’s Union men advanced on Romney from New Creek, around 18 miles away. They managed to take the town briefly, and burned an inflammatory newspaper’s presses, before heading back to New Creek. Rankin also mentions that the Federals launched raids into Harper’s Ferry to collect wheat that had been gathered there after the harvest. Ashby’s Cavalry, assisted by Evans’ Brigade, attempted to drive them out, but failed due to lack of men. This is also about the time when the Battle of Ball’s Bluff occurred. Stone’s Division tried a reconnaissance in force against Evans’ Brigade and the Confederates soundly thrashed the Yanks and caused almost 1,000 casualties to a force of roughly 1700 men. Towards the end of the chapter, Rankin relates how many prominent Confederate politicians were clamoring for more men and a solid General to prevent the Union from caving in the line at Romney. But it was too late. Kelley again advanced and took Romney with a force of 2000 men late in the year. 2000 more were added and the Northerners looked like they would bed down in Romney for the winter. It was at this point that Stonewall Jackson and his men would enter the Valley.

The new Valley District was created in late October 1861 and Stonewall Jackson was placed in command. He initially had very few troops, only the 7th Virginia Cavalry (now under Turner Ashby, as McDonald had been incapacitated) and some militia regiments. Jackson’s main aims were to keep a foothold on the B&O Railroad to prevent its uninterrupted use by the Federals, and also to retake as much of western Virginia as possible, in order to bring those counties back into the fold. He correctly estimated that the Union had 4000 men at Romney, and after petitioning the Confederate war department, he was promised the use of 6000 of Loring’s men from the Army of the Northwest, and was also given his old Stonewall Brigade along with the Rockbridge (VA) Artillery. Loring’s men could be used because the mountain passes they guarded were virtually impassible in winter. Jackson also organized three new batteries from existing infantry companies, Chew’s, Carpenter’s, and Cutshaw’s Virginia batteries to be exact. One of Jackson’s first orders was for a militia Brigade to reoccupy Bath and also to tear up some of the tracks of the B&O. Jackson also sent out scouts to estimate the layout of Romney and the defenses the Federals had prepared there. As Jackson completed his plans to advance on Romney, he was still waiting for word on whether or not he was going to be allowed to use Loring’s Army.

As winter came on, Loring was told to hold 4500 men near the Greenbrier River, and march the rest back to Staunton to await further orders. Rankin’s writing in this chapter was rather confusing due to the lack of adequate maps in this book. He often goes down to the regimental level in describing which troops were where, and which were ordered to other places. However, due to no maps depicting troop movements, one is forced to remember everything and it becomes an impossible task. From what I could gather, Jackson had not yet been told whether he was to be reinforced by part, all, or even any of Loring’s Army, and he began to wonder exactly what he would get for his fledgling Army of the Valley beyond his Stonewall Brigade, the 7th Virginia Cavalry, and his four batteries of artillery. Loring and Secretary Benjamin were ordering the same men to different places, and this caused momentary confusion.

Jackson was so concerned at developments that he wrote a letter directly to Judah Benjamin describing his plan (for those who know a little about Jackson, that did not happen often) and asking that Loring’s troops be immediately sent his way in Winchester. Benjamin forwarded Jackson’s letter to Loring and asked him to decide whether to come to Jackson’s aid or defend the mountain passes with, due to the nature of the mountain passes and roads in winter, what would be way more men than needed, or to hold the passes with an adequate force and march to join Jackson. Somewhat surprisingly, Loring agreed to join Jackson’s Romney expedition with a good portion of his troops, but told Benjamin he needed time to prepare, say a few weeks. Benjamin however, fearful that the Federals intended to make a serious push all along the line of the Potomac River, ordered Loring’s entire Army to move to Winchester as quickly as possible. Loring, swayed by Edward Johnson, left Johnson’s Brigade behind to guard the passes to Staunton, called up militia to help in that regard, and took the remainder of his Army toward Winchester and Jackson as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, Jackson continued to wait impatiently for this force to arrive.

Taliaferro’s Brigade was the first of Loring’s troops to reach Winchester in early December. Gilham’s and Anderson’s Brigades followed through the middle of the month. Rankin states that Jackson was unwilling to simply wait for Loring to appear, and he sent the Stonewall Brigade and some militia to Dams 4 and 5 on the Potomac, to try to staunch the flow of water to the C&O Canal. He faced what amounted to a Brigade of Banks’ Division in early December. He succeeded in partially breaking one of the canals, but the breach was repaired quickly and did no lasting damage. While this was happening, Edward Johnson showed that he was right to want to remain to guard Staunton. The Federals at Cheat Mountain got wind of Loring’s withdrawal, and they attacked Johnson on the Greenbrier River on December 12, 1861. Johnson held, and the Federals were forced to retreat. As Loring reached Winchester, Jackson proposed that Loring’s Army of the Northwest be restyled the First Division of the Army of the Valley, but Loring protested. At this point, Jackson did not press the issue and allowed the current nomenclature to stand. As the year of 1861 came to an end, Jackson prepared his own troops, plus the approximately 7900 men Loring had brought with him and prepared to move on Romney. He continued to petition Benjamin to send him Johnson’s Brigade as well, but the recent attack on Johnson meant that Jackson would not have these men available for the foreseeable future.

Jackson set out from Winchester on the first day of 1862. Instead of heading directly for Romney as many expected, he took a large detour north to Bath in order to make sure the Federals of Banks’ Division north of the Potomac did not unite with Kelley’s Federals at Romney to the southwest. Jackson wanted to defeat the Union forces in detail. Bath was a good place to go to accomplish this objective. During the march Jackson and Loring were not exactly friendly, and Loring was aggravated that Jackson would not tell him anything of his plans. Loring’s men also had difficulties on the march when Jackson ordered them to march at night before they were able to cook supper. The resulting confusion and discomfort did little to endear Jackson to Loring’s Army and to Loring himself. By January 3, Jackson was nearing Bath. It was held by a few companies of the 39th Illinois, and was later that day reinforced by two Pennsylvania regiments. The Northerners numbered 1500 men, while Jackson’s Army, in three wings converging on Bath, numbered 8500. As the chapter ends, Rankin comments that Jackson expected an easy time of taking Bath the next day.

As snow fell on January 4, 1862, Jackson pushed his men forward toward Bath, the militia from the west, Loring’s Army from the south, Ashby’s Cavalry from the east, and the Stonewall Brigade bringing up the rear. After heavy skirmishing, the Federals fell back in various directions to the Great Cacapon Bridge, Sir John’s Run, and Hancock. The militia failed to cut off the Federal retreat. There was fighting at the Great Cacapon Bridge, and an ambush on the way north to Hancock. After the ambush, the Federals frantically crossed over the Potomac north into the town of Hancock itself. Jackson wanted to have his men wade the frigid Potomac, but his subordinates talked him out of it. After this, Jackson pulled back and camped for the night. The men of Loring’s Army and the militia suffered greatly in the snow, but the Stonewall Brigade was very comfortable, remaining behind in the town of Bath. The men assigned to the destruction of the Great Cacapon Bridge failed in that task, and Hancock remained in the hands of the Federals, so Jackson’s men still had work to do the next day.

Jackson’s men completed the destruction of the Great Cacapon Bridge on January 5, and Jackson demanded the surrender of Hancock by General Lander. Lander, knowing that most of Banks’ Division was on the way to reinforce the town, refused. Jackson knew that taking Hancock was not worth the loss in men it would require, and he pulled back after carrying as many abandoned Federal supplies with him as possible and tearing up a few miles of the B&O Railroad along the southern side of the Potomac River. Also, the Rebel wagon trains finally caught up, and the men had at least some shelter from the terrible cold. While all of this was going on, Johnson’s Brigade of Loring’s Army was again being attacked, and Huntersville was raided after the militia assigned to guard the town was driven off. Since all of this was happening over 200 miles southwest of Loring, he could not send reinforcements. Those would have to come from elsewhere while he and his men followed Jackson to Romney. And on January 7, that is exactly where Jackson was planning to march.

Jackson’s troops marched slowly and with difficulty on the icy roads south to Unger’s Store between January 9 and 10. He remained there until the 12th. During this stopover, Gilham went back to VMI to teach, and Burks took over his Brigade. At this point in the Campaign, Rankin states that Jackson had around 8000 men total, but that some of these were probably back in Winchester because of sickness and disability. Loring’s men’s resentment of Jackson grew, as they felt that Jackson gave preferential treatment to the Stonewall Brigade, his “pet lambs”. The Campaign had so far taken quite a toll in both body and mind through the Confederate ranks. In the meantime, Lander had immediately moved from Hancock southwest to Romney once Jackson had retreated from the former place. The Yankees also sent a detachment east from Romney and routed some Confederate militia at Hanging Rock, about halfway between Romney and Winchester. The news did not alarm Jackson too much, as he was going to be heading for Romney soon anyway on a slightly more northern road. Lander meanwhile, having taken over the Romney garrison after arriving from Hancock, decided to retreat and guard the B&O Railroad. He reasoned that it made no sense to hole up in Romney while the Confederates ripped up the vital railroad to his north and northeast. He did not realize that Jackson’s goal was Romney, and did not intend to raid the railroad at that point. Once Jackson heard Romney had been abandoned, he ordered the militia from Hanging Rock forward, and he set January 13 as the day he would move forward from Unger’s Store on the second leg of his push towards Romney, the final destination of his campaign.

Thirty-seven miles separated Unger’s Store from Romney, and it took Jackson’s men the better part of five days to entirely reach Romney. Garnett’s Stonewall Brigade left on January 13, and reached Romney on January 15. By January 18, the rest of the Army was near or in Romney as well. Jackson wanted to move west, northwest, and north, and attack several vulnerable railroad bridges, but the condition of his Army was not good. The bitter cold and the other winter conditions had felled many men. Loring’s troops were almost on the verge of mutiny, and Jackson realized that he could accomplish no more. He proposed to leave Loring’s men in Romney for the winter, and he moved Garnett’s Stonewall Brigade back to Winchester. He had militia covering the routes into Loring’s rear from the north along the line of the Potomac, and the Stonewall Brigade would act as a reserve. That was his plan anyway, but he did not count on the subsequent actions of William Loring.

Loring’s men in Romney felt they had been used and abused by Jackson, while his “pet lambs” in the Stonewall Brigade were treated with kid gloves. They stewed in Romney while Jackson’s Brigade was in comfortable quarters near Winchester. The officers of Burks’ and Taliaferro’s Brigades, led by Samuel Fulkerson and General Taliaferro, drafted a petition to Loring protesting their placement at Romney for the winter. They believed that their men, if left there all winter, would not want to reenlist the next spring when their yearlong initial enlistment was up. Loring forwarded copies of this letter to Jackson and to Secretary of War Benjamin. Jackson did not forward his copy, but kept it for his personal records. Meanwhile, officers of Loring’s Army on leave in Richmond complained directly to anyone who would listen, including Benjamin and Jefferson Davis himself. Benjamin sent Colonel Lay to see what the situation was like, and Hunter McGuire, Jackson’s chief surgeon, reported that the men weren’t in any worse shape than other troops in other areas. In fact, many of Loring’s men sent back to Winchester hadn’t had anything wrong with them! Lay reported back that the whining by Loring’s men was worse than they really had it. Also, Barton, the engineer for the Valley Army, concluded that the large number of good roads leading into Romney, along with the large numbers of Federal troops opposing Loring, made it necessary for Loring to fall back. After this report reached Benjamin, he ordered Jackson to pull Loring back. Jackson, extremely angry at this interference, asked to be relieved from command. Also, many in the Winchester area believed his campaign had been foolhardy considering the weather conditions and the results achieved. Jackson was at one of his lowest points in the war.

Besides resigning, Jackson also wrote to Governor Letcher and General Johnston. He contacted Letcher to try to get reassigned to VMI, and he complained to Johnston that the order by Secretary Benjamin did not go through proper channels and was detrimental to the cause. Johnston agreed with Jackson, and he complained to Jefferson Davis. Jackson also preferred charges against General Loring and Colonel Gilham. After some consideration by President Davis, both sets of charges were dropped. Jackson agreed to stay on after much persuasion by friends, admirers, and General Johnston himself. He still was adamant that Benjamin’s interference was uncalled for and improper. Stonewall also believed that his entire Campaign had been ruined by the order. After Loring’s men were back at Winchester, Davis had most of the regiments of Loring’s Army sent to various places, including Knoxville, Aquia Landing in Virginia, and Johnston’s main army, so that their resentment of Jackson would not be harmful to the cause.

Loring was promoted, called to Richmond, and would be reassigned elsewhere. The Federals under Lander advanced to retake Romney and moved eastward, but Lander died not long after the Romney Campaign and General Shields too his place. Banks’ Division repaired Cacapon Bridge and the railroad tracks leading to Hancock and then on to Harper’s Ferry. Jackson, knowing the danger he faced, kept the Virginia regiments of Loring’s Army around Winchester, and kept all of Loring’s artillery. Burks’ old Brigade remained intact, and the two Virginia regiments of Taliaferro’s Brigade were made into a small Brigade commanded by Samuel Fulkerson. Rankin writes that Jackson lost all he had gained by the end of the Romney Campaign, but he also stresses that from this exertion the men of Jackson’s Valley Army would rise up and provide stunning victories in the upcoming Valley Campaign.

I did not particularly like this book. I wanted to owing to the fact that I did not know much if anything about this campaign before reading the book, but the extreme lack of good maps (there were only two, and neither can even be described as adequate) combined with the extreme detail made this book very hard to follow. If you have read any of my other reviews, you probably know that I typically want as much detail as humanly possible, but this book did not seem to use information in any kind of enlightening way. Rankin’s text would have gone pretty well with numerous detailed maps showing troop positions on certain days, and the individual marches and skirmishes throughout the campaign. This book, like most other H.E. Howard offerings I have purchased, seems to be lacking in the proofreading department. Especially annoying was the tendency of the author (or the editor) to misspell the word vicinity as “vacinity”. The notes are sufficient, although I have definitely seen better bibliographies. Finally, a useful OOB of the various units on both sides wouldn’t have hurt, especially since Rankin repeatedly goes down to the regimental level when describing certain events. Since this is the only book I’m aware of which covers the Romney Campaign, I feel I must reluctantly recommend it. But if you have to make a choice, and that choice is between this and other, better books, I’d look elsewhere.

© Copyright Brett Schulte 2005. All rights reserved.

Check out Beyond the Crater: The Petersburg Campaign Online for the latest on the Siege of Petersburg!





2 responses to “Book Review: Stonewall Jackson’s Romney Campaign by Thomas M. Rankin”

  1. Mike Koepke Avatar
    Mike Koepke

    You’re timing is perfect on this post. The Winter 2006 issue of Blue & Grey I just received in the mail yesterday covers Jackson’s Romney Campaign!

  2. Drew Wagenhoffer Avatar

    Thanks for the review, Brett. Rick Sauers wrote a book about Romney in the CW. Looks like it has only a 100 pages or less of text, though. Maybe someone who’s read it will comment on its quality here.

    I’ve been looking forward to the Romney B&G issue. Now that you’ve got yours, Mike, looks like mine will arrive soon.

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