Jackson’s Valley Campaign: The First Battle of Winchester: May 25, 1862. Brandon H. Beck and Charles S. Grunder. Lynchburg, VA: H.E. Howard, Inc. (1992).
111 pp. 8 maps.
Jackson’s Valley Campaign: The First Battle of Winchester: May 25, 1862 is a rather short book at only 111 pages, but First Winchester wasn’t a particularly large battle. Fought on May 25, 1862, it pitted the retreating Union columns of Nathaniel Banks versus the pursuing Confederate under Stonewall Jackson. After Jackson had been defeated at Kernstown earlier in the Valley Campaign, he had moved south and then west to confront Fremont’s Federal advance at the Battle of McDowell. His disappearance from the lower Valley led the Federals to send Shield’s Division east to reinforce McDowell at Fredericksburg, and Nathaniel Banks was left with only Alpheus Williams’ Division at Strasburg. Jackson, recently reinforced by Richard Ewell’s Division, moved north down the Valley and surprised a Federal detachment at Front Royal, ESE of Strasburg and Banks’ defensive position. Roads from both Front Royal and Strasburg led north to Winchester, and as Banks finally realized the danger and retreated on the Valley Pike, Jackson followed him on the parallel Front Royal Road, also moving west to the Valley Pike at Middletown to try to cut off Banks’ retreat. He was mostly unsuccessful, though the Union Army abandoned so many supplies that Jackson’s men dubbed the Federal commander “Commissary” Banks. Banks made another stand in Winchester. Jackson attacked at dawn. Though the attack stalled at first, a successful flank attack conducted by Richard Taylor’s Louisiana Brigade on the Union right drove the Union troops in confusion through the town. Banks never stopped until he crossed the Potomac River, 34 miles north of Winchester. The Battle of Winchester had important consequences. It prevented reinforcements from being sent to George McClellan, then conducting his Peninsula Campaign near Richmond. These reinforcements were instead sent to the Valley to attempt to deal with Jackson.
H. E. Howard Books vary considerably in quality, but this one, though short, looks to be better than average. The book contained several maps that adequately shows the area around Strasburg, Front Royal, and Winchester, though there was only one map each for the Battles of Front Royal and Winchester. The terrain wasn’t modeled very well either. The book contains only 84 pages of text, including two appendices on possible atrocities and a Staff Ride of the area around Winchester. The Battle of Winchester itself is covered in one of the six chapters. I would have liked to have seen more detail, but this book serves as a perfectly fine introduction to the battle. I don’t know of any other book length studies focusing exclusively on First Winchester, so that’s another reason to pick this one up. I’d recommend reading Robert Tanner’s seminal account of the Valley Campaign, Stonewall in the Valley: Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign, Spring 1862, before moving on to the individual battle accounts such as this one. You might have your best luck locating Jackson’s Valley Campaign: The First Battle of Winchester: May 25, 1862 at C. Clayton Thompson’s Civil War Mall online book store. Clayton sells these at around $25 not including shipping.