Review: Shenandoah 1862: Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign


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Cozzens, Peter. Shenandoah 1862: Stonewall Jackson’s Valley CampaignThe University of North Carolina Press (August 22, 2008). 640 pages, illustrations, 13 maps, endnotes, bibliography, index. ISBN: 978-0807832004 $35.00 (Hardcover).

Why do books on the Shenandoah Valley Campaign always seem to focus on Stonewall Jackson and his hard-marching Valley Army at the expense of their Northern foes?  Author Peter Cozzens asked himself this question and sets out to provide a more balanced look at the campaign in the ironically subtitled Shenandoah 1862: Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign.  In doing so, Cozzens uses many new primary sources and comes to some interesting new conclusions than previous works.

Stonewall Jackson took command of the Shenandoah Valley District in late 1861 and was eventually joined by his famous Stonewall Brigade.  While periodically receiving reinforcements, Jackson repeatedly struck the varied Union commands sent to oppose him, none of them operating under one field commander, and in the process tied up many more Union troops than he had.  Jackson’s unexpected attack at on Shields at Kernstown in March 1862 prevented McDowell’s huge corps from joining George McClellan’s Army of the Potomac located in front of Richmond and hoping to end the war by capturing the Confederate capital.  His later victories at Front Royal and Winchester further tied up Federal forces in the Valley.  Despite Jackson’s resounding strategic victory, according to Cozzens his handling of individual battles left something to be desired.  Jackson’s extremely quirky personality also led to some situations with subordinates within his Valley Army, particularly Richard Garnett and William W. Loring.

Peter Cozzens has written extensively on the Civil War and the Indian Wars.  His books on the Civil War’s Western Theater, including No Better Place to Die (Stones River), This Terrible Sound (Chickamauga), The Shipwreck of Their Hopes (Chattanooga), and The Darkest Days of the War (Iuka & Corinth), have all been well received in the Civil War community.  Cozzens is also a biographer of John Pope and has edited two “new” volumes for the Battles & Leaders series.   Shenandoah 1862 is his sixteenth book.  Cozzens works as a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. State Department and is often away overseas for long periods of time.  The author was on the September 19, 2008 episode of Civil War Talk Radio discussing his new book with host Gerry Prokopowicz.  Like any media-savvy author, Cozzens also maintains his own web site with a list of his books and accomplishments.

In the 1970s Robert Tanner wrote Stonewall in the Valley: Thomas J. Stonewall Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign, Spring 1862, a decidedly “Confederate-centric” account of the Shenandoah Valley Campaign.  Until the appearance of Cozzens’ effort no major campaign study of the Valley Campaign of 1862 had been attempted.  At the beginning of Shenandoah 1862 Cozzens specifically mentions that Tanner’s work only offers partial answers due to its one-sided approach to the campaign1.  The author offers his book as a “response” to Tanner.  I thought he mostly succeeded in this regard, but not without some issues of its own.  Cozzens unlike Tanner takes a look at the options available to and the obstacles facing Union commanders.  This method also gives the reader a better idea of why the Federals acted as they did rather than painting them as bumbling, sluggish foils for Jackson and his Valley Army.  As such the book makes a good companion volume to Tanner’s account of the campaign and offers a more nuanced view of the fighting and maneuvering.

The dust jacket to the book promises new interpretations of the campaign and Cozzens delivers in this regard.  First and foremost he gives the Union side of the story equal time to Jackson and his Valley veterans.  He believes that the all but forgotten Union general Frederick Lander might have provided the aggressive leadership necessary to bag Jackson at Port Republic had he lived to command what became James Shields’ division.  He is also sympathetic to the plight of John “The Pathfinder” Fremont and his command from the Mountain Department, believing Lincoln and Stanton did not appreciate the difficulty with which Fremont had to contend as he moved over 50 torturous miles through the mountains in an attempt to trap Jackson.  Cozzens does not think highly of James Shields and details his constant, almost compulsive lying and eagerness to claim glory for himself at the expense of subordinates.  He is also very critical of Alpheus Williams’ handling of Union troops at First Winchester.  Cozzens says President Lincoln was never “panicked” by Jackson’s bold attack at Kernstown or by Banks’ retreat from the Valley, but that Stanton did lose his composure as a result of the latter news.

The two individuals Cozzens focuses on the most, Nathaniel Banks and Stonewall Jackson, deserve a more detailed discussion here.  Cozzens looks at the obstacles facing Nathaniel Banks and his available options in late May 1862 and concludes that Banks did as well as could be expected.  Banks, who was sitting with his main force at Strasburg after being ordered to stay there by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton rather than retire to Winchester, was outnumbered more than 2:1 by Jackson and was essentially left in a vulnerable position by his government.  Despite these difficulties, says Cozzens, Banks managed to save all but 100 wagons of his 550 wagon supply train and kept his army together in what was by all accounts a difficult retreat.  This goes against the traditional view of “Commissary” Banks supplying Jackson’s army with all manner of food, clothing, and ammunition.  Cozzens’s conclusion matches remarkably well with that of Gary Ecelbarger in his recent study of the battles of Front Royal and Winchester2.

Stonewall Jackson, on the other hand, is subjected to a very critical look by the author.  Cozzens believes, rightfully so, that Jackson’s tendency to feed his troops into battle piecemeal cost the general in both results and casualties.  The results at Kernstown and Port Republic are especially called into question.  Cozzens calls Jackson’s orders to Winder at the Battle of Port Republic on June 9, 1862 an “egregious tactical miscue”3.  Jackson would continue to make this mistake going forward.  His tactical maneuvering at Brawner’s Farm just prior to Second Manassas is one such example.  Cozzens also criticizes Jackson for being a hypocrite, a man who was not at all tolerant of what he perceived to be insubordinate actions in subordinates while he himself was willing to practice insubordination if he thought it would result in success.  He is particularly disdainful of Jackson’s tendency to credit victories to “God’s Will” while blaming defeats on subordinates.  A good example is his attempt to sack Richard Garnett after the Battle of Kernstown in March 1862.  Speaking of religion, I got the sense Cozzens was mocking Jackson’s religious beliefs on multiple occasions throughout the book, something I will touch upon a little later in this review.  The author also believes Jackson pushed his men too hard throughout the campaign resulting in a loss of 4000 men due to sickness and fatigue.  To be fair, some of these men would have broken down or become sick regardless of Jackson’s marching habits, especially since many of the members of the Stonewall Brigade had homes nearby.  The last major issue Cozzens had with Jackson was his penchant for secrecy, believing this cost Jackson on more than one occasion and that he narrowly escaped disaster several times as a result.  It also engendered misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and outright hatred among some of his subordinates, especially William Loring during the Romney Campaign.

Cozzens makes three somewhat controversial statements in the course of writing Shenandoah 1862 (hat tip to sfcdan at the History Forums for mentioning this).  First, Cozzens completely castigates Blenker’s entire Union division, composed mostly of Germans, and states in no uncertain terms that these men were little better than robbers and thieves, gleefully stealing from anyone they could find in the Valley4.  I think Cozzens went too far here.  Blenker’s division had not been well supplied in their march west to Fremont’s Mountain Department early in the campaign.  As a result, many of these men had gone hungry and had been poorly equipped for months.  Some also died in the forced march to the Valley in May and June 1862 in an attempt to capture Jackson after the Battle of Winchester.  Too make matters even worse they were harassed by Confederate guerrillas on the way.  While I am sure some and perhaps many of these men were much as Cozzens describes, I do not believe it is fair to characterize Blenker’s entire division this way.  To back up his claim, Cozzens uses quotes from Southern sympathizers in the Valley and from General Milroy, two sources predisposed to hate the German immigrants who made up a large portion of Blenker’s division.  For a somewhat different take from the German-American viewpoint see Christian Keller’s book Chancellorsville and the Germans 5.  Keller’s book is not listed in Cozzens’ extensive bibliography.  Please note that this is more of a simple observation than a criticism.  The bibliography is remarkable in its scope, as you will see.

The second controversial statement is about Southern women taking shots at Union soldiers as they retreated through town after the Battle of Winchester. Cozzens comes down firmly against the residents of Winchester, believing many of them to be guilty of the charges6.  Again, while I believe some Southern leaning ladies did shoot at or otherwise impede Union soldiers, and Cozzens has a large number of primary sources claiming they did, I do not believe this was as widespread as Cozzens makes it out to be.  David Strother, also known as Porte Crayon and considered a traitor by Southern leaning residents of Virginia, had every reason to want to report and believe such behavior.  Surprisingly (to me) Robert Tanner does not seem to contradict what Cozzens wrote, saying citizens helped to mop up Northern pockets of resistance7.  With that said, Tanner’s account does not say this behavior was nearly as widespread as Cozzens’ does.  Another good source of information on the controversy is Ecelbarger’s book on Winchester and Front Royal.  To the claim of a Southern sympathizer that “there was not a gun fired by a lady in town”, Ecelbarger states:

The evidence suggests otherwise.  Few Civil War-era controversies accumulated as many contemporary, first-hand accounts as did this one.  No fewer than sixty-four soldiers registered their observations and complaints against the gun-toting women and civilian men of Winchester.  The testimony is locked in posterity in a variety of contemporary accounts: letters, diaries, after-battle reports, and in a special investigation by the U.S. government entitled “Outrages performed by…”  Clearly, many of the testimonies were embellished; others were complete fabrications (emphasis mine).  However, two soldiers were positively identified as killed by a citizen of Winchester…8

The third controversial set of statements Cozzens makes concerns Jackson’s religious beliefs.  Perhaps I am judging the tone incorrectly, but he repeatedly makes untoward comments throughout the book.  Several such examples follow.  In response to news that Union troops had abandoned Romney, Cozzens writes “[c]learly this was a miracle from God and, as such, must be acted on with all speed.”9  As Banks approached Winchester early in the campaign, Cozzens writes “[r]ather than cause him consternation, the Federals approach had stirred Jackson to a reckless spiritual ecstasy.  He was God’s instrument and as such must prevail.”10  The last comment Cozzens makes which I will share as an example is the following regarding Garnett’s court martial, “But Jackson, who generously accorded the Almighty credit for his victories, was reluctant to accept responsibility for his defeats.”11   These comments were not necessary, at least in the way they were presented, to get the author’s main points across and did little to further the usefulness of the book.

Despite the misgivings about some of Cozzens’ more controversial statements in the book, Shenandoah 1862 is a well-written, informative, and entertaining book.  It seemed shorter than 500 pages of text due to Cozzens’ veteran writing skills.  Cozzens bases his conclusions and interpretations of events on a large array of primary sources, many of which were not used in Tanner’s study of the campaign.  For the first time the Union side of the story is told and told well.  Cozzens is also willing to take a hard look at Stonewall Jackson, and though he is sometimes overly critical (especially his remarks about Jackson’s religious beliefs), in the end we have a more balanced view of the general during this campaign than ever before.  Cozzens concludes that Jackson achieved a major strategic victory despite all of his personal flaws, tying up over 40,000 Federals which should have been earmarked for McClellan’s army in front of Richmond.  The cost to his Valley army was steep however, both due to broken down and exhausted men from Jackson’s overzealous expectations of his army’s endurance and to his tactical blunders.  Cozzens says the North would have benefited greatly from an overall commander in the Valley rather than having civilian leaders Lincoln and Stanton pulling the strings from Washington.  Frederick Lander might have made a huge difference in this campaign if he had remained alive, according to the author.  Other than his attempts to be controversial, I believe Cozzens has maintained his usual high standards in this volume.

The only appendix to the book consists of a set of orders of battle for the various engagements throughout the campaign.  It includes some footnotes which attempt to explain the sometimes confusing shuffle of leaders and regiments which occurred.  More discussion of these changes in the text would have helped to ease this confusion somewhat for readers new to the campaign.  Cozzens uses a dizzying array of unpublished manuscript sources, newspapers, and published primary accounts to truly look at this campaign from the ground up.  This was essential considering all of the myths and legends which have popped up about the Shenandoah Valley Campaign through the ensuing years.  The author should be applauded for going above and beyond in his research.  A serviceable index rounds out the book.

The maps, created by the always reliable George Skoch, were for the most part satisfactory.  I have no major complaints about the battle maps other than to note a small mistake in the map of First Winchester which shows the “45th Pennsylvania” rather than the correct 46th Pennsylvania (hat tip to historicus at History Forums)12.  However, the one strategic level map that appears early on in the book is not nearly enough.  Multiple campaign maps showing the situation at key dates in the campaign would have proven very helpful, especially for those new to this campaign.  The Cross Keys map does not match up all that well with Cozzens’ description of the fighting.  Specifically, Schenck’s brigade is shown attacking while the text makes no mention of this13.

Peter Cozzens sets out to provide a balanced response to Robert Tanner’s Stonewall in the Valley: Thomas J. Stonewall Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign, Spring 1862 and largely succeeds in the attempt.  Shenandoah 1862 works well as a counterbalance to Tanner’s earlier work.  Cozzens’ reliance on a large number of primary sources allows him to reinterpret some commonly held “facts” about the Valley Campaign.  Deep readers will appreciate this thoughtful, nuanced approach to history.  Cozzens’ attempts to counter Turner led to a tendency to be somewhat controversial in spots, perhaps too controversial.  That and the lack of more strategic maps are the two notable shortcomings in an otherwise well-written and researched account of the 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign.    Students of the campaign will find this book essential to furthering their understanding of the events.  Fans of Cozzens’ earlier books on the Western Theater will not be disappointed here.  The book is an important new work giving the Northern perspective while at the same time taking a critical look at Jackson.  This book is highly recommended despite the issues presented in this review.

I would like to thank Gina Mahalek at The University of North Carolina Press.

For more on Shenandoah 1862, check out Drew Wagenhoffer’s review and two part interview with author Peter Cozzens at Civil War Books and Authors.  In the interview Drew touches on several of the controversial topics listed in this review.

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  1. Cozzens, Peter. Shenandoah 1862: Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2008: 1-2
  2. Ecelbarger, Gary. Three Days in the Shenandoah: Stonewall Jackson at Front Royal and Winchester. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2008: 219
  3. Cozzens, Shenandoah 1862, 480
  4. Cozzens, Shenandoah 1862: 420-421, 503
  5. Keller, Christian. Chancellorsville and the Germans: Nativism, Ethnicity, and Civil War Memory. New York: Fordham University Press, 2007: 35-40
  6. Cozzens, Shenandoah 1862: 368-369
  7. Tanner, Robert. Stonewall in the Valley: Thomas J. “Stonewall Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign , Spring 1862. Stackpole Books (1996): 286-287
  8. Ecelbarger, Gary. Three Days in the Shenandoah: Stonewall Jackson at Front Royal and Winchester. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2008: 206-207
  9. Cozzens, Shenandoah 1862: 93
  10. Cozzens, Shenandoah 1862: 138
  11. Cozzens, Shenandoah 1862: 221
  12. Cozzens, Shenandoah 1862: 352
  13. Cozzens, Shenandoah 1862: 470-471


3 responses to “Review: Shenandoah 1862: Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign

  1. elektratig Avatar


    Wow, thanks for a detailed and well-written review. Now I won’t have to read the book!

  2. admin Avatar


    LOL. Trust me, 2800 words < 500 pages! Brett

  3. Jennie W Avatar

    Come visit the Military History Carnival – you’ve been included!

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