Following in Jacksons' Footsteps

by Tom Kelley

This article was originally published in The Civil War News in 1994.

In a peaceful and bucolic setting about one hour from Washington, D.C. or Richmond, VA, lies the land over which Stonewall Jackson lead 24,000 troops in an acclaimed and fabled maneuver still studied by military historians today. Many of the miles and locations remain virtually the same, with only the addition of asphalt and power lines to demarcate time changes. Some review of events leading up to this historic march will help the reader in appreciating the military importance of Jacksons' feat (or feet).

Following McClellans' failures around Richmond in June 1862, the federal forces lay bottled up at Harrrisons' Landing on the James River, and scattered above the Rappohannock River in Central Virginia. On June 26, 1862, John Pope was named by President Lincoln as Commander of a new federal army -- the Army of Virginia. The AOV combined the Mountain Department of John C. Fremont, Banks' Department of the Shenandoah, and McDowells' Department of the Rappohannock. Fremont detested Pope, and requested to be relieved on June 27. Fremont was replaced by Sigel, who now commanded Fremonts' 13,200 troops. Banks commanded 12,100 and McDowells' forces numbered 19,300. Including 5,800 cavalry troops, Popes' AOV fielded more then 50,000 troops, and was about equal to the total force of Lees' Army of Northern Virginia, based on Official Records information.

Pope began his initial actions near Madison C.H. and Culpeper C.H., disseminating his forces on a line about equal to the line of the Rapidan River. This activity caused Lee to send Jacksons' and Ewells' divisions to Gordonsville on July 13. After Lee ascertained that "Ol' Do Nothing" McClellan was not a threat at Harrisons' Landing, he dispatched A.P. Hill to Gordonsville as well. Pope strengthened his forces at Sperryville and Culpeper, and Confederate activity caused Gen. Bayard to withdraw his forces from below Culpeper to Cedar Mountain, where he was meet, according to Popes' plans, by Crawfords' Brigade from the Second Corps. At the same time, Gen. Buford was withdrawing his forces from Sperryville to Culpeper in the face of rebel demonstrations in the area.

The movements of rebel forces north on a line which equals the course of modern U.S. Route 15, combined with a planned concentration of federal forces in the Culpeper area, resulted in the Battle of Cedar Mountain in the afternoon of August 9. The battle involved 3 divisions on each side. After the battle, the reinforcement of the federal forces caused the victorious Jackson to withdraw to a line south of the Rapidan. In response to these federal reinforcements, Longstreet joined Jackson in Gordonsville on August 15.

Popes' line now centered on Cedar Mountain, and ran from Raccoon Ford on the east to Summersville Ford on the west. Lees' forces were behind a low ridge south of the Rapidan, and Lee was planning to use the ridge to shield a movement to his left to attack Popes' right. However, Popes cavalry captured J.E.B. Stuarts' Adjutant General, and his papers, on August 16 before Lee could act. Pope judiciously withdrew to the north of the Rappohannock by August 19. In a famed retaliation raid on August 22 - 23, Stuart rode completey around Pope and learned from captured dispatches that Pope was to be reinforced by 15,000 more men, tipping the scales in favor of the federal forces.

Lee then adopted one of his famous "divide and conquer" strategies. He ordered Jackson, with 24,000 men, to sweep around Popes' right on the west and "interrupt" Popes' line of communication with the federal capital. And here, our retracing begins.

Interested readers may follow the same roads that Jackson and his men followed in August 1862, in a short two or three hour tour of this historic landscape. The author recommends driving at a leisurely pace to enjoy the visual beauty of this route. And great is the reward for the reader who hikes through Thoroughfare Gap on a cool summer morn. Jackson was lead by the Black Horse Cavalry, a group of men born and raised in Faquier County and familiar with the roads and terrain Jackson would transverse, who had just returned from Stuarts Ride Around Pope only days before. On August 25, Jackson left Jeffersonton on the south side of the Rapidan River in Culpeper County and proceded northwest to Amissville, in the eastern corner of Rappohannock County. Just north of Amissville, Jacksons' force crossed the Rappohannock and passed through Orlean. Many of the river fords in this area are on private property. Our retracing tour, begins at the intersection of US Rt 211 and Va Rt. 627, less then 10 miles south of Warrenton, VA. Taking Rt. 627 north for 1.4 miles, you will come to a one-lane bridge crossing the Rappohannock River. Below to the left and right you will see traces of the old paths which lead to the fords Jacksons' troops took on the morning of August 25. There is also a historical marker commemorating these fords as the beginning of Stuarts' Ride. After crossing the Rappohannock River bridge, you will proceed less then one-half mile to Va Rt 688. To the west on Rt 688 is a historical marker commemorating the events of the Second Manassas campaign.

Following the present day route of Virginia Route 688 northwest through Orlean but a short distance, Jacksons path turns north on what is today Virginia Route 732. At the intersection of modern Va Rts 732, 733 and 738, Jackson turned west (left) and traveled one-third mile to the intersection of what is today Va Rts 733 and 647. Jackson and his men proceeded north (right) on what is today Va Rt 647 to Salem (now Marshall), Virginia. As you drive through this area, you will notice that Rappohannock Mountain and Pignut Mountain, to the east, shield this passage from observation from the east. Using the terrain to his advantage, Jackson was able to press on unnoticed. Rt 647 crosses above US Rt 66, then intersects with Va Rt 55. Here Jackson turned east towards destiny.

Jackson rested his force on the Thoroughfare Gap Road (present day Virginia Route 55) in Salem (now Marshall), for it was now past midnight. Early on the morning of August 26, Jackson started his men for Thoroughfare Gap, five miles to the east of Salem on what is today Va Rt 55. Passing swiftly through that gorge, Jackson and his force continued east through Haymarket to Gainesville (stay on Rt 55), and thence to Bristoe Station on the Manassas Gap RR. The modern appearance of the route changes abruptly in Gainesville. Huge metal buildings and industrial parks block the route from Gainesville to Bristoe Station and Manassas Jct., so here our tracing ends. The reader is encouraged to continue his or her investigation in this area at leisure, perhaps on a different day.

After arriving in Bristoe Station, the first terminus of the Manassas Gap RR west of Manassas Jct., Gen. Trimble requested permission to take his brigade down ten more miles of trackbed to capture the federal stores at Manassas Junction, the intersection of the Orange & Alexandria and Manassas Gap Railroads. Late on the evening of August 27, Trimbles' force successfully siezed that crossroads after token resistance.

Jackson had now accomplished the impossible. In two days, he had transferred his entire force of 24,000 men 51 miles (54 miles in 40 hours by some accounts), and at the end of that journey, successfully cut his enemys' link with the capital! On the following day, Jackson brought up the Divisions of A.P. Hill and Taliaferro to Manassas Junction, leaving Ewells' Division at Bristoe Station.

The importance of this maneuver can not be overemphasized. Jacksons' lightening movement guaranteed federal failure at Second Manassas and Chantilly. Lee followed on the heels of these victories with another rapid northern movement culminating at Harpers Ferry and Sharpsburg less then one month later. Had Jackson failed, the war could have been over by Christmas 1862.

The reader is encouraged to transverse these roads while they still maintain their centuries old flavor. Current plans for development in this area will no doubt result in road widenings and straightenings, and the subsequent reduction in the loss of the ability to experience visually and personally the geographic scenes of our history. Much of this area today is primarily agricultural, as it was in the 1860s.

Further investigation of this marvelous military maneuver is recommended. The National Park at Manassas is an excellent final stop on your tour. The Official Records of this campaign contain numerous reports concerning Jacksons March and Second Manassas. Generals Pope and McDowell left military service over their failures in this campaign. Numerous biographies of the participants are replete with stories from this campaign, as are unit histories from organizations engaged.

So, take a summer day and begin your travels in history by following in the footsteps of Stonewall Jackson.

(c) 1994 by Tom Kelley
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