Today, Stonewall Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley campaign in 1862 is a classic example of a smaller force using speed and audacity to frustrate larger forces.
Jackson was helped by the fact that Union commanders John C. Fremont and Nathaniel Banks were neither good tacticians nor good strategists and didn’t seem to grasp the basic concept of coordinating their actions. Jackson was also aided by the alarm his movements caused in Washington, D.C., and the frustration President Lincoln encountered when trying to get Banks and Fremont to move fast enough to trap or defeat Jackson.
By the middle of May, Jackson had fought two battles, one at Kernstown on March 23, the second at McDowell on May 8.
The results of the actual fighting gave no evidence of the eventual effect of the campaign. Jackson was repulsed in his attack on Kernstown and the fighting at McDowell was essentially a draw, with the Union forces under Schenk and Milroy withdrawing from the conflict.
Eventually, Jackson kept Banks and Fremont from combining, and caused the division of James Shields, which was on its way to McClellan, to be sent back to the valley.
But at the time, this article, taken from a story published in the May 13 Wheeling Intelligencer, fed the fears people had about what might be going on:
“The Wheeling Intelligencer ... says that news from a reliable source has been received in that city that Jackson’s force has been for days pressing Banks and Fremont back, with intention of breaking through and reaching Western Virginia and the free state borders. That paper says General Milroy has fallen back, and his scouts driven in and the indications are of a contemplated raid in Western Virginia. Troops have been called out to meet this emergency, but where they are to be concentrated the Intelligencer does not know.
“Gen. Kelly has taken the field in Wirt County, and is on his way to Calhoun County, where a large force of bushwhacking rebels are said to have made a stand.”
Jackson’s campaign would continue to unfold in the coming weeks, but on May 20 the story of what happened at New Orleans was becoming clearer. It seems Flag Officer David G. Farragut had given Commander David D. Porter a chance to reduce Forts Jackson and St. Phillip, guarding the Mississippi below New Orleans, with his mortar fleet, but they apparently caused little damage.
Farragut felt he couldn’t wait any longer and ordered his fleet to run past the forts and head for New Orleans. He succeeded and the remaining Confederate forces in the city evacuated.