In late May, 1862, the Democratic Banner was running reports of skirmishes near Richmond and stories about the expected push of Union forces toward the Confederate capital. It either missed or ignored the news of a small battle at Front Royal, Va., on May 23, but the June 3 issue told of Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s victory over Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks at Winchester and Banks’ subsequent retreat across the Potomac River into Maryland.
Events started on May 23 with Jackson’s victory over a 1,000-man force under Col. John R. Kenley. Jackson had nearly 16,000 troops, while Kenley just over 1,000 at Front Royal, where he had been sent by Banks to try to fill a void left by the departure of the division under Brig. Gen. James Shields, who had been ordered to join Gen. Irwin McDowell’s force, which was to join McClellan at Richmond, where, as usual, he was crying for reinforcements.
Jackson used the geography of the valley to move his troops quickly and effectively, first eliminating Kenly’s force. About 750 of them were captured as they retreated towards Banks’ position at Strasburg.
Kenly’s defeat caused Banks to retreat to Winchester. As he did so, while being harassed by Jackson’s forces, Banks learned that Jackson’s force outnumbered his by more than 2 to 1. During the retreat, the Confederates captured so many wagons and commissary stores that they gave the Union general the nickname “Commissary Banks.”
Banks deployed at Winchester to slow Jackson down, but his position collapsed and he retreated north. Confederate pursuit was lethargic as Jackson’s men were exhausted from the hard marching of the previous few days.
Besides the tactical victory, Jackson also achieved his objective: He kept troops from being sent to McClellan as Shields’ division was ordered back to the Valley.