The Civil War – Battle of Winchester VA

Submitted by C.J. Johnson

On May 25, 1862, the Confederates led by General Stonewall Jackson defeated Union forces, numbering 10,000, under the command of General Nathaniel Banks at Winchester, Virginia. Of the estimated 2,400 resulting casualties, only 400 were Confederate.

Jackson and his 17,000 men had been sent the Shenandoah Valley to give some relief to the Rebels who were defending Richmond, the target of Union General George B. McClellan in his “Peninsula Campaign.” With this victory, Jackson thwarted McClellan’s campaign, to some degree, by forcing Union troops toward the Valley and to Washington, to protect the Union capital.

According to the National Park Service, “May 24, 1862, was a disastrous day for Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks. Learning that the Confederates had taken Front Royal and were closing on Winchester, Banks ordered a hasty retreat down the Valley Pike from Strasburg. His columns were attacked at Middletown and again at Newtown (Stephens City) by the converging forces of Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Jackson.

The Confederates took many US prisoners and captured so many wagons and stores that they later nicknamed the Union general “Commissary Banks.’’ Jackson pressed the pursuit for most of the night and allowed his exhausted soldiers but a few hours sleep before dawn.”

One source stated that as Federal troops were retreating through the town, Winchester citizens were also firing on the confused, exiting Yankees.

The significance of the battle is detailed by the Park Service in this account. “First Winchester was a major victory in General Jackson’s 1862 Valley Campaign. On the tactical level, the battle displays considerable finesse, particularly on the part of Ewell’s division on the Front Royal Pike.

Brig. Gen. Taylor’s attack on Bower’s Hill is considered a model brigade maneuver by military historians. The ultimate significance of Jackson’s victory at Winchester was its strategic impact. Union plans for a convergence on Richmond were disrupted by Jackson’s audacity, and thousands of Union reinforcements were diverted to the Valley and the defense of Washington.”

Jackson’s Valley Campaign racked up some amazing numbers, as documented by the History Channel. “His men marched 350 miles in a month; occupied 60,000 Yankee troops, preventing them from applying pressure on Richmond; won four battles against three armies; and inflicted twice as many casualties as they suffered. Jackson’s record cemented his reputation as one of the greatest generals of all time.”

Unfortunately, Winchester’s battlefield is one of many that have been totally lost to the growth of the neighboring city, in this case, Winchester.