The Civil War – Cross Keys and Port Republic

Submitted By C.J. Johnson

In late May 1862, General Stonewall Jackson had soundly defeated Union troops under General Nathaniel Banks at Winchester, Virginia. This Union defeat alarmed Federal leadership, fearing that Jackson would strike Washington, D. C. next. To protect the capital, President Lincoln ordered General Banks to go south into the Shenandoah Valley to confront Jackson, while Union Generals McDowell and Fremont were ordered into the Valley from the east and west respectively to insure the destruction of Jackson’s army.

Jackson had originally been sent to the Valley to distract Federal troops from the Virginia “Peninsula Campaign” that was targeting the Confederate capital of Richmond. The History Channel commented, “At the Battle of Cross Keys, Virginia…Jackson’s force staged one of the most stunning and brilliant campaigns of the war.

Jackson led the Yankees on a chase south through the valley, beating the Union forces to Port Republic, the site of a crucial bridge where the Federals could have united to defeat Jackson. He kept the bulk of his force at Port Republic and sent General Richard C. Ewell and 5,000 troops to nearby Cross Keys.”

According to the National Park Service, “The battles of Cross Keys and Port Republic were the decisive victories of Maj. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall’’ Jackson’s 1862 Valley Campaign. At Cross Keys, one of Jackson’s divisions beat back the army of Maj. Gen. John C. Fremont approaching from Harrisonburg, while elements of a second division held back the vanguard of Brig. Gen. James Shields’ division advancing toward Port Republic on the Luray Road.

During the night of 8-9 June, Jackson withdrew from in front of Fremont and at dawn attacked two of Shields’s four brigades (commanded by Brig. Gen. E. B. Tyler), precipitating the battle of Port Republic. Fremont reached the vicinity too late to aid Tyler, who was badly beaten.

With the retreat of both US armies, Jackson was freed to join the [Confederate] army commanded by General Robert E. Lee in the Seven Days’ Battles against McClellan’s army before Richmond. In addition to its importance in Jackson’s overall strategy of defeating two separated armies in detail…By deft maneuver and clever use of the terrain, Confederate Brig. Gen. Isaac Trimble shattered a larger US force and stalled Fremont’s attack.”

Meanwhile, on the Virginia Peninsula, C.S.A. General J. E. B. Stuart had been dispatched by General Robert E. Lee to assess the position of McClellan’s 105,000 men. Stuart and his 1,200 men rode out to McClellan’s right flank.

To his surprise, Stuart realized the local geography provided no protection to McClellan’s force. Stuart and his men rode completely around the Union army, harassing Federal supply lines and taking a few prisoners.

During their 100 mile ride around the Yankees, the Rebels were pursued by Union cavalry, led by Stuart’s father-in-law. On June 15, when Stuart and his Rebel cavalry arrived in Richmond, they provided crucial information to Lee, and Stuart’s ride became legend.