The Race Down Chester Street
by Mort Kunstler
General Jackson at Front Royal, May 23, 1862
To this day, one of the most heralded campaigns in American military history remains General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862.
One of the most pivotal engagements of that campaign took place in Front Royal, Virginia where Jackson’s troops were not only able to divide, but also to rout a much larger Union force. He was then able to push his enemy's withdrawal even further by striking at its ﬂank and threatening its rear formation. Many experts believe that this move led directly to the defeat of Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’ army at the First Battle of Winchester, two days later on May 25th.
As a brilliant and cunning tactician, Jackson had deceived his enemies into believing that he had positioned his army down in the Shenandoah Valley near Harrisonburg, Virginia. Instead, he ordered a quickstep march through New Market and the Massanutten area, to the Luray region, where he swiftly advanced on Front Royal. This maneuver placed him in a perfect position to advance directly toward the rear of the Union Army.
The capture of Front Royal also threatened the Federal lines of communication. The Union infantrymen quickly evacuated the town and ﬂed north from Strasburg towards Winchester. As they withdrew down the Valley Pike, they were attacked repeatedly by Jackson’s cavalry and artillery, setting the stage for another engagement the following day, where once again, the ‘Confederate forces emerged victorious.
A vigorous pursuit of the ﬂeeing Federals was hampered by a mismanaged cavalry and an exhausted infantry. Nevertheless, Jackson was able to drive Banks’ army back toward the Potomac River, where it retreated nearly 35 miles in a single day. After relieving the town of Winchester from the threat of Federal occupation, he rested his men in preparation for a series of victories that were still to come.
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