March 23, 1862
When McClellan moved his Army of the Potomac to the Peninsula, the 38,000 strong V Corps under Nathaniel Banks advanced and seized Winchester at the northern end of the Shenandoah Valley. Banks far outnumbered the 3,000 Valley defenders under Maj. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson. Therefore, two of Banks' three divisions were sent east to Fredericksburg to join Irwin McDowell, who was to advance on Richmond and join McClellan. Turner Ashby, Jackson's cavalry commander, learned of the move and informed Jackson, but erroneously reported that only four Union regiments were left at Kernstown, just south of Winchester when in fact three brigades, or 5,000 men, remained. Getting similar reports from others as well, Jackson decided to strike.
From Opequon Church
This is the view looking north and west from Opequon Church, just over 1,000 feet west of the Valley Pike. The Valley Pike is off the picture to the right and Pritchard's Hill is in the center of the picture. A Union brigade was posted along the pike while two artillery batteries on Pritchard's Hill covered the area. Kimball's brigade was hidden behind the hill. Jackson decided to flank the position, keeping Burks' brigade and Ashby's cavalry as a demonstration near the pike while he moved with Fulkerson's brigade and the Stonewall brigade under Richard Garnett, with the 5th Va. under Col. Harman in reserve, along Sandy Ridge, visible on the left and center of the picture.
This is a picture of the western face of Sandy Ridge looking south from the intersection of the Cedar Creek Grade and Route 621. While Jackson was moving to flank the Yankees, the Yankees, under Kimball since the wounding of Shields during an Ashby raid the day before, were moving Tyler's brigade to flank the rebels. Jackson and Tyler's brigade were moving astride Sandy Ridge on a collision course. In an area which is now private property and inaccessible, the two forces raced to a stone fence. The rebels won and blasted the Yanks. Soon, Kimball's brigade from behind Pritchard's Hill joined the fight and the battle continued inconclusively for two hours. The Stonewall brigade was running out of ammunition and Garnett ordered a withdrawal. Covered by the 5th Va., the whole Confederate force was in retreat. Jackson removed Garnett from command. His force had lost 718 men to 590 Yankees.
Despite a tactical defeat, Jackson had been successful strategically. In part due to the exaggerated account of Confederate strength during the battle given by Shields, Bank's two divisions along with another were returned to the Valley and the advance from Fredericksburg to Richmond was cancelled. Banks pressed Jackson south up the Valley while Fremont beyond the Alleghenies threatened Jackson's base at Staunton. Jackson would strike him next at McDowell.
topo map "Old Opequon Church" is the site of the first picture. Pritchard's Hill is just north of it, and Sandy Ridge is to the west. The second picture was taken from the intersection of Route 621 and the Cedar Creek Grade labeled as "Cedar Creek". This picture looks south along the western side of Sandy Ridge.
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