Second Winchester: The Confederate Victory that Opened the Door to Gettysburg

Layout 1Eric Wittenberg described his latest publishing project, co-written by Scott Mingus, as “thorough.” And the extensive research that went into the book—not to mention its 500-page duration—is proof of that.

The Second Battle of Winchester: The Confederate Victory that Opened the Door to Gettysburg, which took 18 months to complete, focuses on the social history, personalities, and tactics of the battle, which opened on this date in 1863 and lasted through June 15.

“Second Winchester is a severely overlooked action,” Wittenberg said. “The Union garrison there was a significant roadblock to the Confederate invasion of Pennsylvania and acted as a threat to Robert E. Lee’s tail and lines of supply and communication. Unless it could be taken, it threatened the Army of Northern Virginia. The Confederate movement on Winchester was brilliantly designed and brilliantly executed, and hinted strongly the Richard S. Ewell was a worthy and competent successor to Stonewall Jackson. Finally, the tactics themselves are fascinating. These movements were complex and difficult.”

At the center of the story are Confederate General Richard Stoddert Ewell and Union General Robert Huston Milroy, polar opposites in terms of their tactical approaches.

Ewell, the commander of the Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia, did “extremely well” at Second Winchester, Wittenberg said. And, in turn, he was held to high expectations by his own infantry and the Union Army.

Milroy, on the other hand, disobeyed orders to evacuate the town the Union army occupied. According to Wittenberg, Milroy should have evacuated the area, but because he didn’t, half of his command was captured. “Eighty-five hundred men he went into battle with,” Wittenberg said. “Literally half of them were taken prisoner.”

The battle, fought between June 13 and June 15 as part of the Gettysburg Campaign, resulted in the Confederate capture of Winchester, Virginia, and much of Milroy’s army—as Ewell and his men moved through the Shenandoah Valley towards Pennsylvania. The ultimate cost of Milroy’s actions: 4,443 casualties and losses.

According to Wittenberg, his research led him to a place of deference regarding Ewell and confusion assessing Milroy—something he didn’t expect.

“[I gained] a much greater appreciation for the fine job Ewell did there and a great deal of puzzlement at why Milroy would have elected to disobey his orders and remain there,” Wittenberg said. “[The book] has more of a focus on Milroy because Milroy is an interesting character.”

Wittenberg added that Second Battle of Winchester, which he believes to be a “fully told story,” puts the battle in its full, proper context after 153 years. In turn, he said the piece differentiates itself from other scholarship on the battle because this piece was started from “whole cloth.”

According to Wittenberg, both he and Mingus sorted through hundreds of contemporary newspaper accounts and manuscripts. And, while writing their separate parts of the manuscript wasn’t any easy feat, Wittenberg added that the two’s writing meshed together well.

“Scott and I divided up the primary responsibilities for writing the chapters of the book,” Wittenberg explained. “Those he was responsible for, he wrote the first draft. Those I was responsible for, I wrote the first draft. We then fleshed out each other’s work by adding material, and we also edited and cleaned up each other’s drafts.”

Although he has co-authored books before, working with Mingus was a unique experience—and a treat, Wittenberg added. “It all came together quite nicely and Scott was a pleasure to work with,” he said. “One of Scott’s books was published by a publishing company I was a part of [Ironclad publishing Company] and I actually was responsible for getting it out. So, yes, I’ve worked together with him in that aspect, but we hadn’t written a book together before.”

Wittenberg, an admitted “cavalry guy,” said this piece serves as a departure for him, too.

“This is the first infantry battle that I’ve really written extensively on,” Wittenberg said. “This is a little different for me.”

Ted Savas, the owner of Savas Beatie, LLC, the publisher, dubbed the work a likely award-winner.

Folks, you know I know a little something about the Civil War,” Savas said in a prepared statement. “I can tell you this study blew me away. I had no idea Second Winchester was so interesting, so complex, and so understudied. I will go out on a limb and call this an award-winning book and perhaps the best single-volume campaign study I have read in a long time.”

Wittenberg is confident the book will make a valuable contribution to the overall literature. “For the first time, Scott and I have fleshed these actions out after finding hundreds of previously unknown sources,” he said, “and we hope that we have finally put the emphasis on this action as a stand-alone battle rather than as a sideshow of the Gettysburg Campaign that it has long deserved but has always lacked.”

6 Responses to Second Winchester: The Confederate Victory that Opened the Door to Gettysburg

  1. I very much appreciate the great work ECW does and follow it every day. I will receive your newsletter with equal appreciation.

  2. I have an interesting family story on 2nd Winchester. 18th Conn Reg Major Ephraim Keech Jr was “forced to resign / disability” May 20th 1863 (typhoid presumed) while in Baltimore prior to joining Gen. Milroy’s Union Army Shenandoah Valley, Va 2nd Bat.Winchester. His younger brother Chester Keech with no military experience then joined 18th in his brothers place as assistant to 18th Conn Reg Lieut Col. Monroe Nichols and was in the middle of the 2nd Bat. Win. Major Keech was home about 3 weeks when the news came of the Winchester loss but without names of dead, captured or escaped. Major Ephraim Keech had trained the 18th infantry while in Baltimore and the 18th was chosen to stay and fight to give Milroy time to escape with is Army. The town was in a panic not knowing the fate of their soldiers. The Major was on the train from Danielson, Ct to Harpers Ferry the following Saturday. All I know from newspaper mentions is that he returned to Danielson, Ct with a list of dead, captured or escaped. His brother Chester was mentioned in a newspaper having escaped and found his way to Baltimore. Chester was a wagon maker and joined the renowned 1st Conn Cal. that saw much action and was chosen to escort Grant to the surrender of Lee at Appomattox. The 1st also stayed in additional time as to guard Washington as Lincoln was assassinated 1865. The inexperienced younger brother Chester turned out to experience the hardships and glory of the war while the his older brother the Major was home sick looking over the family’s and probably lived the rest of his short life in despair having been unable to be with his men. At least he had this statement from Milroy “The men later heard of Milroy’s praising of the regiment’s performance during the battle, having gone on record to say: “If I had ten regiments like the Eighteenth Connecticut, I would whip the rebels out of their boots before sunset.”[18] From here, any sense of doubt turned into a sense of pride that the regiment carried wherever they went.”

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