Marching to Manassas

Twice in thirteen months, soldiers led by Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson pulled off long marches during a campaign that culminated in battle along the banks of Bull Run. Both marches were remarkable in the distance they covered and the time in which the distance was traveled. They also reveal the technological advantages of using railroads to bring together troops from great distances apart.

Confederates arriving at Manassas Junction in July 1861. This sketch was made by Alfred Wordsworth Thompson. (Encyclopedia Virginia)

On July 18, 1861, Jackson’s brigade led the Army of the Shenandoah out of Winchester. The army’s destination was Piedmont Station, where the troops would board trains and take the Manassas Gap Railroad to Manassas Junction. Jackson’s men left Winchester at noon on July 18 and reached their terminus at Manassas Junction in the early afternoon of the next day. All told, in 25 hours, Jackson’s men covered 57 miles–23 on foot and 34 by train. Continue reading

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Liberating Winchester?

On Sunday, May 25, 1862, the Confederate soldiers in General Thomas J. Jackson’s army who had stayed in the ranks through the grueling night march found themselves on the high ground surrounding Winchester, Virginia, and extending toward the east and west. After the Confederate victory at Front Royal on May 23, Jackson left General Richard Ewell to push his column from Front Royal to Winchester. Jackson took another column and joined Turner Ashby’s cavalry along the Valley Pike, also pushing north toward the small city. Union General Bank’s army was on the run, and “Stonewall” wanted to keep up the pursuit. Driving his columns forward through the night with the determination to reach the high ground near Winchester ultimately paid off, and in the morning fog, Jackson readied to launch his weary soldiers toward the town. At daybreak, the attack began. After a couple hours of fighting on the outskirts of town, Banks and his blue clad army retreated, fleeing out the north side of the town as Jackson and the hollering rebels entered at the other side. Pockets of resistance were quickly overwhelmed, and some local civilians brought their pistols to the windows and took potshots at their hated “oppressors.” As the Confederate officers and soldiers charged or marched through the streets, the civilians came out to their doorsteps to welcome back the general and army that had “abandoned” them the previous March.

“Jackson Enters Winchester” by Mort Kunstler (

Popular art depicts General “Stonewall” Jackson’s return to Winchester, Virginia, on May 25, 1862, in bright and vivid colors. Mort Kunstler’s piece, especially draws a rosy-hued scene of joyous civilians rushing to the streets and cheering the general and his men, giving them bouquets of flowers. It is fine art, and from personal experience, it can be reported that it captured the imagination of an impressionable teenager. A first glance at primary sources even lend support to the image. Southern sympathizing civilians in Winchester met the Confederate army with frenzied excitement and recorded it in their diaries. Laura Lee celebrated on paper, using 18 exclamation points: “Thanks be to the Lord, we are free!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”[i] Continue reading

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Symposium Spotlight: Goals of the Confederacy’s European-Built Ironclad Fleet

With less than three months remaining until our symposium, several of our authors will further explore topics relating to their ‘What If’ theme. Today, Neil Chatelain explores why the Confederacy wanted to build ironclads in Europe…

HMS Wivern, one of the Laird rams. It was designed specifically to be able to enter the Mississippi River to help recapture New Orleans. (NH 52526, U.S. Navy History and heritage Command)

A few weeks back the Emerging Civil War question of the week asked what made the US capture of New Orleans in the spring of 1862 a turning point (check out that ECW question of the week here). One of the comment discussions focused on whether the Confederacy desired or planned to recapture the Crescent City. The answer is yes. One such plan was focused on the other side of the Atlantic and would rely on a squadron of ironclads building in Great Britain and France. A brief dive into the construction and standing orders of this proposed ironclad squadron can contextualize the question of the Confederacy recapturing New Orleans. Continue reading

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The Ellsworth Monument

Col. Elmer Ellsworth

Once again, May 24 is here. One hundred sixty-one years ago, Union Colonel Elmer Ellsworth was killed at the Marshall House Hotel in Alexandria, Virginia, becoming the first Union officer to die in the American Civil War. Funeral obsequies were held formally from Washington to Mechanicville, New York, and finally, his remains were interred at Hudson View Cemetery. Almost immediately, the nation was at war, and it took months to carve a headstone. Ellsworth’s grave was in the family burial plot, but for a while, it remained unmarked. There was money for a marker. 

Interestingly enough, the large fire at the building next to Willard’s before May 24 garnered enough positive attention in the capital to have raised several hundred dollars as a thank-you to the 11th New York for its firefighting efforts. However, the 11th and the rest of the volunteers left Washington days later for the new camps surrounding the city, so none of the money was ever spent. Instead, it sat in a bank accruing interest until the war’s end. As early as May 30, 1861, a meeting was held to recognize the need for a marker: Continue reading

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The Lincoln-Douglas Debates Continue: The Supreme Court and Choice

The following is revised from an article first posted here on November 3, 2016.

Dred Scott

Politics and the Supreme Court are much in the news today, as they were in 1858 when Abraham Lincoln debated Stephen Douglas for the U.S. Senate seat from Illinois. Issues have changed but more recent court decisions demonstrate that underlying themes have not. Perhaps we can, again, learn from Mr. Lincoln and his thoughts on the court.

Incumbent Senator Douglas had been contending in favor of “popular sovereignty,” the concept that inhabitants of a territory should choose for themselves whether to allow slavery or not during the process of becoming a state. The federal government could not and should not interfere with this will of the people while citizens of existing states had no say. Douglas promised that this approach would bring the nation together in an acceptable compromise, putting an end to “slavery agitation,” allowing the nation to grow and prosper in peace.

Continue reading

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Appomattox Revisited in the Washington Territory

ECW welcomes back guest author Richard Heisler

The Occidental Hotel in Seattle 1885. (image – Wikimedia Commons)

The day after General Ulysses S. Grant accepted the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia; a second meeting was held to finalize the details of the surrender. Known as the Commissioner’s meeting, it consisted of a group that included three generals from each army. Union leadership was represented by Union generals John Gibbon, Charles Griffin and Wesley Merritt. Three Confederate generals, James Longstreet, John B. Gordon, and William Pendleton completed the group. Also present were numerous aides, clerks and orderlies of the various generals. The lengthy meeting convened in the same McLean house parlor as the previous day’s affair.

Twenty years later, two former members of the Union army who had been in the McLean parlor during the Commissioners’ meeting met in Seattle, Washington Territory. Both had retained possession of remarkable souvenirs of that salient event in American history.

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Belle Boyd and the Battle of Front Royal, Part 2

Illustration of Belle Boyd

Part 1 is here

“I did not stop to reflect. My heart, though beating fast, was not appalled. I put on a white sunbonnet, and started at a run down the street, which was thronged with Federal officers and men. I soon cleared the town and gained the open fields, which I traversed with unabated speed, hoping to escape observation until such time as I could make good my way to the Confederate line, which was still rapidly advancing.”[i]

In her memoirs, Boyd remembered what she wore for the memorable run toward the Confederate lines on May 23, 1862. “A dark-blue dress, with a little fancy white apron over it; and this contrast of colors, being visible at a great distance, made me far more conspicuous than was just then agreeable. The skirmishing between the outposts was sharp.”[ii] Continue reading

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Belle Boyd and the Battle of Front Royal, Part 1

By Map by Hal Jespersen,, (Wikimedia)

On May 23, 1862, the battle of Front Royal occurred as Confederate troops push down (north) in the Shenandoah Valley toward Winchester. The main southern force under General Thomas J. Jackson had marched from New Market Gap to Luray and approached Front Royal, a village almost due east of Strasburg.

After the battle of McDowell on May 8, Jackson had turned northward, forcing Union General Banks to fall back. Aiming for Winchester at last, Jackson wanted to clear this part of the Shenandoah Valley of Union occupation. Also, the further north he moved, the more the politicians in Washington had to worry and the less chance that more Federal troops would be sent to join General McClellan’s campaign threatening Richmond, the Confederacy’s capital.

One the dramatic and legendary scenes of civilian and military interaction during the 1862 Valley Campaign occurred during the battle of Front Royal. However, the main recorders of the incident are infamous for weaving imaginative stories of facts and other influences of memory also cloud the likely truths. As the tale goes, Belle Boyd ran from the town of Front Royal to the Confederate lines and delivered vital military information which may or may not have influenced the battle and next days of the campaign. Continue reading

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Question of the Week: 5/23-5/29/22

The Confederacy had its pick of Southern cities to name its capital.

In 1861, would you have chosen Richmond? If not, which other city would you have chosen?

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Week In Review: May 16-22, 2022

It’s a nice balance of east and west Civil War feature articles this week, along with some international flair, too…

Monday, May 16:

Question of the Week highlighted the history of the Gulf States.

Edward Alexander wrote about a Pennsylvania family on Petersburg’s front lines. Continue reading

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