The Romney Expedition: “Jackson’s Pet Lambs” and Loring’s Protests

Part 3 of a series

“General Jackson now proceeded to place the command of General Loring in winter quarters, near Romney, and to canton Boggs’ brigade of militia along the south branch, from that town to Moorefield, with three companies of cavalry for duty upon the outposts. The remainder of the cavalry and militia returned to Bath, or to the Valley, to guard its frontier; and the Stonewall Brigade was placed in winter quarters as a reserve, near Winchester.”[i]

Thus, Robert Lewis Dabney described the troop dispositions at the closure of the Romney Expedition around January 24, 1862. While Jackson had forced Union commands to retreat and had secured an outpost at Romney in western Virginia, he had also made a series of leadership blunders through circumstances within and without of his control. In the days immediately following his return to Winchester, civilians and military alike began passing judgment on “Stonewall” and on the expedition itself.

In his early biography of Jackson, Dabney outlined the thoughts and feelings of the moment:

The larger number professed to depreciate his capacity, and not a few declared that he was manifestly mad. They said that the man had a personal disregard of danger, a hardihood of temper, and a stubbornness, which made him a good fighter, where he was guided by a wiser head; that he was competent to lead a brigade well on the parade ground, or the battlefield, but had no capacity adequate to the management of a separate command, and an extensive district; that his headstrong and unreasoning zeal, with his restless thirst for distinction, thrust him into enterprises which he lacked discretion to conduct to a prosperous issue, and that it was only good fortune, or the better judgment of his reluctant subordinates, in lagging behind his rash intentions, which saved his army from a catastrophe….

He was also charged by his critics with being partial to his old brigade, Jackson’s pet lambs, as they were sneeringly called; it was said that he kept them in the rear, while other troops were constantly thrust into danger; and that now, while the command of General Loring was left in midwinter in an alpine region, almost within the jaws of a powerful enemy, these favored regiments wee brought back to the comforts and hospitalities of the town….[ii]

William W. Loring during the Mexican War. (Cowan’s Auctions)

One of the chief leaders in the dissenting choir against Jackson was General William Loring. Born in 1818, Loring grew up in Florida and commissioned in the U.S. Army in 1846 as a captain in the Regiment of Mounted Riflemen. He fought in the Mexican-American War, lost an arm at the Battle of Chapultepec, and won brevets for major and lieutenant colonel. Continuing his military career, Loring promoted to colonel of his regiment on December 30, 1856, becoming the youngest commander of a line regiment in the antebellum U.S. Army. He resigned his commission on May 13, 1861, offered his services to the Confederacy, and became a brigadier general on May 20. Nicknamed “Old Blizzard,” Loring disputed Jackson’s choices and orders throughout the Romney Expedition.[iii]

Loring was not wrong in his early protests. Campaigning in winter was risky. Perhaps Jackson should have called off the expedition when the weather turned and then continued to worsen. Jackson’s failure to explain his plans and objectives to his officers showed a lack of trust and poor communication — a feature of Jackson’s leadership throughout the war. While Jackson saw his secretiveness as a hallmark of his success, it infuriated many of his generals and other subordinates; Loring was no exception.

At one point during the Romney Expedition, Loring countermanded one of Jackson’s orders, directing a unit into bivouac when Jackson had wanted to press forward at enter the village of Bath. Stonewall confronted Old Blizzard, and the exchange grew icy. Loring claimed he had countermanded the order because he did not understand the objectives. Angrily, he told Jackson, “If you should be killed, I would find myself in command of an army of the object of whose movement I know nothing!”[iv] Predictably, shouting at Jackson did not give him reason to open up, and Jackson rode away, continuing to stall communications and doing little to build confidence between the two generals.

General Loring in Confederate uniform

Though the Confederates captured Romney and $60,000 of supplies, dissention in the ranks fomented. While the Stonewall Brigade went on an emotional rollercoaster of alternately cursing and cheering Jackson while growing a belief that he always had a secret plan for success, the three brigades under Loring’s command bordered on more open mutiny.[v] Getting left behind in Romney seemed like the final straw. Leaving two-thirds of his command at Romney or strung out over the area, Jackson took the Stonewall Brigade back to Winchester. Loring and his soldiers felt abandoned and resentment grew. It did not ease matters that Jackson left without explaining why he left Loring at Romney and that he saw that as the better place.

While the Stonewall Brigade got criticized for taking Jackson’s favoritism, they were the ones who had to make the return march to Winchester and go into nonexistent winter quarters in tents. (Loring’s men had huts at Romney.) Called “Jackson’s Pet Lambs,” they actually had to endure more hardships, though perception at the time often viewed in other lights. Loring’s command got to stay in a town with supplies ready for their use. Jackson had plans in progress for a telegraph line between Romney and Winchester and he intended Loring to be part of a defensive chain – not isolated in the middle of the mountains.[vi] Again, Jackson’s failure to communicate allowed serious problems to fester.

Feeling that he had been mistreated during the expedition and abandoned at Romney, Loring wasted no time in creating trouble. First, he began to believe that he was in a dangerous position and about to be captured by Union troops. (In reality, the Potomac River flooded and Federal troops were too disorganized to launch a counter expedition, even if the weather and river had been favorable.) Next, Loring seemed to take little effort for the care of his men, but pointed at Jackson as the scapegoat. Food supplies rotted and the streets of the town turned to sewers. Soldiers faked illnesses while others pondered desertion. Meanwhile, Loring faulted the “crazy general from Lexington.”

Loring’s officers followed his thought patterns and started to vocalize their version of the reality. Colonel Samuel V. Vulkerson from the 37th Virginia Infantry started the trend by writing Confederate congressmen and claiming the inhumanity to which Jackson had subjected them.[vii] Others jumped on the bandwagon and one colonel sent an endorsement, claiming, “It is ridiculous to hold this place. For Heaven’s sake urge the withdrawal of the troops, or we will not [have] a man of this army for the spring campaign.”[viii] Next, the colonels petitioned Loring to take the army back to Winchester.

Judah Benjamin

Instead of controlling his officers or curbing their letters to Richmond, Loring sat back to see what could happen. Their version of the Romney Expedition got to Alexander Stephens, the vice president of the Confederacy, then to Jefferson Davis, the Confederacy’s president. Both executives were shocked by what Jackson had supposedly done to Loring’s brave men. The politicians influenced by the letters from Romney took the view that Jackson bordered on insanity.[ix]

Influenced by the reports and complaining from Loring’s camp along with other political schemes, Richmond reacted. On January 31, 1862, Jackson received a telegram from Judah P. Benjamin, the secretary of war. “General T.J. Jackson, Winchester, Va.: Our news indicates that a movement is being made to cut off General Loring’s command. Order him back to Winchester immediately.”[x]

With that message, Jackson’s plan for a military line between Winchester and Romney collapsed. The plans that he had failed to communicate ceased as options. Old Blizzard had undermined Stonewall, but to some extent, Jackson had allowed the situation to unfold through his leadership style.

As usual, Jackson’s military response came swiftly, suddenly, and without observable personal feeling…which will be explored in Part 4.

Sources:

[i] Robert Lewis Dabney, Life and Campaigns of Lieutenant General Thomas J. Stonewall Jackson, Reprinted, (Harrisonburg, Sprinkle Publications, 1983), Page 273.

[ii] Ibid., Pages 274-275.

[iii] Ezra J. Warner, Generals in Gray, (Baton Rogue, Louisiana State University Press, 1988), Pages 193-194.

[iv] James I. Robertson, Stonewall Jackson: The Man, The Soldier, The Legend, (New York, Macmillan, 1997), Page 307.

[v] Ibid., Page 312.

[vi] Ibid., Page 313.

[vii] Ibid., Page 315.

[viii] Ibid., Page 316.

[ix] Ibid., Page 316.

[x] Ibid., Page 317.

About Sarah Kay Bierle

I’m Sarah Kay Bierle, author, speaker, and researcher. Past and present, everyone has a story. What will we discover and discuss?
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