Confederate General Thomas J. Jackson’s response to Secretary of War Benjamin’s telegram ordering Loring’s command back to Winchester followed promptly the same day:
Headquarters, Valley District
January 31st, 1862
Hon. J.P. Benjamin, Sec. of War.
Sir — Your order requiring me to direct General Loring to return with his command to Winchester, immediately, has been received, and promptly complied with.
With such interference in my command, I cannot expect to be of much service in the field, and accordingly respectfully request to be ordered to report for duty to the Superintendent of the Virginia Military Institute, at Lexington; as has been done in the case of other professors. Should this application not be granted, I respectfully request that the President will accept my resignation from the Army.
Respectfully, etc., your obed. serv.,
What some could interpret as pettiness, Jackson viewed as a deliberate course of action and duty. If the Confederate leaders in Richmond had lost confidence in him, listened to General Loring and his officers without a proper investigation, and countermanded his orders, then they had lost confidence in his abilities and for the good of the cause, Jackson believed he should remove himself from the command. Furthermore, he did not want to “throw away the fruits of victory that have been secured at such a sacrifice of the comfort of my noble troops in their hurried march through the storm of snow and sleet.”[ii]
Jackson sent his reply first to General Joseph E. Johnston who commanded the Northern Virginia Department, asking for a counter order to stop Loring’s withdrawal. Johnston wrote back, personally declaring that he was satisfied with the position of the troops as he understood it but more vague on what should come next with official military duties.[iii] When Johnston finally forwarded the message to Richmond on February 7, he included a note, stating: “Respectfully forwarded with great regret. I don’t know how the loss of this officer can be supplied. General officers are much wanted in this department.”[iv]
The citizenry of Winchester went into a small panic as the news of Jackson’s pending resignation started to circulate through the town.[v] Mrs. Jackson was visibly upset by the news and did not appear at breakfast on January 31. The general made apologies to the their hosts — the Graham Family — saying, “Mrs. Jackson is a good deal disconcerted by the change we have decided upon. We expect soon to return to our home in Lexington.”[vi] In other Winchester homes, voices who days before had been questioning Jackson’s sanity rallied to his support and “bright eyes flashed at the treatment of their General.”[vii]
While the locals changed their tune, powerful Virginian politicians went to work to keep Jackson in command. Congressman Alexander Boteler of Shepherdstown confronted President Jefferson Davis about the resignation, then visited Governor John Letcher. The governor — one of Jackson’s friends now in high places — raged over the secretary of war’s office and convinced Judah Benjamin to delay any action until they had a chance to correspond civilly with Jackson. Upon hearing someone call Jackson crazy, Letcher retorted: “It’s a damned pity that Jackson’s character or insanity does not attack some in this department.”[viii]
Series of letters were sent or taken to Winchester. Alexander Boteler himself made the journey from Richmond to Winchester to personally meet with Stonewall. Jackson held firm: “The order was given without consulting me; it is abandoning to the enemy what has cost much preparation, expense, and exposure to secure; it is in direct conflict with my military plans; it implies a want of confidence in my capacity to judge when General Loring’s troops should fall back; and it is an attempt to control military operations in detail, from the Secretary’s desk at a distance.”[ix]
Boteler tried to calm the situation from different perspectives. He challenged Jackson that this was a personal matter and he should let private grievances go. On the contrary, Jackson explained, the government had lost confidence in him so it was his duty to resign. If he could not be of service to the Confederacy, he would retire quietly to private life. Boteler then appealed to the need for sacrifices. Jackson grew agitated, paced the room, and delivered a long speech about his “comprehensive projects…his obstacles…his hardships and the heroic spirit of his troops…and the cruel disappointment which dashed the fruit of all his labors.”[x] Finally, Boteler told the frustrated general that “the Governor had, in the name of Virginia, withdrawn his resignation from the files of the War Department, and requested that action should be suspended upon it until an attempt was made to remove his grounds of difficulty” and Jackson “consented to acquiesce in this arrangement.”[xi] In the end, Jackson won an informal agreement from the Confederate War Department that “his command would not hereafter be subjected to such a system of interference”[xii] and he wrote the Virginia Governor on February 6 and then resumed his military duties.[xiii]
Jackson spent little time reflecting on how he might have triggered the incident through lack of communication with General Loring. Ultimately, he viewed the situation as the opportunity to teach the Confederate government a valuable lesson. “They must be taught not to act so hastily without a full knowledge of the facts. I can teach them this lesson now by my resignation, and the country will be no loser by it. If I fail to do so, an irreparable loss may hereafter be sustained, when the lesson might have to be taught by a Lee or Johnston.”[xiv] The Virginia and Confederate government got the point. They would not interfere with Jackson at that level or without making inquiries again.
Though Loring did leave Romney and Federal troops reoccupied the area in February 1862, Jackson had scored a major precedent that would work to his advantage in the coming months during his Valley Campaign. Stonewall was feared by his enemies and he had stubbornly enforced a tentative fear in the minds of the politicians. The stage was set and the curtain would rise on a campaign that would launch Jackson to national and international fame. But how did his enemies in blue respond to the Romney Expedition and how did they position themselves for the next movements into the Shenandoah Valley? Stay tuned for Part 5…
[i] Robert Lewis Dabney, Life and Campaigns of Lieutenant General Thomas J. Stonewall Jackson, Reprinted, (Harrisonburg, Sprinkle Publications, 1983), Page 278.
[ii] Mary Anna Jackson, Memoirs of Stonewall Jackson, (Louisville, The Prentice Press, 1895), Page 233.
[iii] Robert Lewis Dabney, Life and Campaigns of Lieutenant General Thomas J. Stonewall Jackson, Reprinted, (Harrisonburg, Sprinkle Publications, 1983), Page 279.
[iv] Mary Anna Jackson, Memoirs of Stonewall Jackson, (Louisville, The Prentice Press, 1895), Page 229.
[v] Jerry Holsworth, Stonewall Jackson and Winchester, Virginia, (Charleston, The History Press, 2012) Page 56.
[vi] Ibid., Page 56.
[vii] Ibid., Page 58.
[viii] Ibid., Page 59.
[ix] Robert Lewis Dabney, Life and Campaigns of Lieutenant General Thomas J. Stonewall Jackson, Reprinted, (Harrisonburg, Sprinkle Publications, 1983), Page 279-280.
[x] Ibid., Page 281.
[xi] Ibid., Page 281.
[xii] Ibid., Page 281.
[xiii] Mary Anna Jackson, Memoirs of Stonewall Jackson, (Louisville, The Prentice Press, 1895), Page 234-235.
[xiv] Ibid., Page 234.