Stonewall Jackson’s stunning success in the Valley was truly Napoleonic as he fought against enormous odds and sent opponents reeling in defeat. One, Northern General James Shields, an Irish-born politician-general who boasted that Jackson feared him, had only days before their clash vowed that he would clear the Shenandoah Valley of Jackson’s patriot army. In truth, Jackson benefited as well from the hand of Providence and inept enemy leadership in Washington.
Jackson Versus Two Amateurs of War
“Next, Lincoln tried his hand in strategy. He ordered [Major-General John C.] Fremont into the Shenandoah to Jackson’s rear, and after countermanding the order to join [Major-General George B.] McClellan, directed [Major-General Irvin] McDowell instead to send 20,000 men to the Shenandoah to assist Fremont, or to capture Jackson if he could not effect the junction.
More disaster followed when Jackson routed [General Nathaniel P.] Banks at Winchester on May 25 and drove him in wild flight thirty-five miles across the Potomac. Stanton, believing Washington in imminent danger, telegraphed the Northern governors to send militia for its defense.
Lincoln seized the railroads, recalled part of McDowell’s corps to Washington, and ordered Fremont, Banks and McDowell – still separated – to capture Jackson. On June 8, Fremont overtook the retreating Jackson at Cross Keys, but was repulsed; so was Shields who next day struck at Jackson at Port Republic.
Colonel [David] Henderson said that Jackson “fell as it were from the skies into the midst of his astonished foes, struck right and left before they could combine, and defeated in detail every detachment that crossed his path.”
With 17,000 men Jackson in a month won four battles and captured many prisoners. More important, he terrorized Washington and kept 40,000 men from joining McClellan [in his advance on Richmond]. Margaret Leech observed: “Divine interposition could scarcely have scattered the Federal forces more perfectly than had those two amateurs of war, Mr. Stanton and Mr. Lincoln.”
(The Edge of Glory: A Biography of General William S. Rosecrans, William M. Lamers, LSU Press, 1961, excerpts pg. 81)