The Battle of Front Royal

This entry is part 9 of 14 in the series Jackson's Valley Campaign

The Battle of

Front Royal

The Battle of Front Royal opened Jackson’s Northern part of the Valley Campaign of 1862. After all of the conflicting orders and counterorders had been sorted out, Jackson and Ewell continued their march northward on May 20th. Jackson’s command turned east through a gap in the Massanutten Mountain into the Luray Valley and followed Ewell north.

Jackson Valley Campaign Part 2The Confederates troops sped along up the Valley, at times marching 30 miles per day. It was during this march that they earned the nickname “Jackson’s foot cavalry.” Jackson reorganized his command while they marched. The Stonewall Brigade under Charles S. Winder, Taliaferro’s Brigade and Campbell’s Brigade plus Turner Ashby’s Cavalry remained under the direct control of Jackson in his division.

“Allegheny” Johnson’s former command was absorbed into Ewell’s Division since Johnson’s ankle wound would keep him out of the entire campaign. Col. W.C. Scott’s 2nd Brigade of 3 Virginia regiments was absorbed intact into Ewell’s Division. Brig. Gen. Arnold Elzey formed a new brigade with 4 regiments.

Ewell already had two other brigades of crack troops: Brig. Gen. Richard Taylor’s Louisiana Brigade of 5 regiments and Brig. Gen. Isaac Trimble’s Brigade with another 4 regiments. Finally, the Maryland Line, a demi-brigade was a combined arms unit with the 1st Maryland Infantry plus an additional company, a company of cavalry and a battery of artillery from Baltimore. This unit was commanded by Brig. Gen. George Steuart. The 2nd and 6th Virginia Cavalry Regiments commanded by Col. Thomas S. Flournoy were also attached to Ewell’s command.

Jackson and Ewell had a combined strength of 17,000 experienced troops and 50 cannon.

The Army of the Valley’s plan was to approach Front Royal undetected. Jackson sent his cavalry around to the west to cut the telegraph lines between Front Royal and Strasburg. They would also be positioned to capture any Union soldiers who were trying to escape Front Royal. Banks would have no warning that they were attacking Brig. Gen. John R. Kenly’s 1,000-man force.

On the morning of the 23rd the Confederate cavalry accomplished their mission with the capture of Buckton Station and the severing of theJohn R. Kenly telegraph line. A detachment was sent toward Strasburg to keep the Federals on the defensive.

Jackson now sent his main force up from the south to take Front Royal. The 1st Maryland and the Louisiana Tigers who were supported by the rest of Taylor’s Brigade advanced toward the town. Fighting commenced at 2:00 PM about a half mile south of the town. Kenly had 12 companies of infantry, 9 from the 1st Maryland and 3 from the 29th Pennsylvania. He also had two 10-pounder Parrott guns. Kenly companies were spread out in a number of different locations: guarding the town, the North Fork and South Fork railroad bridges, the railroad itself and 6 companies on Richardson’s Hill.

Kenly’s troops were driven back out of the town and retreated to Richardson’s Hill. Two companies from the 5th New York Cavalry arrived from the west in the middle of the battle. The Federals used their Parrott guns to good effect. (Video of a 10-pounder Parrott gun being fired) Jackson could not respond to them until his own rifled guns were brought up.

Rather than waiting Jackson ordered one regiment to the left and two to charge the Federals from the front. This was the only time in the war when Marylanders fought each other. One Confederate officer actually captured his own brother.

Kenly realized that his position was hopeless and he ordered his men to burn the bridges and head to safety. The Federals did succeed in burning the South Fork bridge but Taylor’s men were able to save the North Fork bridge. Jackson ordered an immediate pursuit of the fleeing Federal troops but many of his troops stopped to loot the Federal encampment.

Jackson at Front RoyalAshby’s Cavalry had gone after a Federal supply train that had arrived in the middle of the battle and Jackson’s reserves were slow in coming up.

Jackson personally took command of 250 of Flournoy’s cavalry and pursued the fleeing Federal force. About 3 miles north of town the Confederates met and defeated the two companies of New Yorkers. Kenly turned his infantry to face the onrushing Confederate cavalry. Jackson and Flournoy were not to be deterred. Despite 4-to-1 odds they charged directly at the enemy. The Federal force disintegrated and the Confederates chased them almost all of the way to Winchester. Kenly fell wounded and was captured. He was exchanged on August 15th and promoted to brigadier general.

The Battle of Front Royal was a smashing victory for the Confederates. Out of 3,000 men engaged they suffered a total of 36 killed or wounded. The Federal force was annihilated. Kenly had started the day with 1,063 men. He sustained total casualties of 904 with 32 killed, 122 wounded and 750 captured.

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