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Editors Letter: The Making of A Legend

The Making of A Legend

The story of Stonewall Jackson and his battle at Cedar Mountain with principal adversary Nathaniel Banks can not be fully understood without placing the fight in its proper context. Feature article author Michael Block offers the argument that the battle was not an opening action of the Second Manassas Campaign in the summer of 1862, as many accounts claim, but rather a concluding action to the Union’s failed campaign on the Virginia Peninsula.

While the armies of Joe Johnston and George McClellan waged a slow, plodding campaign of maneuver on the Peninsula, President Lincoln and his Washington advisors waged their own campaign to keep the Capital safe and well protected. This placed the politicians and generals at crosspurposes, resulting in contentious arguments over reinforcements for McClellan (who never felt he had enough men), versus troops held in northern Virginia for the defense of Washington.

The individual most responsible for this Union consternation was Stonewall Jackson. For this reason I thought it was important to show the military situation in the Eastern Theater through a series of maps. They begin in mid-March 1862, when McClellan embarks on his campaign by transporting his army by boat to the Peninsula. That same month, at Kernstown, Jackson attacks the rear of Banks’ retreating forces which had been ordered from the Shenandoah Valley to a point of defense closer to Washington.

The battle, though a tactical loss for Jackson, gains him a strategic advantage by keeping Banks in the Valley. It also generally marks the beginning of a legendbuilding spring for Jackson and his footcavalry, so-called because of the grueling marches Stonewall demands of them.

The mapping continues through the Battle of Port Republic in June 1862, the emergence of Robert E. Lee and his campaign to drive McClellan down the Peninsula, the formidable Union defense arrayed across northern Virginia, to the showdown at Cedar Mountain in early August.

David E. Roth

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