Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Who Could Not Conquer With Such Troops as These? - Part One

After the victories on the Peninsula, Jackson started toward the Valley on August 7. On August 9, he reached Cedar Mountain, south of Culpepper, and there ran into a Federal force under General Banks. Banks attacked, won some initial success, and was then thrown back and overwhelmed by superior numbers. Finding the whole of Pope's army in front of him, on the Rapidan line, Jackson fell back toward Gordonsville. After some maneuvering for position, Lee decided to send Jackson around Pope's army, and it is one phase of this great swinging movement that the Reverend Robert Dabney, Jackson's adjutant, describes in his book Life and Campaigns of Lt. Gen. Thomas J. Jackson.

While the enemy was thus deluded with the belief that the race up the Rappahannock was ended, and that he now had nothing more to do than to hold its northern bank at this place, General Jackson was preparing, under the instruction of the Commander-in-Chief, for the most adventurous and brilliant of his exploits. This was no less than to separate himself from the support of the remainder of the army, pass around Pope to the west and place his corps between him and Washington City, at Manassas Junction. To effect this, the Rappahannock must be passed on the upper part of its course, and now two forced marches made through the western quarters of the county of Fauquier, which lie between the Blue Ridge and the subsidiary range of the Bull Run Mountains. Having made a hasty and imperfect issue of rations, Jackson disembarassed himself of all his trains, save the ambulances and the carriages for the ammunition, and left Jefferson early on the morning of August 25th. Marching first westward, he crossed the two branches of the Rappahannock, passed the hamlet of Orlean, and paused at night, after a march of twenty-five miles, near Salem, a village upon the Manassas Gap Railroad. His troops had been constantly marching and fighting since the 20th; many of them had no rations, and subsisted upon the green corn gathered along the route; yet their indomitable enthusiasm and devotion knew no flagging. As the weary column approached the end of the day's march, they found Jackson, who had ridden forward, dismounted, and standing upon a great stone by the road-side.

His sun-burned cap was lifted from the brow, and he was gazing toward the west, where the splendid August sun was bout to kiss the distant crest of the Blue Ridge, which stretched far away, bathed in azure and gold; and his blue eyes, beaming with martial pride, returned the rays of the evening with almost equal brightness. His men burst forth into their accustomed cheers, forgetting all their fatigue at his inspiring presence to the enemy. They at once repressed their applause; and passed the word down the column to their comrades: "No cheering boys; the General requests it." But as they passed him, their eyes and gestures, eloquent with suppressed affection, silently declared what their lips were forbidden to utter. Jackson turned to his staff, his face beaming with delight, and said: "Who could not conquer, with such troops as these?"