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1862 May 28: Battle of Front Royal

May 29, 2012


Action at Front Royal, VA., May 23d, 1862, from “Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies,” plate 5 (see footnote 1)

From the May 28, 1862, issue of The Prescott Journal comes this report on the Battle of Front Royal, which was fought on May 23 in Front Royal, the county seat of Warren County, Virginia.  It was part of Confederate General Thomas J. Stonewall Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign.  While General George B. McClellan was waging his Peninsula Campaign in spring 1862, Nathaniel P. Banks was tasked with keeping Stonewall Jackson’s forces in the Shenandoah Valley from reinforcing the Confederate defenses of Richmond.

Jackson’s victory at Front Royal forced Banks’s Union troops to retreat from Strasburg to Winchester and put Jackson in a position to move on the Union army at the First Battle of Winchester on May 25.

W  A  R     N  E  W  S !

General Banks Driven Back.

4,000 AGAINST 15,000
McClellan near Richmond.


Dispatches received by the War Department state that Banks was attacked at Winchester this morning, and has fallen back towards Martinsburg and Harper’s Ferry.  The enemy is reported in large force.

It is also reported that the rebels have left Richmond, and have moved north to take the offensive.



Dispatches were received at the War Department at 10 o’clock to-night, from Banks at Winchester.  He moved from Strasburg to Winchester to secure his stores and trains.  His advance guard arrived there at five o’clock A. M., safe.  A strong attack was made on the trains at Middleton by the rebels, but they were repulsed.  We lost a few wagons, which teamsters abandoned.  Banks will return immediately to Strasburg.

Col. Kenly,2 commanding the force at Front Royal was wounded and taken prisoner.  No particulars of the engagement have been received.

The enemy occupy Front Royal, Gen. Geary [John W. Geary] occupies a strong position on the Manassas Railroad at White Plains, and has been re-enforced.


HEADQUARTERS, Martinsburg, }
May 25th, 2 P. M. }

Hon. E. M. Stanton, Secretary of War:
The rebels attacked us at day break in great force, estimated at 15,000, consisting of Ewell’s3 and Jackson’s divisions.  Our right and left wing stood well for a while, when two regiments broke lines under fire of the enemy.  The right wing fell back and was ordered to withdraw.  They passed the town in considerable confusion, but reformed and continued marching in order to Martinsburg, 22 miles distant.  Our entire force was less than 4,000, consisting of Gordon’s4 and Donley’s [sic]5 brigade, with two regiments of cavalry.  Our loss is considerable, as was that of the enemy, but cannot be estimated.

Martinsburg, 5-45, P. M. }

A prisoner, captured this P. M., says the rebel force in our rear is to be strengthened, and their purpose is to enter Maryland at two points, Harper’s Ferry and Williamsport.  He confirms all we have heard in regard to the rebel force here.  We all passed the Potomac safe, men, trains, and all, after making a march of 32 miles.          N. P. BANKS, Major General.

1.  Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies,  published under the direction of Redfield Proctor, Stephen B. Elkins, and Daniel S. Lamont, Secretaries of War, by George B. Davis, Leslie J. Perry, Joseph W. Kirkley, Board of Publication ; compiled by Calvin D. Cowles (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1891-1895). Available in Special Collections, UWRF University Archives & Area Research Center (E 464 .U6), or digitally at Ohio State University’s eHistory.
2.  John Reese Kenly (1818-1891) commanded just over 1,000 men at Front Royal.  A lawyer, Kenly had fought in the Mexican War and entered the Civil War as the colonel of the 1st Maryland Infantry.  Kenly was severely wounded at Front Royal, but his stand saved General Banks’s division at Winchester and he was given command of a brigade later in 1862.
3.  Richard Stoddert Ewell (1817-1872) was a career military officer who graduated from West Point. He served in the Mexican War, and later skirmished with Cochise and the Apaches in New Mexico Territory in 1859. Ewell resigned his U.S. Army commission when his home state of Virginia seceded and was appointed a colonel of cavalry, being promoted to a brigadier general fairly quickly. In January of 1862, Ewell was promoted to major general, and served under Stonewall Jackson during the Valley Campaign.
4.  George Henry Gordon (1823-1886) graduated from West Point and served in the Mexican War. He resigned in 1854 to go to Harvard Law School, and he practiced law in Boston. When the Civil War began, Gordon organized and became colonel of the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry, which guarded the upper Potomac River and Frederick, Maryland. In the spring of 1862, Gordon served under General Nathaniel P. Banks, unsuccessfully opposing Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley. Gordon will be appointed a brigadier general of volunteers in June 1862.
5.  Dudley Donnelly (1824-1862) was the colonel of the 28th New York Infantry prior to taking brigade command in 1862. He led the 1st Brigade, which included the 28th New York, in Banks’s Department of the Shenandoah. He will be mortally wounded at the Battle of Cedar Mountain, Virginia, and die on August 15, 1862.

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