In March 1862, ‘Stonewall’ Jackson was patrolling the Shenandoah Valley with c. 4,000 troops, ordered to tie up Union forces there and prevent their reinforcement of the main eastern theatre. When he learned of a major Union troop withdrawal, which ran counter to this brief, he sent his cavalry commander Turner Ashby to harass their retreat. While fulfilling this objective, Ashby received intelligence that a small residual Union force had been left behind to protect their army’s rearguard. Jackson promptly ordered an attack against what he believed were inferior forces: in fact he was outnumbered by about three to one. The Union also held the prime defensive position of the only hill in the vicinity. The Union commander repulsed an initial Confederate assault, then sheer weight of numbers forced the southerners into a disorderly retreat. It was a rare defeat for Jackson, but a strategic masterstroke: in response, 40,000 Union reinforcements were ordered to, and then tied down in, the Valley.
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