Gary Ecelbarger uses newly uncovered primary sources, including diaries and other reports that have not previously been examined, to tell this story of Stonewall Jackson’s Shenandoah campaign of May 23-25, 1862, that helped to divert Union forces from attacking Richmond to defend Washington.
Jackson was pitted against Major General Nathaniel Banks, a “political general” who did not know how many soldiers Jackson actually had. At first he thought the army that was attacking him was only a small one; it was not until it was almost too late that Banks learned who he was up against and how many soldiers he might actually be facing.
Ecelbarger’s book is the fourteenth addition to the “Campaigns and Commanders” series, and he shines new light upon the myth of the Valley Campaign by using new sources instead of those that have been used before. He tries to use this material to show what was fact and not fiction that the commanders on both sides, Jackson and Banks, were in fogs of not exactly comprehending what actually was going on; that they did not always believe what their soldiers were reporting to them; that they had their own idea of what was happening. Many of their subordinates and advisers agreed with them, too. Some advisers and subordinates tried to wake them up to reality, but convincing their superiors as to what was actually going on took time. For Banks, it was almost too late. He could have lost his entire army, but he “woke” up in time to have is wagons and other materials moved north and to escape capture by the Confederates.
General Robert E. Lee and President Jefferson Davis had sent General Stonewall Jackson and General Richard Ewell to stir up trouble for Abraham Lincoln and his Union army in the Shenandoah River Valley, hoping to cause Lincoln to pull back forces from his attack on Richmond and re-direct them to help General Banks. Lee and Davis expected that Lincoln and his government would fear that the capital was under attack and thus pull back Union forces to give the South a respite from attacks on their capital. This diversionary attack worked and caused much panic among the Union government and military.
Ecelbarger has written a very readable history of the Valley Campaign of 1862 from the recovered sources that he used. Included are many clearly drawn maps of the various battles of the campaign, plus ten illustrations which are mainly photographs of the generals involved in the campaign (the dust jacket bears an image of Stonewall Jackson superimposed above a battlefield). The appendix is the order of the battle, followed by endnotes, a bibliography of primary and secondary sources, and an index. This book is highly recommended to Civil War enthusiasts interested in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862.
Gary Ecelbarger is an independent scholar. He is the author of the upcoming book The Great Comeback: How Abraham Lincoln Beat the Odds to win the 1860 Republican Nomination (September 2008), Black Jack Logan (2005), Frederick W. Lander (2001), and of We Are in for It: The First Battle of Kernstown, March 23, 1862 (1997).