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Battle of Cross Keys

June 8, 1862

“I had rather be a private in such an Army than a Field Officer in any other Army,” wrote a Confederate soldier about Gen. Stonewall Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley campaign, in which Jackson’s 16,000 man “foot cavalry” marched about 400 miles in 38 days, outmaneuvering federal forces totaling about 40,000 men.

By June 7, 1862, Jackson’s men were positioned at Port Republic, a town at the southern end of the Massanutten mountain range. Union Gen. John C. Fremont, with about 10,500 men, was marching toward Jackson on the west side of the mountains, and Union Gen. James Shields was approaching, with about 10,000 men, down the east side. Shields sent a message to Fremont: “I think Jackson is caught this time.”

Jackson sent Gen. Richard S. Ewell’s three brigades of about 5,000 men to confront Fremont while he held off Shields. Ewell posted his men in an excellent defensive position on a ridge overlooking fields near the town of Cross Keys. Fremont’s command gingerly approached Ewell’s position on the morning of June 8, 1862. An artillery duel began about 10:00 A.M. and continued until almost noon, when a Union brigade attacked the Rebel right, where Gen. Isaac R. Trimble’s brigade repulsed them with only a few volleys of rifle fire. Then Fremont did nothing. Impatient, Trimble decided to attack a Union battery half a mile away. The battery escaped, but Trimble’s charge carried him a mile away from Ewell — and still Fremont did not attack. Outnumbered two to one, Ewell decided against advancing further and held his position. The little battle was over, with Union forces suffering 684 casualties and the Confederates only 288.

That night, Jackson brought Ewell’s forces to Port Republic, leaving only a blocking force to confront Fremont. Pleased with the success, Jackson planned two battles for the next day: First he would defeat Shields, then he would go after Fremont again.

Fascinatintg Fact: Trimble was a radical secessionist and railroad executive from Baltimore. At the start of the war, he commandeered a train and rode northward from Baltimore, burning bridges in order to delay Union troops moving toward Washington.