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Confederate Defeat at Kernstown


150 years ago today, March 23, 1862, Confederate forces under Stonewall Jackson faced Federal troops under command of General Shields at Kernstown. The town is located south of Winchester, Virginia.

Jackson summed up the defeat in a letter to his daughter. At the conclusion, he wrote: “…I found comfortable lodgement in a farmhouse and sufficient to eat. I do not give you a description of the battle or the battlefield, where at least four to five hundred lay dead, nor of the wounded which filled the houses of Winchester and all the little villages on our march this side.”

The battle began on the Sabbath and Jackson, being deeply religious, didn’t want to fight. But he was compelled by the buildup of Union forces to set his troops outside the tiny Shenandoah Valley town. Due to faulty intelligence he’d received, he believed his troops outnumbered the Union garrison at Winchester.

The Shenandoah was valuable not only as a source of food for the Confederate army, but it was also a key route for both armies. The Confederates could outflank Washington to the north and the Union army was able to march deep into the Confederate states to the south. Neither side could afford to have this area blocked by the opposing army.  Winchester was a major hub to both wagon trails and Potomac Railroad line. As a result, the town “changed hands 72 times during the war.”

Although important to both armies, the battle of Kernstown was considered minor. Jackson had only 3,087 infantry and 27 cannon. The cavalry unit under him numbered 290.

Union generals had a hard time believing Jackson would attack being so outnumbered. But they didn’t know Jackson was under the impression that his troops outnumbered theirs.

President Lincoln feared a Confederate attack on the capital and withdrew a 40,000 man corps under McClellan’s command to protect Washington from the Fredericksburg area.

Although, in the end, Jackson was forced to retreat, McClellan complained that the troops sent to guard Washington, if not diverted, would have allowed him to take Richmond during the Peninsula campaign.

For more on this battle, visit these sites:



  1. Isn’t it something that one decision like moving the troops could make such a difference in how the war goes. Nice post.

  2. Hi, Paisley! I think a lot of what happened in the war could have gone either way. It’s all based on decisions of the leaders.

  3. Gerald says:

    Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

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