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1st Battle of Winchester
Harper's Weekly Articles

The following article is from Harper's Weekly Journal of Civilization, dated 7 June, 1862:

The Retreat of Banks

          There is undoubtedly something humiliating in reading in the newspapers that in the month of May, 1862, thirteen months after the attack on Sumter, after the North has poured out men and money with unprecedented  lavishness, it has again become necessary to call out the State militia to defend the capital. Nor is it agreeable to reflect that the rich valley of the Shenandoah, out of which General Banks had cleared the rebels out by a series of brilliant maneuvers, and where we were slowly developing a healthy Union sentiment, has again been surrendered to the rebels, who will doubtless re-enact in the populous region all the atrocities of Jacksonville. These are unquestionably very painful reflections.

          It must be said, however, in justification of the military policy which dictated the transfer of three-fourths of Bank's army to McDowell, that the President, by whose orders the transfer was made, was far better able to judge of the necessity for the step than the public can be. If he had reason tot believe that the rebel army in Virginia contemplated an attack upon McDowell, it would have been criminal negligence to have run the risk of a defeat at Falmouth, which would have left the road to Alexandria open to the enemy. Painful as it is to lose the Shenandoah Valley, it would have been far more painful, more humiliating, nay, almost fatal, to have had Johnston suddenly loom up with the army flushed with victory on the bank of the Potomac, opposite the White House.

          The fears which are entertained by Governor Andrew, of Massachusetts, and other persons for the safety of Washington, under present circumstances, are wholly gratuitous. The rebels do not intend to invade Maryland. If any cross the Potomac, they will do so with the intention of laying down their arms, for they know that they could never return except as released prisoners of war. That some of the leaders of the rebellion are ready for any thing desperate can readily be believed, but they are not quite insane enough to run their necks deliberately and hopelessly into a noose.

          The object of the Government in calling the militia is, doubtless, to liberae 20,000 troops now under Wadsworth at Washington, for the purpose of reinforcing Banks and Fremont. If the step shortens the contest by a few days, it will pay.

The Repulse of Banks

          General Banks has retreated back into Maryland. He had got as far as Harrisonburg, 2- miles from Staunton and the railway, when he received an order from the War Department directing him to send 15,000 of his troops, under General Shields, to reinforce General McDowell at Fredericksburg, and to fall back upon Strasburg, some fifty miles in his rear. The moment he began to retreat in obedience to this order Jackson followed in pursuit. General Shields passed through Manassas Gap safely and joined McDowell. Colonel Kenly, who commands a Maryland regiment, was started over the same rout and had reached Front Royal, which lies about ten miles east of Strasburg, on the road to Manassas Gap, when he was intercepted by the rebels, and, as General Banks states in his brief dispatch, "repulsed with considerable loss," the rebels occupying Front Royal, and thus breaking his communication over the railroad with Eastern Virginia, and compelling him to fall still further back with the remnant of his force. Our latest intelligence from him is contained in the following dispatch:

Williamsport, May 26 - 4pm

To the President:

          I have the honor to report he safe arrival of my command at this place last evening at ten o'clock, and the passage of the Fifth Corps across the river to-day, with comparatively little loss. The loss of men in killed, wounded, and missing in the different companies in which my command has participated since the march from Strasburg, on the morning of the 24th inst., I am unable not to report: but I have great satisfaction in being able to represent that, although serious, it is much less than might have been anticipated, considering the very great disparity of forces engaged, and the long-matured plans of the enemy, which aimed at nothing less than the entire capture of our force. A detailed statement will be forwarded as soon as possible.

          My command encountered the enemy in a constant succession of attacks in in well-contested engagements at Strasburg, Middletown, Newto(w)n; at a point also between these places, and at Winchester. The force of the enemy was estimated at from 15,000 to 20,000 men, with very strong artillery and cavalry supports. My own force consisted of two brigades - less than 4000 strong, all told - 1500 cavalry, ten Parrott guns and six smooth bores. The substantial preservation of the entire supply is a source of gratification. It numbered about five hundred wagons on a forced march of fifty-three miles, thirty-five of which were performed in one day, subject to constant attack in front, rear, and flank, according to its position, by the enemy in full force. The panics of teamsters, and mischances of river passage of more than 300 yards, with slender preparations for food and ferry, I lost not many more than fifty wagons. A full statement of this loss will be forwarded forthwith. Very great commendation is due to Captain J. B. Holabird, A. Q. M., and Captain E. G. Breckwith, for the safety of the train.

          Our troops are in good spirits, and occupy both sides of the river.

N. P. Banks

Major-General Commanding.

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