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Battle of McDowell, VA

​Confederate Commander

Maj. Gen. Stonewall Jackson

Forces Engaged: est. 6,000

Killed: 75

Wounded: 424

Captured or Missing:

Total: 499

Confederate Officers

Brig. Gen. Edward "Allegheny" Johnson

Brig. Gen. Charles S. Winder

Brig. Gen. William B. Taliaferro

Confederate Order of Battle

Confederate Official Records

Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Jackson

Commander, Army of the Valley

Map of Route to McDowell

Jed Hotchkiss

Map of the Battle of McDowell

Return of Killed and Wounded

Lt. Col. R. H. Cunningham

21st Virginia Regiment

Maj Henry Lane

42nd Virginia Regiment

Lt. S. Hale

48th Virginia Infantry

Capt. B. W. Leigh

1st Virginia Battalion, Prov. Army

Brig. Gen. William B. Taliaferro

Commander, Third Brigade

Brig. Gen. Edward Johnson

Commander, Army of the North-West

Col. W. C. Scott

44th Virginia Volunteers

Col. M. G. Harman

52nd Virginia Volunteers

May 8, 1862

Highland County, Virginia

Confederate Victory

Jackson's Shenandoah Valley Campaign

​Union Commander

Brig. Gen. Robert C. Schenck

Forces Engaged: 2,268

Killed: 26

Wounded: 227

Captured or Missing: 1

Total: 256

Union Officers

Brig. Gen. Robert H. Milroy

Union Order of Battle

Union Official Records

Maj. Gen. J. C. Fremont

Headquarters Mountain Department

Return of Casualties

Brig. Gen. Robert C. Schenck

Commander, Schenck's Brigade

Brig. Gen. Robert H. Milroy

Milroy's Brigade

Col. N. C. McLean

75th Ohio Volunteer Infantry

Description of the area around McDowell:  

          "High ground commanded McDowell in every direction. Jackson's Mountain loomed just west of the village  and Ball Pasture Mountain rose up two miles to the east. A spur of the Bull Pasture Mountain called "Sitlington's Hill" stretched south of the Parkersburg and Stauton Turnpike nearly to the east bank of Bull Pasture River. Its steep western slope towered five hundred feet above the river. Sitlington's Hill had a broad and rugged top, laced with sharp ridges and ravines. On the north side of the road, Hull's Ridge ran southwest like a pointed finger to the riverbank opposite McDowell. The western extremity of Hull's Hill was known "Cedar Knob".

          McDowell was located on the far bank of the Bull Pasture River, 36 miles from Stanton. A tiny crossroads community at the intersection of the Stauton and Parkersburg turnpikes. Gen Johnson expected to see Gen. Milroy there.

          Milroy's troops were encamped near the eastern foot of the Shenandoah Mountains, across the Big Calf Pasture valley in sight of Johnson's pickets.

          On May 4th, Jackson was finally able to meet with Johnson, at which time was able to combine the two forces, The Army of the Valley and The Army of the North-West. See the Confederate Order of Battle to view the army structure.

          On May 7th, set out for McDowell at daybreak in full force. Johnson, who was familiar with the mountains range and whose qualities as a soldier made him fit for the advance near the intersection of the turnpikes. Johnson pressed forward as the Union troops retreated.

          Jackson's engineers had talked to Johnson and after a reconnaissance of the Union advance, it was agreed to send a flanking party to the left in advance of the frontal assault.

          Only members of Jackson's official circle knew the plans. They were Gens Williamson and Hotchkiss. This caused members of the campaign to take a wrong road.

          Johnson's troops watched the enemy fleeing over Bull Pasture Mountain and were eager to follow. A hidden battery opened fire. Johnson decided to wait till the next morning.

          As Johnson road ahead, he saw Rebel skirmishers against the enemy. Johnson took 30 men with a few officers and rode up a mountain spur call Sitlington's Hill, which overlooked the area around McDowell.

          On May 8th, Milroy had roll call at 2:30am. Daybreak came and no enemy was in sight. He had expected an attack from the North River Gap, 15 miles from his left flank. He deployed pickets from the 2nd West Virginia Infantry along Sitlington's Hill. Pushed a squadron of the 1st West Virginia Cavalry out along the Parkersburg and Stauton turnpikes, two miles to the gap through Bull Pasture Mountain.

          Jackson and Hotchkiss found a rock outcropping, where Hotchkiss drew a map of the area. They then climbed to the crest of Sitlington's Hill to find Johnson. The two generals drew attention from the Union skirmishers who were shooting in their direction. Jackson weighing the alternatives and decided there would be no battle, May 8. He dispatched orders to the rear brigade to stop. He also ordered Johnson to secure the high ground.

          Capt. Hyman's artillery, 1st Ohio, fired on the party of Southern horsemen that appeared on Sitlington's Hill. They were in fact firing on Jackson and Johnson and their staffs.

          Jackson did not expect to fight a battle on the 8th, so he told Hotchkiss he wanted the artillery to be ready at 3am the next morning. Jackson had a numerical advantage over the Union troops. Milroy received permission from Schenck to attack and around 4pm started the action. The heaviest attack was directed against the Rebel's right flank and center causing high losses, the 12th Georgia suffered terribly.

          Col. Nathaniel McLean of the 75th Ohio perspective of the advance “was grim.”

“The enemy were in position on the top of the mountain, entirely screened from our view, and the confirmation of the ridge permitted them to deliver their fire with only exposure of a small portion of their bodies, and in reloading they were entirely protected from our fire by the crest of the hill. The side of the mountain up which I was compelled to make the attack was entirely destitute of protection, either from trees or rock, and so steep that the men were at times compelled to march either to one side or the other to make the assault.”

          Maj. John De Hart Ross of the 52nd Virginia admired the Union advance. “The enemy's discipline is immensely superior to ours. I watched them well during the fight, or rather the beginning of it, and I never saw (VMI) cadets at drill march with greater precision and more regularly than the Yankees did under fire. Not a man shrank from his position but they all marched alike, true soldiers to the attack.”

          To ensure the escape route of the Confederate army, Jackson used the 31st Virginia near the base of the Sitlington's Hill.

          “As dusk approached, the Union troops were in the slopes of the slopes, while the Rebels were silhouetted against the lighter sky and Confederate losses mounted.”

          As the Union troops approached, the Confederates withheld their fire until the last moment. The 12th Georgia climbed the hill to “a huge hilly old road” on a spur of the Sitlington's Hill. The Union troops climbed the far slope. The “12th Georgia opened fire and took fire simultaneously.” .69 caliber smoothbore muskets had a maximum range of approximately 100 yards which was about how far apart the opposing forces were.

          By the time the Ohio regiments came within range, the Rebel lines had tightened and the fire became more deadly.

          By 9pm, shooting started to peter out and the commander of the 37th Virginia could only see the outlines of the enemy.

          The Union commanders having an informal council of war, every field-grade officer agreed that McDowell could not be defended against an enemy with superior strength. Schenck and Milroy gave orders to retreat to Franklin.

          Gen. Schenck sent the following dispatch:

          “It is 11:30pm. The reconnaissance of Milroy this afternoon became a sharp engagement, in which we lost several killed and perhaps 75 or 80 wounded. Rebel loss at least as large or larger, but not known. Johnson found to have been largely re-inforced by Jackson during the afternoon. His whole force has come up from Buffalo Gap. A large army on the hills or about us. This place indefensible altogether, by the agreement of officers, in our present condition and with our relative forces.

          Later observation of a Confederate officer “of Sitlington's Hill covered with white thorn bushes and small trees. When he went to the top of the hill, he discovered that what appeared to be white blossoms were really white wood branches and twigs splintered by Union bullets.” Johnson was wounded by a bullet through his ankle, which cost most of rehabilitation.


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