July 24, 1864: Second Battle of Kernstown

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After the ending of his raid on Washington, General Jubal Early returned to the Shenandoah Valley.  With Early no longer a threat to Washington, the Union VI and XIX corps were returned to Grant’s army besieging Petersburg.  This left only the three division Army of West Virginia under Major General George Crook to contest the Shenandoah with Early.

Crook planned to attack Early at Kernstown on July 24.  Crook began getting messages from his division commanders indicating a reluctance to attack Early as the Confederates seemed to have a numerical superiority.  Their caution was justified in that Early had about 13,000 troops to the Union 10,000.

A Union attack began at 1:00 PM and was quickly routed by Major General John Breckinridge.  This began a panic in the Union force that routed as the Confederates chased them back into West Virginia.  Union casualties were 1200 to 600 Confederate.  With this victory, Early once again raided the north, burning Chambersburg, Pennsylvania on July 30, and go here to read about it.  Grant now realized that Early was a serious threat, and turned the VI and XIX corps back around towards the Shenandoah.  He placed Major General Philip Sheridan in overall command with the mission to stamp out Confederate resistance in the Shenandoah for good.

Here is Crook’s report on the battle:

HARPER’S FERRY, July 27, 1864.

I have the honor to report that on the 24th instant I was attacked by a large force of the enemy near Winchester. I repulsed their force twice, and was driving them when they partially turned my left and threw it in some confusion. At the same time a heavy column was moving around my right, and I gave the order to fall back. My left soon reformed, and the whole line moved back in good order; the enemy pressing both my flanks and center hard all the time. I got off all my artillery and wagons. Some of my teamsters got stampeded and cut loose from their wagons along the road, but their wagons were destroyed so that nothing fell into the hands of the enemy.

I regret to say that the greater portion of my dismounted cavalry, along with some infantry, the whole numbering some 3,000 or 4,000, broke to the rear the first fire, and all efforts to stop them proved of no avail. They mostly got into Martinsburg, circulating all manner of reports. A few of them were captured endeavoring to escape my guards. I lost over one-third of my cavalry in this way.

I fell back to Bunker Hill, arriving there between 9 and 10 p. m., part of the enemy’s force camping within ten miles of me. Next morning the enemy’s cavalry pressed my front, and commenced turning my flanks, and as I had not sufficient cavalry to ascertain whether their infantry was trying to turn my position, I fell back on Martinsburg.

I skirmished with them almost all day, they making demonstrations to turn my flanks. Toward evening I fell back toward Williamsport, when the enemy followed me into town. Supposing they would tell the inhabitants all about their force, intentions, &c., I turned my column, drove them out of town, and captured a few prisoners.

From all the reliable information I could get the force that attacked me was Early’s raiding force, joined by the force left in the Valley when he went into Maryland. I am well satisfied that it is not their intention to move north, but to collect all supplies in vicinity of Winchester; besides, General Early’s troops are in no condition to make any hard marches.

I crossed the river at Williamsport and marched here via Sharpsburg. I left my cavalry picketing the river from Hancock to this place. The enemy also have some pickets at the ford near Shepherdstown. I would also state that the enemy have increased their cavalry force in the Valley very materially.

Yours, respectfully,

GEORGE CROOK,

Brevet Major-General, U. S. Volunteers.

Major General D. HUNTER,

 

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Published in: on July 24, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on July 24, 1864: Second Battle of Kernstown  
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