June 13, 1863: Second Battle of Winchester Begins


In order for Lee to invade the North it was necessary for the Shenandoah Valley to be cleared of Union troops that would otherwise could pose a threat to Richmond in the absence of Lee’s army.  Lee assigned the Second Corps, Jackson’s old veterans who were quite familiar with the Shenandoah to accomplish this.

The Shenandoah was defended by a Union division of approximately 7,000 men under General Robert H. Milroy who concentrated his troops in forts around Winchester, a town well know to the men of the Second Corps who had fought and won the First Battle of Winchester in September of the previous year.  Not realizing that he face approximately 12,000 men of the Second Corps, Milroy ignored suggestions from General in Chief Halleck that Milroy abandon Winchester and retreat to Harper’s Ferry.

June 13 consisted of skirmishing as the troops of the Second Corps marched and deployed, following a battle plan of General Jubal Early to outflank both the left and right flanks of Milroy’s force.  Milroy retreated into the fortifications around Winchester.

On June 14 the Confederate outflanking attacks forced Milroy to retreat down the valley overnight to Stephenson’s Depot.

On June 15 Milroy’s force was routed and effectively destroyed as it attempted to reach Stephenson’s Depot.  The casualties were lopsided in favor of the Confederates:  4,443 Union casualties, 4000 of them prisoners or missing, to 269 Confederate losses.  Immense amounts of supply were captured by the Confederates along with 23 cannon.  Confederate morale was heartened by this victory, while the Union morale was shaken.  With the valley now cleared of Union troops the Army of Northern Virginia was free to commence the invasion of the North.  Here is Ewell’s report on the battle:

Resuming the march on the 10th, we passed by Gaines’ Cross-Roads, Flint Hill, and Front Royal, arriving at Cedarville on the 12th. At this point I detached General Rodes division, together with General Jenkins’ cavalry brigade, which here reported to m-, to capture, if possible, a force of 1,800 men, under Colonel [A. T.] McReynolds, reported at Berryville, and thence to press on to Martinsburg. With the remaining two divisions and the Sixteenth Virginia Cavalry Battalion [Regiment], (Major [James H.] Nounnan), of Jenkins’ brigade, I proceeded to attack Winchester. From all the information I could gather, the fortifications of Winchester were only assailable on the west and northwest, from a range of hills which commanded the ridge occupied by their main fortifications. The force there was represented at from 6,000 to 8,000, under General Milroy.
       On the 13th, I sent Early’s division and Colonel Brown’s artillery battalion (under Captain [W. J.] Dance), to Newtown, on the Valley pike, where they were joined by the [First] Maryland Infantry Battalion, Lieutenant-Colonel [J. R.] Herbert, and the Baltimore Light Artillery, Captain [W. H.] Griffin. General Early was directed to advance toward the town by the Valley pike.
       The same day Johnson’s division, preceded by Nounnan’s cavalry, drove in the enemy’s pickets on the Front Royal and Winchester road, and formed line of battle 2 miles from town, preparatory to an attack. After some skirmishing, the enemy opened from a battery near the Millwood road, and [J. C.] Carpenter’s battery, Lieutenant [W. T.] Lambie commanding, was placed by Lieutenant-Colonel Andrews to the left of the Front Royal road, and opened vigorously, soon driving off the opposing battery and blowing up a caisson. This drew upon our battery a heavy fire from twelve or fifteen pieces in and near the town, but beyond the range of our guns.
       About 5 pm. General Early had a pretty sharp skirmish with the enemy’s infantry and artillery near Kernstown, Gordon’s brigade, supported by Hays’, driving them at a run as far as Milltown Mills. Here Early, coming within range of the enemy’s fortifications, halted for the night. Before morning, the enemy withdrew all their artillery into their fortifications from Bowers’ Hill and the south and east sides of the town. On examining the enemy’s fortifications from General Johnson’s position, I found they had put up works on the hills I had intended gaining possession of, and were busy strengthening them.
       Having reconnoitered with General Early from Bowers’ Hill (9 a.m. on the 14th), I coincided with his views as to the best point of attack, and directed him to move his main force to the left, and carry by assault one of the works above mentioned, a small, open work on a commanding hill near the Pughtown road, which overlooked the main fort.
        About 11 a.m., finding there was no danger of a sortie, and seeing the enemy fortifying a hill north of their main fort, I directed General Johnson to move to the east of the town, and interfere with their work as much as possible, and so divert attention from General Early. He accordingly took up position between the Millwood and Berryville pikes, and threw forward the Fifth Virginia, under Lieut. Col. H. J.Williams, as skirmishers, who annoyed the enemy so as to force them to leave off work and effectually to engross their attention. General Gordon’s brigade and Lieutenant-Colonel Herbert’s Maryland battalion, with two batteries, were left by General Early at Bowers Hill, and pushed their skirmishers into Winchester, who were recalled for fear of drawing the enemy’s fire on the town.
       By 4 p.m. General Early had attained, undiscovered, a wooded hill (one of the range known as Little North Mountain) near the Pughtown road, on the south side of which an orchard and on the north a corn-field afforded excellent positions for artillery in easy range of the work to be attacked–a bastion, front open toward the town. Hays’ brigade was designated for the assault, and Smith’s for its support, and about 6 o’clock Colonel Jones ran his pieces and those of the First Virginia Artillery, under Captain Dance, forward by hand into position, and opened simultaneously from twenty guns, completely surprising the enemy, whose entire attention at this point was engrossed by Gordon.
       In half an hour their battery was silenced, Jones’ artillery firing excellently. General Hays moved quietly to within 200 yards of their work, when our guns ceased firing, and he charged through an abatis of brushwood, and captured the Work, taking six rifled pieces, two of which were at once turned upon and dispersed the columns that the enemy were endeavoring to form to recapture it. Two works to the left of the one taken were immediately abandoned, their defenders retreating to the main fort. It was by this time too late to do more than prepare to improve this important advantage promptly in the morning. This result established the correctness of General Early’s views as to the point of attack, and rendered the main fort untenable.
       Accordingly, anticipating the possibility of the enemy’s attempting to retreat during the night, I ordered General Johnson, with the Stonewall, Nicholls’, and three regiments of Steuart’s brigades, and [W. F.] Dement’s battery, with sections of [Charles I.] Raine’s and [J. C.] Carpenter’s (the whole under Lieutenant-Colonel Andrews), to proceed to a point on the Martinsburg pike about 24 miles from Winchester, so as to intercept any attempt to retreat, or to be ready to attack at daylight if the enemy held their ground.
       Finding the road to this point very rough, General Johnson concluded to march, via Jordan Springs, to Stephenson’s Depot, where the nature of the ground would give him a strong position. Just as the head of his column reached the railroad, 200 yards from the Martinsburg road, the enemy were heard retreating down the pike towards Martinsburg. Forming line parallel with the pike behind a stone wall, Steuart on the right and the Louisiana brigade on the left (1,200 men in all), and posting the artillery favorably, he was immediately attacked by Milroy with all his force of infantry and cavalry, his artillery having been abandoned at the town, the enemy making repeated and desperate efforts to cut their way through. Here was the hardest fighting which took place during the attack, the odds being greatly in favor of the enemy, who were successfully repulsed and scattered by the gallantry of General Johnson and his brave command.
       After several front attacks had been steadily met and repulsed, they attempted to turn both flanks simultaneously, but were met on the right by General Walker and his brigade, which had just arrived on the field (having been left behind by a mistake), and on the left by two regiments of Nicholls’ brigade, which had been held in reserve. In a few minutes the greater part of them surrendered, 2,300 to 2,500 in number. The rest scattered through the woods and fields, but most of them were subsequently captured by our cavalry. General Milroy, with 250 or 300 cavalry, made his way to Harper’s Ferry.
       The fruits of this victory were 23 pieces of artillery (nearly all rifled), 4,000 prisoners, 300 loaded wagons, more than 300 horses, and quite a large amount of commissary and quartermaster’s stores.
       My loss was 47 killed, 219 wounded, and 3 missing; aggregate, 269. Lieutenant-Colonel Andrews, who handled his artillery with great skill and effect in the engagement of the 15th, was wounded just at the close of the action.


  1. Reblogged this on Practically Historical.

    • Thanks. The war in the Shenandoah after Jackson and before Sheridan doesn’t get as much attention in Civil War scholarship as it warrants in my opinion.

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