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1st Winchester - May 25th 1862

1st Battle of Winchester VA, May 25th 1862 – Jackson’s Valley Campaign
written by Alan

This was part of Ian R’s ongoing re-creation of Stonewall Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign of Spring 1862, played using 28mm figures and the Regimental Fire & Fury rule-set. Alan and  Kieron took the Confederate side, while Bill and Jim fielded the Federals, and Ian umpired.

History records that the battle began at dawn with dense fog shrouding the field, so very little could be seen of the enemy.   The Federals held the high ground south of Winchester itself, on Bower’s Hill to the SW with Gordon's brigade and Camp’s Hill to the SE with Donnelly’s Brigade, with Hatch’s cavalry brigade in the centre. Although it looked like a strong position, it was potentially vulnerable to being flanked to the E.

1 – Union defences on Camp’s Hill

However, Jackson had chosen to divert much of his right flank force to support an assault on his left, against the Federals on Bower’s Hill, leaving just Trimble’s Brigade of Ewell's division on the Confederate right. In our version of the battle, Winder’s and Taylor’s Louisiana brigades, with the famous Louisiana Tigers in the lead, hurled themselves directly  at Bower’s Hill, clearly intending to drive straight through the Federals and storm into the town.

Over on the Confederate right a planned holding action would tie down as many Federals as possible, while probing for an opportunity to attack Camp’s Hill, SE of the town.

2 – Winder’s brigade assaults the Federal right

Initially, it looked as if things might work out for the Confederates. The fog prevented the Union artillery from engaging the Confederate attack on Bower’s Hill until the last minute, and the Confederate infantry reached the base of the hill relatively unscathed.  Try as they might however, they could not get the better of the hand-to-hand fighting which ensued, and eventually as the fog began to lift, the Rebels were thrown back with heavy losses.

3 – The Confederates are driven back from Bower’s Hill

At this point in our re-creation, the Federal cavalry in the centre displayed far more initiative than they were known for historically at this point in the war, and attacked straight down the Valley Pike.

4 – The Federal cavalry advance down the valley Pike and threaten the centre

The Confederate infantry who had retreated from Bower’s Hill successfully formed a defensive line on a hill further S, and it looked as if they might stave off disaster.

5 – The Confederate defensive line S of Bower’s Hill

It wasn’t to be however. The Federal cavalry, with infantry in support, broke through the weak Confederate centre and eventually succeeded in surrounding part of the Confederate left flank. Winder’s brigade was forced to make a desperate last stand action on a hill W of the Valley Pike.

6 – Winder’s brigade is surrounded and forced to surrender

Meanwhile, on the Confederate right, things also initially looked good. The 21st NC advanced down the Front Royal road coming under Union infantry fire at close range, but avoiding their historic heavy casualties. Deploying into the woods E of the road, they engaged the veteran Union infantry, but again could not prevail in the hand-to-hand fighting which ensued in the woods.

As the fog began to lift, they also came under Union artillery fire, which proved too much for them and they fell back as the Union infantry went to work on the Confederate artillery batteries, causing heavy casualties.  The remainder of Trimble’s brigade had deployed right and left of the Front Royal road, with the 21st Georgia taking up a position behind stone walls at the base of Camp’s Hill. They didn’t stay long however, and the Confederates had to witness the ignominy of a veteran regiment skedaddling the field like raw recruits.

7 – The remainder of Trimble’s brigade holds at the foot of Camp’s Hill

That really spelt the end to any Confederate hope of success on their right flank. Although the 1st Maryland (CSA) did manage to work its way round the Union left flank, they were halted by the arrival of reserve green Union troops from the town, and the flank settled down into a firefight in the woods and stone walls either side of the Front Royal road, at the base of Camp’s Hill. However, with their left flank up in the air as a result of the complete collapse on the Confederate left, they were left with little choice but an inglorious retreat back towards Front Royal.

Overall then, the result was a resounding Federal victory, and a foretaste perhaps of Jackson’s lack-lustre performance in the Peninsula Campaign the following month?

Had it really happened this way, then history would undoubtedly have rendered a very different verdict on Stonewall Jackson as a commander.