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A Memoir of the Last Year of the War for Independence in the Confederate States of America/Battle of Kernstown

< A Memoir of the Last Year of the War for Independence in the Confederate States of America

BATTLE OF KERNSTOWN

On the reception of the foregoing information, I determined to attack the enemy at once; and, early on the morning of the 24th, my whole force was put in motion for Winchester. The enemy, under Crook, consisting of the " Army of West Virginia," and including Hunter's and Sigel's forces, and Averill's cavalry, was found in position at Kernstown, on the same ground occupied by Shields, at the time of General Jackson's light with him, on the 23rd of March, 1862. Ramseur's division was sent to the left, at Bartonsville, to get around the enemy's right flank, while the other divisions moved along the Valley Pike, and formed on each side of it. Ransom's cavalry was ordered to move in two columns; one on the right along the road from Front Royal to Winchester; and the other on the left, and west of Winchester, so as to unite in rear of the latter place, and cut off the enemy's retreat. After the enemy's skirmishers were driven in, it was discovered that his left flank, extending through Kernstown, was exposed, and General Breckenridge was ordered to move Echols' division, now under Brig.-Gen. Wharton, under cover of some ravines on our right, and attack that flank. This movement, which was made under Gen. Breckenridge's personal superintendence, was handsomely executed, and the attacking division struck the enemy's left flank in open ground, doubling it up and throwing his whole line into great confusion. The other divisions then advanced, and the rout of the enemy became complete. He was pursued, by the infantry and artillery, through and beyond Winchester; and the pursuit was continued by Rodes' division to Stephen son's depot, six miles from Winchester this division then having marched twenty-seven miles from its position west of Strasburg. The cavalry had not been moved according to my orders; and the enemy, having the advantage of an open country and a wide macadamized road, was enabled to make his escape with his artillery and most of his waggons. General Ransom had been in very bad health since he reported to me at Lynchburg, and unable to take the active command in the field; and all my operations had been impeded for the want of an efficient and energetic cavalry commander. I think, if I had had one on this occasion, the greater part of the enemy's force would have been captured or destroyed, for the rout was thorough. Our loss, in this action, was very light. The enemy's loss in killed and wounded was severe, and two or three hundred prisoners fell into our hands; and, among them, Colonel Mulligan, in command of a division, mortally wounded. The infantry was too much exhausted to continue the pursuit on the 25th, and only moved to Bunker Hill, twelve miles from Winchester. The pursuit was continued by our cavalry, and the enemy's rear guard of cavalry was encountered at Martinsburg; but, after slight skirmishing, it evacuated the place. The whole defeated force crossed the Potomac, and took refuge at Maryland Heights and Harper's Ferry. The road from Winchester, via Martinsburg, to Williamsport, was strewed with debris of the rapid retreat—twelve caissons and seventy-two waggons having been abandoned, and most of them burned.[1]

 
 



  1. Grant. in his report, entirely ignores this battle, in which the enemy's forces were superior to mine, and merely says: "About the 25th it became evident that the enemy was again advancing upon Maryland and Pennsylvania, and the 6th corps, which was at Washington, was ordered back to the vicinity of Harper's Ferry."