Closeup view of the The Beginning of Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign wayside marker

Closeup view of the The Beginning of Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign wayside marker

The First Battle of Kernstown

The Beginning of “Stonewall” Jackson’s Valley Campaign

The First Battle of Kernstown, fought by 10,000 Americans on March 23, 1862, was the first battle waged in the Shenandoah Valley. Throughout the morning, sixteen Union cannon crowned the knolls of Pritchard’s Hill (the high ground immediately north of here) to hold an overmatched Confederate force in place. Shortly after noon, Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson delivered the remainder of his Confederate army to the battle. Relying on faulty intelligence, Jackson attacked a force that outnumbered him by 3,000 men. Unsuccessful in dislodging the Union artillery by direct assault, Jackson shifted his infantry and half of his artillery to a dominant ridge line one mile west of here and by 3:30 P.M. he exchanged fire with the Union cannon. Colonel Nathan Kimball, commanding the Union force here, sent 4,500 infantrymen to attack the new Confederate position. At sunset, the Union infantry routed Jackson’s army and sent it streaming southward. Although Jackson suffered his only defeat at Kernstown, the U.S. War Department ordered additional 15,000 soldiers to the Valley instead of other areas where they were sorely needed. This set the stage for Jackson’s subsequent campaign, which made “Stonewall” Jackson the most famous military nickname in the Civil War.

On July 24, 1864, Union and Confederate forces clashed again on the rolling terrain near Kernstown in a larger battle than the 1862 contest. Confederate Lieutenant General Jubal A. Early overpowered the Union defense of Pritchard’s Hill commanded by Brigadier General George Crook. Within Early’s Confederate force was Colonel George S. Patton, the grandfather and namesake of the famous World War II general. Patton helped defeat an overmatched Union force containing two future U.S. Presidents: Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes and Lieutenant William McKinley. Early’s victory was the last one enjoyed by the Confederates in the Shenandoah Valley.

From the sidebar:


Major General Thomas J. ‘Stonewall’ Jackson dazzled and frustrated portions of three Union armies in the Shenandoah Valley throughout the spring of 1862. Nearly one quarter of his total Valley casualties were inflicted at Kernstown, the first battle of the campaign.