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American Civil War: Battle of Port Republic

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American Civil War: Battle of Port Republic

Lieutenant General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, CSA

Photograph Courtesy of the National Archives & Records Administration

Battle of Port Republic - Conflict & Date:

The Battle of Port Republic was fought June 9, 1862, during the American Civil War (1861-1865).

Armies & Commanders

Union

  • Brigadier General James Shields
  • Brigadier General Erastus Tyler
  • 3,500 men

Confederate

Battle of Port Republic - Background:

In early March 1862, Major General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson began pulling out of Winchester, VA, and withdrew up (moving southwest) the Shenandoah Valley. Though not directly threatened by Union troops, this movement was intended to cover the flank of General Joseph E. Johnston's army as it marched south from Manassas to defend Richmond from Major General George B. McClellan's impending Peninsula Campaign. Taking advantage of Jackson's retreat, Major General Nathaniel Banks began driving up the valley with two divisions and took Winchester on March 12. Having secured the town, he soon learned that part of his forces were to be transferred to Washington in order to free up troops for McClellan. This news also reached Jackson who was directed to keep the bulk of Banks' men in the valley. Advancing later in the month, he attacked Brigadier General James Shields' division at the First Battle of Kernstown.

Battle of Port Republic - Jackson in the Valley:

Though a tactical defeat for the Jackson, the battle proved a strategic victory as President Abraham Lincoln directed that Banks' army be reinforced rather than reduced. This order prevented additional troops from being sent to McClellan. Following Jackson, Banks advanced up the valley though his progress was slowed by supply problems. In mid-April, Banks' force was reduced to a single division with a directive to assume a defensive position at Strasburg. At the same time, Jackson was reinforced and ordered to strike at Banks. In May, he began operations in the valley by defeating part of Major General John C. Frémont's army at McDowell before beating part of Banks' command at Front Royal on May 23. Increasingly alone, Banks began retreating north towards Winchester. Two days later, he was attacked and defeated by Jackson at the First Battle of Winchester. Escaping north, Banks left the valley and crossed the Potomac at Williamsport, MD.

In an effort to rescue the situation, Lincoln ordered Frémont to march east from western Virginia with the goal of capturing Harrisonburg while Banks was directed to attack south. These advances were to be supported by two divisions from Major General Irvin McDowell's command, led by Shields and Major General Edward Ord, which would march northwest from Fredericksburg and enter the valley via Manassas Gap. The overall objective was to trap Jackson's army between the three columns. Though Shields secured Front Royal on May 30, the plan quickly began to come apart as Frémont and Shields were slow to move. Warned of the Union activity, Jackson began retreating back up the valley and ultimately established a position near Port Republic. Advancing in pursuit, Frémont and Shields' commands were separated by Massanutten Mountain (Map).

Battle of Port Republic - Jackson's Plan:

Though in a position to escape towards Richmond via Brown's Gap, Jackson first wished to deal with the approaching Union forces. Seeking to prevent Frémont and Shields from combining, he sought to control or destroy the bridges and fords where the North and South Rivers flowed together to form the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. As Union troops approached, Jackson placed part of his army on the heights overlooking Port Republic from the south bank of the North River while Major General Richard Ewell's division assumed a position behind Mill Creek to the north near Cross Keys. Advancing on June 8, Shields sent a regiment of cavalry ahead to Port Republic. Catching the Confederates by surprise, the Union horsemen nearly captured Jackson before being driven away. Later in the day, Ewell defeated Frémont at Cross Keys. Beaten, the Union commander went on the defensive.

Battle of Port Republic - Moving to Action:

Having dealt with Frémont, Jackson turned his attention to Shields. Advancing over muddy roads, Shields' division had become strung out on the Luray road with only the brigades of Brigadier General Erastus Tyler and Colonel Samuel Carroll concentrated just above Lewiston. Seeing an opportunity, Jackson directed his engineers to build a bridge over the South Fork of the Shenandoah River and began moving to attack the two isolated Union brigades. While he intended to use Brigadier General Charles S. Winder's Stonewall Brigade for the assault, he also recalled the bulk of Ewell's men from Cross Keys. On the morning of June 9, Tyler, commanding the combined Union force, advanced to Lewiston around dawn. Forming for battle, he placed his right flank on the river and anchored his left on Lewiston Coaling. This position faced woods to the southwest and south.

Battle of Port Republic - Fighting Begins:

Across the river by 5:00 AM, Winder's men began preparing to assault Tyler's line. Moving forward, he directed two regiments to move through the woods to attack the Coaling while the remainder struck the Union center and right. Pushing forward, Winder's main effort was quickly halted and pinned down by Union artillery. Confederate guns were advanced but Union fire compelled them retreat. With the situation bogging down, Jackson rushed Ewell's men across the river. Brigadier General Richard Taylor's brigade soon received orders to move through the woods against Coaling. As this column moved out, Winder renewed his assault. Again repulsed, his men were counterattacked by Tyler and pushed back around half a mile. Working through the woods, Taylor began probing the defenses at the Coaling with little success (Map).

Battle of Port Republic - The Tide Turns:

Seeking to gain an advantage, Jackson recalled the last of Ewell's men with orders to burn the North Fork bridges to prevent Frémont from aiding Tyler. Arriving on the field, these forces halted the Union counterattack. On the right, Taylor's men commenced a fierce assault on the Coaling which took the hill and captured five guns. Committing his reserves, Tyler immediately counterattacked in this area and in hand-to-hand fighting recovered the position. Moving a regiment to the far right, Taylor successfully flanked the Union position and his next assault again carried the Coaling. Turning captured guns on the Union forces, his men were able to hold the area. With his left collapsing, Tyler ordered a retreat around 10:30 AM. Brigadier General William B. Taliaferro's brigade mounted a pursuit and captured several hundred prisoners.

Battle of Port Republic - Aftermath:

Shortly after noon, Frémont advanced to the west bank of the South Fork but was unable to aid Tyler's defeated men. From this position, his artillery shelled Jackson's lines. Expecting Frémont to attack the next day, Jackson withdrew through the woods to a new position near Mount Vernon Furnace. This anticipated assault never materialized and the next day Frémont began retreating towards Harrisonburg. In the fighting at Port Republic, Union forces sustained 1,002 killed, wounded, and captured while Jackson's command suffered 816. The twin victories at Cross Keys and Port Republic effectively brought Jackson's Valley Campaign to an end as Union troops began withdrawing from the valley. Though Jackson requested reinforcements for a strike down the valley and across the Potomac, he instead received orders to join General Robert E. Lee to assist in pushing McClellan away from Richmond.

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