It’s the Sesqui of Malvern Hill… yes, but… meanwhile, back in the Shenandoah Valley

Posted on July 1, 2012 by


I thought… with all the focus on matters occurring 150 years ago around Richmond… it might be interesting to point out a little something about matters back here, in the Shenandoah Valley, which were occurring at that same time.

Stonewall Jackson had successfully cleared the Valley of “Yankees”! Right?

Not so fast, there…

Truth of the matter is, Federal troops were laying leather on the Valley turnpikes again within a day of Jackson’s victory at Port Republic. True, there were plenty of them heading north, in retreat, but, some were also heading south, back into the Valley.

Robert G. Shaw

Young Lt. Robert Gould Shaw’s regiment (yes, THAT Robert Gould Shaw, later, commander of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry), the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry (as part of Greene’s Brigade), recrossed the Potomac River, into the Shenandoah Valley, on June 10. In his history of the 2nd Mass, Chaplain Alonzo H. Quint recalled that Gen. Banks had issued orders to…

“…march through the city of Winchester, in close order, with drums beating; and in no case whatever will any soldier be permitted to leave the ranks.” This was to prevent that salutary vengeance which the incensed soldiers would have taken on all houses from which men and women had fired on our soldiers in the retreat. Perhaps it was best, but that infamous town never met its deserts. Luckily Satan will get his own some day.

Shaw was with them when they crossed the Potomac, and eventually passed through Martinsburg and Winchester…

We marched through Martinsburg and Winchester in close order, and band playing, so that there should be no chance of the men’s falling out and committing any outrages. A house on the other side of Martinsburg was set on fire by some soldier, but, on the whole, our men show very little of the vices common in armies that have been some time in the field. They wrote so often to their families, and get so many letters from home, that it must have a good influence on them.

I know that such good conduct among Union soldiers in the Valley might come as a surprise to some, but, there you have it.

Also of note were Shaw’s efforts, in the middle of May, in Washington (and followed by a short trip home, to Staten Island, before rejoining his command near Strasburg). He, along with Maj. Richard M. Copeland, left the regiment for a brief visit, but with some business in mind…

I went with Copeland to Washington to see what assistance I could render him in getting permission to raise a black regiment in the North.

He was full of the idea, but the Secretary of War wouldn’t allow it to be done. Of course you could better [recruit] soldiers among the Blacks of the North than among the poor contrabands at Port Royal who never had the pluck to run away.

In upcoming posts, I think I might share a few more tidbits from Shaw’s time while in the Valley, 150 years ago.

As for that Malvern Hill post I promised… coming up later today.

The Record of the Second Massachusetts Infantry, 1861-65, Alonzo H. Quint, 1867.
Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune: The Civil War Letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, Russell Duncan, ed., 1992.