The Danger of Political Interference
The federal build up north of the Potomac River and occupation of Romney, Virginia on October 27, 1861 by the forces of Brigadier General Benjamin F. Kelley, was cause for great concern in the protection of the Shenandoah Valley. By several roads the federal armies were placing themselves in a tactical position to seize that area and expedient action became necessary to check the movement. The Confederate War Department ordered Major General Thomas J. Jackson to assume command of the Valley District and for the next six weeks collected a division of both militia and Confederate regulars to thwart the hopes of any such federal gain.
The column of four brigades set out west from Winchester on the first day of January 1862, with an additional brigade of militia overtaking the command the following day, projecting a column spread out over the countryside of 8,500 soldiers.
By January 4th, Brigadier General William Wing Loring, commanding the Army of the Northwest had led the expedition just outside of Bath, Virginia where his maneuvering of the troops in overtaking the town appeared remarkably slow to the district commander and continued without explanation. His wishes not to allow Bath to remain in federal control another day, forced the rumpled superior to make demand, himself, that they expeditiously move forward, which resulted in the hasty evacuation of the town causing to fall into hands of the Confederates the military baggage and stores. Ordered to pursue however, left Jackson concerned about his senior brigadier, for even the skirmish line thrown out in front of Loring's men could not stay within sight of the soldiers in blue.
This new staging area allowed the hard pushing district commander to spread out and send a column towards Hancock, Maryland endeavoring to break up Dam Number 5 at the C&O Canal, as well as demanding the surrender of Hancock. Heavily re-enforced and not wishing to expend manpower that could be utilized on the primary target of Romney, Jackson begged off from its capture and simply parted from the area leaving the Marylanders an exercise of dodging the sporadic Confederate shells whistling through the town.
The weather turned on the attacking column, by the 7th of January as all communication was cut between Hancock and Romney. Jackson's command now experienced the rigid Virginia winter of sleet and snow, the exposure to the elements, a torment most unbearable to the common soldier during winter campaigns. None the less, word reached the federals and by the 10th of the month Romney likewise was evacuated.
It was here that Major General Jackson determined to place Brigadier General William Loring's command into winter quarters. A suitable place to construct quarters and give his men a forward position to lurch out and attack the enemy as opportunity presented itself. It was here that the aggressive valley commander experienced the disappointment of his subordinates towards the expedition most recently embarked upon.
On the 25th of January, Colonel William B. Taliaferro authored a letter to Brigadier General William Loring and co-signed by many of his regimental commanders expressed the undesirable atmosphere of their surroundings having joyfully marched from Winchester earlier in the month with the opportunity of getting at the enemy. The hardships and exposure to the elements had taken the morale of the Army of the Northwest into a miserable state.
The soldiers placed in a quagmire of mud and rain, pickets in a strenuous forward position with the federal soldiers along the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and supplies including that of wood, so far outside the camps to make life agonizing in the extreme. It became the general opinion of the regimental commanders that prior to the start of the campaign all had high hopes of re-enlisting to assist in building a great army for the spring campaign of 1862; however, since their seasonal stop at Romney, none of these same commanders felt one soldier would bother to offer his services for the good of the country again.
Sufficiently impressed, Loring forwarded the letter up the chain of command to the Confederate Secretary of War, Judah P. Benjamin. Jackson endorsed the request to have his army in Romney relieved of the depredation, by simply signing "forwarded and disapproved."
Loring attempted to reason with his commander having pointed out the positions of the federal concentrations in and around the area to amount to roughly 13,000 men, all within a few hours march; none of which moved the man charged with the security of his area.
The War Department had laid the issue before General Joseph E. Johnston who on the 29th informed the Secretary of War that the inspector general would be dispatched to perform an investigation; however within twenty four hours, Benjamin himself wrote his district commander of news regarding a federal movement in that area, and not wishing General Loring's command cut off, he personally ordered it back to Winchester.
The order was promptly complied with, but the act of his subordinate calling upon the War Department to do his bidding for him, caused Loring's superior terrible indignation resulting in his signed resignation request in hopes of reporting back to the Virginia Military Institute for duty. Having felt the interference from outside his command, any further service of his in the field would only result in futility.
General Joseph Johnston appealed to his friend to reconsider his decision that his training as a professional soldier was indispensable at a time when his country needed his services in the field. Instead, Jackson preferred charges against the Commander of the Army of the Northwest, Brigadier General William W. Loring which covered neglect of duty and conduct subversive of good order and military discipline.
With the order to command should have come the trust of the government to do just that, command. Loring, now relieved of duty in attempting to undermine his commanding general, and reassigned to Southwestern Virginia, the separation of the two Confederate officers would prove enough where a demanded court martial would never convene. The Confederacy managed to retain the services of Major General Thomas Jonathon Jackson and the Army of the Northwest disbanded and passed into history.
The soldier's life was one of hardships particularly as the army is called on to defend itself against an invading force. The feuding would continue among several general officers in the South and under many diverse circumstances, but failure to obey the orders and calling in the government to arbitrate had lead them all, particularly those in Jackson's command straight to the court room or off to an obscure area where the lack of imagination behind the leadership resulted in the lack of activity.
Editors Note: Mr.Moran is a feature writer on the US-Civilwar.com writers staff. He may be contacted with your questions, ideas and requests at email@example.com