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Recommended Reading

The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864

The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862

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Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862: Maneuver Warfare at its Finest
Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862: Maneuver Warfare at its Finest 
by Richard Podruchny

The purpose of this article is to present to the audience an outstanding example of the implementation of maneuver warfare. In order to do so, this campaign will be analyzed using the elements derived from Robert Leonhard's work, "The Art of Maneuver." This analysis will focus on how well Lt. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson utilized the elements of time, identifying the enemy's center of gravity, space, and the forces used in his hugely successful campaign.[1]

For the first element, we will focus on the operational and strategic levels of warfare within the Confederacy during 1862. At this point of the war, the South was running out of time since Lt. Gen. Joseph Johnston could no longer trade space for time and the massing of an irresistible Federal force around Richmond was imminent.[2] As the defender, Johnston was forced to make a stand with Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan's Army of the Potomac just six miles from Richmond in order to gain enough time for Jackson's strategic diversion to take effect. The longer Johnston could delay, the more time would work toward the Confederacy's advantage.[3]

As for the tactical level of warfare, Jackson found himself in exactly the opposite situation in regards to time. Jackson had to go on the offensive immediately so that he was seen as a credible threat by the Union's leadership.[4] Jackson's decision to attack Kernstown was undertaken at a moment's notice, since he was informed that Bank's was sending forces to eastern Virginia. The rapid forced march and aggressive attack resulted in the Union leadership convincing themselves that Jackson had been reinforced in preparation for an assault into the North.[5]

Throughout the rest of the campaign, Jackson's strength rested on his ability in conducting rapid operations that were based on getting inside his opponent's decision making cycle. He would shatter his enemy's cohesion by using maneuver to attack from a position of strength or advantage. By conducting rapid marches over great distances in relatively short periods of time, Jackson was able to generate tempo.[6] Jackson utilized his speed into maintaining the initiative and causing the Federal forces to react to him. In addition to providing operational security for his force, which was one of Jackson's notable traits, speed was an essential factor in achieving surprise. In order for Jackson to be able to execute the maneuvers he envisioned would not have been possible without the talented map-making ability of Jedediah Hotchkiss.[7] This addition to Jackson's staff proved invaluable because of the information he provided Jackson throughout his campaign.

In regards to the campaign overall the best illustration of the potential of time was seen in Jackson's attack on Front Royal. By exploiting his cavalry screen and shifting his line of advance through New Market Gap, Jackson was able to concentrate his force by linking up with Ewell at Luray and achieve complete surprise the next morning against a fraction of Bank's force.[8] The total surprise and rapidity of action so completely dislocated Bank's decision making capability that he refused to believe what had actually happened for several hours.

Jackson's instincts regarding the relationship between time and space proved decisive. He demonstrated an uncanny ability to accurately plan for the transit, reinforcement and logistical sustainment of his force over great distances. This ability of Jackson was best demonstrated during his withdrawal up the Shenandoah Valley from Harper's Ferry just in time to evade President Lincoln's trap at Strasburg.[9]

Now that we have seen how Jackson performed in regards to time, we will now take a look at how both the Union and the Confederacy identified each other's center of gravity.[10] For the Union, McClellan developed plans to invade Virginia, while under pressure from Lincoln, which involved nearly 210,000 troops.[11] Within the region of the Shenandoah Valley, Maj. Gen. John C. Fremont was given the objective of seizing the important railroad junction at Staunton and Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks was poised to cross the Potomac with the objective of controlling the lower Shenandoah Valley.[12] McClellan would possess the main army, as well as the main effort of confronting Johnston's army and taking Richmond. He planned for a landing at Urbanna, which would have turned Johnston's flank. Johnston chose to fall back from his position at Manassas that forced McClellan to alter his plan and land at Fort Monroe at the tip of the Peninsula.[13]

At the strategic level, the Confederate army was the center of gravity for the Confederacy; however, McClellan appears to focus his attention to the capture of Richmond. McClellan would have known that Richmond was a strategic strength for the South both diplomatically and politically as a symbol of national legitimacy, as well as for its critical transportation and economic value. He correctly deduced that the Confederates would concentrate their Army to defend it, allowing him to indirectly attack the Southern center of gravity.

As for the Confederates, once Johnston withdrew from his position at Manassas and took up his new position south of the Rappahannock River, he allowed his forced to be contained with very few options for maneuver.[14] Now that McClellan was essentially on Richmond's doorstep, the only maneuver space was to the north. As President Jefferson Davis' military advisor, Lt. Gen. Robert E. Lee had to come up with an answer that would relieve the pressure on Richmond as well as avoiding the potential dilemma of defending Richmond on two fronts by freezing Maj. Gen. Irvin McDowell's force to the north in the vicinity of Fredericksburg. Lee felt that both Jackson's and Ewell's commands could be combined and be able to hit one of the three opposing forces of McDowell, Banks or Fremont hard enough to alarm the Union high command into delaying their advance eastward. This line of thought led to Jackson's orders which were to create the impression of a drive on Washington itself.

With this being the case, it appears that Lee has correctly identified the Union's center of gravity being President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln became the center of gravity since he was controlling and directing all Federal forces. Lincoln was also sensitive to the will of the Northern people's will to fight if the capital was overrun. As long as the Confederates could put pressure on Washington, Lee could count on Lincoln to hold back portions of the Union army to defend Washington.

With the centers of gravity identified for both the Union and Confederacy, we will now turn our attention to the element of space where we will look at the Confederate's overall situation at this point in the war and the Shenandoah Valley itself.[15] Since Johnston had allowed his army to be backed into a corner, he essentially lost so much space that he could not maneuver on an operational level. In order to counter this problem, the Confederacy needed to regain the initiative, which Jackson was presented the opportunity and was to capitalize on every advantage offered by his area of responsibility.

Jackson's area of responsibility, the Shenandoah Valley, is a fertile corridor in western Virginia that is oriented in a southwest direction from the Potomac to the James River. The Shenandoah Valley is flanked on the west by the Allegheny Mountains and on the east by the Blue Ridge Mountains. Some of the significant terrain features in the Shenandoah Valley are the Massanutton Mountain range that splits the Shenandoah Valley for nearly fifty miles, as well as the Shenandoah River and its north and south forks that run down both sides of the Massanuttons and merge at Front Royal. Also within the Shenandoah Valley reside various gaps, such as Swift Run, Luray, Thornton's, Manassas, Ashby's and Snicker's Gaps, that allow movement through the Shenandoah Valley's contiguous mountain ranges.[16]

Figure 1 [17]
Available from internet,

The military value of the Shenandoah Valley exceeded its importance as the source of supplies and rations that maintained Richmond. The Shenandoah Valley, for the South, was a natural invasion route towards the North's key cities, such as Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia.[18] Jackson recognized that by threatening Washington through the Shenandoah Valley, he could attract Lincoln's attention and achieve his operational commander's intent.

While operating in the Shenandoah Valley, Jackson had to deal with the disparity in numbers, which he had to mitigate through the use of interior lines. The New Market Gap served this purpose since it crossed the Massanutton Mountains in the center of the range. By controlling this key gap, Jackson could strike at the enemy's rear or flank, as he did at Front Royal, while protecting the vital escape routes through the Blue Ridge Mountain gaps. In order for the Federals to control the New Market Gap, they would have to march completely around the Massanutton Mountains. To counter this possibility, Jackson would couple this with restricting access to various bridges over the Shenandoah River in order to separate Fremont's and Shield's forces during the final stages of the campaign.

The last factor we need to address is the forces that were involved during the Valley Campaign of 1862. On the strategic level, the Federals owned approximately 210,000 troops that were threatening less than 70,000 Confederates that were strung out along an arc that extended from the northwest to the southeast through Richmond.[19] Lee realized that McClellan could slide anywhere along this front and muscle his way through outnumbering three to one or ten to one depending where he struck.

As for Jackson's situation, he believed that his soldiers were better fighters than those of the Union. He recognized that he was badly out-gunned in terms of combat power when pitted against the Federal forces. Jackson had to rely on the concentration of mass at the decisive time and place to develop superior combat power. It would be through the use of maneuver warfare that Jackson would be able to generate his superior combat power at the time and place of his own choosing.

In conclusion, the Valley Campaign of 1862 stands out as the prime example of maneuver warfare. Even though Jackson had his quirks, he was ultimately set-up for success by Lee who gave Jackson enough authority to carry out his own campaign as long as he was drawing attention away from Richmond. It would be through this independent command that Jackson would be able to run circles around his Federal opponents who were being controlled back in Washington. Overall, this particular campaign illustrates the necessity of granting your field commanders enough responsibility in carrying out their own plans to achieve success on the battlefield.

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Show Footnotes and Bibliography

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Copyright © 2008 Richard Podruchny.

Written by Richard Podruchny. If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact Richard Podruchny at:

About the author:
Richard Podruchny is currently an active duty member of the USAF for the last 14 years. Over those 14 years, I have been stationed or deployed in the United Kingdom, Turkey, South Korea, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Texas, Virginia, and Alaska. As of lately, I'm an instructor for our Combat Targeting Course where we teach our students, both officer and enlisted, the doctrine and methods through which the Air Forces wields Air Power. I have been married for the last 10 years and my wife and I have two beautiful children, an 8 year old daughter and a 5 year old son.

Published online: 05/18/2008.
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