The hamlet of Kernstown, Virginia was just to the southwest of Winchester and is in fact considered essentially a part of Winchester today. This one-day battle on a cold Sunday, March 23 of 1862, pitted about 3,400 Confederate troops against a Union force of roughly 8,500. This marked the first battle of Stonewall Jackson’s famed Valley Campaign of 1862 and was his only tactical defeat.
The bulk of the battle was fought upon the premises of the Pritchard Farm. Here was positioned the Union Army of General James Shields under the command of Col. Nathan Kimball. A total of 16 Federal guns manned the high ground just above the large Pritchard House.
Jackson was wrongly informed that much of this Union force had abandoned the Valley, and in an effort to re-take Winchester ordered an attack upon this artillery position. A destructive fire blasting the advancing Confederates in open field moved the action to another ridge one-half mile to the west. Though the Rebels won Sandy Ridge in a race to gain this high ground, ultimately the superior Union numbers would necessitate a withdrawal from the field for Jackson’s men – now low on ammunition. Over 1,000 soldiers were casualties (total of both sides).
Though the day went against Jackson, the Confederates gave an impression of a larger force than indeed existed. The consequence of this was to cause great concern in Washington, to the extent that it feed the decision of Lincoln and the War Department to retain more troops for the defense of the Capital – just at the time McClellan was begging for a total commitment for his Richmond advance. To what extent this entire scenario contributed to the ultimately failed effort of the Peninsula Campaign is the stuff of historical debate!
Driving south through Winchester this past Sunday, I determined to stop at the battlefield and get some pictures for the blog. I did not expect the building (Pritchard House) to be open at this season of the year, but neither did I expect to be completely locked out of the grounds by an iron gate. However, here is a picture of the Pritchard Home – where I’ll hope to someday visit (on a Sunday in season I guess).