The sun is over the yardarm – Royal Examiner

(Editor’s note: Author John Paul Morgan will be the featured speaker at tonight’s May 23dr ceremonies sponsored by the Warren Rifles Museum commemorating both the Battle of Front Royal and the 160th anniversary of Jackson’s Valley Campaign. The event will begin at 6:30 PM. Due to the threat of steady rain late this afternoon and evening, the event has been moved indoors to the Warren Rifles Museum at 95 Chester Street in midtown Front Royal, from the good weather site at Soldier’s Circle in Prospect Hill Cemetery.)

There’s a line in the 1968 “Green Beret” movie where John Wayne says, “Put PSYWAR on it.” That’s essentially what the Confederacy did when things looked bleak 160 years ago. In case you missed that last point – this spring is the 160th anniversary of Jackson’s Valley Campaign. Just so you know, Front Royal is probably the only town in America that can claim a run and gun shootout between opposing armies in its streets. Urban engagements were a rarity in the US Civil War.

As a former Intelligence officer, I was intrigued with the military deception and Information warfare exhibited in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862 – and in particular – the effects of said campaign. So much so, that I moved from Washington to the Valley in 2007 to have a closer look. I have yet to depart. Today most of us glance at the Civil War historical signs from time to time but rarely do we pause and visualize what the Valley must have been like in yesteryear. Our collective culture and technology have matured so much that it takes an in-depth imagination to construct such a visual. Meanwhile military classrooms around the world continue to regale their students with captivating tales and lessons learned from maneuvers that occurred on the very streets and grounds we walk around on every day in the Valley.

The Visual: The spring of 1862 was much like the one in 2022 – up to this past weekend – colder than most with lingering snow. The future dawned dark for the Confederates as Federal progress threatened to make this conflict a brief footnote in US history. The combined US Army offensive driving westward between the James and York Rivers was coordinated with another US force moving southward along what is now the I-95 corridor from Fredericksburg. This one-two punch comprised the hammer and anvil smash General McClellan had in mind for the Southern capital. All told, the US army had a force of 200,000 closing in on Richmond. The Confederate defenses had roughly 60,000 troops to oppose this enormous force. The numerical disproportion was increased by the North’s vast material resources.

For a gambling man, this is not a difficult wager here. Take the United States to win by 4 touchdowns – no brainer. Do not doubt a smart bet if the US had not succumbed to a masterful influence operation. As Houdini said, “What the eyes see and the ears hear – the mind believes.” The brain trust of the rebel alliance found a weakness in the Lincoln Administration’s thinking and the results shocked the world. Lincoln and his advisors were very concerned about protecting their capital. General Lee and President Davis would exacerbate those fears by way of a little-known soldier at the time.

For the next three months, General Stonewall Jackson crisscrossed the Valley wired hot with dispatches from General Lee to cause havoc and remain forever in the mind of the Lincoln Administration. Jackson’s objective was to tie up as many Federal forces as possible thereby relieving pressure on the rebel capital while feigning towards Washington if possible. It was a tall order but if successful, Jackson’s maneuvers would divert troops at the very moment McClellan needed them for the combined offensive against Richmond. This would require fake newspaper stories, deceptive marches eastward to get on train transport westward, operational security and speed.

Advertisement for 150th Anniversary of Jackson’s Valley Campaign in 2012, on display at the Warren Rifles Museum in midtown Front Royal. Acknowledgment of the 160th Anniversary of the Valley Campaign and the Battle of Front Royal will be held at 6:30 PM, Monday, May 23, at Soldier’s Circle in Prospect Hill Cemetery weather permitting, with the author as featured speaker. In event of bad weather the ceremony will be moved indoors to the Warren Rifles Museum at 95 Chester St. Photos of Museum materials by Roger Bianchini

Stonewall’s antics in the Valley did not get inside General McClellan’s head but his actions clearly had effects on the National Command team headed by President Lincoln in Washington. The impact on the President and his advisors caused the redirection of three Federal armies totaling over 50,000 troops away from Richmond at a critical juncture. I have essentially removed the anvil portion of the equation. Lincoln re-directed those forces to converge on the Valley with the aim of destroying Jackson and preventing him from threatening Washington. Jackson’s infantry force of about 15,000 was way too small to cause harm to Washington but the US leadership did not know that. Deception is everything in warfare.

One of the advantages Jackson used was a hyper-accurate survey of the Valley’s floor in collusion with cavalry screening and deception to keep the Federal opposition guessing wildly. Federal and Southern newspapers sounded the alarm further enhancing the impact of his exploits – in some cases providing misinformation. Jackson’s troops were known as foot cavalry trudging 40 miles a day. Washington could not make sense of the reports stating Jackson was 60 miles from the last report, so calculations of his troop strength rose exponentially with each report. Federal forces were lulled to sleep by the effective use of cavalry along the valley corridors and mountain gaps. Against Union General Banks, Jackson segregated his force from the protection of his cavalry in order to deceive the opposition as to his location. One minute the Federal forces are exchanging fire with his cavalry diversion in Strasburg and the next minute Banks and staff are reading reports that Jackson is blitzing through Front Royal – seizing Federal supply wagons on his way to Harper’s Ferry. All this was quite alarming to Lincoln and his staff of him as Harper’s Ferry is in proximity of Washington especially for a force that moves as rapid as Jackson’s appeared to be – and especially since there is minimal protection between them. So Lincoln pulled more troops from McClellan thereby further impeding McClellan’s moves against Richmond. Jackson had no intention of attacking Washington.

Meanwhile Jackson’s use of operational security was so effective that his own brigade commanders had no idea where they were going next. That caused a few problems, as you can imagine, but it also meant that stragglers and the Valley citizens could not reveal what they did not know. We call that OPSEC today. The Richmond papers promoted the idea that Richmond defenses were ringed by an enormous force of two hundred thousand. Interestingly, these numbers were confirmed by McClellan’s chief of Intelligence – a man named Pinkerton. As noted above, there were barely sixty thousand. The results of this disinformation cautioned the Federal leviathan’s movements toward Richmond while Lincoln redirected more troops toward the protection of the capital. In modern parlance – this is called “effects based PSYOP at its best!”

There’s an ole saying, it’s not the years in one’s life that matter but the life in one’s years. Prior to the US Civil War, few had ever heard of Stonewall Jackson. In fact, the following summer Jackson would be killed in battle. But in the spring of 1862, in the span of three months, Stonewall Jackson would become the most famous officer in the world. His forces marched hundreds of thousands, fought 5 pitched battles and tied up over 50,000 Federal troops in three months’ time. He effectively saved the Confederacy from certain destruction in 1862. His campaign by him altered the course of the war, forcing US war planners to vector brigades earmarked for the hammer and anvil out to the Valley to crush him.

The strategic results of the Valley campaign followed up by General Lee’s audacious maneuvers along the Chickahominy provide history with the biggest turnaround ever witnessed in warfare. Within weeks of the Valley exploits, the Confederates were at the gates of Washington staging for the invasion of Northern territory. Unreal. But it all started right out here in the Shenandoah Valley 160 years ago.

How about that.

Soldier’s Circle in Prospect Hill Cemetery in Front Royal where 275 confederate soldiers were laid to rest.

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