By linda wheeler
In 1864, Shenandoah and Frederick Counties were rocked by Civil War battles for the second time. First was the Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson campaign in 1862, which brought the war to the Shenandoah Valley. Although he succeeded in his mission to lessen the pressure on Richmond by forcing the Union to move troops from there to confront him in the Valley, he also brought the war to this place: to Kernstown and other small communities connected by the Old Valley Pike.
Two years later, Gen. Jubal Early was ordered to accomplish the same mission. He was to draw troops away from Petersburg and again, there was a battle at Kernstown, a small farming community south of Winchester. It took place on July 24 on the same sprawling farm owned by the Pritchard family. There wasn’t a vendetta for that particular family but rather it was their rolling farm land that was attractive militarily. It offered high points for cannons, and farm buildings and a long stone wall along the driveway were useful for concealment.
For the Pritchard family, it was hell on earth two times around. The parents and children would emerge from the safety of their cellar to a world of trampled fields and a harvest of dead and dying soldiers strewn across the farm. Each time, they filled the house with the wounded, caring for men from both sides as best they could.
It was also the last major Confederate victory in the Valley. For a short time, Winchester and other places in the area were freed of occupying Union forces.
As it happened in First Kernstown, misinformation about enemy troop strength played an important role in the outcome. In 1862, Jackson attacked Union forces believing there were only a few available to protect Winchester. He was wrong and paid for it. In 1864, Gen. Horatio Wright made a similar mistake when he decided the Confederates were no longer a threat to Winchester and ordered two corps under his command to return to Washington where they would then be sent to Petersburg. That left Gen. George Crook, who took over for Wright when he also left Winchester, with a force of less than 12,000.
Early knew of this and used it against Crook. He marched on Winchester with nearly 17,000 men. Crook’s intelligence was that Early had only a small cavalry.
The tables had turned.
Crook’s forces moved south of Winchester to counter Early’s men, setting up cannons on Pritchard’s Hill behind the family home. They got as far as Opequon Church, just south of the Pritchard farm, before being forced back toward Winchester by the Confederates. At the farm, the federals took a stand behind the stone wall that lined the driveway but were mowed down by the advancing Southerners.
Union Col. James Mulligan, commander of Crook’s Third Division, was with his troops at the wall. He tried to rally them as the Confederates overran the wall. Mulligan was mortally wounded. As his men retreated, they tried to carry him with them but he knew the battle for the farm, as well as for his own life, was lost.
“Lay me down and save the flag,” he told them. He was left behind as the Union forces rapidly quit the Pritchard farm and then Winchester. They didn’t stop until they had cleared Winchester and moved onto Maryland and Pennsylvania.
It was what the military calls a total rout.
Back at the Pritchard farm, Mulligan was carried into the house where he was nursed and cared for by the family but he died three days later from his wounds. According to one history of the battle, Samuel Pritchard said some years later that Mulligan, “died in my arms. I was holding his head up at the time he died.”
The victory at Kernstown allowed the audacious Early to push on toward Washington, D.C. He burned Chambersburg, PA on route to the capital, but was slowed by Union resistance at the Battle of Monocacy just outside Frederick, MD. He managed to reach the District of Columbia and march all the way to within seven miles of the White House before turning back.
Early’s victory at Kernstown led President Abraham Lincoln to put the entire Valley under command of Gen. Philip Sheridan. Confederate fortunes turned at the Battles of Third Winchester and Cedar Creek. Eventually the Valley residents would suffer the most under Sheridan’s command when he ordered a systematic burning of large sections of the area.
This story is Part Two of the series, The Valley at War - 1864
1. New Market - May 15
2. Second Kernstown - July 24
3. Third Winchester - Sept. 19, Fishers Hill - Sept. 21-22, The Burning - Sept. 22-Oct. 19
4. Toms Brook-Oct. 9, Cedar Creek - Oct. 19
Second Kernstown Anniversary Activities
The anniversary date for the Battle of Second Kernstown is July 24 but be sure to note that the Kernstown Battlefield Association, the nonprofit owner of the battlefield, will hold its programs on July 19 and 20.
July 19: a full-day bus tour of places that were important in the days leading up to and including the Second Kernstown battle; led by historian and author Scott Patchan. Cost is $95 per person and the registration deadline is July 1.
July 19 and 20: 9 am to 5 pm. At the battlefield—no entry fee—free activities will include tours of the battlefield and the historic Pritchard house, living history portrayals by the 31st Georgia, the10th West Virginia and two Confederate cavalry units, displays of artillery and artifacts, period fashion shows and live period music by the “Shenandoah Valley Minstrels.”
For more information, go to www.kernstownbattle.org.
July 24: 4 pm. National Park Service rangers conduct a free 90-minute walking tour of the Second Kernstown battlefield. After the program, the Pritchard house will be open for tours. For more information, call 540-869-3051.
Top: On display at the Kernstown Battlefield visitor's center is a collection of old bullets that were found at various battles sites. Photo by Linda Wheeler
Below: Visitors to the Kernstown battlefield follow the path to the Pritchard house. The original stone wall that was strategic to soldiers of both sides still stands and runs the length of the driveway. Photo by Linda Wheeler