Wikipedia article on the campaign

I'm curious why Jackson's valley campaign is considered a victorious Confederate campaign. Yes, Jackson won almost all the battles that were fought, but as I understand it, by the end of the campaign the Union held the valley. Not only did they have more total soldiers in the valley (52k vs. 17k) at the close of the campaign, Jackson and his command left the valley to join the Peninsula campaign, i.e. the Union forces still in the valley were unopposed. Jackson had won several battles and kept the Union armies away from the Peninsula, which would make this campaign a strategic victory. However, the article says:

If the Federals could reach Staunton in the upper Valley, they would threaten the vital Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, which ran from Richmond to the Mississippi River. Stonewall Jackson wrote to a staff member, "If this Valley is lost, Virginia is lost."

If we assume that Jackson was right, then since the Union was in control of the Valley at the end of the campaign, the campaign was also a strategic Union victory that threatened Confederate authority over Virginia. Presumably, at some point later in the war, the Confederates went back into the Valley and drove the Union armies out (or the Union armies voluntarily left), and that would be the actual victorious Confederate campaign.

As a comparison, the Battle of Wavre in the Napoleonic Wars is a French victory even though this "French victory" strongly contributed to the Allies winning the Waterloo campaign. Similarly, it sounds like Jackson's Valley campaign is a Union victory even though this "Union victory" strongly contributed to the Confederates winning the Peninsula campaign.

Am I missing something?

  • 1
    "it proved to be a strategic Confederate victory because President Abraham Lincoln reinforced the Union's Valley forces with troops that had originally been designated for the Peninsula Campaign against Richmond."
    – Tomas By
    Apr 9, 2019 at 7:24
  • @TomasBy Was addressed in the original question but going to edit it to make it clearer.
    – Allure
    Apr 9, 2019 at 7:36
  • 1
    What constitutes a victory is a bit of philosophical question. On tactical level, Jackson surely defeated Federal forces several times, inflicting more casualties then he suffered, and capturing considerable amount of supplies. On strategic level, he tied up lot of Federal troops that could be used elsewhere. Only on operational level he lost because he didn't held the valley in the end. But, as you said yourself, Federals didn't manage to use this advantage to invade South, so even this "victory" is a moot question.
    – rs.29
    Apr 9, 2019 at 7:44
  • @rs.29 any idea why the Federals didn't invade the South? They had some 50k soldiers against nothing, no?
    – Allure
    Apr 9, 2019 at 7:56
  • 1
    Yes, but they didn't realize their 52k were facing "nothing" because Jackson had slipped away. More to the point, they didn't realize that they were facing "only" 17K earlier. It seemed more like 27K or even 37k.
    – Tom Au
    Apr 9, 2019 at 8:54

2 Answers 2


Essentially, Jackson managed to be in "two places at once." That is, he first took on and defeated for slightly weaker forces totaling 52,000 men with only 17,000 of his own. So he tied them up in the Shenandoah Valley at a time when McClellan was trying to attack Richmond, and had actually been promised these 52,000 was reinforcements.

Then Jackson's 17,000 men was used to reinforce Robert E. Lee near Richmond. This brought Lee's total strength to about 90,000 men, versus about 100,000 for McClellan. But Jackson's (earlier) and "virtual" presence in northern Virginia kept the 52,000 men there, even though Jackson was no longer there. If they "knew," they could have cut the railroad to Tennessee, but they feared Jackson that much. So Jackson was able to help Lee AND restrain the other 52,000 men at the same time, with one group of 17,000. That spells "victory" to me.

  • 2
    Did the Union army have no scouts? It's very surprising to me that they can fail to realize that there's no opponent left in the Valley. Even if they didn't realize Jackson had left, did they also not realize when Jackson arrived at the Peninsula that he can't be in the Valley?
    – Allure
    Apr 9, 2019 at 9:13
  • @Allure McClellan doesn't have the reputation of being overly cautious for no reason. He would've thought Jackson would have left reserves nearby.
    – pboss3010
    Apr 9, 2019 at 12:35
  • @pboss3010 it wasn't McClellan commanding in the valley though, was it?
    – Allure
    Apr 9, 2019 at 12:46
  • @Allure No,he wasn't there. Not sure if he was overall general-in-chief at the time, but can imagine him advising Lincoln to keep reinforcements in the valley.
    – pboss3010
    Apr 9, 2019 at 13:04
  • @Allure, Jackson had just engaged 5 union armies in Shenandoah over 3 months destroyed 3 of them and scared the hell out of Washington DC. The Union soldiers left in the Shenandoah knew Jackson wasn't there any longer. But the Shanadoah was a highway to Washington DC's flanks. They were left there to defend Washington's rear. Although Jackson never had the forces to attack D.C He caused the Union to split their forces and weaken the offensive against Richmond, for fear that he did.
    – user27618
    Apr 9, 2019 at 18:51


Why is Jackson's valley campaign considered a Confederate victory?

Yes, Jackson won almost all the battles that were fought, but as I understand it, by the end of the campaign the Union held the valley. Not only did they have more total soldiers in the valley (52k vs. 17k) at the close of the campaign, Jackson and his command left the valley to join the Peninsula campaign, i.e. the Union forces still in the valley were unopposed.

Short Answer

Vastly outnumbered throughout the Valley Campaign Jacksons win's five out of six pitched battles destroys 3 union armies (Banks, Shields and Freemont) , and occupies more than 52,000 men with his own forces which never were greater than 17,000 men. The Union soldiers Jackson occuped came at the expense of General McClellan's siege of Richmond. Jackson effectively freezes the entire Peninsular Campaign and enables the newly appointed (Jun 1, 1862) Robert E. Lee time to perform his own magic with the Seven Days Battle. It is an incredible display of Military Tactics which entirely changed the Strategic outlook of the war in 1862. Prior to the Valley Campaign McClellan is threatening the Confederate Capital in Richmond. Jackson's Valley Campaign was a significant part of the Confederacy turning the tables on the Union and not only forcing the Union away from Richmond but then the Confederacy actually invaded the North.


  • Mar – Jun 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign, Virginia
  • Mar – Jul 1862 Union's Peninsular Campaign
  • June 1, 1862, General Joe Johnson is wounded at Seven Pines and Robet E. Lee takes command.
  • Jun 25, 1862 – Jul 1, 1862, Lee's Seven Days Battle forcing McClellan away from Richmond
  • Sept 1862, Lee invades the North when he crosses the Potomac River into Maryland
  • Sept 17, 1862, Battle of Antietam Md.

Detailed Answer

Jackson's valley campaign wasn't just "considered" a Confederate victory. It is somewhat of an understatement to say it is considered the finest display of tactics in the entire civil war.

The reason it was so awe inspiring was Jackson was so clever in choosing his battles and evading existential threats. Outnumbered throughout the entire campaign he gives himself the numeric superiority in 4 of the 6 battles of the campaign while winning 5 of 6 battles.

From Video Jackson's Valley Campaign 7:44/8:47

  • Union Victory, Battle of Kernstown: 8,500 union vs 3,800 confederates
  • Confederate Victory, Battle of McDowell: 6500 union vs 11,600 confederates
  • Confederate Victory, Battle of Front Royal: 900 union vs 17,000 confederates
  • Confederate Victory, Battle of Winchester: 3,500 vs 16,000 confederates
  • Confederate victory, Battle of Cross Keys: 11,500 vs 5,800
  • Confederate Victory, Battle of Port Republic 3,500 vs 6,000 confederates

When the Large Union force was opposing him, Jackson evaded. When the Union devided their forces, Jackson turned and fought. over and over again chasing and being chased up and down the Shenandoah Valley it was an amazing display and a large part of the Jackson's legend.

Strategically it not only enabled Lee's systematic defeat of George McClellan in the seven days battle which forced the Union to withdraw from the confederate capital and ultimately fall back to Washington D.C it also enabled the first Confederate invasion of the north, and McClellan being relieved of his command after Antiedem.

Here is the picture. Richmond is besieged by 120,000 union troops under General McClellan which had landed from ships and marched from the coast overland to the Confederate Capital. They were so close to Richmond it is said they can hear the church bells from the center of the city. McClellan's has ordered another 65,000 troops to march south from Washington D.C and join his siege (30,000 under Gen McDowell, 35,000 under General Banks) General Joe Johnston who was commanding the Confederate forces defending Richmond prior to June 1, 1862 has about 60,000 men and a pretty poor track record head to head against McClellan up to that point. That's the picture when General Jackson is ordered to take his army of 3,500 men and create a diversion to take pressure off of Richmond. What Jackson does is create his own offensive, which threatens Washington D.C and occupies both McDowells(30,000 men) and Banks(35,000 men) armies and even forces the Union to commit a third army under Fairbanks(20,000 men). Each force larger than Jackson's which half way through the campaign was at around 8,000 men.

Overview of Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign
Vastly outnumbered, and at times, facing three Union armies (5 union armies were committed to defeat Jackson, but three was the most he faced at one time), Jackson managed in less than three months to march his Army of the Valley hundreds of miles and fight a series of engagements (including six pitched battles) in a masterpiece of military art that ultimately created a grand diversion which tied up thousands (tens of thousands) of Union troops threatening Richmond.

Jackson goal in the shenandoah is to divert Union forces from the siege of Richmond. Jackson's actions not only kept the numerically superior armies under MacDowel, Banks, and Fairbanks from Joining or supporting MacClellan in Richmond, but it caused panic in DC which feared Jackson would invade the city. All of this left General McClellan's forces weakened and his confidence shattered. Thus he was vulnerable to Lee's Seven Day's battle where Lee exploited McClellan's obsession with planning every detail of an engagement by overwhelming him and then systematically marched McClellan backwards from Richmond until he was forced to fall back on Washington DC as Lee would threaten the North.

To get a feel for how maneuverable and impressive Jackson's campaign was check out this video. Jackson's Valley Campaign It's about 8 minutes and really is well done.

  • quibble: You say "...gives himself the numeric superiority in 3 of the five battles of the campaign..." but the numbers you give have numeric superiority in 4 of 5 battles.
    – user15620
    Apr 9, 2019 at 22:55
  • @StevenBurnap thank you I forgot to list the battle of Cross Keys and it should read Jackson won 5 of 6 pitched battles in the valley campaign with numeric superiority in 4. I modified the table and fixed the references.
    – user27618
    Apr 9, 2019 at 23:19
  • Although this is a comprehensive answer, I feel this misses the heart of the question, which is: given that the Federals controlled the Shenandoah Valley at the end of the campaign, how can it be claimed that Jackson won? I don't disagree that Jackson conducted a very skillful campaign, I just don't see how it was a victory. Aside from the destruction of Jackson's army, the Federals presumably achieved everything they set out to do; with Jackson leaving they could also presumably just march to Staunton and cut the railroad etc too.
    – Allure
    Apr 10, 2019 at 2:46
  • 1
    In that sense although it was a Confederate grand strategic victory (because preservation of Richmond must be more important than preservation of the Valley), this was still a Union victory. It's possible this view is wrong (which is why I'm asking the question), but your answer doesn't address it much.
    – Allure
    Apr 10, 2019 at 2:49
  • 1
    @Allure Depends upon the objective. Holding the valley with a few thousand men against the 90,000 the union sent against Jackson was never a realistic achievable goal. The survival of Jackson’s small army was a miracle. Drawing 50,000 men away from Richmond while defeating and destroys 3 numerically superior armies in 5 battles is the stuff of legend. Assigning your own objectives to Jackson and then faulting Jackson for not achieving them is not a reasonable way to judge his accomplishment.
    – user27618
    Apr 10, 2019 at 3:55

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