Near Ashby’s Gap
July 19, 1861
In July 1861 President Abraham Lincoln decided that the Federal Army needed to seize the city of Richmond, Virginia which was the Confederate capitol and prevent the rebel congress from meeting and organizing resistance. To do this he sent the Union field commander General Irvin McDowell and his volunteer army of 37,000 men to march south and invade Virginia. The Federal Army was quite confident that they would make short work or any resistance and quickly end the southern rebellion.
A prominent socialite who was a southern sympathizer, Mrs. Rose O’Neal Greenhow sent word to confederate General Pierre Gustave Beauregard of the impending invasion. Beauregard issued orders to all the southern forces in the area to quickly gather and intercept the invading Federal Army. Brigadier General Thomas J. Jackson received orders to move his 1st Brigade of the Army of the Shenandoah from Winchester to Manassas by four o‘clock on July 19th, a distance of about 60 miles. Jackson force marched his troops and covered the miles so quickly his men would soon be known as “The Foot Cavalry”. The march was sometimes conducted at the double-quick step and included wading the Shenandoah River and climbing the Blue Ridge Mountains at Ashby’s Gap. He Bivouacked his men at two o’clock in the morning and an aid asked the general if guards needed to be posted. Jackson replied, “No, let the poor fellows sleep, I will guard the camp myself.” The next morning standing along side his horse Little Sorrel Jackson watches as the troops wake up from their short rest and prepare for the day’s march. The brigade would reach Manassas by 4 o’clock and join with other southern units. On July the 21st the Battle of Manassas would be fought between 29,000 Confederates and 37,000 Federal soldiers.
The first part of the battle went well for the Federals and southern units began to waver and break. But holding a key position at the Henry House Hill was Jackson’s brigade. Below the hill was General Barnard Bee’s Georgians who were taking heavy losses. To bolster his men General Bee seeing Jackson’s strong line said to his men, “Look! There stands Jackson like a stone wall. Let us resolve to die here and we shall conquer.” Shortly afterward Bee was mortally wounded but his words would forever be remembered. From that time onward Thomas J. Jackson became “Stonewall”. The tide of battle turned and the confederates counter attacked the astonished Federals causing them to flee for life and limb. The legend of Stonewall Jackson had been born.
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