KNIGHT OF THE VALLEYNear Winchester, Virginia
General Stonewall Jackson was not quite ready to fight yet. His army consisted of no more than 5,000 men located in and around Winchester, Virginia in early March 1862. He believed the city of Winchester was indefensible and could be attacked from almost any direction. A combined Federal force of more than 38,000 soldiers was approaching Winchester. Jackson also had the philosophy that soldiers could lose their fighting edge if they were made to build fortifications by digging ditches. Jackson’s plan was to keep his army on the move and catch the enemy in the open where he could out-maneuver his opponent. Believing the town of Winchester was not the place to make a stand he withdrew his army during the night of March 11 under a full moon.
To cover the withdrawal of his army Jackson relied upon his cavalry commander Turner Ashby. As Jackson’s men marched down the Valley Turnpike, Ashby and his men skirmished daily with Federals who advanced too close. Federal leadership constantly worried about Ashby’s cavalry. When a Federal colonel complained to one of his officers about Ashby, the cavalryman replied, “I can’t catch them sir. They leap the fences and walls like deer. Neither our men nor our horses are so trained.”
During moonlit nights and early morning fog, Col. Ashby could be seen on his white stallion, as if a ghost along the hilltops and ridges of the mountains. Many Federals described the ghostly figure on a white horse moving through the trees. During one particular engagement Ashby attacked the skirmishers far in front of his men. Ashby’s horse was so powerful and swift he simply out-distanced his men to the attack and was surrounded by Federal soldiers who fled from the sword-wielding warrior. They learned quickly that the ghost was real.
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