Jonathan is a professor of History at Lord Fairfax College in Middletown, Virginia. I have known him for a number of years as we both sit on the Kernstown Battlefield Association Board of Directors. He is currently working on interpretive plans for Fisher’s Hill and Cedar Creek Battlefields and serves as the chairman of the Shenandoah Valley Foundation’s Interpretation and History Committee.
His latest work on Jackson’s 1862 Valley Campaign is an excellent overview on the campaign that is well written and offers new insight at the same time. This book is recommended for both the novice and the veteran student of the Civil War who wants to brush up on his or her ’62 Valley Knowledge before heading out on a field trip.
Scott: Jonathan, as long as I have known you, you have been on leading edge of the study of memory and the Civil War in the Shenandoah Valley. In writing your book on Jackson’s Valley Campaign, what was the most important aspect of the campaign that you came across that seemed to create a theme in the memory of the campaign?
Jonathan: Generally it is the issue of legacy—how did the campaign not only define generalship, but how did it establish the legacy of the enlisted as well? None of the other studies of Jackson’s campaign deal with this. One of the issues that I grapple with at various points throughout the book is the role that artwork played in defining the legacy of particular individuals. While I illustrate in the book’s final chapter the role of artwork, Guillaume’s and Washington’s paintings of Jackson at Winchester specifically, in cementing the Valley Campaign as Jackson’s defining moment I also examine for instance how artwork, i.e. the Currier and Ives depiction of Shields at Winchester on March 22, played a role in defining an inappropriately heroic legacy for Gen. James Shields.
The issue of legacy was not only important for men such as Jackson and Shields, but for the enlisted as well. Veterans did all that they could in order to keep that legacy alive. For instance Union soldiers who fought at Kernstown established the Winchester Club after the conflict. This postwar organization met every year for decades after the war every March 23 to commemorate their victory over Stonewall Jackson. Even in defeat Union veterans did all they could to paint their loss in the most positive manner. For example Union veterans of Port Republic wrote after the war that they were more proud of their involvement at Port Republic, a losing effort, rather than of their involvement at the Battle of Gettysburg against some of the same troops they confronted at Port Republic one year earlier.
SCP: Were there any particular incidents in these battles that became a particular point of controversy among the veterans in the post war years?
JAN: Yes—there are a number of instances. First and foremost is the reaction of Union soldiers to the credit that Gen. Shields was given for success at the First Battle of Kernstown. Veterans who fought at First Kernstown vigorously defended the reputation of Col. Nathan Kimball in publications such as The National Tribune. Then of course there are issues with Col. George Gordon’s criticism of Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks’ handling of the situation in the aftermath of Front Royal and his subsequent evacuation to Winchester on May 24, 1862. Gordon, a fellow classmate of Stonewall Jackson’s at West Point, did all he could to disparage Banks’ image in the hope of elevating his own.
Controversy of course was not confined only to the Union side. There was controversy among the Confederates as well. For instance Confederate officers lambasting Stonewall Jackson for putting troops into battle piecemeal at Port Republic. There were also issues of Confederate veterans disparaging the character of Gen. Turner Ashby not only for faulty intelligence preceding 1st Kernstown, but for not following up Banks after First Winchester. Confederate enlisted men were particularly vocal in either their criticism or profound support of Ashby’s conduct in both circumstances.
SCP: How do you think that veterans dwelling on points of controversyamong themselves hindered or hurt interpretation of the 1862 Valley Campaign?
JAN: Among all of the postwar writings that have hurt interpretation of the Valley campaign until present years is George Gordon’s From Brook Farm to Cedar Mountain. Gordon’s work was used by G.F.R. Henderson in his biography of Jackson. Henderson used it largely as the sole Federal source in his discussions of Jackson’s Campaign in the Valley in an effort to present an “objective” look at the Campaign. Because Henderson’s two volume biography of Jackson was regarded as the standard for so many years, Gen. Banks’ has always been portrayed as an inept commander. While not nearly close to Stonewall Jackson in military ability, Banks performed considerably well under the circumstances in the aftermath of Front Royal in being outnumbered and having everything micromanaged by Washington, D.C. It has proven difficult for some to take a more sympathetic approach to Banks’ conduct in the Valley. Fortunately William J. Miller got that ball rolling a number of years ago with his fine essay in Gary Gallagher’s volume on the 1862 Valley Campaign, Peter Cozzens hammered that idea in his book on the campaign, and I am trying to reinforce it. Unfortunately old habits die hard, but the sesquicentennial presents the perfect opportunity for Americans to rethink the conflict objectively and academically.
SCP: Jackson excepted, who is your favorite Confederate officer from
this campaign and why?
JAN: Without a doubt it is Gen. Richard Taylor. He was aggressive, decisive, and without his tenacity circumstances could have been different.
SCP: Who is your favorite Union officer and why?
JAN: Gen. Robert Milroy. My admiration for Milroy in the campaign of course stems from my 2006 biography of the general. While some people have a low opinion of Milroy because of his defeat at 2nd Winchester he performed well in the campaign and showed the kind of aggressiveness needed for the Federals to have a chance. Unfortunately Milroy served under Gen. Fremont—the Federal general I despise the most from this campaign.
SCP: Did you come across any new findings in the course of your research that changed how you viewed the campaign or any of the battles?
JAN: I uncovered some nice tidbits regarding issues of legacy/memory as previously discussed. However the one thing that I was able to uncover that has not been made eminently clear in previous studies is the reaction of African Americans to the campaign in the Rockingham region. I was able to flesh that out a bit more and examine how the African Americans of the Harrisonburg area viewed Banks’ troops and then Fremont’s men as agents of freedom, just as had been the case among African Americans. I wouldn’t say that this altered my view of the campaign, it made it more complete. That was my overall approach—I wanted to make certain that every facet of the campaign discussed in the book not only addressed military issues or circumstances of memory, but illustrated the conflict’s impact on the civilian population.
SCP: Anything else you would like to say about your book?
JAN: Sure—I want to reiterate as I did in the opening pages that this book is intended to paint the campaign in as complete a light as possible, while getting rid of some old perspectives, with fresher ones which illuminate not only this campaign’s significance to the war effort or Jackson’s legacy, but how this campaign transitioned the Shenandoah Valley home front to a front line.
SCP: What is next on the agenda for you in terms of books?
JAN: The next item on my agenda is to complete my work on the memory of Sheridan’s 1864 Shenandoah Campaign and the postwar campaign of reconciliation in the Valley sparked by Sheridan’s Veterans in 1883. The tentative title for the work is Phil Sheridan and His Valley Veterans: The Creation of Legacy and Campaign for Reconciliation. I hope to have a completed manuscript at some point over the next year.
SCP: Thanks Jonathan and best wishes in your future endeavors.