"...this is a great country and a beautiful one. I have never seen so beautiful and apparently so fertile a valley."

New Market Gap seen from the Blue Ridge Mountains
The Allenganies are in the background.
Williams' march was on between them and
Massanutten Mountain in which the gap lays

      Banks' command pressed up the valley scattering the opposition who made occasional stands behind rivers forcing the Yankees to form lines of battle. The bridges would then be burnt and the rebels would dissolve into the countryside until they made their next stand.

      Confidence soared and the illusion of success grew. Williams' letters became jaunty, although the extended lines and poor equipment began to cause him concern. To their left, they passed New Market Pass, which, unknown to them, would soon play a key role in leading them to disaster and retreat...

      "The day was beautifully spring-like, the finest we have had, and what with the banging of big guns, the long lines of troops and baggage wagons, it was quite a day of excitement. Many of the shells of the Rebels burst hundreds of feet in the air, giving the semblance of pyrotechnics got up for our entertainment. When, however, a piece from one of them struck a poor fellow sitting quietly on some railroad ties, splitting his skull and dashing his brains in all directions, the poetry of the shelling was changed to a sad realization of these dangers."

      A brief skirmish at Stony Creek, left him in possession of Edinsburg where he set up his headquarters in Jackson's former headquarters at a place called Willow Glen Cottage. An air of civility and normality reigned as evinced in the following.

      "The night after we arrived I went to call upon the brigade commander and met the band of one of his regiments coming to serenade me. I took them back to Willow Glen and gave the young ladies the benefit of the music. They were very pleasant and chatty but rank Secessionists, having brothers and other friends in the Rebel army. The scene from the house was exceedingly beautiful. The troops had marched without tents and one brigade had bivouacked from the road far up the hillsides and built a very large number (countless as seen from the piazza) of camp fires. There was just enough of the new moon to make "darkness visible" and to give a magical effect to the whole scene. I don't know as I have ever seen a sight more striking and impressive, especially as the music of the band-the murmur of the thousand voices from the bivouac and the occasional cheer from the men as some patriotic air struck their fancy, taken up and carried on away to the far off ridges gave additional effect to the eye picture. This, however, is the occasional poetry of war."

New Market Gap from the Valley Pike
north of New Market, Virginia, April 1995

      New Market fell and the march became almost leisurely, as the spunky and resourceful rebels scattered before them. Williams' affection for the beauty of the valley grew as he proceded and wrote words that would draw me there 132 years later.

      ...this is a great country and a beautiful one. I have never seen so beautiful and apparently so fertile a valley. It improves greatly as we advance. There were points on our march on Thursday that one never tired looking at. We have still the same mountain ranges on either hand, perhaps six miles apart, and the same rolling valley between, but the ridges are more broken into peaks and gaps and the valley is occasionally traversed by spurs and dotted by solitary peaks, which rise like sugar loaves from an even surface.

      This valley thus far continues to be beautiful-even more so than farther "down," as they call toward the north, more diversified and picturesque. We have reached the end of the ridge that has hemmed us in on the east, and now the valley spreads out in that direction to the Blue Ridge, while the loftier and irregular tops of the Alleghenies are plainly visible on the west, stretching far away toward the south. The intervening valley is broken into many conical-shaped knobs, which give a most singular appearance to the view as seen in the late afternoon from a high hill east of town. The town is beautifully situated in the bottom of the valley and has around it many elegant country seats. It is altogether the most attractive-looking town I have seen in the valley.

      His first observation about slaves occurred here and seem to betray his political leanings. A war Democrat, he uses his observations in a dig against abolitionists, who were Republicans.

      The Negro population increases as we go south, and although they all understand that the rear is open to them, very few leave their masters. Indeed, many of them are afraid of us at first, probably from big stories of our cruelties that are told them. They seem glad at our coming and probably think some great benefit is to accrue to them, but they show very little desire to quit their present homes. In truth, they are much attached to localities, and but for the fear of being sold south I don't think a dozen could be coaxed away. As it is, probably fifty have come in and are employed by our quartermasters. If the abolitionists could see things as they really are here they would have less confidence in the aid the Negro is in concluding this war. Their masters say that they become more insolent and lazy on our advance, and that is the only good we are likely to do them...

      Harrisonburg had fallen into their possession and the southern foot of Massanutten was reached. Outnumbered perhaps 4 to 1, Jackson's little army huddled near Swift Run Gap of the Blue Ridge across the South Fork of the Shenandoah, seemingly ready to give up the Valley to Yankee juggernaut to join Johnston's Army about Richmond which was contending with McClellan's army in the Peninsula formed by the York and James Rivers. But, troubling notes appear.

      Our cavalry were sent forward toward Staunton a few days since but found the bridges burned over the streams below, which were not fordable just now. Jackson's army is east of this from fifteen to twenty miles on the slopes of the Blue Ridge. He has a very large bridge between us and him. It is said that he has it ready for burning. We fear he has been largely reinforced and intends to turn upon us here or wait for us in his present strong position...

      I hardly know what will be the next movement. We are now pretty well advanced into the interior and are a long way from the base of our supplies. As we have neither railroad nor water transportation we find it no small task to keep our force supplied in rations, forage, and clothing. I contrived to get shoes for most of my division at the last camp, but our wants are still many. The troops have had to bivouac much of the time in rain and snow...

      He was correct about Jackson's reinforcements, but no one could have predicted the effect of the still small army that was soon to march into legend...

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