"You will see that we have made a retrograde movement."

A Yankee Regiment Rallies
Images from Civil War Reenactment in Jackson, MI

      By early May Jackson had been reinforced by Ewell's command and the War Department in Washington, fretting over what was felt to be an exposed and overextended position of Banks' command, ordered it to pull back. By May 5 Williams was back at New Market, far from Fremont and frustrated. The next day Jackson set his forces in motion striking the advanced units of Fremont's at McDowell on May 8 and sending them reeling back in the upper Potomac Valley with any hopes of an early union with Banks dashed.

      "You will see that we have made a retrograde movement. I cannot explain the reason, because I really don't think there is any. If there be one, it is unknown to us here and is confided to the authorities at Washington. We regard-it as a most unfortunate policy and altogether inexplicable, especially as we had the game all in our hands, and if the moves had been made with the least skill we could easily have check mated Jackson, Ewell, and Johnston, instead of leaving them to attack and drive back Milroy, as we hear they have done.

      I cannot explain to you, and I am not permitted to complain, but if the amount of swearing that has been done in this department is recorded against us in Heaven I fear we have an account that can never be settled. But here we are with a greatly reduced force, either used as a decoy for the Rebel forces or for some unaccountable purpose known only to the War Department. Imagine our chagrin in marching back, like a retreating force, over the same ground that we had driven the Rebels before us, and having the galling reminders of our defeat, and that without a gun being fired or a man killed. But all this is private and not to be repeated outside of your home. The worst part is that we have put ourselves in a most critical position and exposed the whole of this important valley to be retaken and its immense property of rail roads and stores to be destroyed." (May 17)

Kernstown heights (in background)
outsite Winchester, Virginia

Site of battles of March 23 and May 25
In the first battle, the rebels held the height, in the second, the Union

      News of the defeat at McDowell set Williams to grousing as their earlier withdrawal had put them out of position to aid Fremont's forces. Now he was ordered back upon their fortifications at Strasburg opening the way for Jackson's forces marching down the Valley to slip through the New Market Pass and march down the Luray Valley to strike at the small garrison holding the vital Front Royal on May 23.

      "I have already explained to you in a previous letter why we are here. The whole of this is unexplainable, especially as we occupied a position from which we could in one movement have interposed between the commands of Jackson and Ewell and thus have saved Milroy and Schenck from being driven back with loss. But the whole movement comes from the highest command and we are neither authorized to criticise nor complain. I could say much more, but it is not advisable. I trust we shall be safely extricated from a dilemma, that, to speak mildly, was unnecessarily brought about. I have no idea how long we shall be here or where [we will] go next. I probably know as much as General Banks...." (May 21)

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