Battle of McDowell

Battle of McDowell
Date May 8, 1862
Location Highland County, Virginia
Victor Confederate victory
United States (Union) Confederate States
Military Leaders
Robert H. Milroy
Robert C. Schenck
Stonewall Jackson
Unit Strength
6,500 6,000
Casualties and Deaths
Total: 259 Total: 420
34 killed
220 wounded
5 missing
116 killed
300 wounded
4 missing
Part of the American Civil War

The Battle of McDowell, otherwise referred to as “Sitlington’s Hill,” was a historical battle fought on the 8th of May, 1862. The battle occurred in Highland County, which was situated in Virginia. It was considered as part of the campaign by Major Thomas Jackson during the Civil War in the United States. This event was followed by the tactical defeat of Jackson, yet it was a rather strategic victory at the Battle of Kernstown.

Highlights of the Event

On May 7, 1862, Jackson’s column left Staunton and West View, and marched along the historical Parkersburg turnpike. Meanwhile, the brigade of Brig. General Edward Johnson made up the vanguard. By mid-afternoon, there were Union pickets met at Rodger’s tollgate, and the pike crossed Ramsey’s Draft. Afterwards, the Union Force withdrew quickly and abandoned their baggage at the tollgate.

The Confederate force decided to split and group themselves into two columns, so they could surround the Union that is holding their position on the Shenandoah Mountains. Then, Milroy positioned one section of the artillery at Shaw’s Ridge, so he could impede the descent of Johnson from the mountain’s crest. The guns were eventually withdrawn to show their support to McDowell.

At dusk, the advance regiments of Johnson arrived at Shaw’s Fork, the site where they encamped. With the narrow roads and limited campsites, the army stretched about 8 to 10 miles back, along the turnpike. Afterwards, Jackson organized his headquarters at “Rodgers’ tollgate”. By night, Milroy decided to withdraw to McDowell, and established his headquarters in the historic Hull House.

Significant Details about the Battle of McDowell

Beginning at dawn on the 8th of May, the advance crossed successfully Shaw’s Ridge, and they ascended the peak of Bullpasture Mountain. When they reached the ridge’s crest, Jackson and Hotchkiss (his mapmaker) conducted an exploration of the Union Position, which was McDowell. Then, Johnson and his Confederate troops advance towards the base portion of Sitlington’s Hill. Since they expected a roadblock nearby, he decided to diverge from the path into a rather steep and narrow ravine that led to the hilltop.

After Johnson had driven away the Union skirmishers, he deployed the infantry along the sinuous hillcrest. He asked his staff to locate a way where he could position artillery, as well as the best way to flank triumphantly the Union position towards the north.

Eventually, Robert Schenck reached the site after the forced march at Franklin, in West Virginia. Being older than Milroy, he assumed supreme command of the entire Union Force, at McDowell. He decided to deploy his artillery, which consisted of 18 guns, particularly on Cemetery Hill, so the army could defend the bridge that was over the Bullpasture River. In addition, he deployed the infantry from McDowell, which was at the southern portion along the river, which measured about 800 yards. The three cavalry companies surrounded the road’s left flank that was on the northern portion of the village.

Meanwhile, Jackson was rather contented to hold the hillcrest while he searched for the best route to flank towards the north. After much thought, he opted to send artillery to the hill, considering the challenges of removing the pieces during the time of an attack. Then, the Union artillery on Cemetery Hill transferred the pieces by excavating deep trenches for guntrails. They also began firing quickly at the Confederates, which showed their favor to the advancing infantry.

Jackson decided to reinforce his rights on the hill and covered the turnpike successfully with the 21st Virginia. The fighting prevailed for up to four hours, and the battle continued for about four hours, as the Union attackers tried to pierce and attack the center of the line of the Confederate advance. At dusk, the Union withdrew and submitted to McDowell.

Aftermath of the Battle

By nightfall, Union attackers had withdrawn from Sitlington’s Hill and carried their wounded army from the field. According to records, the total number of Union casualties reached 259, with 34 of these killed and 220 were wounded. On the other hand, the number of casualties for the Confederate was 420, which is quite a rare case in the Civil War because the attacker has ended up losing fewer men, as compared to the losses by the defender.

At present, military historians continue to analyze the turnout of events at the Battle of McDowell. They believe that Jackson’s excellent strategy of focusing his efforts against his inferior foes gave him the opportunity to win this historic battle.

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