Account of the Battle of Port Republic, Va., June 1862
The second week of May 1862 the 7th Ohio, including Company H from Warren, was on the move. On Friday of that week the regiment was ordered to Falmouth, Va. This order was seen by General Banks' and his commanders as a serious mistake in logistics. Moving his command, of which the 7th was a part, would most likely allow the escape of Gen. Jackson and his forces from the Shenandoah Valley and surely extend the length of the war another year. On Monday, the 7th wound its way to the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains. On the evening of the same day, they crossed the south branch of the Shenandoah River at Columbia Bridge, then continued in the direction of Luray and encamped there that evening.
On the 13th of May, Tuesday, the regiment continued its journey down the river until nightfall, where it again encamped for the night. At about midnight, a severe thunderstorm hit the camp and continued throughout the night, the rain continued several days. On Wednesday the 14th, the regiment reached Front Royal, a small village near the junction of the two branches of the Shenandoah River and at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains. On the 15th, the men set foot across the mountains but encountered the Rebel cavalry who harassed but did not attack. The harassment lasted the next several days. The regiment encamped at Warrenton from the 17th to the 20th and then resumed their movement to Fredericksburg. They reached Falmouth, on the north side of the Rappahannock River on Friday the 23rd of May.
In and around Falmouth were all of McDowell's Corps numbering approximately 41,000 men and 100 pieces of artillery. The grand Union strategy was for McDowell and McClelland to march on Richmond and capture the Rebel Capital. On Saturday, the 24th of May, President Lincoln and Secretary of War Halleck came to assist in details of the march on Richmond. The regiment was to take part and would begin their movement on Monday the 26th of May since the resident and McDowell were against starting the march on Sunday. However, that evening the President and the Secretary left for Washington. Within hours McDowell received a telegram from the President stating that General Jackson was making another raid down the Shenandoah Valley, supposedly with the capability of crushing Banks' Corp there. Soon after another telegram came to send a division after Jackson in the Valley. This was the fatal blow for the campaign to capture Richmond. McDowell assigns Shields Division, of which the 7th is part, to return to the Valley.
During any war the Capital of a nation is always in the way. The city of Washington was in the way, again. Jackson, with an army of about 20,000 men diverted and stalled an army of about 150,000. In defending Washington, the Union lost the opportunity to capture Richmond. Washington was a detriment to its own cause. The Confederates knew this and used it to every advantage.
On the 26th, Shields Division began the long march back to the Shenandoah. The men marched almost continuously for three days, stopping at Rectortown on the eve of the 28th of May. Here they awaited supplies and rested. On the 29th, Thursday, they received the following orders: "4 pm- Colonel Kimball, commanding the first brigade, you will march immediately, leave your teams and wagons, take only ambulances and ammunition wagons and provisions as much as is on hand in haversacks. Shields, General Commanding."
By 6 p.m. the regiment was enroute to Front Royal. They marched throughout the night except for two hours rest at Manassas Gap, and was positioned at 11:30 a.m. May 30. They established themselves on a ridge on the east side of the village without detection from the enemy. However, before the division could surprise the Rebels, they were discovered and the Confederates fled, leaving the town and railroad depot full of supplies in flames. A small company of cavalry and infantry pursued the enemy but with little success. They ceased their pursuit at the junction of the Strasburg and Middletown Roads, beyond the branches of the river. At this point, the regiment being totally exhausted, the men stopped and rested for a short time. Upon returning to Front Royal they captured 1 piece of artillery, three heavily loaded trains of stores, eight wagons, one hundred sixty prisoners, including the famous Rebel spy Belle Boyd, as well as setting free several hundred Union prisoners.
For the exception of minor skirmishes the next two days, the 31st of May and 1st of June, were spent recuperating. Late on the evening of the 1st General McDowell came into camp and ordered the division back approx. 2 miles back on the road to Luray to serve as rear guard.
By the orders of McDowell the division was again in motion to the Luray Valley east of the south branch of the Shenandoah and Massanutten Mountains. Jacksons' army was moving up the Valley on the Staunton Turnpike and had destroyed all the bridges crossing the Shenandoah from Front Royal to Port Republic. Making it impossible to either confront Jackson or help General Fremont on the other side of the river. The regiment moved back to Luray on the 4th of June, after having marched 300 miles in the last 24 days. It was reported that 40 percent of the troops did not have shoes, 2 percent were without pants, and many other clothing deficiencies were creating tremendous hardships on the men. At this point both men and officers were near exhaustion.
On the 6th of June, Friday, the 7th Regiment was again set in motion towards Port Republic. This time they were in a race with Stonewall Jackson to reach the last remaining bridge to cross the Shenandoah River. If they could succeed in stopping Jackson from crossing they could use forces on both sides of the river to destroy his forces and force the remaining Confederates out of the Valley. By night fall the regiment reached Columbia Bridge, set up camp and prepared for a restful evening. However, they received an order to pull up and fall back some six miles. After arriving at this new location they commenced in setting up camp again. They again received orders to return to the previously vacated camp- immediately. They arrived at the original camp at midnight, consequently wasting time and energy for a twelve mile march.
On the morning of the 7th the command was again put in motion. They passed through Waynesboro and late in the evening arrived at Naked Creek, where they remained for the evening. The regiment was so low on supplies it had only flour and dried beef for supper. On Sunday, the 8th of June, the regiment was awakened to empty stomachs and nothing to eat for breakfast. After being assured that supplies awaited them 6 miles ahead they moved again at 4 a.m. At 2 p.m. they arrived near Port Republic.
Stonewall Jackson's entire force was in the vicinity of Port Republic. Stonewall had defeated General Fremont at the Battle of Cross Keys the previous day and could not offer Shields any assistance in keeping Jackson from crossing the bridge. General Shields was ordered to burn the bridge on the 8th and arrived in time to do so but elected to try to defend it instead. He was overwhelmed by Jackson's forces and resigned his commission after the battle for doing so.
At approx. 5 a.m. of the 9th the Battle of Port Republic commenced. The brigade containing the 7th was ordered forward in protection of the batteries. At about 8:30 a.m. the regiment pushed forward and repulsed the advance of the Rebels. After holding the line for an hour the Rebels were reinforced and pushed the 7th and its brigade back to their original position along the battery. The Rebels flanked the battery with overwhelming numbers and the Union forces were forced to retreat. By 10 a.m. the battle was over. The casualties of the 7th were: 10 enlisted men killed; 3 officers and 52 enlisted men wounded; and 10 enlisted men captured, for a total of 75. Company H of Warren, which left with 100 men in June of 1861, entered the battle with 35 able-bodied men, of which 5 were wounded: Malcolm Eckenrode, Morris Osborne, George Parker, Edwin Wood and George L. Wood.
An interesting incident occurred immediately after the battle: Chaplain Wright of the 7th Regiment met General Shields riding leisurely towards him unaccompanied by his staff. "I saluted him. I never have since.'' He said, ''You are going the wrong way, chaplain." To which I responded, "We stayed where we were as long as we could Sir." "Well, what the hell did you fight there for?" "You must ask General Tyler about that Sir," I answered. Just then Tyler came up and there were some "cuss words" between them. Tyler said he fought there because "you ordered me to do so." Shields strongly denied it, and then Tyler took out a paper and read it to Shields giving him the order and duly signed. Shields reached out his hand for it and said "let me see it?"
The answer was more forcible than elegant, "not by a damned sight," and Tyler replaced it in his pocket, and we rode off.
President Lincoln and General Shields had a previous meeting of sorts. James Shields nearly fought a duel with Abraham Lincoln on September 22, 1842. Lincoln had published a provocative letter in a Springfield, Ill., newspaper, ridiculing Shields, the State Auditor. Lincoln's future wife and her close friend continued writing letters about Shields without his knowledge. Taking offense to the articles, Shields demanded "satisfaction" and the incident escalated to the two parties meeting in Missouri to participate in a duel. Lincoln took responsibility for the articles and accepted the duel. Just prior to engaging in the duel, Lincoln made it a point to demonstrate his advantage by easily cutting a branch just above Shields' head; the two participants' ladies intervened and were able to convince the two men to cease this madness, on the understanding that Lincoln had not written the letters initially.