In the Shenandoah Valley, Union General Banks' small force of 9000 men was divided at 3 outposts. Stonewall Jackson attacked and defeated one of these at Front Royal on May 23rd. The next day President Lincoln ordered General McDowell to send 20,000 troops to the valley in hopes of catching Jackson. This change in plans greatly distressed General McDowell. He protested that much would be lost and little gained.
Manassas Junction Va, May 28th 1862
To day finds me at the place I left on the 2d of last month. I wrote you a letter on the 26th inst. Describing the march to Acquia Creek, and the sail down the river from there to Alexandria. That letter I entrusted to an Alexandrian, who had been at work on one of our rail roads, to put into the Post Office, as I marched to the RR. Which leads to Manassas Junction. As I said in my letter I had a very pleasant trip to Alexandria, at which place the St. boat “John Brooks” arrived before dark. After cooking a cup of coffee at the steamer’s furnace I turned in. At ½ past 12 o’clock I was aroused by the beating of the “assembly,” as orders had been received to report at Manassas. The drum beat was premature, and after packing my Knapsack I again fell asleep on my Knapsack to be armed at 3 ½ Am. to leave the boat. The Regiment marched to the Alexandria depot but did not start till after 5 Am. On the way to the depot we passed the Jackson House made famous by the death of the heroic Ellsworth. Manassas Junction is just 28 miles from Alexandria. The regiment was packed in baggage cars. We are thankful to ride on anything now. I well remember the disgust of our men at riding on the Camden and Amboy R.R. on second class cars on our way to Hagerstown, and the damage that was done to several of the cars. We were not then used to the army style. I was fortunate enough to sit in the doorway of the car on my Knapsack, so that I had a view of the country through which we were traveling. The whole landscape spoke of war. Through the whole 28 miles there seemed to be an uninterrupted series of desserted camp ground, no two being a mile separated. Many fields had long been deserted by soldiers, and grass had grown where once tents stood. Still to the practiced eye a camp ground stood detected. Stumps of trees, cross stacks for camp kettles, where every other evidence of a camp was obliterated told the tale. But generally a hut or two, remnants of fences, and picket fires long since extinguished were the evidences of army occupation. Scarcely a fence was left standing along the route. The winter was indeed a cold one. Occasionally tents of the 7th Me. Reg’t were to be seen, companies from that regiment guarding the road.
At last we reached the plains of Manassas, and well I recollected the spot, although its external aspect had undergone a marvelous change. The field and ruined rebel relics had been cleared away, and grass flourished frequently on the floors of ruined barracks. Thick grass was upon ground then covered with ruts of rebel cart wheels as far as the eye could reach. The mud was dried up & the place did not have the desolate and ruined look of old. Troups abounded. Shields’ cavalry were here, Geary’s regiment, Ricket’s brigade, which came to Alexandria with us, and shield’s infantry, including the 39th Illinois. With Geary were the relics of the 1st Md. Thence we learned that the Md. Roughs had redeemed her proud fame, tarnished by the affair of the 19th April, 1861, how the soldiers after exhausting their ammunition, charged bayonets, clubbed their muskets, and even took to the rocks, their old love in Baltimore. Maryland rebels it is said were among those opposed to them, and they would die rather than surrender. The afternoon papers brought us news of the safe arrival at Williamsport of Gen’s Banks, after a masterly retreat. Military men here are unbounded in their admiration at the brilliant manner in which Banks effected his retreat. What ever may have been thought of him in the past, and certainly Winchester and the advance to New Market were not to his discredit however Stanton may have thought him fit to command but three or four thousand men, he has now shown himself so illustrious for his military as civil abilities. We read with unmingled admiration of the great and unexpected aprisal at the North and the call upon the state militia of the several states.
It is now late and I have to start out some time before day break for Thoroughfare Gap, but I take this opportunity to state that I deam this whole work of the past week a gigantic military scare, which may be productive in the end of a great deal of good. We have now nearly 30,000 men here, and Harper’s Ferry is doubtless by this time strongly reinforced without the withdrawal of many of McLellan’s troups. Shields holds Manassas Gap; we shall hold Thoroughfare Gap. Warrenton Junction is doubtless safe. The enemy will not dare to attempt a passage into Maryland from Winchester, as in that case our forces here could easily get into their rear and entrap them. However unfortunate it doubtless is, and may be, to allow a portion of Va which had been redeemed from Southern tyranny to be again over run, we are doubtless gainers by the rebel raids, the seeming evil still educing good. Maryland now stands loyal, and bleeding sends out men to avenge the death of her noble sons at Front Royal. The militia of the country can be advantageously used in holding the places we take during the next two or three months, and as a reserve at Washington, the worst thing about them being the expense they will entail upon the country, and the states. But best of all are the encouraging signs that the war is still popular in the North, and that it will take nothing but the unconditional submission of the South. The South may now lay aside forever the idea that we of the North grudge either men or money when the stake is the union of the inseparable nation.
Taps has long since sounded, but as the night is one of preparation for the morrow’s march, I have not been troubled by a preemptory order to extinguish my candle. With a heavy haversack filled with rations for the next three days, and with body fit for sleep, I close this letter in the anticipation of being called up tomorrow before daylight. I may be obliged to carry this letter with me, but shall endeavor to rid myself of its weight before starting tomorrow. With love to all
Your Aff. Son
John B. Noyes