In May and June of 1862, Union general George B. McClellan had threatened the Confederate capital at Richmond during the Peninsula Campaign. When the Confederate commander, Joseph E. Johnston, was wounded at the Battle of Seven Pines–Fair Oaks, Robert E. Lee took command of the Army of Northern Virginia and turned McClellan away during the Seven Days' Battles.
Lee saw an opportunity to defeat the new army before McClellan arrived with reinforcements. He ordered Jackson, who had 24,000 troops near the rail hub at Gordonsville, to defend the town from Pope's forces at Culpeper. When he learned that a single Union corps of 8,000 men under Nathaniel P. Banks was isolated at Cedar Run—about twenty miles north of his position and eight miles south of Culpeper—Jackson saw his chance.
The moment of crisis came at six o'clock in the evening, when the brigade of Union general Samuel W. Crawford attacked the Confederate left flank and began to roll up the entire Confederate line. The fighting became so desperate that Jackson rushed in and attempted to rally the men himself, cutting a dramatic figure as he waved his sword in the air with one hand and a Confederate battle flag with the other. Crawford's men withdrew under the pressure of the now-reinvigorated Confederate troops. Confederate general A. P. Hill's division launched a counterattack, pushing Banks's men back a bit as night fell. The following day the two sides separated slightly, but stood close enough for light skirmishing to occur throughout the day. The armies remained in place until August 11, when Jackson began to withdraw toward Orange.
Lee quickly moved the second wing of his army northward to reunite with Jackson. He was now convinced that Union troops would strike at Richmond from the north, and no longer felt obliged to shield the city. Eager to strike a decisive blow at the Army of Virginia, Lee sent Jackson on a march around the Union flank, where he famously captured the supply depot at Manassas Junction. Jackson's campaign culminated in a victory at the Second Battle of Manassas that ended the short life of the Army of Virginia. From there, Lee moved north into Maryland.
The Battle of Cedar Mountain, meanwhile, was the first indication that the war would move back to northern Virginia rather than remain along the York-James Peninsula. It also demonstrated Lee's aggressiveness and his ability to make quick, and often successful, strategic decisions.
June 27, 1862 - Union general John Pope assumes command of the Army of Virginia, which has been cobbled together from three Union corps that have already performed poorly against Confederate general Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862.
July 12, 1862 - Union general John Pope's Army of Virginia occupies Culpeper County.
July 13, 1862 - Confederate general Robert E. Lee orders Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson to prevent Union troops from cutting a crucial railway at Gordonsville, Virginia.
July 27, 1862 - Confederate general Robert E. Lee dispatches A. P. Hill's division to reinforce Confederate general Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson near Gordonsville, Virginia.
August 3, 1862 - Union general George B. McClellan is ordered to withdraw his Army of the Potomac from Harrison's Landing on the James River and to reinforce John Pope's advance against the Confederate capital at Richmond from northern Virginia.
August 7, 1862 - Confederate general Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson learns that Union general Nathaniel P. Banks's Second Corps is isolated at Cedar Mountain, eight miles south of Culpeper, and plans an attack.
August 9, 1862 - Union and Confederate troops clash at the Battle of Cedar Mountain. Although outnumbered, Union troops have an advantage in the early part of the fight. Confederate reinforcements eventually counterattack and drive Union troops from the field.
August 11, 1862 - Not wishing to be counterattacked by Union general John Pope's entire force, Confederate general Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson withdraws his troops from Cedar Mountain to await additional reinforcements from Robert E. Lee.
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First published: March 9, 2010 | Last modified: September 18, 2014