Jackson was promoted to major general on October 7, 1861, and appointed to command the newly created Valley District, headquartered in Winchester. Early in November Jackson arrived in Winchester and immediately proposed an independent and offensive operation to capture Romney, which had been occupied by Union troops since June 1861. Jackson recognized that the expedition would be an “arduous undertaking,” but he believed that control of Romney would ensure the protection of Winchester, the Upper Valley, and the south fork of the Potomac River.
Jackson’s command included his own renowned Stonewall Brigade and General Loring’s division. The latter, initially organized as the Army of the Northwest, consisted of slightly more than 5,000 men organized into three brigades. A career soldier, Loring was skeptical of the feasibility of undertaking a winter campaign, but prepared his command to join Jackson at Winchester. Jackson eagerly awaited the arrival of Loring because he believed the Confederates had to move rapidly to strike at Romney before Union forces reinforced the city. Jackson had never met Loring, but he quickly became irritated at the general’s delay in moving his troops and wrote to Secretary Benjamin requesting that he urge Loring to move more quickly, stating, “If General Loring is not here speedily my command may be a retreating instead of a victorious one.” Finally, after a leisurely advance, Loring’s division arrived at Jackson’s headquarters on December 27. His arrival increased the number of soldiers in Jackson’s command to approximately 11,000.
The Romney Expedition
Jackson’s plan was to advance northwest to capture Bath, Virginia (present day Berkeley Springs, West Virginia), and Hancock, Maryland, and then move east to capture Romney, the primary objective of the expedition. On January 1 Jackson’s army began its march. The march to Bath was exhausting and hazardous, as soldiers lacked adequate food, winter clothing, and blankets and were marching in temperatures well below freezing. On January 2, as the army approached Bath, Jackson ordered his men to halt and prepare to attack the town the following day. Later that night, Jackson received word that Loring had halted several miles back. Jackson immediately ordered Loring to bring up his command.
Loring was outraged at the conditions his men were enduring—extreme cold and lack of rest and food. Obeying his commander’s orders, however, Loring marched his troops through the night. On January 3, after engaging advance Union pickets, Jackson ordered one of Loring’s brigades to push past the Union resistance and move into town. Loring countermanded the order and directed the brigade to encamp, thereby delaying the capture of Bath until the following day. Jackson was furious and the next morning personally led the Confederates into Bath. On January 5 Jackson’s forces departed Bath and moved to capture Hancock, but after encountering significant Union resistance abandoned the plan to capture the Maryland town. Instead, Jackson’s command headed directly to Romney. While on the march Jackson received word that Union troops had abandoned Romney and that Confederate cavalry occupied the town.
The Capture of Romney and the Loring-Jackson Incident
After enduring extremely cold temperatures and suffering from inadequate rest and little food, Jackson’s army approached Romney on January 14. In less than one month, Jackson’s Confederates captured Romney, drove Union resistance out of the surrounding counties, and destroyed more than a hundred miles of railroad line. Pleased with the expedition’s results, Jackson ordered Loring to occupy Romney, while Jackson returned to Winchester with the Stonewall Brigade. Believing they were in a hostile position, Loring and his soldiers became increasingly unhappy with their situation and blamed Jackson for their perceived vulnerability. In reality, Loring’s position was quite secure, as the surrounding terrain made Romney a natural fortress.
Loring and his subordinates were not content to stay in Romney and campaigned to have their command recalled. They criticized Jackson, referring to the general as “Old Tom Fool,” and believed that Jackson favored his old Stonewall Brigade to the detriment of Loring’s division. Eager to present to the government in Richmond the fallacies of the expedition, General Jackson, and their position at Romney, Loring’s officers signed a petition requesting that they be withdrawn from Romney, while Loring sent a survey report that “concluded” that Romney was indefensible with such a small force. Both Loring and his subordinates bypassed the appropriate chain of command and took their complaints directly to Richmond.
Secretary of War Benjamin, without conferring with Jackson, ordered Jackson to recall Loring’s command. Jackson was furious. The expedition had, after all, proven successful in establishing a secure Confederate presence in Romney and the Upper Shenandoah Valley. Jackson crafted a reply to the secretary that stated, “With such interference in my command I cannot expect to be of much service in the field; and accordingly respectfully request to be ordered to report for duty to the Superintendent of the Virginia Military Institute … Should this application not be granted, I respectfully request that the President will accept my resignation from the Army.”
Jackson’s friends convinced him to withdraw his resignation by arguing that his duty was to the Confederacy and to Virginia., On the following day, however, Jackson sought to punish Loring by bringing him up on two charges (with seven specifications), including “Conduct subversive of good order and military discipline.” Tiring of the quarreling generals and not wanting to get involved in a long-drawn-out court-marital, the Confederate high command ignored Jackson’s charges. Instead, Loring was promoted and transferred to southwestern Virginia, while his former division was reorganized and transferred to other commands.
In the end, the Loring-Jackson incident nullified the success of the Romney Expedition. As Jackson had predicted, once Loring was recalled from Romney, Union troops returned and reestablished their presence in the town and the surrounding Potomac River Valley. The episode also highlights Jackson’s aggressive style of leadership and prickly sense of honor, both of which often caused problems with subordinates. After the Battle of Kernstown on March 23, 1862, for instance, Jackson’s temper arguably deprived him of one of his better generals when he arrested Richard B. Garnett for withdrawing without orders.