- The Washington Times - Friday, March 11, 2005

James J. Shields’ military career was capped by his division’s defeat of legendary Confederate commander Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson at the Battle of Kernstown on March 23, 1862.

There is no question that Shields’ soldiers won at Kernstown, about three miles south of Winchester in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. The question of who commanded them that day is less certain. Shields, who had almost lost his life in the Mexican War, had his arm broken by a shell fragment during the skirmishing the day before the Kernstown battle. As in the Mexican War, during which Shields had gained a promotion to major general, he was leading from the front.

Sidelined by his wound, Shields told Col. Nathan Kimball to assume command, but he continued to issue orders to Kimball. One of those orders was to keep Col. Turner Ashby’s cavalry from giving Jackson accurate information about the disposition of Shields’ division. Shields then marched a brigade north through Winchester to make it appear he was retreating, while keeping the remainder of his division nearby. People in town apparently told Ashby of Shields’ seeming retreat, and Ashby informed Jackson. The battle resulted.

Thinking his force of just under 4,000 would be facing a rear guard, Jackson attacked. Shields actually had nearly 9,000 soldiers and would place more than 6,000 into the action. Much of the tactical action in the battle was directed by Kimball, and he deserves credit for that, but Jackson’s defeat under such circumstances was nearly assured, barring any large tactical blunder.

Joseph E. Gannon

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