In April, May and June, Confederate General Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson marched north through the Shenandoah Valley, driving the Union forces ahead of him.
On May 23, 1862, Jackson’s Confederate forces launched a surprise attack against the Union forces led by Colonel John Kenly. Kenly’s forces were quickly driven back north until they met up with Union General Nathaniel Banks at Strasburg. From there the Union forces moved further north to Winchester.
On May 25, 1862, Jackson’s troops engaged Banks’ Union troops in a battle at Winchester. Banks lost 2,000 men to Jackson’s 400 losses. When news of Jackson’s victory at Winchester reached Washington DC, a mere 75 miles away, Lincoln commanded Union Generals and McClellan to move some of their forces east towards the Union capital to prevent it from falling to the forces of Stonewall Jackson. He also ordered Banks to regroup and drive south to stop Jackson. Union General Irwin McDowell was ordered to take his army and engage Jackson from the east. Union General John C. Fremont was ordered to take his army and engage Jackson from the West. It was hoped that the three prong stand would stop Jackson’s advance.
In response, Jackson did move south, but not as a retreat. He strategically led Union forces on a chase that would eventually give Jackson another chance to defeat them and drive them out of the Shenandoah Valley. He stopped at Port Republic where an important bridge crossing the Shenandoah River was located. It was that bridge that the Union forced needed to cross over and join forces. Jackson kept the bulk of his forces at Port Republic. He then dispatched General Richard C. Ewell with his 5,000 troops to Cross Keys.
On June 8, 1862, Ewell’s forces had taken up defensive positions at Cross Keys. When Fremont’s troops approached, they were easily repulsed by the Confederates who drove the Union troops back away from Cross Keys, thus providing protection of Jackson’s forces to the southeast.
In addition to the battle between Ewell and Fremont at Cross Keys, Union General James Shields sent a regiment of his cavalry to Port Republic. They caught the Confederates by surprise and came close to capturing Jackson. However, Jackson’s forces quickly regrouped and managed to drive the Union cavalry back north. Discovering that Union General Erastus Tyler and Colonel Samuel Carroll were on the other side of the South Fork of the Shenandoah River, Jackson ordered his engineers to quickly build a bridge over the river. As soon as enough of the bridge was built, he began moving some of his troops over in preparation of attacking Tyler and Carroll.
On this day, June 9, 1862, saw the Battle of Port Republic. Early that morning, Jackson recalled Ewell and the bulk of his troops from Cross Keys with instructions to destroy every bridge along the way. Jackson charged Confederate General Charles Winder, commander of the Stonewall Brigade with the attack against Tyler’s Union line. As Winder’s forces attacked, they met heavy Union resistance and artillery fire. The Confederates called up additional artillery, but heavy Union artillery drove the reinforcements back. Tyler’s Union forces drove the Confederates back nearly half a mile.
Jackson ordered Ewell’s forces across the river to help Winder. Confederate General Richard Taylor was given orders to work his way through the woods. He mounted a fierce attack and managed to take a hill and 5 Union cannons. Using the captured Union guns against the Union troops, Taylor was able to maintain his position while weakening Tyler’s left flank. Tyler then ordered his troops to retreat. Confederate General William B. Taliaferro and his brigade pursued Tyler’s Union forces as they retreated and managed to capture several hundred troops.
Fremont mounted an assault to help Tyler, but he was on the wrong side of the river to do so. He then turned his artillery to shelling Jackson’s position. That night, expecting Fremont to attack the next morning, Jackson decided to withdraw his forces in the woods to one near Mount Vernon Furnace.
The next morning, there was no assault by Fremont. Instead, Fremont began withdrawing the Union troops north towards Harrisonburg, ending the Battle of Port Republic. Jackson’s forces suffered 816 casualties to Fremont’s 1002.
After Port Republic, Jackson requested reinforcements to help him pursue the Union troops north and across the Potomac. Instead of reinforcements, Jackson was given orders to end his Shenandoah Campaign and join forces with General Robert E. Lee and his effort to stop Union General McClellan’s quest to take the Confederate capital of Richmond.
Sources for the above includes: Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson Scores Victory at Cross Keys; Port Republic; Maps of Port Republic, Virginia (1862); Port Republic, Civil War Virginia; The Battle of Port Republic; Port Republic, (9 June 1862); American Civil War: Battle of Port Republic.