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their own peace party was by far the stronger. The final advantage brings us back to strategy, on which the whole campaign was turning. Lee and Jackson worked the Confederates together. Lincoln and Stanton worked the Federals apart.
On the last of April Jackson slipped away from Swift Run Gap while Ewell quietly took his place and Ashby blinded Banks by driving the Federal cavalry back on Harrisonburg. Jackson's men were thoroughly puzzled and disheartened when they had to leave the Valley in full possession of the enemy while they ploughed through seas of mud towards Richmond. What was the matter? Were they off to Richmond? No; for they presently wheeled round. "Old Jack's crazy, sure, this time." Even one of his staff officers thought so himself, and put it on paper, to his own confusion afterwards. The rain came down in driving sheets. The roads became mere drains for the oozing woods. Wheels stuck fast; and Jackson was seen heaving his hardest with an exhausted gun team. But still the march went on slosh, slosh, squelch; they slogged it through. up, men! close up in rear! close up, there, close up!
On the fourth of May Jackson got word from
Edward Johnson, commanding his detached brigade near Staunton, that Milroy, commanding Frémont's advanced guard, was coming on from West Virginia. Jackson at once seized the chance of smashing Milroy by railing in to Staunton before Banks or Frémont could interfere. This would have been suicidal against a great commander with a well-trained force. But Banks, grossly exaggerating Jackson's numbers, was already marching north to the railhead at New Market, where he would be nearer his friends if Jackson swooped down. Detraining at Staunton the Confederates picketed the whole neighborhood to stop news getting out before they made their dash against Milroy. On the seventh they moved off. The cadets of the Virginia Military Institute, where Jackson had been a professor for so many years, had just joined to gain some experience of the real thing, and as they stepped out in their smart uniforms, with all the exactness of parade-ground drill, they formed a marked contrast to the gaunt soldiers of the Valley, half fed, half clad, but wholly eager for the fray.
That night Milroy got together all the men he could collect at McDowell, a little village just beyond the Valley and on the road to Gauley
Bridge in West Virginia. He sent posthaste for reinforcements. But Frémont's men were divided too far west, fearing nothing from the Valley, while Banks's were thinking of a concentration too far north.
In the afternoon of the eighth, Milroy attacked Jackson with great determination and much skill. But after a stern encounter, in which the outnumbered Federals fought very well indeed, the Confederates won a decisive victory. The numbers actually engaged twenty-five hundred Federals against four thousand Confederates were even smaller than at Kernstown. But this time the Confederates won the tactical victory on the spot as well as the strategic victory all over the Valley; and the news cheered Richmond at what, as we have seen already, was its very darkest hour. The night of the battle Jackson sent out strong working parties to destroy all bridges and culverts and to block all roads by which Frémont could reach the Valley. In some places bowlders were rolled down from the hills. In one the trees were felled athwart the path for a mile. A week later Jackson was back in the Valley at Lebanon Springs, while Frémont was blocked off from Banks, who was now distractedly groping for safety and news.