Battle of Cross Keys
Virginia Civil War History
Virginia Civil War History
Battle of Cross Keys
County: Rockingham, Virginia
General Location: South of rtes. 659 and 276, crossroads of Cross
Keys, including the village of Port Republic
Campaign: Jackson's Shenandoah Valley Campaign (1862)
Principal Commanders: [c] Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Jackson,
Brig. Gen. Richard Ewell, Brig. Gen. Isaac Trimble; [u] Maj. Gen. John C. Fremont
Forces Engaged: [c] Three of four brigades of Ewell's division
(Trimble, Elzey, Steuart) and Patton's brigade, about 8,500 engaged; [u] Blenker's infantry division (three brigades), three
attached brigades (Cluseret, Milroy, Schenck), Bayard's cavalry, and nine batteries, about 11,500 men
Total Casualties: [c] 287 (42k/230w/15m); [u] 664 (114k/443w/127m)
Significance: The battles of Cross Keys and Port Republic were the decisive victories
of Maj. Gen. Thomas J. ``Stonewall'' Jackson's 1862 Valley Campaign. At Cross Keys, one of Jackson's divisions
beat back the army of Maj. Gen. John C. Fremont approaching from Harrisonburg, while elements of a second division held back
the vanguard of Brig. Gen. James Shields' division advancing toward Port Republic on the Luray Road. During the night of 8-9
June, Jackson withdrew from in front of Fremont and at dawn attacked two of Shields's four brigades (commanded by Brig. Gen.
E. B. Tyler), precipitating the battle of Port Republic. Fremont reached the vicinity too late to aid Tyler, who was badly
beaten. With the retreat of both US armies, Jackson was freed to join the CS army commanded by General Robert E. Lee in the
Seven Days Battles against McClellan's army before Richmond.
In addition to its importance in Jackson's overall strategy of defeating two
separated armies in detail, Cross Keys provides interesting lessons at the tactical level. By deft maneuver and clever use
of the terrain, Confederate Brig. Gen. Isaac Trimble shattered a larger US force and stalled Fremont's attack. The ground
where this tactical action occurred is pristine and enables understanding of this phase of the conflict.
|Virginia Civil War Battle Map
|Virginia Civil War Battlefield Map
Description of the Battle
Prelude: The hamlet of Port Republic lies on a neck of land between
the North and South rivers at the point where they conjoin. On 6-7 June 1862, the army of Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Jackson, numbering
about 16,000, bivouacked north of Port Republic, Ewell's division along the banks of Mill Creek near Goods Mill, and Winder's
division on the north bank of North River near the bridge. One regiment (15AL) was left to block the roads at Union Church.
Jackson's headquarters were in Madison Hall, the home of Dr. Kemper, at Port Republic. The army trains were parked nearby.
Two US columns converged on Jackson's position. The army of Maj. Gen. John
C. Fremont, about 15,000 strong, moved south on the Valley Pike and reached the vicinity of Harrisonburg on 6 June. The division
of General Shields, about 10,000 strong, advanced south from Front Royal in the Luray (Page) Valley, but was badly strung
out because of the muddy Luray Road. At Port Republic, Jackson possessed the last intact bridge on the North River and the
fords on the South River by which Fremont and Shields could unite. Jackson determined to check Fremont's advance at Mill Creek,
while meeting Shields on the east bank of the North Fork. A CS signal station on Massanutten monitored US progress.
Skirmishing at Cross Keys Tavern: Late in the day on 7 June,
Fremont's advance guard encountered Jackson's pickets near Cross Keys Tavern. A few shots were fired and the US cavalry fell
back onto their main body, which was approaching. Darkness prevented further developments.
|Battle of Cross Keys Map
|Civil War Cross Keys Battlefield Map
Surprise Raid on Port Republic: Colonel Samuel Carroll at the
head of a regiment of cavalry, supported by a battery and a brigade of infantry, was sent ahead by Shields to secure the North
River Bridge at Port Republic. Shortly after dawn (8 June), Carroll scattered the CS pickets, forded the South River, and
dashed into Port Republic. Jackson and his staff raced down the main street from headquarters and across the bridge, narrowly
eluding capture (two members of his staff were captured). Carroll deployed one gun aimed at the bridge and brought up another.
Jackson directed the defense, ordering Poague's battery to unlimber on the north bank. Carrington brought up a gun from the
vicinity of Madison Hall to rake the Main St. The 37VA Infantry charged across the bridge to drive the US cavalry out of the
town. Carroll retreated in confusion, losing his two guns, before his infantry could come within range. Three CS batteries
unlimbered on the bluffs east of Port Republic on the north bank of the South Fork and fired on the retreating Federals. Carroll
retired several miles north on the Luray Road. Jackson stationed Taliaferro's brigade in Port Republic and positioned the
Stonewall Brigade near Bogota with the artillery to prevent any further surprises.
US Deployment: Meanwhile, Fremont, with Cluseret's brigade in
the lead, renewed his advance from the vicinity of Harrisonburg. After driving away the CS skirmishers, Cluseret reached and
deployed his right flank along the Keezletown Road near Union Church. One by one, the US brigades came into line: Schenck
on Cluseret's right, Milroy on his left, and Stahel on the far left, his left flank near Congers Creek. Bohlen's and Koltes'
brigades were held in reserve near the center of the line. A regiment of US cavalry moved south on the road to secure the
right flank. Batteries were brought to the front.
|Virginia Civil War History Map
|Civil War Virginia Battlefield Map
CS Deployment: Gen. Richard Ewell deployed his infantry division
(CS) behind Mill Creek, Trimble's brigade on the right across the Port Republic Road, Elzey's in the center along the high
bluffs. Ewell concentrated his artillery (4 batteries) at the center of the line. As US troops deployed along Keezletown Road,
Trimble advanced his brigade a quarter of a mile to Victory Hill and deployed Courtenay's (Latimer's) battery on a hill to
his left supported by the 21NC Regiment. The 15AL, which had been skirmishing near Union Church, rejoined the brigade. Trimble
held his regiments out of sight behind the crest of the hill.
US Attack and Repulse: Fremont determined to advance his battle
line with the evident intention of developing the CS position, assumed to be behind Mill Creek. This maneuver required an
elaborate right wheel. Stahel's brigade on the far left had the farthest distance to cover and advanced first. Milroy moved
forward on Stahel's right and rear. US batteries were advanced with infantry lines south of Keezletown Road and engaged CS
batteries. Stahel appeared oblivious to Trimble's advanced position. His battle line passed down into the valley, crossed
the run, and began climbing Victory Hill. At a distance of ``sixty paces,'' Trimble's infantry stood up and delivered a devastating
volley. Stahel's brigade recoiled in confusion with heavy casualties. The Union brigade regrouped on the height opposite Victory
Hill but made no effort to renew their assault.
Trimble's Flanking Attacks: Stahel did not renew his attack but
brought up a battery (Buell's) to support his position. Trimble moved the 15AL by the right flank and up a ravine to get on
the battery's left. In the meantime, Ewell sent two regiments (13VA and 25VA) along the ridge to Trimble's right, attracting
a severe fire from the US battery. With a shout, the 15AL emerged from their ravine and began to climb the hill toward the
battery, precipitating a fight. Trimble advanced his other two regiments (16MS on left and 21GA on right) from their position
on Victory Hill, forcing back the US line. The US battery limbered hastily and withdrew, saving its guns. A US regiment counter-attacked
briefly striking the left flank of the 16MS but was forced back in desperate fighting.
|Virginia Civil War History Map
|Civil War Virginia Battles
|Virginia Civil War Battle of Cross Keys
|Forbes, Edwin, artist, June 7, 1862.
US Withdrawal to Keezletown Road: Trimble continued advancing
up the ravine on the CS right, outflanking successive US positions. In the meantime, Milroy advanced on Stahel's right supported
by artillery. Milroy's line came within rifle-musket range of the CS center behind Mill Creek and opened fire. US batteries
continued to engage CS batteries in an artillery duel. Bohlen advanced on the far US left to stiffen Stahel's crumbling defense.
Milroy's left flank was endangered by Stahel's retreat, and Fremont ordered him to withdraw. Jackson brought Taylor's brigade
forward to support Ewell if needed, but Taylor remained in reserve on the Port Republic Road near the Dunker Church.
US Attacks on the Right: Seemingly paralyzed by the decimation
of Stahel's brigade on his left, Fremont was unable to mount a coordinated attack. He ordered Schenck's brigade forward to
find the CS left flank south of Union Church. Ewell reinforced his left with elements of Elzey's brigade. Severe firing erupted
along the line but quickly died down. CS brigadiers Elzey and Steuart were wounded in this exchange. Fremont withdrew his
force to Keezletown Road, placing his artillery on the heights to his rear (Oak Ridge). Artillery firing continued. At dusk,
Trimble pushed his battle line forward to within a quarter mile of the US position, anticipating a night assault. CS accounts
describe the US soldiers going into camp, lighting fires and making coffee. Ewell ordered Trimble to withdraw without making
Sources: National Park Service; Civil War Trust; Library of Congress.