In his official report on the Battle of Front Royal, which took place on May 23, 1862, General Stonewall Jackson recounted the events of that day. “About 2 PM the enemy’s pickets were driven in by our advance, which was ordered to follow rapidly. The First Maryland Regiment, supported by Wheat’s battalion of Louisiana Volunteers, and the remainder of Taylor’s brigade, acting as a reserve, pushed forward in gallant style, charging the Federals, who made a spirited resistance, driving them through the town and taking some prisoners.”
Colonel John R. Kenly, of the 1st Maryland Union, commanded Front Royal’s meager defense force. Attending him were nearly a thousand infantrymen, a small cavalry detachment, and a two-gun section of rifled artillery. With this small force he had been tasked with defending General Nathaniel Banks’ left flank, the town of Front Royal, the Manassas Gap Railroad, and the bridges over the Shenandoah River. It was a tall order for so small a band of combatants.
General Jackson’s army actually outnumbered Kenly’s by nearly fifteen to one. Unfortunately, though, when the battle began the majority of his forces was strung out along narrow, winding roads for more than ten miles. The main body of Jackson’s legion would approach Front Royal from the south along the very constricted Gooney Manor Road. As a result, Jackson was forced to add weight to his attack, piecemeal, as regiments materialized. Stapleton Crutchfield’s role in the success of Jackson’s attack would be critical.
Stapleton Crutchfield was born in Spotsylvania County, Virginia on June 21, 1835. He had attended Virginia Military Institute at Lexington where he studied under Thomas Jackson. Graduating in 1855, Crutchfield stayed on at VMI as an instructor of mathematics and tactics and early in the war served as interim superintendent. It was here that Jackson and Crutchfield had cemented their friendship. On April 21, 1862, Stapleton was asked to serve on Stonewall Jackson’s staff as chief of artillery.
As artillery chief, Colonel Crutchfield had watched as the 1st Maryland Infantry, Southern, began pushing its way through the streets of Front Royal. Union forces had fallen back quickly to the high ground north of town along Richardson’s Hill. Crutchfield knew he had to bring his artillery to bear quickly and searched to find an elevated position from which to provide support. It did not take him long to select Prospect Hill.
Singling out one of General Richard Ewell’s batteries, Crutchfield ordered it to follow him to the top of Prospect Hill. On arrival, however, he discovered the battery he had selected was not adequate for the job. Unfortunately, each of the guns lacked the range to reach the Union artillery position on Richardson’s Hill, which was more than a mile and a half away. Crutchfield noted in his official report: “It so happened that the first of our batteries which reported to me consisted of smooth-bore 6 pounder and 12-pounder howitzers, and had therefore to be ordered aside.”
Crutchfield needed rifled guns to reach a target at this range. The problem was he had no idea where to find them. Colonel Crutchfield had known all morning that Ewell’s Division was going to lead the attack and yet he made no attempt to find out what type of guns he had at his disposal. One might ask what he was doing during that five-hour delay instigated by General Jackson while he waited for the 1st Maryland Infantry, Southern, to march from the rear of the army to the front so they could lead the attack on Front Royal?
Colonel Crutchfield “at once sent back to order up all the batteries of Major-General Ewell’s division, which was in front, while I proceeded in person to reconnoiter the ground to the left of the enemy’s position, with a view to planting our own guns. The division of Major-General Ewell had only joined us a day or so previous, and I was, therefore, unfamiliar with the composition of his batteries, which I afterward found to contain but three rifled guns in all. Guns of this kind were necessary, on account of the nature of the approaches to the enemy’s position, and also because their guns were found to be rifled.”
Map of the Battle of Front Royal Showing the First and Second Artillery Positions
This lack of initiative by Crutchfield on researching the tools available to him would have a major impact on the fighting. “The next battery which came up, that of Captain Courtney, contained but one rifled gun, which was put in position, under charge of Lieutenant Latimer, and exchanged shots with the enemy, though it was, of course, unequal to the task of silencing their guns.” General Jackson himself finally ordered “up every rifled gun and every brigade of the army.”
Crutchfield’s selection of favorable ground for the positioning of artillery proved to be deficient as well. Target distance, even with descending fire, was just too extreme. Lieutenant Samuel J. Simpson, a native of Front Royal, soon signaled Crutchfield that he knew a more favorable position much closer to their target. “Simpson was familiar with a path, concealed by woods, that would lead them around the western end of town to an elevation much closer to Federal lines.” The ridge to which he directed the Confederate artillery was the high ground upon which Randolph Macon Academy currently stands. By 3:30 in the afternoon a section of Confederate rifled cannons was finally positioned and ready for use.
Colonel Crutchfield described the positioning of these guns in his report. “After a short time, Captain Brockenbrough’s battery came up, and two of his guns having been planted and opened on the enemy, a brisk cannonade of some ten or fifteen minutes was kept up, with no injury to ourselves and no apparent damage to the enemy. At the end of this time the opposing battery drew off and the enemy began his retreat.” Southern artillery had finally pulled its weight.
“Both of the guns of the enemy, with their two caissons, were captured by our cavalry together with seven battery horses and three sets of artillery harness. The harness was turned over to Captain Cutshaw. One gun and caisson were given to Captain Poague in lieu of a 4-pounder rifled gun belonging to his battery, and the remaining gun and caisson to Captain Brockenbrough, to replace one of his Blakeley 12-pounder guns, which had an assembling-bolt in the cheek broken by the strain on its carriage during the firing. Both the captured pieces were 10-pounder Parrott rifles.”
Opinions of Crutchfield’s performance, both on this battlefield as well as many others, varied. Lieutenant Campbell Brown, who was an aid to General Richard Ewell, thought him “competent but lazy”. A recent writer has opined that “Jackson tolerated Crutchfield’s tendency to sleep late because of his abilities.” Crutchfield’s “abilities” were not always evident, however, and were certainly lacking during the Battle of Front Royal.
It was fortunate for General Jackson that his mounted troops were equal to the task of tackling the 1st Maryland Infantry. Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Flournoy, commanding four companies of the 6th Virginia Cavalry, would charge Kenly while he was in process of retreating. Kenly’s command would be decimated with nearly all of his men being either killed, wounded, or captured. In total six hundred and ninety-one of his men were apprehended.
Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Flournoy’s Attack on Kenly at Fairview Plantation.
At Midnight on the 23rd Captain Thomas Saville of Company B, 1st Maryland Infantry, reported to General Banks that “Colonel Kenly is killed. Lieutenant-Colonel, adjutant, and all the rest of commanding officers First Maryland Regiment taken prisoners. Regiment cut to pieces and prisoners.”
Most of what Saville reported was true. Colonel Kenly was critically injured. Reports of his death, however, were incorrect. John Reese Kenly would be captured by his attackers, but would survive his injuries. Following his exchange and subsequent recovery, he would rejoin the army and be promoted to Brigadier General.
The Soldier’s Circle at Prospect Hill
Though there were no known Confederate casualties on Prospect Hill, the site has always been considered hallowed ground. On November 7, 1868 the Ladies’ Warren Memorial Association was chartered. It would be their mission to collect the remains of Confederate dead that had been buried in various locations throughout Warren County. The ladies would then rebury these soldiers in a circular lot atop Prospect Hill which would soon be known as the “Soldier’s Circle.” The chore of finding and transporting the bodies required a great deal of labor and expense, and money was especially difficult to acquire during the post war era in the Shenandoah Valley.
The remains of two hundred and seventy-six soldiers, representing every state in the Confederacy, were buried on the uppermost crest of the hill. Ninety soldiers were identified and placed in separate graves. Each of these graves was bedecked with a marble headstone in the “Soldier’s Circle.” The remains of one hundred and eighty-six unknown soldiers were interred in a common grave in the center of the ring. On Aug. 24, 1882, fourteen years after the effort was begun, an eighteen-foot-high monument was erected over them.
These soldiers here lie in peace, both known and unknown, upon the edges of a battlefield once part of Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign. As the “known” are remembered so are they all. A memorial service is held on May 23rd of each year, the anniversary of the Battle of Front Royal, to honor the sacrifice of these soldiers.
Satellite view of Prospect Hill
Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. SERIES I—VOLUME XII—IN THEEE PARTS. PART I.-Reports, ETC.
Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. SERIES I—VOLUME XII—IN THEEE PARTS. PART III.-CORRESPONDENCE, ETC.
Ecelbarger, Gary. Three Days in the Shenandoah: Stonewall Jackson at Front Royal and Winchester (Campaigns and Commanders Series). University of Oklahoma Press.