The Battle with No Name

At 3 A.M., on the morning of May 31, 1862, General Stonewall Jackson called Jedediah Hotchkiss to his headquarters and briefed him on the situation at hand. The Confederate army was stretched out along the Valley Pike for miles. General Nathaniel Banks was to their north. General James Shields’ Army was at Front Royal presumed to be pushing west for Strasburg. General John Fremont’s Army was at Wardensville thrusting east with the same target in his sights. If Jackson’s retreat was cut off, he was convinced there would be a battle somewhere between Winchester and Strasburg.

June 1 Situaltion

Situation Map, May 30 to June 1 (Blue and Gray Magazine)

Jackson assigned Hotchkiss the job of returning to Harpers Ferry to update General Charles Winder of the Stonewall Brigade with this intelligence. He was to guide the isolated brigade back to the main body of the army along the Valley Pike. If the 1st Brigade was to become isolated, they would need the mapmaker to help them get back to Jackson’s army. Should the pike become cut, Hotchkiss was instructed to bring them back to safety through the Allegheny Mountains if necessary.

Private John Worsham, a member of Company F, 21st Virginia Infantry, estimated the traffic jam on the Valley Pike was more than eight miles long. There were hundreds of supply wagons, army elements, and more than 2300 prisoners of war. Worsham would note, with regard to the prisoners, that “they had no place to put them, and they are in the way. I wish now they had been paroled. Most of them were now confident that they would soon be released or they would be retaken by the armies closing in on Strasburg.”

By the end of the day on May 31, the van of the army had reached the northern outskirts of Strasburg. Most of these men were part of General William Taliafero’s Brigade. The rain had been coming down in torrents all day and there were no shelters of any kind. Exhausted soldiers were forced to spread their blankets out upon the muddy ground and repose in sopping wet misery for the night. Most regimental commanders reported more than half of their members were still straggling far behind.

Winder’s Stonewall Brigade had started from Harpers Ferry about midday. The 2nd Virginia had to first re-cross the Shenandoah River to rejoin the brigade. Once on the road to Winchester, though, the men were able to keep up a steady pace in spite of the heavy rain and not having eaten for two days. All in all, these soldiers would march thirty-five miles before they would be allowed to rest for the night. They too would collapse into a bed of mud, some two to three inches deep, near the hamlet of Newtown.

On the evening of the 31st Jedediah Hotchkiss rode into Jackson’s headquarters at the Hupp house just north of Strasburg. He informed Jackson that the Stonewall Brigade was about ten miles north of them on the Valley Pike. The two came to the conclusion if Jackson’s Army was to avoid being cutoff in its line of retreat something was going to have to be done to keep Fremont from pulling into Strasburg first. Ewell was ordered to get his men moving early. They were march west along the Capon Road to intersect Fremont’s Army. Orders were to delay Fremont without bringing on a general engagement.

General Richard Taylor had received orders to march for Strasburg early on the 31st as well. He and his men would themselves cover some thirty miles that day. That evening Taylor would also meet with Jackson at the Hupp House. Here he found Jackson in a rare “talkative mood.” The two of them also discussed the current situation and the peril they believed the army was currently in. Consequently, Jackson ordered Taylor to rejoin Ewell’s Division to help him fend off General Fremont the following morning. It was their “only way to safety.”

Ewell photo

General Richard Ewell

Early on Sunday morning, June 1, General Ewell began moving remnants of his exhausted division out along the Capon Road. News soon came to him that the Confederate outpost, which had been placed about four miles out along that road, had been attacked that morning by Fremont’s men and routed. Ewell hurried his men forward in search of appropriate high ground from which his men could make a stand. He knew full well that Fremont’s Army greatly outnumbered his and resisting its advance would be risky.

Mulberry Run Battle

Battlefield at Mulberry Run

General Ewell pushed his men through the town of Clary, and on toward the elevation overlooking Mulberry Run. Here he received reports that federal pickets were advancing in their direction. Ewell pulled his men off to the side of the road and put Elzey’s and Taylor’s Brigade in line along some readily defended high ground. Trimble’s men were placed in reserve.

Two confederate batteries were brought to the crest and were soon dueling, counterbattery, with Fremont’s guns. The cannon fire became intense. Jackson became so concerned from the sound of the battle that he sent Taliaferro’s and Patton’s men out along Capon Road for support. It looked like that general engagement Jackson so feared would soon become a reality.

With General Richard Taylor’s arrival at the front he observed: “Our lines had been early drawn out to meet him, and skirmishers pushed up to the front to attack. Much cannonading, with some rattle of small arms, ensued. The country was densely wooded, and little save the smoke from the enemy’s guns could be seen. My brigade was in reserve a short distance to the rear and out of the line of fire.”

To confer with General Ewell, General Taylor found “it was necessary to pass under some heavy shelling, and I found myself open to the reproach visited previously on my men.” While awaiting orders Taylor informed Ewell: “Whether from fatigue, loss of sleep, or what there I was nervous as a lady, ducking like a mandarin.” When he mentioned his nervousness, Ewell laughed and told him: “Nonsense! Tis Tom’s strong coffee. Better give it up.” Tom was Taylor’s body servant whom he had press-ganged to serve with him during the war.

In speaking of Tom, General Taylor noted: “Many slaves from Louisiana had accompanied their masters to the war…” During the fighting that took place that morning, “scores had assembled under a large tree, laughing, chattering, and cooking breakfast. All of a sudden, a shell burst in the tree top, rattling down leaves and branches in fine style, and the rapid decampment of the servitors was most amusing.” Even Tom was not above running for his life.

The cannon fire continued for several hours. James Shields actually reported hearing the firing from Front Royal which was more fifteen miles away. Shields believed that it had originated from a skirmish with General Nathaniel Banks’ army which he believed to be following along in Jackson’s rear. Such was not the case. Banks was actually much closer to Martinsburg than to Strasburg.

Shields also reported that he “would have occupied Strasburg, but dare not interfere with what was designed for Fremont.” Still Shields had sent a cavalry detail in the direction of Strasburg early that morning. Jackson, out of concern for that flank, had dispatched Lieutenant Boswell along that same road traveling in the opposite direction. Two miles out he ran into that Union cavalry detail. Boswell rushed back to Strasburg to report the incident but could not find Jackson. Fortunately, Turner Ashby reacted the news on his own and sent a portion of his own command to block the road.

Meanwhile, back at Mulberry Run, Ewell was mystified by the lack of activity on the part of Fremont’s soldiers. Knowing he was not supposed to bring on a general engagement, Ewell was growing more anxious by the minute. “I can’t make out what these people are about, for my skirmish line has stopped them. They won’t advance, but stay out there in the wood, making a great fuss with their guns; and I do not wish to commit myself to much advance while Jackson is absent.” Taylor noted: “With this, he put spurs to his horse and was off, and soon a brisk fusillade was heard, which seemed gradually to recede. During Ewell’s absence, surrounded by my staff, I contrived to sit on my horse quietly.”

Ewell pushed his skirmishers forward and was surprised that his opponent retreated. On his return he remarked to Taylor: “At this rate my attentions are not likely to become serious enough to commit anyone.” It was at this point General Richard Taylor offered to try to get around the Union left flank. “I suggested that my brigade might be moved to the extreme right, near the Capon road, by which Fremont had marched, and attempt to strike that road, as this would enable us to find out something.” Ewell answered: “Do so; that may stir them up, and I am sick of this fiddling about.”

Taylor put his Louisianans into motion and swiftly struck the Union left flank. As they did so the enemy disappeared. “It was nothing but a walkover. Sheep would have made as much resistance as we met.” “Men decamped without firing, or threw down their arms and surrendered, and it was so easy that I began to think of traps.” Those that were taken prisoner were German immigrants most of whom did not speak English.

Taylor would later admit his attack was “rash and foolish.” Still the further his men advanced the more the enemy retreated to avoid combat. At the same time Taylor began to take casualties; not from Fremont but from their own skirmishers unaware of the Rebel attack. They were the only losses Taylor would suffer in the course of the assault.

Fremont, on the other hand, was convinced that the attack was strongly reinforced. He believed he was being assaulted by more than fifteen thousand combatants, which is why he retreated so quickly. Ewell’s bluff was all that was needed to spook the Pathfinder. He was simply not in the mood for a fight.

Mulberry Confederate

Confederate position on the high ground in the distance near Mulberry Run

Meanwhile, Winder’s men, back on the Valley Pike, had resumed their march at 5:30 A.M. The Stonewall brigade reached Middletown at about the same time the artillery fire had commenced to their west. As the battlefield is located almost due west of Middletown, Winder became convinced that his flank had been turned. With all of the rumors of disaster floating about there was a good deal of panic among his men.

As Fremont would not stand still long enough to bring on any type of engagement, Ewell broke off the fight about noon. By this time Winder’s men had passed safely through Strasburg. Ewell would withdraw all but Taylor’s Brigade following the engagement, leaving him to act as rearguard. By dusk on June 1, however, even Taylor’s unit found itself safely streaming south along the Valley Pike in retreat.

Shields would write to President Lincoln the following day: “Jackson passed through Strasburg Saturday and Sunday. Fremont has not been heard from yet. There was firing at Strasburg yesterday—supposed to be Banks in the rear. My poor command were without provisions twenty-four hours. We would have occupied Strasburg, but dare not interfere with what was designed for Fremont. His failure has saved Jackson.”

It is noteworthy that in exactly one week these same troops, Union and Confederate, would face off against each other once again at the Battle of Cross Keys. There the fighting would go pretty much the same way. This time, however, General Fremont would call it quits at about the same time as his attack was gaining momentum. Once again, Ewell’s outnumbered forces would claim victory.

Note: This has been a time-consuming investigation. As there is no on-site historical marker, I have spent the last three weeks trying to locate this battlefield. Based on information provided in the official records, and other sources, I was able to fix, with a moderate degree certainty, the location of the battlefield. With documentation that General Ewell had passed through the town of Clary to the high ground beyond, Mulberry Run seems a logical border between the two armies. Still, even with more than 16,000 troops maneuvering on the battlefield, nothing conclusive could be determined. Even the folks at the Shenandoah Valley Battlefield Foundation are not one hundred percent certain of the battlefield’s location.

What is even more interesting, as far as I can determine, there has never been an official name assigned to the battle. As the encounter took place near the town of Clary southern forces would have named it the Battle of Clary. Union forces probably would have christened it the Battle of Mulberry Run for the stream that flows nearby. I have to say the latter has a much better ring to it. Still, until someone more authoritative than me makes a final determination, we will need to refer to this confrontation as “the battle with no name.”

Sources:

Jones, Terry. Lee’s Tigers: The Louisiana Infantry in the Army of Northern Virginia. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge, La. 1987.

Official Records. Series I Vol XII, Part III.

Parrish, T. Michael. Richard Taylor: Soldier Prince of Dixie. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC. 1992.

Pfanz, Donald C. Richard Ewell: A Soldiers Life. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC. 1998.

Schreckengost, Gary. The First Louisiana Special Battalion: Wheat’s Tigers in the Civil War. McFarland and Co. Jefferson, N. C. 1966.

Sharpe, Hal F. Shenandoah County in the Civil War: Four Dark Years.

Taylor, Richard. Destruction and Reconstruction: Personal Experiences of the Civil War. Capo Press. New York. 1995.

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