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3. FRONT ROYAL (23 May 1862)

County: Warren, VA

General Location: Along US 340/522 from Limeton through Front Royal, Guard Hill, and Cedarville. Old Buckton Depot

Size of Study/Core Areas: 3,082/944 acres

GIS Integrity of Study/Core Areas: 48/33 percent; Poor/Poor

Field Assessment of Study Area Integrity: Poor

USGS Quadrants: Bentonville, Front Royal, Strasburg

Select to view a summary of 1991 LAND USE / LAND COVER

Campaign: Jackson's Valley Campaign

Principal Commanders: [c] Maj. Gen. T. J. Jackson ; [u] Col. J. R. Kenly

Forces Engaged: [c] Jackson's and Ewell's divisions and three regiments of cavalry, about 16,500, 48 guns; only about 3,000 were actively engaged at Front Royal; [u] Reinforced regiment under Col. J. R. Kenly, about 1,063 and two guns

Casualties: [c] 50 k/w/m; [u] 904 (32k/122w/750 captured)

Significance: Maj. Gen. T. J. Jackson's decisive victory over a small Union force at Front Royal on 23 May 1862, forced the main Union Army at Strasburg under Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks into abrupt retreat. Jackson deceived Banks into believing that the CS army was in the main Valley near Harrisonburg; instead he had marched swiftly north to New Market and crossed Massanutten via New Market Gap to Luray. The advance to Front Royal placed Jackson in position to move directly on Winchester in the rear of the Union army. On 24 May, Banks retreated down the Valley Pike to Winchester, harassed by CS cavalry and artillery at Middletown and Newtown (Stephens City), setting the stage for the battle of First Winchester the following day.

The action at Front Royal demonstrated Jackson's use of Valley topography and mobility to unite his own forces while dividing those of his enemies. At a minimal cost, he forced the withdrawal of a large Union army by striking at its flank and threatening its rear. The confusion engendered by Jackson's appearance at Front Royal and the hasty Union retreat from Strasburg to Winchester contributed materially to the defeat of Banks' army at First Winchester on 25 May. Jackson used his cavalry to good advantage at Front Royal, to sever US communications east and west, and to strike the final blow at Cedarville.

Description of the Battle

Prelude: On 21 May 1862, the US army under Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks, numbering about 9,000 men, was concentrated in the vicinity of Strasburg with two companies of infantry at Buckton Depot. Col. J. R. Kenly commanded 1,063 men and two guns at Front Royal. CS cavalry under Col. Turner Ashby confronted Banks near Strasburg, but then withdrew to join the main army which crossed Massanutten Mountain via New Market Gap to reach Luray.

On 22 May, Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Jackson's Army of the Valley (about 16,500 men) advanced along the muddy Luray Road to within ten miles of Front Royal. Jackson's headquarters were at Cedar Point. Colonel Thomas Munford's cavalry regiment was sent east to close off Manassas Gap and cut communication between Front Royal and Washington.

Phase One. CS Advance: On the morning of 23 May, the vanguard of Jackson's army reached Spangler's crossroads (present day Limeton). Here the CS cavalry under colonels Ashby and Flournoy diverged west to cross the South Fork Shenandoah at McCoy's Ford. The infantry continued to Asbury Chapel and right onto a cross road to reach Gooney Manor Road. Following this road, they approached Front Royal from the south, bypassing Federal pickets stationed near the river on the Luray Road one mile south of the courthouse. After minor skirmishing the Federals withdrew.

Phase Two. Deployment of Forces: Jackson's leading brigade, Taylor's, deployed on Prospect Hill and along the ridge to the east. The 1st Maryland and Wheat's Louisiana battalion were thrown out in advance, entering the town and clearing it of US skirmishers. Col. J. R. Kenly, in command of US forces, withdrew his force to Camp (Richards') Hill, supported by a section of artillery. The US line extended in an arc from the South Fork to Happy Creek, defending the South Fork bridge. Kenly's artillery opened fire and slowed the CS advance. Kenly's headquarters were in the Vanoort House.

Phase Three. US Defense of Camp Hill: The Confederate infantry advanced through town, deploying into line of battle under an accurate artillery fire. A CS flanking column moved to the east, crossing Happy Creek in an attempt to force US withdrawal without a frontal assault. After a long delay because of the muddy roads, a battery of rifled artillery was deployed on or near Prospect Hill to counter the Union guns on Camp Hill.

Phase Four. Skirmish at Buckton Depot: In the meantime, after crossing the South Fork at McCoy's Ford, Ashby's and Lt. Col. Flournoy's (6VA) cavalry rode via Bell's Mill and Waterlick Station to reach the US outpost at Buckton Depot. Ashby made a mounted assault, which cost him several of his best officers before the US defenders surrendered. Ashby cut the telegraph lines, severing communication between the main US army at Strasburg and the detached force at Front Royal. He then divided the cavalry, sending Flournoy's regiment east toward Riverton to threaten Kenly's rear. Ashby remained at Buckton Depot astride the railroad to prevent reinforcements from being sent to Front Royal.

Phase Five. US Retreat: On discovering that Confederate cavalry was approaching from the west, Col. Kenly abandoned his position on Camp Hill, retreated across the South and North Fork bridges, and attempted to burn them. He positioned part of his command at Guard Hill, while the Confederates ran forward to douse the flames, saving the bridges. While CS infantry repaired the bridges for a crossing, Flournoy's cavalry arrived at Riverton and forded the river, pressing Kenly's forces closely. As soon as the CS infantry crossed, the US position could be flanked by a column moving along the river. Kenly chose to continue his withdrawal, his outmatched cavalry fighting a rear guard action against Flournoy's 6th Virginia Cavalry.

Phase Six. US Surrender: Kenly withdrew along the Winchester turnpike beyond Cedarville with Flournoy's cavalry in close pursuit. General Jackson rode ahead with the cavalry, as CS infantry began to cross the rivers. At the Thomas McKay House, one mile north of Cedarville, Kenly turned to make a stand, deploying on the heights on both sides of the pike. Flournoy's cavalry swept around the US flanks, causing panic. Kenly fell wounded, and the US defense collapsed. More than 700 US soldiers threw down their weapons and surrendered.

Current Condition of the Battlefield

Many terrain features associated with this battle have been overwhelmed by the growth of the City of Front Royal. At the time of the battle, Front Royal was a small village of several streets clustered around the courthouse. Troops maneuvered among the buildings and on open ground, south, east, and north of the village, areas which have now been urbanized. Loss of integrity is most obvious when attempting to understand maneuvers in and around Camp (Richardson's) Hill. It is difficult to find a vantage point to understand the terrain advantage of the US position there. Camp Hill itself, site of Kenly's defense, is densely residential (Warren Park subdivision). Open ground east of Camp Hill and Happy Creek would enable some understanding of CS flanking maneuvers although access is restricted.

The massive reshaping of Guard Hill, due to road-widening and quarrying, and heavy construction north to I-66 is an obvious loss. The current ``gap'' in Guard Hill for US 340/522 is largely a modern cut. Large industrial structures, including the DuPont Automotive plant, have been constructed in the vicinity of Cedarville on ground maneuvered over in the closing phase of the battle.

In spite of these losses, several features, primarily architectural, remain by which the flow of the battle may be interpreted. The hamlet of Spangler's Crossroads (Limeton) and the road to McCoy's Ford enable an understanding of CS cavalry movements, preparatory to the battle. The roads from McCoy's Ford to Buckton Depot taken by the CS cavalry pass through a scenic rural countryside. The site of Buckton Depot (and a depot building, vintage uncertain), the site of Ashby's skirmish, can be located. Asbury Chapel marks where the CS infantry diverged from Luray Road to reach Gooney Manor Road. Gooney Manor Road passes through a scenic landscape until near the entrance to Skyline Drive at Front Royal, where there is dense development.

In the town of Front Royal, Prospect Hill Cemetery maintains open ground where the CS left flank first deployed and where artillery was positioned. The cemetery offers a good vantage point for understanding the terrain and tactical movements. Monuments to Mosby's men and to the Warren Rifles are in Prospect Hill Cemetery. In a general sense, the Front Royal old town can be considered a supporting resource, although the district is not listed in the National Register. The Warren Rifles museum interprets the role of Warren County residents in the Civil War. A historic marker and a Confederate monument stand in front of the courthouse. The estate of Rose Hill, a beautiful old home, is specifically mentioned in several battle accounts.

The South and North Fork bridge sites can be located. Riverside Farm (c. 1850) at Riverton preserves about 150 acres of open farmland and a segment of the original alignment of the Front Royal-Winchester turnpike. (Stonewall Jackson is said to have slept on the porch here on the night after the battle.) The hamlet of Riverton dates primarily from the 1880s. The old Guard House stands on the hill to the west of the new road cut. The Robert and Jacob McKay houses (late 1700s) and the old store (c. 1860) at Cedarville provide some sense of historic character in spite of encroaching residential development. The Thomas McKay House where US forces surrendered stands one mile north of Cedarville (currently an antique store). A large industrial building adjacent to the house degrades the setting.

Perception of Threats to Battlefield

In terms of terrain, battlefield ground within the city limits of Front Royal has been lost. The Riverton Corporation controls access to Guard Hill along the river. Heavy quarrying is occurring on the northern and eastern slopes of the hill and on land adjacent to the river. Highway widening has increased the size of the Guard Hill gap and is reshaping the ground. Plans being discussed to build a second span over the North Fork would further degrade this area of low integrity. Riverside Farm is the last area of open farmland at Riverton. The flood plain of the North Fork is currently agricultural land. An I-66 interchange has spurred commercial and industrial development north of Guard Hill on the road to Cedarville. The area north of Cedarville and east of US 340 is an expanding industrial park, currently encroaching on the US surrender area. Adjacent to this industrial park is an ``Inland Port'' complex centered on a railroad terminal.

Identified Sites and Features Associated with the Battlefield



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Last Update 7/17/95 by VLC