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Lot 38: Jackson, Thomas Jonathan ("Stonewall"). Highly Important Civil War-date autograph letter signed

The Property of a Distinguished American Private Collector

Platinum House

by Profiles in History

December 18, 2012

Calabasas Hills, CA, USA

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Description:

38. Jackson, Thomas Jonathan (“Stonewall”). Highly Important Civil War-date autograph letter signed (“T. J. Jackson Maj. Genl”), 1 page (8 ½ x 7 ¼ in.; 216 x 184 mm.), “Hd. Qrs. Valley Dist.” 14 May 1862, 7:40 a.m. to Colonel Turner Ashby; scattered light browning, vertical folds at head of page reinforced.

Jackson gives orders for the destruction of the Manassas Gap Railroad.

Recently apprised of the alarming news that Union General N. P. Banks was preparing to march for Fredericksburg, Jackson directs his partisan cavalry commander, the heroic Colonel Turner Ashby, to destroy the Manassas Gap Railroad in order to prevent Banks from evacuating the Valley for Fredericksburg, from where he could then join McClellan to assist in the Peninsula Campaign. 

Jackson writes in full: Maj. Genl. R.S. Ewell is of the opinion that Banks is on his way to Fredericksburg.  If Banks is thus moving, it is important to destroy as soon as practicable the Manassas Gap R.R. and I have suggested the possibility of sending yours and his cavalry toward this purpose.  If you believe that you can effect the object I hope you will take steps at once to accomplishing this very desirable object.  With the exception of two companies I’ve but to direct the cavalry that are with me to join you, but do not delay your movement by waiting for their arrival.  They should be in Harrisburg in Friday, via Harrisburg and Warm Spring turnpike.

General Stonewall Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign. The purpose of “Stonewall” Jackson’s presence in the Shenandoah Valley was to keep Union forces from reinforcing McClellan’s forces on the Peninsula, where they threatened Richmond.  By playing of the fears of the Federal administration for Washington, Jackson was tasked with immobilizing the 70,000 troops in middle Virginia by placing them on the defensive with the mere 20,000 widely scattered Confederate troops ringing the Shenandoah Valley under various Confederate commands.  With his fast-moving infantrymen led by Ashby, Jackson ranged up and down the Valley for months in early 1862, keeping three Union commanders - John Charles Frémont, Nathaniel Banks, and Irvin McDowell - busy and thoroughly unsettled, as their combined forces, though vastly outnumbering Jackson’s, were unable to stop him.  Numerous skirmishes including Winchester, Kernstown, Front Royal, Woodstock, New Market, Cross Keys and Port Republic were all victories for Jackson, though at each battle site the Union forces were sure he would be defeated.  Jackson inflicted numerous casualties, seized huge quantities of supplies (mostly from Banks), and kept almost 40,000 Federal troops off the Peninsula during the campaign.  Overall, Jackson’s Valley Campaign was a major triumph, adding to his previous victory laurels at Bull Run.  By June 14, 1862, he had forced the Union to proceed up the valley, rather than march on to reinforce McClellan’s army against Richmond. 

At this time, Jackson was operating under Robert E. Lee’s explicit instructions to contain Banks, as stated in a letter from Lee dated 8 May 1862 and then a letter following up directing Jackson to prevent Banks from going to Fredericksburg or to the Pennisula.  Jackson, however, had anticipated this directive and already put the first part of his plan of attack into motion, sending Ashby to cut off Banks’ most immediate method of escape via the Manassas Gap Railroad.  With this accomplished, Jackson marched his troops forward to Front Royal for the first of his brilliant counter-offensive maneuvers against Banks.

Less than two weeks after the date of this letter, and no doubt for his brilliant execution of these instructions from Jackson, Turner was promoted to brigadier general.  Yet, one week following his promotion, just three weeks after receiving the present orders from Jackson, Turner was tragically killed in action at Harrisonburg.  Of his gallant service, Jackson later remarked; As a partisan officer I never knew his superior; his daring was proverbial; his powers of endurance almost incredible; his tone of character heroic; and his sagacity almost intuitive in diving the purposes and movements of the enemy.

An extraordinary letter from a crucial moment in Jackson’s storied career, written to the partisan cavalryman whose name is forever etched into the history of this important campaign.  In this letter, Jackson demonstrates the talent for anticipation, quick thinking and rapid movement of forces which would make him an American military legend.

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