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Joe Johnston watched the Shenandoah Valley with great concern late in 1861 because he received word of Union plans to his west. The Confederate commander knew there was great Union interest in completing the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and that only 900 men were guarding the western approach to his flank.
William S. Rosecrans, in command of the Department of West Virginia, had 22,000 men, many in the rugged eastern mountains. Of these 5,000 were stationed in Romney under Brigadier General Benjamin Franklin Kelley. Working on roughly 200 miles of track between Grafton, Virginia and Point of Rocks, Maryland, Union engineers were making good progress protected by a small force from Nathaniel Banks' 16,000-man Fifth Corps stationed in Maryland. Confederates depended on raids to set the engineers back from time to time. Upon his arrival in Winchester, General Jackson found that a contingent of Union cavalry was north of the Potomac River, ready to move south as soon as a crossing of the rain-swollen river could be made. In response, Jackson asked for command of the men at Cheat Mountain, Loring at Huntersville and Carson's men in the Valley.
Jackson also determined that an Attack on Dam Number 5 would wreck havoc with the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. The dam was slightly over 30 miles north of Jackson's position in Winchester. Using a small force at Falling Waters to create a "distraction" for General Banks at Williamsport, Stonewall advanced to Dam Number 5. Arriving on Saturday, December 7, 1861, the Confederates were opposed by a company (from the 13th Massachusetts) armed with smooth-bore rifles, which could not accurately fire across the river. Although the Rebels were chased off the following day, Jackson breached the dam making the C&O Canal useless for days below the dam.
A native of the Tygart Valley, Jackson realized that the Union commanders were widely dispersed and it would be difficult to coordinate Rosecrans' force, more than double the size of Jackson's. The Confederate commander also realized that if "Old Ben" Kelley joined his 5,000 man force with the 16,000 men under Nathaniel Banks in western Maryland, attacking Winchester would be an easy proposition.
An unusually warm December was coming to an end when Stonewall Jackson issued orders to the Army of the Valley to prepare to march. The Confederate Army began moving into northwestern Virginia (now West Virginia), but were slowed when the balmy December was replaced on the day they left by a brutal January. After taking Bath, Jackson moved on Hancock, Maryland. The Confederates began shelling Frederick Lander's 3,000 men in Hancock on January 6, but Jackson thought it would be impossible to attack the entrenched Yankees. Instead, Jackson turned south towards Romney. By now though, winter weather set in and Jackson's army slowed to a crawl.
They signed a petition protesting the conditions, which Loring forwarded to Jackson. Loring also permitted an officer to take the petition to Richmond, Virginia. As a result, Judah Benjamin (then Secretary of War) ordered Jackson to withdraw Loring's men from Romney, which he did. Jackson then resigned from the army because a civilian had given him an order. In his resignation Jackson said, "Your order requiring me to direct General Loring to return with his command to Winchester immediately has been received and promptly complied with. With such interference in my command I cannot expect to be of much service in the field."
With the upheaval, Jefferson Davis became involved, reassigning Loring and calming Jackson. Nothing ever came of Jackson's resignation
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