Rutherford B. Hayes Month
Hayes & the Civil War
Part IV: The Battle of Second Kernstown
Hayes called his years of military service during the Civil War the best years of his life. This now six-part series in honor of his birthday will visit four locations associated with Hayes service to the Union.
The Battle of Second Kernstown took place on July 24, 1864. It is called ‘Second Kernstown’ because a previous battle had taken place generally in the same area, over the same ground in 1862.
A bit of background . . . In early July 1864, Lt. General Jubal Early’s Confederate Corp invaded Maryland and threatened Washington, DC. The Army of West Virginia including the brigade to which Hayes is attached is called east from West Virginia. They become involved in a series of Campaigns in the Shenandoah Valley in 1864 under General David Hunter to find and defeat Lt. General Jubal Early’s Confederate Corp.
At Second Kernstown, approximately 10,000 Union men under Brigadier General George Crook and 13,000 Confederates under Jubal Early do battle near the town of Kernstown, Virginia, just south of Winchester. The Confederates were victorious and pushed the Union Corp across the Potomac River to Maryland. Hayes gives a concise description of the battle and retreat in his diary, online at the Hayes Presidential Center. It reads:
“ . . . Sunday (24th), defeated badly at Winchester near Kernstown by Early with a superior force. My brigade suffered severely. Rebels came in on my left. Poor cavalry allowed the general to be surprised. Seven miles. All [that] night marching, twenty-two miles, to Martinsburg. My brigade covered the retreat. Retreated from Martinsburg; turned on Rebels and drove them out. Monday night to Potomac at Williamsport, [Maryland], twelve miles, a severe, sleepy job. Camped on Antietam near battle-ground.”
Many histories make note of this battle because future President Rutherford B. Hayes, commanded a brigade that directly fought against a division commanded by Kentuckian John C. Breckinridge, a former senator (1861) and Vice President of the United States (1857 – 1861).
For a full summary of the battle from the National Park Service American Battlefield Protection Program, click here. The battle is important as it is the last Confederate victory in the Shenandoah Valley.
I visited the Kernstown Battlefield Park on an overcast Saturday morning. Formerly the Pritchard-Grim Farm, it has been preserved by the non-profit Kernstown Battlefield Association. Fighting took place around this very farm and to the south around Opequon Church. A series of markers on the property describe all the battles fought on and near this site. On Pritchard’s Hill, north of the main house, there is a marker devoted to Hayes and Breckinridge. It is noted on the Hayes Presidential Center website that “. . . his stand at the stone wall saves Crook's army.” Part of the stone wall is still there. However Hayes was generally east of this particular location.
View from Pritchard’s Hill
View looking up Pritchard’s Hill
Cross-country runners at the Kernstown Battlefield Park
Along the wall
To view more of my photos from the Battle of Second Kernstown, click here.
Interesting Non-Hayes Fact: The Samuel & Helen Pritchard family was living in the home at the time of the battle. It became a hospital for the Union wounded and dead after the battle. Among the dead was Col. James Mulligan, shot near the wall by a sharpshooter under command of Major General Stephan R. Ramseur. It is said Mulligan died in Helen Pritchard’s arms two days after the battle. Ramseur, part of Early’s Army, will be killed at the Battle of Cedar Creek. Mulligan was buried in his home town. But many of the U. S. dead from this and other battles in the Shenandoah were buried in Winchester National Cemetery. To view photos from Winchester National Cemetery, click here.
If you are interested in helping preserve the Kernstown Battlefield, please visit their website.
Part V: The Battle of Third Winchester
Raise the Rutherford! is a continuing, slightly humorous series to raise awareness of Rutherford B. Hayes and erect a statue of him in Cincinnati.
The Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center
Including the Dairy and Letters of Rutherford B. Hayes
Civil War Preservation Trust
National Park Service American Battlefield Protection Program
Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation
Kernstown Battlefield Association
Historical Marker Database