Rebel Legend, Stonewall Jackson Stuns the Valley Part 1: Kernstown to McDowell

A BGES Civil War Field University Program

With Gary Ecelbarger

March 20-23, 2024; from Harrisonburg, VA

From the very start, he was a legend. As a central figure in the first major battle of the war, Maj. Thomas Jonathan Jackson—a not-so-good teacher at the Virginia Military Institute—had overnight become “Stonewall,” and while he would have a very secretive and inexplicable problem in working with people, he was without doubt inspirited with a warrior mentality that would overshadow any tactical flaws his battles might display.
Jackson had been given command of Confederate forces in the Shenandoah and Luray Valleys, and he accepted the independence and opportunity it presented. He mapped his command and moved subordinates to spots for reasons known only to him. When the governor of Virginia countermanded one of his orders, he resigned and threatened to go home. Assuaged and assured, he would not be so interfered with again!
In March 1862, Robert E. Lee looked for a distraction that might keep the Lincoln administration from moving its primary army against Richmond. He moved his army to the Peninsula to create a counter-value threat against the Federal Capital, and what emerged was Jackson’s 1862 Valley Campaign. It was an operation unlike any ever seen in modern military experience. Moving infantry like cavalry and with a speed and range that boggled minds, Jackson defeated multi-Federal forces and caused the Federal government to withhold large reinforcements from General McClellan. Today it remains a campaign that commands admiration. Join us in the two-part study and see why. Part 2 is in late May 2024.


Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Meet at 6 p.m. at the Fairfield Inn in Harrisonburg to greet all the members of the program, as well as to pick up your nametags and handout packets. Gary Ecelbarger will review the war’s first year and present an introduction to the Valley and the importance it would play in the Civil War as he overviews this two-part program*. A Q & A session will close the night.

Dinner is on your own.

*Each program stands on its own and is a split of Jackson’s famous 1862 Valley Campaign.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

US Route 11 ends a few miles east of New Orleans, where it T-bones into US 90. Nowhere, however, is it more famous than as the Valley Turnpike and the primary route through the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Leaving the hotel at 8 a.m., we will consider the defense of the Valley and its army under the command of Stonewall Jackson, who was under the overall command of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston. What was Jackson’s guidance from Johnston, and how did he intend to implement it? What influence, if any, came from Richmond and the Confederate government? At the same time, what was the Valley, and what was its character and people?

As you travel that old route, you will be transported back to the 1860s as you see and discuss the antebellum towns of Mt. Jackson, Edinburg, Woodstock, and Strasburg. You will learn what Jackson learned about the various detachments of his enemy throughout the region. The morning will close with a serious discussion of Union general James Shields’ March reconnaissance in force from Winchester and its implications.

After lunch, we will see a unique element of Stonewall Jackson as we make a tactical study of the March Battle of Kernstown. This first-ever battle in the Valley was a defeat for Jackson and revealed a sharp edge to the quiet Confederate commander. Jackson believed his orders had been disobeyed, and he preferred charges against Brig. Gen. Richard Garnett. An interrupted court martial in August 1862 would never be concluded, as Jackson died at Chancellorsville and Garnett in Pickett’s Charge.

We then head back to the hotel. Lunch is included, dinner will be on your own.

Friday, March 22, 2024

Departing at 8 a.m., today we offer you a unique view and commentary that is never considered in studies of the Valley Campaign—that is, how Jackson used aggressive maneuver to magnify the uncertainty in his enemy commander’s minds. Jackson’s retreat “south up” the Valley will move in Jackson’s tracks from Newtown to Staunton, from the time after Kernstown until May 6, 1862.

In following the brain trust, the centers of operations or headquarters are locations of great importance and are the perfect spot to see how plans mature and orders follow. We will see five headquarters houses. We also will view terrain dominated key defensive positions established at Narrow Passage and Stony Creek. One of the most significant decisions made in that period was the hiring of cartographer, Jedediah Hotchkiss, whom Jackson instructed to “make me a map of the Valley.” We will see where Jackson arrested Garnett for his “disobedience at Kernstown” and Meem’s Bottom, where the dashing cavalry commander, Turner Ashby, barely escaped capture.

Our “recon” today concludes with trips to and through Browns Gap and how Jackson used the gaps and traces of the Virginia Central Railroad. This will leave us to finish the day on the cusp of Jackson’s daring plans to strike and confound the Union forces.

Back to our hotel. Lunch is included, but dinner is on your own.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Presenting the campaign over six days and two tours provides a significant opportunity for reflection on the unique nature of Jackson’s remarkable vision of operations. We start the day at 8 a.m., diving into the Allegheny Mountains along the route of the Confederate march to the very remote town of McDowell. You will quickly notice this looks nothing like the lush valleys or the Massanutten Mountain chain. As Jackson ascended Sitlington’s Hill and received the Federal attacks, you will see combat vastly different from what you saw at Kernstown on Thursday afternoon.

We will have lunch in Monterey, no doubt discussing Jackson’s victory and how he got from the Valley into this position.

Before leaving Monterey, we will examine other rarely seen or considered Civil War sites in Highland County. We will then follow and marvel at Jackson’s return to the Shenandoah Valley. Our wrap up is the examination of Jackson’s new orders from Richmond, dated May 16. They and his conference with newly arrived subordinate Richard Stoddard Ewell at Mt. Salon will result in his plan to confront the Union threat in the Valley.

Return to the hotel. Lunch is included—see you in June for Part 2, May 29–June 1*.

*You are not required to attend both parts, and each program stands on its own. But register for both and save $150 on the pair. See the registration form.

About the Faculty

Gary Ecelbarger is an award-winning author of nine books relating to 19th-century personalities and events, as well as more than three dozen monographs, essays, and articles of Revolutionary War and Civil War-era topics. As a historian, symposium speaker, and tour guide for the past 26 years, he has led his audiences through complex campaigns and prides himself on crafting well-researched, thought-provoking programs that maintain an intriguing, chronological flow and feature off-the-beaten-path historical sites.

Hotel Information

This program will be headquartered at the Fairfield Inn, Harrisonburg, Virginia, 1946 Medical Avenue (540-433-9333). We have a group rate of $109 per night, plus tax. The Blue and Gray Education block expires on February 28. After that, higher rates may apply. Click here for a hot link to online reservations.


The servicing airports are Charlottesville (CHO), Weyers Cave (SHD), and Roanoke (ROA). This is an off-route location, and so options may be limited—Weyers Cave is the local airport serviced by American with about two flights a day. Charlottesville has a few more options with American, Delta, and United all flying there. All will likely require a rental car to reach the hotel. Amtrak has limited service into Staunton, which is 23 miles from Harrisonburg.

Recommended Reading

You will receive maps that will meet your onsite requirements. The following books are suggested to enhance your readiness for the program.


This program includes the services of your historian, a tour director, 3 lunches, maps, appropriate transportation for the registration, and light refreshments and snacks.

Register for this program using a secure PayPal link

Registration Type

To register by mail or fax, download this printable registration form: Rebel Legend, Stonewall Jackson Stuns the Valley Part 1: Kernstown to McDowell

Questions? Need more information? Please contact us.