In the first major infantry battle of the Gettysburg Campaign, Confederate forces dealt a crushing blow to Union designs in the Shenandoah. Today you can visit the remains of a fort where they fought.
The battles of Second Winchester and Stephenson’s Depot were fought from June 13 to 15, 1863 between Union forces commanded by Maj. Gen. Robert H. Milroy and Confederate forces commanded by Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell in Frederick County, Virginia during the American Civil War. These dramatic Confederate victories in the Gettysburg Campaign’s opening phase cleared a path through the Shenandoah Valley for Gen. Robert E. Lee’s army, allowing it to invade Maryland and Pennsylvania. Taken together, the battles were among the most lopsided of the war, with 4,747 total casualties, mostly Union prisoners.
On June 1, 1863, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia slipped away from the Union Army of the Potomac, commanded by Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, and headed north to invade Pennsylvania. Gen. Robert E. Lee intended to use the Shenandoah Valley as a corridor to invade the north, with the Blue Ridge Mountains hiding his movements from the enemy. To do so, he first needed to clear the 8,324-man Federal garrison commanded by Maj. Gen. Robert H. Milroy at Winchester, Virginia. He entrusted his Second Corps commander Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell with the task.
Milroy had occupied the area around Winchester since late December 1862, digging fortifications to protect his supply depot as well as the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad farther north. On June 12, Ewell took his three divisions and one cavalry brigade, for a total of 19,000 men, through Chester’s Gap into the Shenandoah Valley. He sent one division under Maj. Gen. Robert E. Rodes northeast to cut off the Federal retreat and his other two divisions under Maj. Gen. Jubal A. Early and Maj. Gen. Edward “Allegheny” Johnson to directly attack Milroy at Winchester.