General Stonewall Jackson would cross many rivers over the course of his military career as a commander in the service of the Confederate States of America. The lay of the land, mountainous terrain, road conditions, and river crossings were key factors in the chess game of war that could spell victory or defeat for armies at war. General Jackson was master of strategy as his plans of defeating invading Northern Armies in the Shenandoah were well in motion.
Spring had come late in 1862 with cold weather and unseasonable snow storms. Rains had kept roads muddy and difficult to pass, but this did not deter Jackson's resolve to move against Federal forces. On April 21st Jackson received an important dispatch from General Robert E. Lee, with instructions to drive the Union Army under the leadership of General Nathaniel P. Banks out of the valley. General Lee closed his dispatch with these words, "The blow wherever struck, must, to be successful, be sudden and heavy." With General Jackson's force of 6000 men linked up with General Ewell's force, the Federal armies under General Banks and General Fremont would be kept busy in northern Virginia and unable to assist in President Lincoln's plans to take Richmond.
Beginning his soon to be famous "Valley Campaign," Jackson defeated a 3500 man force at the town of McDowell, under the command of General Schenck from Fremont's army. Jackson then moved into the Luray Valley to link up with General Ewell and together they would lash out at General Banks. To counter possible movements by the enemy, Jackson sent Jedediah Hotchkiss and some cavalry to block the three mountain passes leading into the valley. Those men, with the help of southern sympathizers, felled trees and burned bridges.
The setting sun glistened off the water of the South Fork of the Shenandoah River as General Jackson watched his men cross the White House Bridge. Joining with General Ewell at the town of Luray, Jackson now had a force 16,000 soldiers and 27 pieces of artillery, the largest army he had ever commanded. General Banks unwittingly believed that Jackson was retreating and leaving the Valley. Down river where the South Fork and North Fork of the Shenandoah join was the strategic town of Front Royal. The town occupied by Banks' soldiers was soon to experience another unexpected spring storm, but this one would be deadly.