Speed or Strength? | Virginia Museum of History & Culture
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Speed or Strength?

Early in 1862, Confederate general Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson decided to “move swiftly and strike vigorously” against larger Union forces in the Shenandoah Valley. Union general George B. McClellan landed the largest army in North American history on the Virginia Peninsula but moved it cautiously toward the Confederate capital. Jackson’s success and McClellan’s failure demonstrate that victory comes to those who concentrate their forces at the right place and time. Each side had a chance to win the war in 1862, but the longer it continued, the less speed mattered and the more strength did—not just in manpower but also in money and materiel.

“Make Me a Map of the Valley” - Maj. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" JacksonJedediah Hotchkiss’s Compass, c. 1850–62

As spring 1862 arrived, former professor Thomas J. Jackson received orders to drive federal forces from the agriculturally rich Shenandoah Valley. Jackson directed mapmaker Jedediah Hotchkiss to “make me a map of the Valley, from Harper’s Ferry to Lexington, showing all the points of offence and defence in those places.” Armed with Hotchkiss’s detailed and accurate maps, Jackson skillfully maneuvered his 17,000 men against larger but dispersed federal forces. He defeated portions of three Union armies and tied up nearly 60,000 Union troops that otherwise might have moved against Richmond when McClellan attacked it from the east.

Jedediah Hotchkiss never held an official rank in the Confederate army. As a mapmaker, his most effective tool was this compass, which he used to draw this detailed map of the Shenandoah Valley.

Watch the Time

Although the clockworks were replaced, this watch’s case was used throughout the Civil War by “Stonewall” Jackson. Careful not to exhaust his troops during forced marches, he ordered them to rest for ten minutes every hour.  





"The Maps of the Peninsula are Perfectly Unreliable" - Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan

Map of the Union defensive lines at Yorktown by Robert Knox SnedenIn a bold attempt to capture Richmond, Union general George B. McClellan transported 121,000 men to the Virginia Peninsula—the largest army ever assembled in North America. Supplied with inaccurate maps and convinced he was outnumbered, McClellan took two months to advance the seventy-two miles toward Richmond. He employed soldiers with artistic talent, like Pvt. Robert Knox Sneden of the 40th New York Infantry, to create accurate maps of the region.

In late June 1862, the newly appointed defender of Richmond—Robert E. Lee—relentlessly attacked a federal army within sight of the city and remarkably turned the tide. Not anticipating so ferocious a counterattack and ever cautious, McClellan retreated to his base along the James River.


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