It was the most grueling of the forced marches for which Gen. Stonewall Jackson was justly famous — 56 miles in 36 hours across the rolling Virginia Piedmont. To move faster, at the beginning his men were ordered to “unsling knapsacks.” They were going to live off the land. But the land didn’t offer much to sustain 23,000 Confederates. On the second day, remembered a South Carolina soldier, Berry Benson, “My only food…was a handful of parched corn and three or four small sour green apples.”
But it was worth it. On the evening of Aug. 26, 1862, Jackson captured Bristoe Station on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad about 40 miles west of Fredericksburg, cutting the Union supply line. Not only that, he now stood between John Pope’s Union Army and the Federals’ main supply depot at Manassas Junction. His soldiers could not only re-sling their knapsacks — they could fill them, too.
Manassas Junction was lightly guarded by a token force of Federal soldiers under the command of Capt. Samuel Craig of Pennsylvania. One of Jackson’s lieutenants, Brig. Gen. Isaac Trimble, gleefully proposed taking it with two picked regiments, the 21st North Carolina and the 21st Georgia: “Give me my two Twenty-ones and I’ll charge and capture hell itself! ”The combative, ambitious Trimble — he had confided to another officer that after the next battle he would be “either a major general or a corpse”— got the go-ahead from Jackson, who later sent Jeb Stuart’s cavalry along as well.
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