After a visit to Luray Caverns I found myself driving west, towards New Market Gap. Seeing a distinctive and old house in a field by the South Fork of the Shenandoah I pulled over to read a nearby historical marker. I was looking at the White House that features so heavily in Stonewall Jackson’s 1862 Valley Camaign.
The roadside marker reads, “On May 21, 1862, Confederate Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Valley Army plodded north along this road to threaten Front Royal and outflank Union Gen. Nathaniel Bank’s position at Strasburg. With the addition of Gen. Richard S. Ewell’s division, Jackson’s command numbered nearly 17,000 men and 50 guns. Philip Kauffman, a young man at the time, remembered the Confederates as they crossed the Shenandoah River on the White House Bridge and: “…Stonewall himself as he ran the gauntlet, with bared head, through the marching columns of his ‘foot cavalry.’ His faded gray uniform with stars on the collar, his black beard and uncovered head, as he loped by the White House on Old Sorrel, are as fresh in my mind as on that day.”” Jackson’s Valley Army reached Front Royal May 23. There, aided by spy Belle Boyd, it overwhelmed Banks’ 1,000-man detachment and continued toward Winchester to attack the main Union army, now in full retreat from Strasburg. Jackson’s success was complete. He had defeated and driven Banks from the Valley and alarmed the Lincoln administration. In response to Jackson’s bold moves, a two-pronged Federal advance was to converge at Strasburg in an attempt to cut off Jackson’s line of withdrawal south. Jackson marched south to escape. Two Federal columns followed in close pursuit. John C. Fremont on the Valley Pike and Gen. James Shields in the Page Valley. If Shields could march quickly enough to overtake Jackson’s force in the main Valley, he and Fremont could unite and attack with a superior force. To prevent this combination, Jackson ordered his cavalry commander, Turner Ashby, to destroy both the White House and Columbia bridges. Ashby dispatched Capt. Samuel Coyner’s Page County Company which rode through “one of the most dreadful thunderstorms” in time to burn the White House Bridge at 4 a.m. on June 2 only one hour before Shields advance guard reached the swollen river. Shields, delayed for three days by the rising river, was forced to abandon his plan to join Fremont at New Market. Jackson defeated Fremont’s and Shields’ commands separately at Cross Keys and Port Republic June 8-9. White House Bridge takes its name from the small building immediately north of the present-day bridge. This early structure was the first home of pioneer Martin Kauffman. For a time it served as a meeting house where, as a minister, Kauffman served a Mennonite congregation.”