One of the most beautiful backdrops of the Civil War, the Shenandoah Valley was known as the "bread basket" of the South. The area was not only a vital source of provisions for the Confederacy, but also a key strategic location as a possible northern invasion route. In command of southern forces in the Valley was General Thomas J. Jackson along with his friend and cavalry commander Lt. Colonel Turner Ashby. It was Jackson's responsibility to keep three Federal armies operating in his area from reinforcing Federal General George B. McClellan's offensive against Richmond.
During the month of February 1862 Jackson and his force camped around Winchester with Ashby and his cavalry guarding the Potomac from the Blue Ridge to the Alleghanies. To keep the Federals off-balance, Jackson engaged in one of his favorite pastimes, that of tearing up railroads. The "Old Railroad Wrecker" as some would call him, gleefully worked on destroying the Winchester and Potomac railroad line, that ran from Winchester north towards Harpers Ferry. "He seems to think he has a special mission on earth," a worn out South Carolinian captain wrote of Jackson's penchant for destroying railroads. In strategic locations along the Valley, rails were removed, cooked over a fire, and wrapped around trees with every cross tie burned. As resources and replacement parts for railroads became scarce, Confederate railroad officials asked that rails be saved. General Jackson then ordered his troops to remove the iron rails and have them hauled south to be used again.
Resting near Opequon Creek upon their famous mounts, Little Sorrel and Tom Telegraph, General Jackson and Col. Ashby ponder over a map of the Valley to plan their next chess move in the serious game against their opponent.