Owing to what was deemed an extravagant statement of the enemy's strength these report s were received with some distrust, but a regiment of infantry, with a strong detachment of cavalry and a section of artillery, was immediately sent to re-enforce Colonel Kenly. Later in the evening dispatches from fugitives who had escaped to Winchester informed us that Colonel Kenly's force had been destroyed with but few exceptions, and the enemy, 15,000 or 20,000 strong, were advancing by rapid marches on Winchester. Orders were immediately given to halt the re-enforcements sent to Front Royal, which had moved by different routes, and detachments of troops, under experienced officers, were sent in every direction to explore the roads leading from Front Royal to Strasburg, Middletown, Newtown, and Winchester, and ascertain the force, position, and purpose of this sudden movement of the enemy. It was soon found that his pickets were in possession of every road, and rumors from every quarter represented him in movement in the rear of his pickets in the direction of our camp.
The extraordinary force of the enemy could no longer be doubted. It was apparent also that they had a more extended purpose than the capture of the brave little band at Front Royal. This purpose could be nothing less than the defeat of my own command or its possible capture by occupying Winchester, and by this movement intercepting supplies or re-enforcements, and cutting off all possibility of retreat. It was also apparent from the reports of fugitives, prisoners, Union men, and our reconnoitering parties that the three divisions of the enemy's troops known to be in the valley, and embracing at least 25,000 men, were united, and close upon us in some enterprise not yet developed. The suggestion that had their object been a surprise they would not have given notice of their approach by an attack on Front Royal was answered by the fact that on the only remaining point of assault-the Staunton road-our outposts were 5 miles in advance, and daily reconnaissances made for a distance of 12 miles toward Woodstock. Under this interpretation of the enemy's plans our position demanded instant decision and action. Three courses were open to us: First, a retreat across Little North Mountain to the Potomac River on the west; second, an attack upon the enemy's flank on the Front Royal road; third, a rapid movement direct upon Winchester, with a view to anticipate his occupation of the town by seizing it ourselves, thus placing my command in communication with its original base of operations in the line of re-enforcements by Harper's Ferry and Martinsburg, and securing a safe retreat in case of disaster. To remain at Strasburg was to be surrounded; to move over the mountains was to abandon our train at the outset and subject my command to flank attacks without possibility of succor, and to attack the enemy in such overwhelming force could only result in certain destruction. It was determined, therefore, to enter the lists with the enemy in a race or a battle, as he should choose, for the possession of Winchester, the key of the valley, and for us the position of safety.
At 3 o'clock a. m. the 24th instant the re-enforcements (infantry, artillery, and cavalry) sent to Kenly were recalled; the advance guard, (Colonel Donnelly's brigade) was ordered to return to Strasburg; several hundred disabled men left in our charge by Shields' division were put upon the march, and our wagon train ordered forward to Winchester, under escort of cavalry and infantry. General Hatch, with nearly our