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3. Battlefield Selection

The Shenandoah Valley was a battleground of armies. There, a long line of Union generals--Banks, Fre‚mont, Shields, Milroy, Sigel--met disaster. There, Thomas J. ``Stonewall'' Jackson confused and scattered his enemies. Richard ``Old Bald Head'' Ewell led his corps to a victory at Winchester so complete that it was ``as if a second Jackson had come.'' Jubal A. Early directed the tattered remnants of Jackson's and Ewell's old divisions on a whirlwind campaign, until a Union general of different measure--``Little Phil''--applied the torch to the Valley to destroy its agricultural production. In Struggle for the Shenandoah (Kent State University Press, 1991), editor Gary W. Gallagher writes:

Few geographical regions associated with the Civil War inspire more dramatic images than the Shenandoah Valley. Some of the images are romantic, heavily charged with the gloss of improbable Southern triumph against long odds. The figure of Thomas J. ``Stonewall'' Jackson towers above all others of this type, waging a bold campaign that catapulted the dour Virginian to a lofty position as the most famous soldier in the Confederacy. Just behind Jackson's exploits in any catalog of memorable scenes from the Valley come the young men of the Virginia Military Institute, who achieved their own form of immortality when they fought and died to help win the Battle of New Market in May 1864. Cast in darker hues are Philip H. Sheridan and the Federal army that brought the agony of U. S. Grant's strategy of exhaustion to the Valley during the last autumn of the war. Sheridan and his men left a legacy of blackened ruin that served as graphic counterpoint to the storied lushness of the area. From beginning to end, the Valley bore witness to events that across more than a century and a quarter continue to evoke emotional responses from students of the war.

Fighting was more or less continuous over four years of Valley warfare, but the pivotal conflicts of the Valley have been identified and studied by historians. After consultation with Edwin C. Bearss, Chief Historian of the National Park Service, Jeffry Wert, author and consulting historian for the study, and other historians, fifteen of the Valley's most important battlefields, associated with campaigns in 1862, 1863, and 1864, were selected for field assessment (see Figure 1).

Thomas J. ``Stonewall'' Jackson's 1862 Valley Campaign is widely studied by modern military historians and strategists. The names of Kernstown, McDowell, Front Royal, First Winchester, Cross Keys, and Port Republic, are familiar to any student of this campaign. In 1863, Confederate victory at Second Winchester cleared the Valley of Union forces and opened the door for Robert E. Lee's second invasion of the North, which climaxed at Gettysburg. New Market and Piedmont resulted from Union incursions southward in May and June of 1864 in support of Ulysses S. Grant's Overland Campaign against Richmond. The battle of New Market was a rousing Confederate victory, but at Piedmont, roles were reversed. Outflanked and with their general killed, the Southerners fled from the field, opening the Upper Valley to ``Black Dave'' Hunter's army for the first time in the war. Jubal A. Early's Confederate army defeated Hunter at Lynchburg and marched north from Lynchburg in late June, invaded Maryland, and by mid-July threatened Washington. Early's return to the Valley resulted in the conflicts of Cool Spring and Second Kernstown. With the appointment of Philip H. Sheridan to command the Union army in the Valley, the conflict grew desperate. The battle of Opequon was hotly contested, but the Confederate army retired from the field. A few days later, the Confederate army was routed at Fisher's Hill, and Sheridan began implementing a ``scorched earth'' policy in the Valley that reached all the way from Staunton to Strasburg. Tom's Brook was the major cavalry battle of Sheridan's final campaign. Cedar Creek was a last gasp effort by Jubal Early to surprise the Union army and reverse his fortunes. He very nearly succeeded. Together, these fifteen battlefields represent the range of major conflicts that characterized warfare in the Valley in the years 1861-1865.

These events do not encompass all of the sites associated with the Civil War in the Shenandoah Valley. The historic towns that line the old Valley Turnpike (modern US 11) themselves may be justly proud of their role in history. The names of Newtown (Stephens City), Middletown, Strasburg, Woodstock, Edinburg, Mt. Jackson, Lacey Spring, Harrisonburg, Mt. Crawford, and Staunton, among others, are familiar to students of Civil War literature. A large number of historic antebellum structures survive in the Valley, many closely associated with lesser engagements or partisan activities. Many of these structures are specifically mentioned in battle accounts or memoirs as serving as headquarters, refitting stations, or hospitals. The battle fought within the present limits of the City of Waynesboro on March 2, 1865, destroyed the remnants of the Confederate army and ended the struggle in the Valley. The City of Lexington offers many Civil War resources, including the Virginia Military Institute, the Stonewall Jackson House, and the grave of Stonewall Jackson.

Although much needed, a full inventory of these historic resources could not be attempted for the region, given the limited time and funds available. Instead, we have focused on major battlefields because they tend to be large landscapes, whose historic character is extremely vulnerable to development, highway construction, and visual intrusion. It is true that much has been lost to the ravages of time and neglect, but the resources that remain are rich and varied. Coordinated action could preserve many of these locations for the appreciation of future generations of Americans.


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Creation Date: 3/13/95

Last Update 7/17/95 by VLC