Shenandoah At War:
The Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District
By Terence Heder, Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation
"If this Valley is lost,Virginia is lost." – Gen. "Stonewall" Jackson.
During the Civil War, control of the Shenandoah Valley was critical to Virginia and the Confederacy. The Valley witnessed Jackson's brilliant Valley Campaign, Gen. Robert E. Lee's advance to the Confederate "high tide" atGettysburg, the VMI Cadets' valiant charge at New Market, and Gen. Philip H.Sheridan's final campaign to crush Confederate hopes in the Valley—which included The Burning, the fiery destruction of the region's agricultural bounty.
During the Civil War,the Valley was often history's stage. And the historic towns, sites, and landscapes that bore witness to the pivotal events of those years are still with us today, still looking much asthey did 150 years ago.
In 1996, Congress created the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District as a NationalHeritage Area to protect these resources for future generations. The Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation (SVBF) serves as the non-profit manager of the National Historic District. The SVBF works with partners to preserve the Valley's Civil War battlefields, coordinate the interpretation of the region's Civil War story, and promote the Valley as a visitor destination.
Together, the SVBF and its partners have protected 4,530 battlefield acres since 2000, bringing the total to 7,134 acres, including large tracts at Third Winchester, Second Winchester, Kernstown, Cedar Creek, Fisher's Hill, Tom's Brook, New Market, Cross Keys, Port Republic, and McDowell.
The SVBF has also collaborated with partners to interpret the history of these battlefields and relatedsites. Hundreds of sites tell the dramatic story of soldiers and civilians during those storm-tossed years –historic buildings, battlefields, courthouses, cemeteries, walking trails, museums,and more. Few areas can tell all sidesof the Civil War story like the Valley: brother vs. brother, political upheaval, major battles, partisan warfare, civilian life – and civilian destruction.
Most poignant of all arethe battlefields, the landscapes that saw so much struggle and sacrifice, suchas the Middle Field at Third Winchester, Rienzi Knoll at Cedar Creek, the "Field of Lost Shoes" at New Market, the Coaling at Port Republic, and Sitlington's Hill in McDowell. Today,visitors can walk the fields and learn the stories of famed names such asJackson, Sheridan, Mosby, and Custer – and the smaller stories of the individual soldiers who gave their all.
This year's 1864-2014 Sesquicentennial is an especially meaningful time to visit. The stories of 1864 in the Valley are some of the most famed of the Civil War: from the VMI cadets, Jubal Early's drive to Washington, and the stone wall at Second Kernstown – to the "Basin of Hell" at Third Winchester, the devastation of "The Burning," and Sheridan's dramatic ride to turn the tide at Cedar Creek. In 2014, sites throughout the Valley will commemorate the 150th anniversary of that year with a series of programs, including two conferences and major battle commemorations at New Market, Second Kernstown, Third Winchester, and Cedar Creek.
The SVBF and its partners provide a host of tools to help visitors. Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park's Visitor Contact Station offers information on both the park's story and the wider Valley. The SVBF has established Civil War Orientation sites in Winchester, Harrisonburg, McDowell, Middletown, and Luray. Printed materials include the Shenandoah At War visitor guide, drivingtours, maps, and booklets. And multi-mediamedia tools include animated maps, orientation films, and a film on Jackson's Valley Campaign.
Within the Shenandoah Valley National Historic District, there are limitless opportunities to experience the Valley'sCivil War story. To learn more about the sites and events in the National Historic District, visit www.ShenandoahAtWar.org.