Monday, June 18, 2012

Trip to Winchester, Day 2: Cemeteries and Battlefields

A couple weeks ago I wrote about the first half of my weekend escape to Winchester.  Back in May, I spent the greater part of a Saturday afternoon walking the streets of Old Town and visiting a few historic sites, including the famed headquarters of Stonewall Jackson.  I even threw in a little French & Indian War history for good measure.  After a few drinks and an evening stroll through the streets with a fine cigar, I returned to my hotel to recharge and prepare for another full day. 

The Final Resting Places of Winchester

On Sunday my friend Ken, and I started with Winchester's Civil War cemeteries.  We first drove to the Mt. Hebron Cemetery on E. Boscawen Street.  Mt. Hebron was established in 1844 on land adjacent to 18th century Reformed and Lutheran graveyards.  The Stonewall Confederate Cemetery is located within Mt. Hebron on ground that saw action during the Third Battle of Winchester (Sept. 19, 1864).  The cemetery, which was dedicated in 1866, contains the graves of over 2,500 Confederate dead.  Eleven former Confederate states, plus Kentucky and Maryland, have dedicated sections in the cemetery, and several states have erected monuments to their fallen soldiers.   As I walked past the endless rows of headstones, I felt overcome by a sense of sadness and loss. Cemeteries such as this one force us to confront the tragic human cost of the Civil War in a way that just reading about battles cannot do.

A view of Stonewall Confederate Cemetery looking towards the Unknown Soldiers Monument (1879).  Over 800 unknown Confederate soldiers lay buried beneath the monument.

The grave of the Patton Brothers at Stonewall Cemetery.  Col. George S. Patton, grandfather of the famous World War II general of the same name, was mortally wounded at the Third Battle of Winchester on September 19, 1864.  His brother, Col. Waller Tazewell Patton, was mortally wounded at Gettysburg during Pickett's Charge on July 3, 1863.  Other notable burials at the Stonewall Cemetery include Confederate cavalry commander Turner Ashby and Gen. Robert Daniel Johnston of North Carolina.
Ken and I next drove right around the corner to the Winchester National Cemetery, located on National Avenue.  The cemetery sits on land that was used for burials during the Civil War.  It was officially dedicated in 1866, the same year as the Stonewall Cemetery, and was transferred to the U.S. Government in 1870.  The National Cemetery contains the graves of Union soldiers who died in battles and campaigns throughout the region, including Winchester, Front Royal, New Market, Harpers Ferry, and Romney.   Fifteen monuments rise above the plain white headstones.  Most are dedicated to Union regiments who fought in the Shenandoah Valley, including the 12th Connecticut, 38th Massachusetts, 123rd Ohio, and 8th Vermont.  Two monuments, however, commemorate the sacrifices of soldiers from Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, and a third was erected to honor the Sixth Army Corps. 

Looking over Winchester National Cemetery towards the 114th New York Monument.  When I visited, each headstone was decorated with a flag in preparation for Memorial Day.

Bronze soldier atop the Massachusetts Monument at the National Cemetery. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts erected the monument in 1907.
Touring the Battlefields of 1862

Following our visit to the cemeteries, my friend and I turned our attention to the scene of the fighting.  The Winchester area witnessed several key battles between 1862-64.  The focus of my Sesquicentennial-themed trip was the 150th anniversary of Jackson's Valley Campaign, so we stuck to the battlefields from 1862.   At the Visitor Center we picked up a driving tour of the 1862 Winchester battlefields published by the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation.  (Incidentally, I could not find a copy of the brochure on the web prior to my trip.) 

We first visited a few sites associated with the First Battle of Winchester, one of Jackson's key victories in the Valley Campaign.  After defeating the small Federal garrison at Front Royal on May 23,1862, Jackson moved down the Valley (north) in pursuit of the main Union force under Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks.  On May 25, Jackson pounced on Banks' men, who were positioned on the ground south of Winchester. Following a devastating attack against Banks' right flank on Bowers Hill, the Union line collapsed, and the retreating soldiers fled through the streets of Winchester.  Jackson's tired men tried to catch up with Banks, but the Union army managed to cross the Potomac and escape into Maryland.  Jackson soon moved back up the Valley to avoid being caught in a trap by two separate Union commands converging on him from the east and west.  He soundly defeated these armies at the start of June and left the Valley to join Robert E. Lee before Richmond.

Sadly, little remains of the First Winchester battlefield.  Much of the land is blanketed with commercial and residential development.  In fact, the general area where the battle began is now marked by a Sheetz station!  The driving tour is useful for getting a sense of the scope of the engagement and the terrain on which the men fought, but don't expect to see much aside from a historical marker commemorating the battle.

View of Camp Hill along Kent St.  Following an initial morning attack by Confederates under Gen. Isaac Trimble, Union soldiers from Gen. Dudley Donnelly's brigade fell back to Camp Hill.  The 46th Pennsylvania, 5th Connecticut, and 28th New York made a stand here, but ultimately were forced to withdraw.

View towards the crest of Bowers Hill from a residential subdivision along Ramseur Lane (note the manicured lawn).  Gen. Richard Taylor's Louisiana Brigade moved from the southwest and across this area to attack the Union right flank positioned atop the hill.   
Lucky for current and future generations, the Kernstown battlefield is an entirely different story.  The First Battle of Kernstown, fought on March 23, 1862, was the opening shot of Jackson's Valley Campaign and marked Jackson's only defeat as an independent commander.  Erroneously believing that he outnumbered his opponent, Jackson launched an attack on the Union line around Kernstown.  After a failed attempt to flank the Federal artillery on Pritchard's Hill, the action shifted westward to Sandy Ridge.  Jackson's men were no match for the large Union force under Col. Nathan Kimball.   The Confederates began to run out of ammunition, and before long, Kimball forced Jackson from the field.  Although a tactical loss, Jackson's attack at Kernstown spooked the Federal authorities in Washington, who redirected troops to the Valley and retained Gen. Irvin McDowell's corps around the capital.  This shift of resources deprived Gen. George McClellan of men for his move on Richmond by way of the Peninsula.

Our first stop was the Rose Hill farm, which is run by the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley.  The property was the scene of the fight along Sandy Ridge.  Unfortunately, the site was closed, and we were unable to do the walking tour.  Instead, we took a look at the the farm from the road and read the Civil War Trails marker at the entrance.  I will need to get back to Rose Hill someday to do the site justice.  (Perhaps as a detour during my battlefields of 1864 tour?)

View of the William W. Glass farm, or Rose Hill, from the entrance to the Museum of the Shenandoah site.  The engagement along Sandy Ridge took place to the east of the house.  After a desperate two-hour fight, the Confederate line faltered.  The Stonewall Brigade under Gen. Richard Garnett left the field first, followed by Col. Samuel Fulkerson's brigade.  Jackson, furious that Garnett had withdrawn without explicit permission, relieved Garnett of command and pressed charges against him.  Garnett was later killed at Gettysburg. 
Our next stop is a true gem and well worth a visit if you do nothing else in the Winchester area.  The Kernstown Battlefield encompasses Pritchard's Hill and the surrounding property, including the 1854 Pritchard House.  The site is a true preservation success story.  Through efforts led by the Kernstown Battlefield Association (KBA), the property was spared from developers' bulldozers in the early 2000s.  Aside from the First Battle of Kernstown, the site was also the scene of fighting during the Second Battle of Winchester (June 13-15, 1863) and the Second Battle of Kernstown (July 24, 1864).

Ken and I stopped at the Visitor Center.  Although a bit outdated in style, the small collection of exhibits does a thorough job of helping visitors make sense of the various engagements that took place on the Pritchard farmland.   We also had the good fortune of dropping by on a day when the KBA was offering docent-led tours of the Pritchard House.  The outside of the Pritchard House is largely restored, but the inside is still a work in progress. Our guide, Sue Golden, took us through the rooms of the home and provided valuable insights into the sad history of the Pritchard family during and after the war. 

The Pritchard House, built in 1854.  Samuel Pritchard and his family took shelter in the house's basement each time the armies fought on their property.  The house also served as a hospital following the battles.  Union Gen. Philip Sheridan's cavalry chief, Alfred Torbert, used the Pritchard House as headquarters in 1864.  Like many families in the Valley, the war devastated the Pritchard's business and property.  After the war, Mr. Pritchard filed a claim with the Southern Claims Commission for over $5,000 in damages, but the Commission rejected his claim on the grounds that Pritchard had been disloyal to the Union.

Looking up to the top of Pritchard's Hill from the walking path.  Federal guns occupied this high ground during the First and Second Battles of Kernstown and the Second Battle of Winchester.
Ken and I next hiked across the battlefield in the mid-day sun.  The Walking Trail Guide (available in the Visitor Center) and informative historical markers helped to make the tour a true learning experience.  And of course, nothing beats walking over the very terrain where the fighting occurred.  Standing atop Pritchard's Hill, I could surely see why Jackson's men fared so badly against the Federal artillery placed there.

Looking out towards the site of the Confederate advance towards Pritchard's Hill during the First Battle of Kernstown. Fulkerson led the 37th and 23rd Virginia in a movement to flank the Federal batteries atop the hill. The 33rd Virginia, part of Garnett's brigade, followed. The artillery fire became so hot that the regiments turned to the west and took refuge in woods on Sandy Ridge.  The historical marker explains the action that took place here.

Stone fence along Pritchard's Lane.  Union Col. James Mulligan's troops made a last-ditch stand against Jubal Early's Confederates at this spot during the Second Battle of Kernstown.  Mulligan was mortally wounded and later died in the Pritchard House.
Ken and I spent about two hours exploring the battlefield.  When all was said and done, the trip to the Kernstown Battlefield was a highlight of the Winchester weekend and was the perfect end to a perfect Civil War weekend.  My friend and I returned to McLean, comparing impressions from the last couple days. Winchester is well worth a trip, whether you live in the DC area or elsewhere.  And because I concentrated on 1862 this time around, I couldn't be happier that I have every reason to get back to the Winchester area within the next couple of years.

Information and Sources
Aside from the links provided above, the following sites are useful for planning a trip to Winchester's 1862 battlefields:

1) Shenandoah at War by the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation.

2)  The Kernstown Battlefield site by the KBA.

The Visitor Center at Kernstown Battlefield also sells First and Second Battles of Kernstown: Pritchard-Grim Farm.  This booklet provides a good overview of the two engagements and features pieces by well-known historians Gary Ecelbarger and Scott Patchen.

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