Bugles along Virginia's Shenandoah Valley

  •  

    "If this Valley is lost, Virginia is lost,"

    said Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson before he led his Confederate troops through a series of victories known to history as the Shenandoah Valley Campaign.

    Jackson's brilliant marches lie at the core of Virginia's Civil War legacy — by far the richest of any state — and today's visitor, armed only with a new edition of the Virginia Civil War Trails brochure, traces Jackson's bootprints with ease, clarity and growing fascination.

    The Valley's Importance

    What made the Shenandoah Valley of western Virginia crucial to the war plans of both North and South?

    The great trough between the Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountains, angling northeast to southwest for almost 200 miles, represented immense strategic danger — and opportunity — for both sides. Moreover, the Valley's fertile farms composed "The Breadbasket of the Confederacy," an indispensable resources. The fateful contest for the Shenandoah climaxed in two different years. Jackson's military masterpiece came in 1862, but 1864 brought another campaign far less successful for the South.

     

    On the Civil War Trail of the Shenandoah Campaigns

    The battles and maneuvers of both years can be pursued today just as they occurred, in all their chronological complexity. But a simpler, more practical approach is to start in Winchester, in the northern end of the Shenandoah Valley, and work south along U.S. 11. Take each site as it comes, and make your key detours along the way.

    Winchester's Cemeteries and Historic Homes of the Civil War

    Winchester changed hands 72 times during the Civil War, a violent statistic hard to believe when strolling the town's peaceful streets today. That is, unless you note the Confederate and Union graves in their respective cemeteries.

    On tree-shaded North Braddock Street, the Gothic Revival house where Jackson had his headquarters the winter of 1861-62 is now a museum — Stonewall Jackson's HQ Museum — filled with rare artifacts of Jackson and his lieutenants. It surprises many to learn that during the war the house belonged to a Confederate officer who was Mary Tyler Moore's ancestor.

    Battles of Kernstown, Cedar Creek and Middletown

    South of Winchester, outdoor battle maps at Opequon Church trace the heavy fighting that occurred nearby at Kernstown in 1962 and 1864. After passing Stephens City, U.S. 11 crosses the big Battlefield of Cedar Creek, one of the war's most dramatic and significant battles.

    reenactors on front porch at Belle Grove Plantation Reenactors at Belle Grove Plantation

    While in the Middletown area, visit Belle Grove Plantation , an 18th-century manor house from Thomas Jefferson's time, around which swirled the October 1864 Battle of Cedar Creek that cost the South control of the Shenandoah Valley. Here, Union Gen. Philip Sheridan turned an apparent Union rout into victory with his dramatic horseback dash from Winchester.

    Front Royal's History

    A short detour east via I-66 or Route 55 leads to the town of Front Royal, where a visitor center outlines the battles that occurred there, including such sites as a house associated with Confederate spy and femme fatale, Belle Boyd. Also, see the Warren Rifles Confederate Museum highlighting Mosby's Rangers. A monument to seven rangers who were executed in Front Royal by George Custer's Union Cavalry guards Prospect Cemetery.

    Hupp's Hill Civil War Park

    Continuing south on U.S. 11, the Hupp's Hill Civil War Park retains its original battle trenches, and, at Strasburg, a train station museum tells the story of how the Confederate general stole Yankee locomotives!

    Nearby, at Fisher's Hill, a 195-acre tract of preserved battlefield recalls a Confederate defeat in September 1864. The rout continued in October at Tom's Brook, where a county park interprets the battle.

    New Market Battlefield State Historical Park New Market Battlefield Historical State Park

    The Battle of New Market

    Mt. Jackson and Rude's Hill offer interpreted sites that recall events of both 1862 and 1864.

    But of all the Shenandoah Valley's war-haunted locations, the most compelling is probably New Market Battlefield State Historical Park. On hillsides and muddy wheat fields here in 1864, the young cadets of Virginia Military Institute charged into battle and helped win one of the last great Southern victories in the Valley.

    Much of the battlefield is permanently preserved in the 300-acre Park, which is adminstered by VMI. At the Bushong Farm, the impact of the war on the Valley's civilian population is explored through original and reconstructed farm buildings and exhibits. The site's nationally recognized museum, The Hall of Valor, covers not only the Battle of new Market, but the entire Civil War in Virginia. The museum presents the Emmy-award-winning film Field of Lost Shoes in its 120-seat theater, as well as other interpretive programs.

    The Battles of Cross Keys and Port Republic

    To the east on U.S. 211 near Luray, where the famous caverns were discovered after the war, Confederate cavalry hero Turner Ashby burned White House Bridge as a prelude to the 1862 battles of Cross Keys and Port Republic. Those clashes occurred east of U.S. 11, on country roads between Harrisonburg and Staunton. Today, these battlefields are little-changed. In Port Republic stands the house, the Port Republic Museum, with interpretive displays, where the dashing Ashby lay in state after his death in battle.

    Staunton's History

    Further south, discover the significance of Staunton, a major rail depot between the Shenandoah Valley and Richmond during the Civil War. Today, the town's best-known attractions are the Frontier Culture Museum — an outdoor living history museum featuring 17th- and 18th-century farmsteads imported from Britain and Germany.

    The First Victory of the Campaign

    For those following the Valley Campaign, head west for an important detour into the Alleghenies along U.S. 250. This was the route of Jackson's "Foot Cavalry" in May 1862, which culminated in the Battle of McDowell, the first victory of the Valley Campaign. The McDowell Battlefield, fought over Alpine-like terrain in Highland County, is unchanged by time.

    The route leads through mountain passes and over peaks still marked with trenches, all the way to the site of Camp Allegheny at the West Virginia border. The town of Monterey, one of the most picturesque in Virginia, also played a roll in the war, but it's better known today for its annual Highland County Maple Sugar Festival in March.

    The Stonewall Jackson House in Lexington The Stonewall Jackson House in Lexington

    The Raid on Lexington

    Back on U.S. 11, the journey leads to Lexington, one of the most significant Civil War towns anywhere. Only one engagement occurred in this handsome old Scots-Irish town in the shadow of House Mountain, but it lives in notoriety. Union Gen. David Hunter's 1864 raid on Lexington was directed primarily at VMI, where Jackson had been an instructor, and whence came the cadets who gained immortality at the Battle of New Market.

    Hunter devastated VMI by fire and cannon, a fact to bear in mind when viewing the five-star artifacts on display at the VMI Museum. Most visitors linger over the bullet-punctured black raincoat Jackson wore at Chancellorsville in 1863 when he received his fatal wound. Nearby, his faithful warhorse, Little Sorrel, is preserved by taxidermy.

    Jackson's Home, Robert E. Lee's Office and Their Final Resting Places

    The Stonewall Jackson House, the only one he ever owned, has been restored to its state in the 1850s, when he was a young professor at VMI. It holds many of his furnishings.

    Across Lexington's small downtown area, on the campus of Washington and Lee University, is the postwar office in Lee Chapel of the one man higher than Jackson in the Confederate pantheon: Robert E. Lee. The general's office, used when he headed the college from 1865-70, remains as it was the day he died. He is interred in the chapel mausoleum, and Jackson, his great lieutenant, lies in a Main Street cemetery.

    lone man at sunset at New Market Battlefield

    The End of the Civil War

    "If this Valley is lost, Virginia is lost" proved fatefully true. When, long after Jackson fell at Chancellorsville, the great valley was lost to the North, Virginia and the rest of the Confederacy soon fell.

    The victories and defeats played out in this valley have become the passion of many preservation groups, who have worked to ensure that the land remains in its present pastoral state.

    Start your own Civil War Tour of the Shenandoah Valley.

    More Civil War Sites

    Civil War Battle Reenactments

Last Updated: 7/29/2014 12:46 PM
  • Virginia Shop

     

    Old School Virginia

     

    Get the 2014 Travel guide

    2014 Virginia Travel Guide - Small Town cover

    Order your Free Virginia Travel Guide.

    Order now button 

  • Travel Updates

    What's going on around Virginia? Subscribe to the Virginia eNews.

    Subscribe