Inscription reads: "During the Civil War, a road (Market Street) ran east and west through the courthouse square, dividing it roughly in half. The courthouse occupied the northern portion while the jail, clerk's office, and springhouse were in the southern section. Plank fences surrounded both yards. These enclosures occasionally were used as holding pens for prisoners during the conflict. After the First Battle of Winchester on May 25, 1862, Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson confined about 2,000 Union prisoners of war in the yards briefly before they were marched to Richmond. Civilians and soldiers alike quenched their thirsts at the springhouse (later reconstructed) in the southwestern corner of the square. Artist J.E. Taylor sketched the original springhouse while traveling with Gen. Philip H. Sheridan's Federal army in the fall of 1864."
Fighting occurred on Harrisonburg's doorstep several times during the war, especially in 1862. On June 6, just before the nearby battles of Cross keys and Port Republic, a rearguard engagement southeast of town resulted in the death of Gen. Turner Ashby, Jackson's cavalry chief.
For a town of its size (about 1,400 in 1860), Harrisonburg had a large number of hotels, reflecting its importance as the county seat and a regional commercial center. The American Hotel (built about 1820), also known as the McMahon's Tavern, which stood on Main Street opposite the southeastern corner of the square, was a popular stopping place during the war. On June 5, 1863, the local newspaper reported that the famous Confederate spy, Belle Boyd, had "been in Harrisonburg for a few days past, stopping at the American." The hotel was destroyed in the great Harrisonburg fire on Christmas Day, 1870.