Today in History:

Shenandoah Valley Campaign

In 1990, a study of Civil War sites in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia was authorized by Public Law 101-628. The study was to accomplish four tasks: identify significant Civil War sites and determine their condition, establish their relative importance, assess short and long term threats to their integrity, and provide alternatives for their preservation and interpretation by Federal, State, and local governments, or by other public or private entities.

The time and funds available to perform this study were not sufficient to cover all of the Shenandoah Valley's significant Civil War historic sites. Instead, the work focused on major battlefields as the kind of historic site under the greatest preservation pressures. While the Civil War certainly did not play out exclusively on battlefields, the latter are among the most dramatic sites; they convey a very high level of meaning to all Americans and are extremely vulnerable to development, highway construction, and visual intrusion. Moreover, effective action to preserve key battlefields and interpret military developments in the Valley can provide the conceptual structure around which to evaluate and preserve other sites, buildings, and structures significant to rounding out preservation and interpretation of the Civil War in the Valley.

To encompass both geographic and historic realities, the Shenandoah Valley study area was defined as comprising eight Virginia counties--Augusta, Clarke, Frederick, Highland, Page, Rockingham, Shenandoah, and Warren. The West Virginia counties of Jefferson and Berkeley, geographically and strategically part of the Valley, were excluded from the study by a provision of Public Law 101-628. Although none of the battlefields studied was in Page County, the transportation routes that traversed the Luray Valley influenced military strategy throughout the war. Highland County was included because of its association with Jackson's 1862 Valley Campaign. Highland is less populated than the Valley proper and has not experienced the same level of growth and development. The counties of Frederick, Clarke, and Warren (with Jefferson and Berkeley counties, West Virginia) are considered the Lower Valley, while the remaining counties make up the Upper Valley.

The Shenandoah Valley's unique geographic, topographic, and economic features, and its military-strategic importance, influenced the conduct of the Civil War in Virginia and in the Main Eastern theater. Official records document 326 armed conflict incidents alone in the Shenandoah Valley and this does not include many of the raids, ambushes, and partisan actions that also comprised war in Valley. As a result of historical analysis to be described, this record of 326 notable armed conflicts was reduced to fifteen battle events of major significance. The battlefields selected for the study were associated with Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign of 1862, the Gettysburg Campaign of 1863, and the decisive campaigns of 1864. These battles were Cedar Creek, Cool Spring, Cross Keys, Fisher's Hill, Front Royal, First and Second Kernstown, McDowell, New Market, Opequon (Third Winchester), Piedmont, Port Republic, Tom's Brook, First and Second Winchester.

While assessing the integrity of these fifteen battlefields, many significant historic sites, such as houses, mills, and fords, were located, associated with the battles, and mapped. Throughout the study, numerous consultations took place among the study staff, the Department of Historic Resources and other State agencies, regional planning offices, local government bodies, preservation organizations, and local residents. An effort was made to keep these parties informed of the purposes and progress of the study. At the conclusion, a draft version of the report was circulated to solicit responses, opinions, and advice. Many of the suggestions received during the public comment period have been incorporated into this report.

As identified by this study, battlefields are large historic landscapes, encompassing many public and private landowners and local jurisdictions. Because the fifteen battlefields vary considerably in terms of size, ownership patterns, land use, integrity and threats, this study concludes that no single preservation alternative is best suited to the preservation of all of the sites. A balance must be achieved between the common linkages among the battlefields, which suggests a regional approach, and the flexibility to treat each site in a manner most appropriate to it. Solutions that emphasize private ownership, especially when current land use practices are compatible with the preservation of the battlefields, should be considered wherever possible. It appears that a range of mutually supportive preservation and interpretation alternatives, not limited to the creation of one or more units of the National Park System, will be needed to achieve satisfactory results.

It is the recommendation of the study team that no preservation alternatives be selected and implemented without wide participation of local government and property owners. This recommendation is based on the diversity of these resources apparent during the survey, and on the basis of comments received on the draft study.

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