Nearly a year after the announcement of an ambitious effort to protect a landscape that the National Park Service described as some of the “most sanguinary fields of the Civil War,” representatives of the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation (SVBF) and Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT) gathered today in Winchester, Va., with government officials and guests to celebrate the success of that undertaking.
On August 7, 2009, SVBF officially closed on the 209-acre Huntsberry property, which was part of the bloodied Middle Field during the Third Battle of Winchester, fought on September 19, 1864. Fighting on this land was especially fierce — the Union Army’s 19th Corps suffered devastating losses, with 40 percent of its men and every one of its regimental commanders either killed or wounded.
Speaking at today’s event, U.S. Senator Jim Webb praised the cooperative nature of the project, citing the importance of Civil War battlefield preservation to Virginians and all Americans.
“As someone with ancestors who fought on both sides of the American Civil War, the preservation of these battlefields has personal significance,” said Senator Webb. “The need to protect our nation’s battlefields is far too great for any one well-intentioned federal program. That’s why the partnerships with groups like the Civil War Preservation Trust and the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation are so critical. They are in this fight for all the right reasons. This partnership truly serves as a model of bringing all stakeholders to the table to tackle pressing national issues.”
Webb was joined at the podium by Kathleen S. Kilpatrick, Virginia’s Director of Historic Resources, Richard C. Shickle, chairman of the Frederick County Board of Supervisors, Paul Hawke, program chief of the American Battlefield Protection Program, SVBF chairman Dr. Irvin E. Hess, CWPT chairman emeritus Theodore Sedgwick and SVBF executive director W. Denman Zirkle. The involvement of each group was absolutely critical to the project’s successful completion.
Preservation Made Possible Through Partnership
The $3.35 million purchase price was funded through a partnership between the Battlefields Foundation and the Civil War Preservation Trust, together with government grants from the federal, state and local levels.
The federal Civil War Battlefield Preservation Program, funded by legislation championed by Senator Webb in Congress, issued a $1.23 million matching grant toward the effort, and a $1 million Virginia Land Conservation Foundation grant to protect important natural and historic landscapes was applied to the project. Frederick County contributed $112,000 from its Historic and Open Space Preservation Fund, which is supported by proffers from a residential development in the Third Winchester battlefield study area. Remaining funds had to be raised by the two nonprofit organizations through private donations. Preservationists stressed that while they closed on the land last month, payments remain and fundraising efforts are ongoing.
Welcoming guests to the event, Zirkle stressed that while the protection of this land has been a long-standing SVBF goal, the endeavor would not have been successful without the cooperation of the various organizations and agencies working in tandem. “Without tremendous advocates at all levels of government and stalwart friends in the preservation community, today’s celebration would not have been possible,” he said.
The county’s Shickle concurred, saying “Frederick County has many historic resources of national significance. We acknowledge that it is our duty to be thoughtful stewards of these resources, and the county is proud to have been a part of this preservation effort.”
Connecting Already Preserved Battlefield Areas
Protection of this property at the heart of the Third Winchester battlefield is particularly significant since it links areas previously protected by the Battlefields Foundation and CWPT. Its addition to the existing preserved landscape creates a 567-acre battlefield park that stretches from Interstate 81 in the west to Millbrook High School in the east.
“The landscape that has been preserved here at Third Winchester is irreplaceable,” said Hawke, who administers the American Battlefield Preservation Program, an arm of the Park Service responsible for issuing federal matching grants for historic preservation. “This land retains enough of its historic character that the men who fought here almost exactly 145 years ago today would recognize its features. It is an unparalleled resource for understanding the battle’s history.”
CWPT’s Sedgwick was enthusiastic about the additional public interpretation opportunities that the newly preserved acreage provides. “Since 2007, when we opened a five-mile educational walking and biking trail on our adjacent property, the Third Winchester battlefield has become a tremendous resource for the surrounding community. I look forward to working cooperatively with our partners at the Battlefields Foundation to expand our understanding of this battlefield through study, and to create one seamless battlefield park.”
Dr. Hess, chairman of SVBF pointed out that the protection of the Huntsberry property went a long way toward completing the preservation puzzle at Third Winchester. “This land is the largest remaining undisturbed portion of the battlefield,” he said. “Now that it is protected, Third Winchester is ready to become a genuine destination for heritage travelers eager to better understand American history.”
Virginia’s Ongoing Efforts to Protect Civil War Battlefield Resources
While acknowledging that the preservation ceremony was scheduled to coincide with the battle’s 145th anniversary tomorrow, Kilpatrick also looked toward the future, when our nation will commemorate the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. “There is no time more appropriate to encourage the study of the American Civil War than during this significant period,” she said. “And there is no place more appropriate to do so than on the battlefields themselves, which provide a deeper level of understanding than any book or museum exhibit can hope to. While today is indeed a celebration, it is also a reminder that our work is not complete. Other landscapes, no less hallowed than this one, still deserve our attention.”
Senator Webb agreed, declaring, “No state is richer in significant historic Civil War-era landmarks than Virginia, and I am proud of the work that the Commonwealth has undertaken to safeguard its heritage. Our time to protect these sites is limited. I will continue my efforts in Congress to ensure such historic landscapes are preserved for future generations.”
At Third Winchester, intense fighting raged across an area covering almost eight square miles. Of these nearly 5,000 acres of core battlefield, only 830 are permanently protected. Throughout the Shenandoah Valley, more than 16,000 acres of battlefield land are vulnerable to development, and similar situations exist elsewhere in Virginia and across the country.
Preservation Fits with Landowner Legacy
The land’s previous owner, the Huntsberry family, has roots in the Shenandoah Valley stretching back centuries. The property was originally granted to ancestor Jacob Huntsbarger by Lord Fairfax in 1762. Civil War-era maps clearly show the Huntsberry House as a battlefield landmark, and the building’s remains can sill be found on the property today.
Bob Huntsberry, a co-manager of his great-grandfather C.E. Huntsberry’s estate, which sold the property to preservationist interests, fondly remembered childhood summers spent on the land. “This is an important place for my family—and growing up, we knew that it was historically important, too,” he said last year, when the preservation initiative was announced. “We felt pretty strongly that it needed to be preserved so we are very happy that it will end up in good hands and that people will someday be able to come and learn about what happened here.”
Third Battle of Winchester
The Third Battle of Winchester, or Opequon, was a significant action of Union Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan’s devastating Shenandoah Campaign—which ultimately decimated the Valley’s agricultural bounty when farms as far south as Staunton were put to the torch. More than 54,000 troops were engaged in the battle, including two future Presidents — Rutherford B. Hayes and William McKinley.
In the early morning hours of September 19, 1864, Sheridan’s troops marched west from encampments around Berryville, ultimately stacking up in the Berryville Canyon along the modern-day alignment of eastbound Va. Route 7. The traffic jam created by slow-moving supply wagons delayed the deployment of the Federal army east of Winchester and foiled Sheridan’s plan to surprise and wrest the city from Gen. Jubal Early’s Confederates.
As Early moved troops south from Stephenson’s Depot to meet the Union attack, Sheridan sent portions of his army north of the Berryville Pike (Va. Route 7) to confront the southerners’ movement. The ensuing fighting at First Woods, Middle Field and Second Woods along Redbud Run—including the Huntsberry property—was fierce, close, and devastating. Nearly 1,500 men were killed or wounded in this area alone and one soldier remembered the area as “that basin of Hell.”
In the 1992 National Park Service Study of Civil War Sites in the Shenandoah Valley, historian David W. Lowe wrote, “Third Winchester was the largest and most desperately contested battle of the Civil War in the Shenandoah Valley, resulting in more than 9,000 casualties. The Union 19th Corps sustained 40 percent casualties (2,074 men) and lost every regimental commander during its assaults on the Middle Field and Second Woods…The Middle Field ranks with some of the most sanguinary fields of the Civil War, witnessing more than 3,000 casualties.”
Future Benefits of Preservation
Containing almost a half-mile of Redbud Run, a tributary of Opequon Creek and, in turn, the Potomac River, the property also has ecological significance. Protecting its sloping, forested banks will enhance water quality at the site and in downstream watersheds, including Chesapeake Bay.
The newly preserved property will remain in agricultural use while archaeological and cultural resource studies are conducted. Eventually, the land will be interpreted and fully opened to visitors.
National Park Service 1992 study of the Shenandoah Valley’s Civil War battlefields: www.cr.nps.gov/hps/abpp/shenandoah/svs0-1.html
National Park Service 1992 study of the Third Battle of Winchester: http://www.nps.gov/history/hps/abpp/shenandoah/svs3-12.htm
About the Shenandoah Valley Battlefield Foundation (SVBF)
Created by Congress in 1996, the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District encompasses Augusta, Clarke, Frederick, Highland, Page, Rockingham, Shenandoah, and Warren counties in Virginia and the cities of Harrisonburg, Staunton, Waynesboro, and Winchester. As authorized by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation serves as the non-profit manager of the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District, partnering with local, regional, and national organizations and governments to preserve the Valley’s battlefields and interpret and promote the region’s Civil War story. The Shenandoah Valley Battlefields website is located at www.shenandoahatwar.org.
About the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT)
With 55,000 members, CWPT is the largest nonprofit battlefield preservation organization in the United States. Its mission is to preserve our nation’s remaining Civil War battlefields and to promote appreciation of these hallowed grounds through education and heritage tourism. Since 1987, the organization has helped save more than 28,000 acres of battlefield land, including nearly 1,000 acres in historic Frederick County, Virginia. In 2007, CWPT opened a popular walking and biking trail on its 222-acre Third Winchester property. The CWPT website is located at www.civilwar.org.
For information about making a tax-deductible donation to this project, please contact Tom Robinson at the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation at 540-740-4545 x204 or David Duncan of the Civil War Preservation Trust at 202-367-1861 ext. 202.