WINCHESTER, Va.—A month after incurring a $500,000 mortgage to permanently protect the 209-acre Huntsberry Farm on the Third Winchester battlefield, the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation has garnered its first major donation to retire the debt and begin its effort to interpret the site for residents and visitors. The James R. Wilkins Family of Winchester has made a $100,000 gift to the Foundation to bring final protection to the property and take initial steps in the effort to open it to the public.
“We are extremely grateful to the James R. Wilkins Family for this extraordinary gift,” said W. Denman Zirkle, the Foundation’s executive director. “This donation continues the family’s long tradition of supporting the Winchester-Frederick County community and making it an even better place to live and work. It is only through this sort of commitment that remarkable, unique resources like the Huntsberry Farm can be protected and enhanced for the community and the nation.”
Speaking for the Wilkins family, Richie Wilkins noted that although the family has been involved in land development over the years, preservation of historically important landscapes like this one is extremely important. “So much of Frederick County saw fighting during the Civil War but this property saw some of the worst of it,” he said. “This is where so many fought and died and the landscape looks today just as it did at that time. So it was important to save this property. It will now be preserved forever—it will be there for future generations.”
SVBF Announces Huntsberry Capital Campaign
With the Wilkins donation, the Battlefields Foundation is kicking off a campaign to raise funds to retire the mortgage on the Huntsberry Farm and commission the studies of the property that will be needed in order to determine the best way to interpret it. Ultimately, the Foundation expects to open the site to the public and connect it to surrounding land that has been preserved and interpreted by the Civil War Preservation Trust.
Private funds raised by the Battlefields Foundation’s capital campaign will supplement the federal funds received by the Foundation from Congress and the National Park Service—funds that are designed to serve as a match for state, local, and private dollars to support the Foundation’s interpretive and landscape management programs.
“Because we receive federal funds for management of the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District and preservation of the Valley’s battlefields, many believe that those funds are sufficient to accomplish the District’s legislated mission,” said Zirkle. “But those funds are designed to be supplemented with state, local, and private funds.”
The Commonwealth of Virginia and Frederick County have both contributed a great deal to this project already. The state’s Virginia Land Conservation Foundation made a grant of $1 million and Frederick County dedicated $112,000 from its proffer-funded Historic and Open Space Preservation Fund. In addition, the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program granted $1.23 million and the Civil War Preservation Trust contributed $380,000 to the project.
“So many public partners at all levels have made significant commitments to the preservation and interpretation of this landscape—making it available as a recreational and historic resource for the community for generations to come,” said Zirkle. “We hope that others in the Winchester-Frederick area will follow the lead set by the Wilkins family and contribute to this exceptional effort.”
The Foundation announced its steering committee for the capital campaign. Members include:
· James Wilkins, Jr., Wilkins Foundation (Winchester, Va.)
· James Wilkins, III, Wilkins Foundation (Winchester, Va.)
· Donna Wilkins Downing, Wilkins Foundation (Winchester, Va.)
· Ed Bearss, former Chief Historian, National Park Service (Alexandria, Va.)
· Jeffry D. Wert, Historian and Author of From Winchester to Cedar Creek (Centre Hall, Pa.)
· Dr. James Davis, former President, Shenandoah University (Winchester, Va.)
· Charles S. DeHaven, Jr., President, DeHaven Nursery (Winchester, Va.)
· Jack Helm, Principal, The Fairmont Group (Winchester, Va.)
· Dr. Irvin Hess, Chairman, Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation (Port Republic, Va.)
· Harry S. Smith, President and C.E.O., First Bank (Winchester, Va.)
· Robert Solenberger, Orchardist (Winchester, Va.)
· Dr. Phillip C. Stone, President, Bridgewater College (Bridgewater, Va.)
· James T. Vickers, founder and C.E.O. of Oakcrest Companies (Winchester, Va.)
· John C. Williams, Regional President, BB&T (Winchester, Va.)
· James C. Youngblood, Market President, Virginia National Bank (Winchester, Va.)
· W. Denman Zirkle, Executive Director, Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation (Edinburg, Va.)
Third Battle of Winchester
The Huntsberry Farm is in the core area of the Third Winchester (Opequon) battlefield where more than 54,000 Americans fought one another in the opening salvo of Union Gen. Philip Sheridan’s devastating Shenandoah Campaign – a military operation that ultimately decimated the Valley’s agricultural bounty in weeks of burning and destruction stretching as far south as Staunton.
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 of the battlefield 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.”
In addition, it was by traversing these fields that two men who would serve their country in battle would, through destiny, continue to serve the nation as President of the United States: Rutherford B. Hayes and William McKinley.
Protection of Natural Areas and Archeological Resources
The property also contains almost a half-mile of Redbud Run, a major tributary of Opequon Creek, which drains into the Potomac River. Preservation of this area protects the stream’s sloped and forested buffer, which will enhance water quality for the stream itself as well as the downstream watersheds, including the Chesapeake Bay.
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.
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. The legislation authorizes federal funding for the protection of ten battlefields in the District: Second Winchester, Third Winchester, Second Kernstown, Cedar Creek, Fisher’s Hill, Tom’s Brook, New Market, Cross Keys, Port Republic, and McDowell.