More Battlefield Land to be Preserved at Third Winchester
SVBF, CWPT, Commonwealth of Virginia Team up to Protect Key Parcel
(Winchester, Va.) - Nestled just north of the bustling Va. Route 7 corridor on the east side of Winchester lie now-quiet farm fields that the National Park Service has described as “some of the most
sanguinary fields of the Civil War.” Here, during the Third Battle of Winchester (19 September 1864), on battleground now dubbed the Middle Field, the fighting was close and fierce and the Union’s 19th Corps suffered devastating losses. Forty percent of its men and every one of its regimental commanders was either killed or wounded.
Today, the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation (SVBF) and the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT) joined with the Commonwealth of Virginia to announce that a contract had been signed with the heirs of C.E. Huntsberry to purchase 209 acres of battleground where the 19th Corps and thousands of other Americans on both sides battled one another for control of the northern Valley. SVBF Chairman Irvin Hess signed the contract with the Huntsberry estate last Monday.
Preservation Made Possible Through Partnership
The $3.35 million purchase price will be funded through a partnership between the Battlefields Foundation, the Civil War Preservation Trust, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and private partners.
In late 2005, the Foundation was awarded a $1 million state grant for the project by the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation, a state agency funded by the General Assembly to protect important natural and historic landscapes throughout the Commonwealth.
This fall, the Civil War Preservation Trust agreed to match the state grant with $1.61 million in federal grants and private donations. The Battlefields Foundation has spent $50,000 from its Carrington Williams Preservation Fund toward the final purchase of the property, expected by May 2009. Finalizing the sale is contingent on the Foundation’s ability to raise the remaining $690,000 of the purchase price—the organization has begun a campaign to raise the funds needed to complete the sale and permanently protect the property.
Hess commended the Foundation’s partners for their investment in the project. “This parcel has been a top-priority preservation project since the Battlefields Foundation’s inception,” he said. “But it is only through the efforts of our partners that we have made it this far. We are enormously grateful to the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation and the Civil War Preservation Trust for their tremendous contributions to the protection of this important battlefield landscape.”
“We now turn to the local community and to Americans everywhere,” Hess continued. “Permanent protection of this hallowed ground will only happen if people in the Shenandoah Valley and beyond step up to the plate and contribute to this cause. We ask you to honor the brave men who fought and lost their lives here, who speak across the generations to us, asking us not to forget what they did here.”
Connecting Already Preserved Battlefield Areas
The property lies in Frederick County at the heart of the Third Winchester battlefield and links areas previously protected by the Battlefields Foundation and CWPT. Stretching from Interstate 81 at its western end to Millbrook High School in the east, the preserved land will create a 575-acre battlefield preserve that retains much of its historic character—Americans who fought one another on this land almost 150 years ago would recognize its features today. To generate public appreciation of the battle, CWPT in 2007 opened a five-mile walking and biking trail on its 222-acre property. After completing the purchase of the new property, the Battlefields Foundation and the Trust will work together to create a seamless network of interpretive trails throughout this portion of the battlefield. Bordered by growing neighborhoods, the area promises to be an island of quiet green space for generations to come.
“The Civil War Preservation Trust is proud to partner with the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation to secure this key acquisition,” remarked Trust President James Lighthizer, noting that the Huntsberry Tract is the largest remaining undisturbed portion of the Third Winchester battlefield. “We have always been keenly aware the battlefield puzzle here was far from complete. Adding the Huntsberry property to already protected land at Third Winchester transforms this historic shrine into a genuine destination for heritage travelers.”
Lighthizer also reiterated Hess’s call for private donations to make the promise of preserving the Huntsberry tract a reality. “This is not a done deal by a long shot,” stated Lighthizer. “We need all Americans with a passion for history and preservation to rise to the challenge and give generously to this worthwhile effort.”
Battlefield Preservation an Ongoing and Timely Effort in Virginia
Virginia Governor Timothy M. Kaine emphasized the importance of battlefield preservation to the Commonwealth. “Virginia’s Civil War battlefields are significant threads in our country’s historic fabric. Through the VLCF and the efforts of the Department of Historic Resources, we are preserving Virginia’s important landscapes so that they can continue to educate future generations.”
Kathleen S. Kilpatrick, Director of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, agreed. “Time is not on our side in this effort and waiting is not an option,” she said. “If future generations are to learn from these incredible landscapes—places where past generations gave the ultimate sacrifice—we must act now.”
The core area at Third Winchester covers almost eight square miles, totaling almost 5,000 acres, only 620 of which have been protected so far (not including the Huntsberry property). In the Shenandoah Valley, more than 16,000 acres of core battlefield land are still vulnerable and throughout Virginia and the nation, the numbers are even more dramatic.
Preservation Fulfills Wish of the Property’s Landowner
The Huntsberry family has owned the property since the early settlement of the Shenandoah Valley by Europeans. Originally granted to Huntsberry ancestor Jacob Huntsbarger by Lord Fairfax in 1762, the land has played a significant role in the agricultural history of Frederick County. In addition, the Huntsberry house itself, the remains of which still exist today, is noted on Civil War-era maps of the battlefield.
“I remember summers here when I was a boy,” said Bob Huntsberry, the great-grandson of the late C.E. Huntsberry and co-manager of his estate. “My grandmother kept us busy—we fed the pigs and collected the eggs and collected dandelions and had a lot of fun. This is an important place for my family—and growing up, we knew that it was historically important, too. 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 property 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, two men who eventually served their nation as President of the United States—Rutherford B. Hayes and William McKinley—served her first on these fields of battle.
Protection of Natural Areas and Archeological Resources
The property 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.
Once the purchase is finalized, portions of the property will remain in agricultural use while the Battlefields Foundation conducts archeological and cultural resources studies to learn more about the history that the land holds. This research will aid the Foundation as it works with its partners to determine appropriate types and locations of future interpretive activities.
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About the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT)
With 60,000 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 25,000 acres of battlefield land, including nearly 1,000 acres in historic Frederick County, Virginia. Last year, CWPT opened a popular walking and biking trail on its 222-acre Third Winchester property. The CWPT website is located at www.civilwar.org
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
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 ext. 204 or David Duncan of the Civil War Preservation Trust at 202-367-1861 ext. 202.