During the four years of the “American Iliad” – the American Civil War – control of the Shenandoah Valley was critical to the fate of Virginia and the Confederacy. Its strategic importance, reflected in Stonewall Jackson’s words that “If this Valley is lost, Virginia is lost!”, made it a whirlwind of combat and conflict, with devastating consequences for those who called the Valley home.
The Valley became history’s stage, the scene for war-altering campaigns such as Jackson’s Valley Campaign, pivotal battles such as the ferocious clash at Third Winchester, fascinating characters such as antagonists Jubal Early and Philip Sheridan, and dramatic stories of heroism and sacrifice, heartbreak and tragedy.
To the embattled and hard-pressed South, the Valley was a land of plenty. Its ability to feed armies, its developed roadways, and its geographic location in relation to the opposing capitals – Richmond and Washington – made the Valley a strategic prize. Certain hills and fields were contested time and time again…taken, lost, and retaken by both sides.
Throughout the war, the lines between the homefront and warfront blurred as battles raged in farmers’ fields, filling churches and homes with wounded. And as the years went by, a hard war became even harder, climaxing in the systematic destruction of the region’s agricultural bounty with The Burning in the fall of 1864. When the curtain closed on this horrific conflict, much of the region lay devastated. The Valley was forever changed.
By the end of 1864, the Union had established permanent control in the Valley, and Jackson’s words proved prophetic; months later, Virginia itself fell when Robert E. Lee surrendered his Confederate army to Ulysses S. Grant.
The campaigns that changed the course of the Civil War, from Jackson’s 1862 Valley Campaign, which helped save the Confederacy, to Sheridan’s 1864 Campaign, which helped seal its doom.
The battles and their dramatic stories, from the desperate race for the stone wall at First Kernstown and the ferocious struggle for The Coaling at Port Republic, to the charge of the VMI cadets at New Market and Sheridan’s inspiring ride to rally his shattered ranks at Cedar Creek.
From the people who were among the most famous of their day – such as Stonewall Jackson and Philip Sheridan – to the everyday soldiers and civilians caught up in the great and terrible events of the age.
Stories of tragedy and triumph, hope and loss…stories that retain their power to move and inspire us 150 years after they took place.
Please note: This material is based upon work assisted by a grant (GA-2225-10-017) from the Department of the Interior, National Park Service. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of the Interior.