The people who were part of the Shenandoah Valley’s Civil War story ranged from the high and the mighty – outsized personalities such as Stonewall Jackson and Philip Sheridan – to the everyday soldiers and civilians who found themselves caught up in the great and terrible events of the age.
Jackson became a beloved icon of the South, as did Turner Ashby, “The Black Knight of the Confederacy” – though neither survived the war. Sheridan ended the conflict with a military reputation matched only by Grant and Sherman among Union leaders, and George Custer used a swashbuckling fearlessness in battle to rise to unlikely fame; both would go on to lead the fight against American Indians in the west…Custer less successfully.
Others who were part of those tumultuous times included Confederates such as Jubal A. Early, Lee’s “bad old man,” and John S. Mosby, the “Gray Ghost”…Federals such as famed explorer and politician John C. Fremont, who proved that his talents lay elsewhere than military command, and Thomas F. Wildes, whose pleas helped save Dayton from destruction during The Burning…spies such as Belle Boyd and Rebecca Wright…civilians such as the “Devil Diarists” of Winchester and the Pritchard family, whose home sat at the center of two battles…and victims of tragedy such Haywood Shepherd, a free black man killed by John Brown’s raiders; pacifist minister John Kline, murdered on a back road; and Confederate veterans George Summers and Isaac Koontz, tragically executed long after the war had ended in Virginia.
Hearing their stories puts a human face on the great tragic epic of the war in the Valley. Clara Strayer, who watched the Battle of Port Republic from the porch of her family home, spoke for many who lived through those days: “Those were indeed stirring times. May we never see the like again!”