In a war fought across a living civilian landscape, the Civil War had a profound impact on the everyday lives of non-military families, such as that of Samuel R. Pritchard, whose farm was south of Winchester on what became the Kernstown battlefield.
In 1854, Samuel Rees Pritchard built a beautiful Greek Revival house on the Winchester farmland that had been in his family for more than one hundred years. He called the house “Brightside” and it soon became a home for his budding family. A successful farmer and wheelwright, Samuel and his new bride lived quite comfortably, soon welcoming three children.
The atmosphere in the Shenandoah Valley was changing though. Secession was becoming a very real possibility. Samuel Pritchard wanted nothing to do with it. He wished only to be left alone to build on his successes. But the winds of war were stirring and the Pritchard family would soon be caught in the center of the conflict. On March 23, 1862 their quiet farm was overrun with troops, both Northern and Southern. Sixteen cannons reported from the hillside behind the Pritchard home and the battle swept over the Pritchards’ quiet fields.
Through all of this turmoil Samuel, his wife Helen (pregnant with her fourth child), and their three children huddled together in their cellar waiting for the end of the battle. By nightfall all was quiet again.
The following day the Pritchards’ home became a makeshift hospital for the wounded and dying being brought in from the fields. It would not be the last time the house saw the tragedy and turmoil of war. Many more times the family would open their doors to injured soldiers in both blue and gray.
Summer 1864 again brought significant fighting to the Pritchards’ farm. Again the family retreated to the cellar and waited for peace to return. Later that year, after Gen. Philip Sheridan’s Union army laid to waste much of the Valley’s harvest, farm fields, mills, and barns, the Pritchards’ home became a headquarters for Sheridan’s cavalry chief, Gen. Albert Torbert. The Pritchard farm and countless others in the Valley were turned into massive Union camps. The resources that remained on these farms were largely demolished and used in the camps to build shelters for the soldiers. The Union army departed two months later, leaving many of the farms and families of the lower Shenandoah Valley destroyed, the Pritchards’ included. The Pritchards were now penniless and spent the next ten years trying to rebuild their lives.
The house itself changed hands several times through the following century until 2004 when the Pritchard House and Pritchard Grim Farm were acquired by the Kernstown Battlefield Association. The house has been restored by the KBA and can be visited and toured. You can find more information about the site in the Visit the Valley section of this website.