By Joseph W. A. Whitehorne and Clarence R. Geier
On September 21-22, 1864, the series of heights known as Fisher’s Hill – the “Gibraltar of the Confederacy” – were the scene of one of the pivotal battles of the Civil War in the Shenandoah Valley. The battle was a decisive Union victory, one that temporarily drove the Confederates from the Valley, opened the region up to the devastation of the “The Burning,” and helped ensure Abraham Lincoln’s reelection that November.
But Fisher’s Hill played an important role in the war long before the battle. Situated at the narrowest point of the Valley, stretching four miles from Massanutten Mountain on the east to the Allegheny Mountains on the west, the position was be a magnet for military activity and attention throughout the conflict.
Now, military historian Joseph W. A. Whitehorne and historical archaeologist Clarence R. Geier have combined to create a unique study of this pivotal landscape, Fisher’s Hill: The History and Archeology of a Battlefield. Featuring a preface by Jeffry D. Wert, the author of From Winchester to Cedar Creek, this new volume considers the military use of the landform from 1861, when railroad engines captured by Col. Thomas Jackson (the future “Stonewall”) at Martinsburg were shipped south via the Manassas Gap Railroad, to the Confederates’ advance from the heights during their stunning surprise attack on Sheridan’s encampment at Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864.
The book integrates current historic analysis with the research findings of field archaeology to tell its fascinating story. It features over 400 images and maps, including present-day color images of the battlefield, archival historic images, period military maps, and modern interpretive maps (including new maps prepared by Hal Jespersen). It illustrates the staggering beauty of the land along Tumbling Run, and examines the interweaving story of the towns, farms, fields, mills, railroads, and critical roadways that underlay the military landscape during the Civil War. Field studies conducted by James Madison University are used to document the placement of Confederate earthworks constructed in August of 1864, earthworks that were later enhanced in preparation for the Union attack in September. Roads and architectural structures that had been lost to time have been relocated and mapped. And the famed September 21-22, 1864, battle remains a focal point, as the book examines in detail the use of the land by Union and Confederate forces as they engaged in the Battle of Fisher’s Hill – and how that land decisively shaped the actions that day.
The book not only documents the historic landscape and the events that took place during the war. It also illustrates the importance of the efforts to preserve the historic landscape, and of using that landscape to tell the story of the struggles of 150 years ago. Fittingly, all proceeds from the sale of the book will go towards the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation’s preservation and interpretation efforts on the Fisher’s Hill battlefield.
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