June 11, 2015

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During the 150th Anniversary of the Burning, the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation remembers John Heatwole, author of The Burning: Sheridan’s Devastation of the Shenandoah Valley.

Published in 1998, John’s trailblazing book remains the definitive study of that tragic period during the Civil War.  It provides a detailed accounting of the personal stories of the people who lived through those dark times in the fall of 1864, when Union troops engaged in the systematic destruction of the Valley’s agricultural bounty in an effort to end its role as the “Breadbasket of the Confederacy,” burning crops, mills, factories, barns, and destroying livestock.  As eminent historian Robert J. Krick wrote upon its publication, John’s outstanding account revealed “for the first time the full story of those savage, dreadful days.”  For anyone interested in the Civil War history of the Valley, it is an indispensable book.

Unfortunately, The Burning has long been out of print, and is difficult to find, but the reader who tracks down a copy or borrows one from the library will be well rewarded with John’s fascinating, dramatic account.

John, who passed away in 2006, was a man of many talents, a woodcarver, sculptor, storyteller, folklorist, and historian.  He was also the 2006 recipient of the SVBF’s prestigious Carrington Williams Preservation Award.  As the Battlefields Foundation noted at the time:

“In late November [1996], the Shenandoah Valley lost a great friend and perhaps its best-loved historian when John Heatwole’s fight with cancer ended.  John was a passionate, active participant, a leader, and a supporter of the National Historic District and of the Battlefields Foundation.  He was a founding trustee of the Foundation and a member of the federal commission that predated it.  He gave unstintingly of his time, energy, and talent to collect and present the Shenandoah Valley’s heritage and specifically its Civil War history.  His efforts stimulated an increased understanding of the importance of the Valley’s Civil War battlefields and historic sites to local, state, and national elected officials, organizations, and individuals.”

The campaign to preserve the Valley’s Civil War history knew no finer friend than John Heatwole.  And through publications such as The Burning, the work he did continues to live on, and continues to support the fight to preserve the Valley’s Civil War battlefields.