For Immediate Release: December 6, 2018
Battlefields Foundation Announces Preservation Victory at McDowell Battlefield
Includes Site Where Neighbor Fought Neighbor During Battle in the Mountain Highlands
STAUNTON, Va.— Today the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation (SVBF) announced the preservation of a critical 19-acre parcel on the McDowell battlefield. Fought on May 8, 1862, during the Civil War, the Battle of McDowell was the first victory of Confederate Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s famed Valley Campaign. The newly-preserved property is situated along the historic Staunton and Parkersburg Turnpike (US 250), and was one of last parcels in the heart of the battlefield that had not yet preserved. With this success, over 1,000 acres of the McDowell battlefield have now been preserved.
Speakers at the announcement included Hugh Sproul, Vice Chairman of the SVBF Board and former mayor Staunton; Keven Walker, CEO of the SVBF; and John Hutchinson, Director of Conservation for the SVBF. The announcement was held at the Staunton Train Station to emphasize the important connections between Staunton, the railroad, and the battle, both historically and today – today, Staunton also serves as a gateway for heritage tourists visiting McDowell and Highland County.
During the Battle of McDowell, Union Generals Robert Schenk and Robert Milroy sent the 82nd Ohio and the 3rd (West) Virginia Infantry regiments along the Parkersburg Pike – and across the preserved property – in an attempt to turn the Confederate defensive line on Sitlington’s Hill. The 82nd Ohio turned south, leaving the pike, and headed up a long draw toward the top of the hill. The Union 3rd (West) Virginia (Virginia at the time, soon to be West Virginia) advanced further east along the pike and across the preserved property. Near the eastern end of the preserved property, they encountered the Confederate 31st Virginia Infantry, who had been sent there by Jackson to block just such an advance. Ironically, both of these regiments had companies who were originally formed in the area around Clarksburg, Virginia (West Virginia). When the fighting ensued, these opposing units came so close to one another that soldiers recognized old friends – friends who were now mortal enemies. According to one account, “The [31st Virginia Infantry] came close to the 3rd, and saluted them, and called them by name, and proceeded with the slaughter.”
Staunton’s strategic importance made it a prized location for both sides throughout the Civil War. During the conflict, troops, supplies, wounded men, and prisoners were all shipped to and through Staunton. Holding the city was critical to the Confederate war effort; capturing it was key to Union efforts to control the Shenandoah Valley. And it was the importance of Staunton that led to the Battle of McDowell. In March 1862, when a Union army’s approach from the west threatened the city, Stonewall Jackson hurried much of his army to the city by train; gathered and assembled his forces here; and then raced west into the mountains of Highland County to confront the Federals. On May 8, 1862, the two sides clashed in the hard-fought Battle of McDowell, where Jackson earned the first victory during his famed Valley Campaign – a tide-turning victory for the Confederacy that provided the “first blush of…triumphs after a season of gloomy disasters.” After the battle, casualties were brought to Staunton.
“Staunton’s importance to the Civil War is often overlooked,” said Walker. “But no city in the Valley was more important to both sides during the war – for the Confederates to hold, and for the Federals to capture. We plan to bring much greater attention to that history, and to Staunton’s Civil War sites, in the years to come.”