Published on February 1, 2021

  • Share:
  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • Email Article

Help Save the Coaling

Save 107 Acres of the Coaling at Port Republic!

Click image to see map of battle and target property

We have an opportunity to save 107 acres of “The Coaling” at Port Republic; a chance to save 107 acres where the fate of Stonewall Jackson’s 1862 Valley Campaign was decided.  If we act now, we can save the ridge that Confederate Gen. Richard Taylor’s Louisianans charged as they fought to seize victory for Jackson’s army.

After the war, these 107 acres of wooded ridgeline, which were once used for the production of charcoal and were so critical during the battle, remained undisturbed and virtually unchanged for more than a century.  That all ended when the property was divided into building lots, and the infrastructure for a rural residential subdivision was installed: a gravel road was punched through the property, and electrical service was run to the lots.  The lots went up for sale, and two were sold, and a house was constructed on one of the lots in the rear of the property.

But then the bottom fell out of the housing market.  The economic downturn inadvertently preserved what was on its way to becoming a new neighborhood.  And that brings us to today.

Today, the housing market has recovered to the point where there is once again interest in speculative residential development, new home construction, and investment in building lots – and there has been renewed interest in these 107 acres.  We got word that the lots were back on the open real estate market, and were actively being shown to prospective buyers.  We quickly reached out to the owners – and, as luck would have it, we got to them just before two of the lots were put under contract.

The owners, two local brothers, have been fantastic and have agreed to work with us to preserve the entire 107 acres.  They’ve given us an extended option on the property and owner financing terms which together will give us the time we’ll need to complete the purchase.  So we’ve done the math and here’s where we are:

The purchase price of the property will be just over a million and a half dollars: $1,555,000, to be exact.  Our members came together and raised $55,000 to make a down payment on the property at the time of signing the option.  To date, we’ve received $230,966 in grant funding from the Virginia Battlefield Preservation Fund.  We are eligible and are applying for $800,000 in funding from the National Park Service American Battlefield Protection Program.  As it stands, we’ll need to raise another $469,034 to preserve this site.

Confederate Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson

And we don’t plan to just preserve this piece of hallowed ground and stop at that.  We plan to open the land up to the public as a place of remembrance, reflection, and learning.  We’d like to connect these 107 acres with the property that they has already saved around the Coaling, creating a combined visitor experience with interpretive trails and markers.  We want to save this ground and open it as a 107-acre battlefield park; a 107-acre outdoor classroom; a 107-acre memorial to the men who struggled and the men who died there.

And it’s those men who bring us here.  What happened along this wooded ridge turned the tide for Stonewall Jackson’s army as they fought the Battle of Port Republic on June 9, 1862, and was arguably the most ferocious fighting of Jackson’s Valley campaign.

Today, the Coaling is quiet.  The sound of the guns and the shrieks of the wounded have been replaced by the peaceful sounds of a Virginia woodlot. But make no mistake.  There is a silent battle raging there today – a new battle for the Coaling.  Now the battle is against time itself – against time and the change that often comes with it.  What we are fighting for – you and I – is the same ground where the fate of our nation once rested.  Like Jackson, we must take the Coaling – we must HOLD the Coaling.  The fate of our battle depends on it.

To see the complete letter from SVBF CEO Keven Walker, click here.

“In every great battle of the war there was a hell-spot. At Port Republic it was on the mountain side.”
– Quotation by Louisiana Confederate soldier from Robert K. Krick, Conquering the Valley

“Hell on the Mountainside” – The Coaling

The Road to Port Republic

Click image above to see historic sketch

In the spring of 1862, with Union armies threatening the Confederate capital of Richmond, Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson was tasked with utilizing the Shenandoah Valley as a diversionary theater of war to keep and draw Federal troops away from the advance on the capital.

After a tactical setback at First Kernstown (March 23), Jackson defeated Union forces at McDowell (May 8), Front Royal (May 23) and Winchester (May 25).  Narrowly escaping a trap near Strasburg, Jackson withdrew south, followed by two Federal armies on either side of Massanutten Mountain.  Reaching Massanutten’s southern tip, Jackson stopped to face his pursuers. On June 8, Confederate troops under Gen. Richard S. Ewell defeated Union Gen. John C. Frémont at Cross Keys.  The next day, Jackson turned towards the other Federal force east of Port Republic.

The Battle

At Port Republic, the Union troops waiting for Jackson consisted of two brigades under the command of Gen. Erastus B. Tyler.  The Federals were in a strong defensive position, aligned near Lewiston Lane (modern-day Lynnwood Road), with their right anchored on the south branch of the Shenandoah River, and their left on the open crest of a ridge known as “The Coaling.”  The Coaling was a 70-foot high prominence, its top cleared for a charcoaling operation.  Federal artillery atop the height dominated the battlefield.

Confederate troops were slow to reach the battlefield, as the only route was via a makeshift wagon bridge over the South River.  As the action began on the flat plain of the South Fork of the Shenandoah two miles beyond Port Republic, the Confederates were actually outnumbered.

Opening Attacks

1st Ohio Light Artillery unit, pictured later in the war. Courtesy Ohio Historical Society.

Concerned that delays would allow time for Federal reinforcements (especially Frémont) to arrive, Jackson launched his attacks piecemeal, with the troops he had at hand.  Elements of the Stonewall Brigade attacked through the wheat fields in the river plain, but were repulsed with heavy casualties – as Union artillery fire from the Coaling wreaked havoc in the rebel ranks – and then were driven back further by a Federal counterattack.

The Attack on the Coaling

Jackson now turned to Gen. Richard Taylor’s Louisiana Brigade, the “shock troops” of his army.  While one regiment joined the fight in the plain, the rest of the brigade, including the famed Louisiana Tigers, moved through the woods to assault the Coaling….

For more on the battle and the actions on the target property, click here.

“The shell from the battery on the coaling was ripping the ground open all around us, and the air was full of screaming fragments of exploding shell, and I thought I was a goner.” – Confederate Col. George M. Neese, Battle of Port Republic

 

Modern Day image from “The Coaling”