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The last valley campaign: as development marches across Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, residents, historians, and preservationists are mounting a defense of Civil War battlefields.

STANDING ON THE BRIDGE over Interstate 81 at the New Market battlefield, it's hard to imagine that North and South ever fought bitterly in the Shenandoah Valley. The steady drone of tractor trailers has long since replaced the sputter of muskets and the flash and roar of cannon, and the uninterrupted stream of commerce and the passage of time have muted the partisan feelings that set these regions against each other.

Now, residential, industrial and commercial development in the valley--nurtured by major thoroughfares such as I-81--threatens to obscure the tangible evidence of the conflict entirely. There is a real danger that if we don't act soon, the forests and fields where frightened, desperate men fought for a cause they believed in will be overrun one last and final time.

One hundred and thirty years ago, the Shenandoah Valley was one of the most fiercely contested regions in the country. In 1862 Maj. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson entered the valley with 17,000 men and outmaneuvered three Union armies twice his size, forcing the North to divert troops from Richmond and setting the stage for Gen. Robert E. Lee's invasion of Maryland.

Two years late, Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan struck hard from the north, crushed Confederate armies sent to stop him, and burned the farms that blanketed the valley. He brought the Southern capitaal to its knees by depriving it of the livestock and grain that its citizens and their defenders needed to survive.

Both campaigns were "as crucial in shaping the course and ultimate outcome of the wawr as were Antietam, Vicksburg, Chickamauga and Chattanooga--yes, even as important as Gettysburg itself," says James M. McPherson, the Princeton historian who won a Pultizer Prize for his Civil War study, Battle Cry of Freedom. Yet, except for a few private efforts, the Shenandoah Valley battlefields are completely unprotected.

In February 1993, Rep. Frank R. Wolf, whose congressional district was recently rewritten to include the northern half of the valley, introduced a bill to establish the Shenandoah Valley National Battlefields as a unit of the National Park System. Similar legislation followed in May, sponsored by senators John Warner and Charles Robb of Virginia and Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont.

These bills are noteworthy not simply because they aim to protect a crucial part of our national heritage. They reflect a grassroots philosophy that, from the very start, involves local governments, citizen groups, and preservationists in creating national parks. And they aare based on the understanding that national parks need not be large blocks of contiguous land, but can embrace scattered sites. NPCA and likeminded groups played a decisive role in drafting this legislation.

THERE IS LITTLE QUESTION about the importance of the Shenandoah Valley in Civil War history. The average American may have a hard time placing Front Royal and First Winchester, Cross Keys and Port Republic, but mention Jackson's valley campaign, but mention Jackson's valley campaign, and eyes light up. Jackson understood the strategic importance of the valley. It angles east as the Shenandoah River flows north, making it an ideal corridor for advancing Confederate troops to launch an attack on Washington. It even served Jackson's purposes in retreat, forcing pursuing Union troops farther and farther away from Washington as they marched south.

In 1862, the professor-turned-general defeated three Northern armies in a single month, not merely because he appreciated the valley's strategic potential but because he mastered its topography. He used the Blue Ridge Mountains that from the valley's eastern wall to screen his troop movements from the Uniom command, and he made a practice of keeping Massanutten Mountain, a high ridge that divides its northern portion into two smaller valleys, between his troops and his opponents. Jackson also knew every back road, river crossing, and bridge between Staunton and Winchester and turned them to his advantage as his "foot cavalry" covered more than 650 miles in five weeks.

One of the keys to Jackson's success was the map he ordered from Jedediah Hotchkiss. In the spring of 1862, Jackson asked Hotchkiss to "make me a map of the Valley." The resulting map, measuring three by eight feet, served as the blueprint for Jackson's campaign. It traces more than 4,500 roads, provides 230 historic place names, locates 260 mills, forges, schools, churches, and tallhouses, and identifies more than 1,000 farms by the name of the resident, in addition to providing topographical and watershed information.

Between May 8 and June 9, Jackson defeated Union forces at McDowell, in the rugges mountains just west of the valley, overran a detached Union force at Front Royal, routed Union defenders at Winchester, and stopped two Union columns before they could unite below Massanutten Mountain by attacking them individually at Cross Keys and Port Republic.

His campaign demonstrates how an inferior force can, through fast movement, surprise attack, and intelligent use of the terrain, mount a successful campaign against much larger armies. In five weeks, he inflicted more than 7,000 casualties at a cost of only 2,500. Gen. Norman Schwarzkopt recently credited Jackson's campaign as a model for his strategy in Iraq.

The valley campaigns of 1864, though not as well known as Jackson's valley campaign, also provided a foretaste of what future was would be like. In March 1864, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant made a priority of breaking the Confederate hold on the valley. During the summer, the valley changed hands several times with battles fought at New Market, Piedmont, Cool Spring, and Second Kernstown.

In October, after a series of pitched battles with the Confederate army of Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early at Opequon and Fisher's Hill, Sheridan introduced the concept of total war. Sheridan reported, "I have destroyed over 2,000 barns, filled with wheat, hay, and farming implements; over 70 mills, filled with flour and wheat... When this is completed, the Valley from Winchester up to Staunton, 92 miles, will have but little in it for man or beast." Sheridan finally took control of the valley by routing Early's cavalry at Tom's Brook and turning the tide of battle at Cedar Creek.

Sheridan's string of victories in 1864 had political as well as strategic importance. After taking 100,000 casualties, Union assaults on Richmond and Atlanta had bogged down, and growing antiwar sentiment jeopardize Lincoln's re-election. The success of Sheridan's campaign proved a tremendous morale booster for the North and restored confidence in the dministration.

A CIVIL WAR VETERAN returning to the battlefield at Cross Keys or Port Republic would have little trouble recognizing it even today, for the valley has retained mucj of its rural character. Peter Svenson, author of Battlefield: Farming a Civil War Battlefield, an account of building a home on 40 acres at the site of the Battle of Cross Keys, writes that after the war, scores of German and Swiss carpenters fawnned out across the valley and made a living replaacing the barns that Sheridan had razed. Their handiwork still stands and, in fact, farming is almost as important to the valley economu now as it was during the Civil War. William Veno, director of planning for Rockingham Country, points out that Augusta, Rockingham, and Shenandoah countries, the site of seven major battles, are among the top five agricultural counties in Virginia.

But development has not sidestepped the Shenandoah Valley. In many areas, particularly around Winchester, the conditions that drew armies to clash at a specific spot - the intersection of major highways, a rail head, or a hill with a panoramic view -- are just the conditions that encourage development. The population density of Frederick County, which surroundls Winchester, grew from 69 people per square mile in 1970 to 110 in 1990. This growth has been accompanied by a decline in acreage under cultivation. Between 1964 and 1987, farm acreage in Frederick County dropped 27 percent, and the battlefields of First Winchester and Opequon (or Third Winchester) were almost entirely overwelmed. Although most of the other battlefields retain at least a fair amount of integrity, nearly all are subject to some form of threat, either from residential, commercial, or industrial development, or from highway construction.

The interstate highway system, built in the 1960s, stimulated much of the change that the valley has witnessed in the last 25 years and in itself has been particularly unsparing for the battlefields. The Park Service calls this highway program "the single most destructive event in the history of these battlefields." Interstate 81, which runs the length of the Valley parallel to the old Valley Turnpike, cuts across eight battlefields, and I-66 intersects two.

WHILE THE EFFORT to save th Civil War battlefields in the Shenandoah Valley has been a top agenda item for several preservation groups, the legislative drive to preserve the battlefields owes much to a senator from Vermont. In 1989, the 125th anniversary of the Battle of Cedar Creek, Sen. James Jeffords visited the Shenandoah Valley spot where the Vermont Brigade had made a heroic stand during that battle. "The Vermont legislature had passed a resolution asking its congressional delegation to do what it could tco maintain the monument that it could to maintain the monument that veterans of the brigade had place there after the war," says Jeffords. He found the monument overgrown and much of the battlefield unprotected.

Returning to Washington, Jeffords--working with Virginia senators John Warner and Charles Robb--proposed legislation that resulted in the National Park Service (NPS) undertaking a study of Civil War sites in the Shenandoah Valley in 1990. "It became apparent to me," Jeffords remarks, "that if we didn't act soon, we would loos part of our heritage forever."

NPS issued a first draft of the report in October 1991. As a historic treatment of the major events of the Civil War in the valley, it is an impressive piece of work. Official Civil War records document 326 armed clashes in the Shenandoah Valley; of these, the Park Service identified 15 battles of major significance. Whereever possible, researchers walked the battlefield, locating such remains as earthworks and burial sites and assessing their condition. They determined the boundary of the study area and defined each battlefield's core area--the amount of land considered crucial to understanding and interpreting the conflict. NPS also provided a detailed assessment of the threats to each battlefield and ranked them by condition and current risk to preservation.

But for all the effort that went into producing it, the report did not contain strong enough recommendations for battlefield preservation, a circumstance that led landowners, preservation groups, officials from local government, representatives of the tourism industry, and economic development councils to form their own working group. The purpose of the group was to develop a bill for a battlefield national park that would be acceptable to landowners and preservationists--a bill that the Virginia delegation could introduce in Congress.

"This was really a grassroots effort," comments NPCA Northeast Regional Director Bruce Craig. "Our role was to first help the grassroost organizations determine objectives and then gather all their ideas, offer our experience in creating new parks, and finally help them craft a doable bill."

The groups began meeting in January 1992, and each brought a different perspective to the discussions. NPCA's partner in the effort to preserve the Shenandoah battlefields is the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites. For A. Wilson Greene, APCWS executives director, the battlefields are irreplaceable for those who hope to take a full measure of our history. "Only by walking the actual ground where men fought and died," he insists, "do you gain an emotional appreciation of their ordeal, something that can't be gained from sitting in your armchair reading a book."

James McPherson seconds Green's view. He recalls the experience of a student of his who spent her senior year studying the Union defense of Little Round Top at Gettysburg. "As we walked across the field toward the hill," he recalls, "she began to weep."

Greene and McPherson also stress the substantial economic benefits that a park would bring to the region. According to June Wilmot, executive director of the Winchester/Frederick County Economic Development Commission, most of the economic benefit from the proposed park will come from support services such as restaurants and motels rather than from federal spending on the park itself. And these are benefits, she points out, that can be gained without local governments' investment in infrastructure like schools, water lines, and sewage treatment plants.

In McDowell, a quiet town some 30 mountainous miles west of the valley, these benefits seem particularly attractive. Richard Hevener, a member of the Highland County Board of Supervisors, admits that "most of the McDowell battlefield land is already in the hands of preservationists and it's too rugged to farm, so we had nothing to lose. We're too far out of the mainstream to attract much industry, so we think we can benefit from tourism."

Bill Veno, the planner from Rockingham County, takes a more cautious approach. "Because we're an agricultural area, our battlefields are much better preserved than those in the northern end of the valley," he notes. "As a result, there is less support for intervention. So far, we've been successful in using local regulations to limit development around Port Republic, but there is no guarantee that the battlefields will be protected in the future. We are looking for a way to preserve farmland and battlefields at the same time."

One thing all parties agree on, however, is that the proposed national battlefield will help preserve the valley's distinctive character and heritage not only for the people who live there but for citizens of other states as well. "Our Civil War history is part of the way we think about ourselves," declares Wilmot. "It would be a tragedy if we forgot it."

In May 1992, a first draft of the proposed legislation was readied and circulated for comments. In September, NPCA played a key role in crafting a second draft incorporating these comments. When the second draft was issued and sent out for endorsements, "every local jurisdiction signed off on it," says Craig. "No landowners objected, as they helped fashion the bill." With the help of NPCA and APCWS, the citizen group was able to present the Virginia delegation with the text of a bill that already had gained solid support among its constituents.

"In creating a Shenandoah battlefields park," says Congressman Wolf, the bill's sponsor in the House, "we are moving in the spirit of reconciliation and trying to avoid the acrimony that has developed from land takings in the past." Under the proposed legislation, the Park Service would purchase lands within a "historic core" area and acquire property in the surrounding study area through donation or land swap. No property would be seized through eminent domain; land would be purchased only from willing sellers. In preserving lands, the Park Service would pursue such nonadversarial tactics as purchasing development easements from farmers, which would preserve the land without restricting their ability to farm, and acquiring the right of first refusal, so that core lands could be tagged for acquisition at some future date. The bill also authorized federal grants to local governments and regional entities to cover the cost of developing plans for conserving the battlefield's historic character.

The cooperative spirit that infuses land preservation and planning would also infuse the governing structure of the park itself. The House bill calls for a commission--composed of local landowners and officials as well as historians and preservationists--to prepare a framework for establishing the park within three years. The Senate bill calls for the immediate creation of the park from 1,140 acres already in the hands of preservation groups and the establishment of a similar commission to guide additional purchases. Despite these differences, both the House and Senate bills agree that community involvement is instrumental in creating the park unit free of the controversy that has surrounded preservation at such Civil War battlefields as Manassas and Brandy Station.

One reason that it has taken so long to include the Shenandoah battlefields in the park system is that the scattered events of a military campaign do not conform to the traditional concept of a national park as a contiguous block of land. The bills, in providing for the preservation of the Shenandoah battlefields, offer a model "partnership park" for other groups attempting to preserve sites of historic significance. For example, "the idea of creating a historic corridor [has] application to the Lake Champlain area," comments Sen. Jeffords, "which witnessed the major campaigns of the French and Indian War."

The bills do more, however, than preserve battlefields. Both bills call for a major interpretive focus on the experience of the people living in the valley, not just the soldiers who fought there. The lives of civilians were disrupted--Winchester, for instance, changed hands 72 times--and their livelihood was deliberately destroyed, yet little is understood about the experience of everyday people who suddenly found themselves in the midst of a battlefield, their crops ruined and their homes converted to fields hospitals. "When people come to visit us," observes Ed Merrell, director of the New Market Historical Battlefield Park, "they are often as interested in the families who lived here as they are in the soldiers who fought here." Under similar provisions in both bills, educational and interpretive programs would be conducted at two NPS visitor centers--one in the upper valley and one in the lower.

PERHAPS THE BEST--and simplest--argument for the bills comes from author Peter Svenson, owner of a 40-acre portion of Cross Keys. "Civil War battlefields are our roots," he says. "If we let them be destroyed, we lose our connection with the past. I look out my window and see 40 acres that are still relatively untouched, but it is in an area that is being increasingly encroached upon. The next 130 years won't treat this landscape as kindly as the last 130. We must think about the future."

New Market: A Model

THE EXPERIENCE OF the New Market Battlefield Historical Park provides a model of how Shenandoah battlefields might be preserved. The Virginia Military Institute created the park in 1967 to commemorate the role of VMI cadets at New Market. Ed Merrell, director of the 280-acre facility, notes that 45,000 visitors stop each year to visit the Hall of Valor and walk the battlefield.

"We've learned how to encourage visitors to visit each of our three separate parcels of land, and we've learned the importance of working closely with the surrounding communities, issues the Park Service will have to master if the battlefield preservation bill is passed," he says.

But the park has felt pressures of development. "Just in the last year, the town of New Market has annexed properties on its north and south borders," Merrell notes. "They've created major new subdivisions, and Main Street has lost several historic structures. The passage of a bill might encourage localities to do better planning. As an organization, we don't consider it restrictive. It opens up possibilities for us to share our expertise and form partnerships with the Park Service."

The bill is endorsed by the New Market Battlefield Historical Park, the New Market Area Chamber of Commerce, and the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors.
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Title Annotation:includes related article on the successful effort to preserve battlefield areas surrounding New Market, Virginia
Author:Feigenoff, Charles
Publication:National Parks
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Nov 1, 1993
Words:3204
Previous Article:New direction for NPS.
Next Article:The information gap: the National Park Service is hampered by a lack of knowledge about the ecological makeup of the parks.
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