Return to contents page

[PREVIOUS SECTION]


3. Relative Importance of the Battlefields

The study team was asked to prioritize the battlefields of the Shenandoah Valley in terms of their significance. There is no easy way to arrive at such an assessment through historical analysis alone. The richest understanding of individual major battles within the Valley is best achieved by viewing the battlefields together, in their interaction with one another within a campaign context. The battle events are so interdependent, due to geography and topography, that to consider one battlefield separately from those of which it is a part, is to miss a critical meaning of this unique aspect of the Civil War. How Stonewall Jackson manipulated these geographic realities remains a source of continuing fascination for military strategists. Viewed individually, Jackson's 1862 battles are dwarfed by the larger 1864 conflicts at Opequon and Cedar Creek. Yet Jackson's successful campaign profoundly shaped the early conduct of the war when the hopes of the Confederacy were high and its armies in the East seemed almost invincible. Jackson's campaign contributed materially to the defeat of Union armies in the Seven Days' Battles before Richmond by diverting large numbers of troops to protect Washington, D.C. Prioritizing by size, forces engaged, or casualties alone will not reflect adequately the significance of the individual events.

National Historic Landmark criteria are used by the National Park Service to evaluate cultural properties that possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting our heritage, and that possess a high degree of integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association. The following National Historic Landmark significance criteria apply to the Civil War sites in the Shenandoah Valley. A complete version of National Historic Landmark significance and integrity criteria may be found in Federal Regulations 36 CFR Part 65.

Battlefields that would meet the Landmark criteria are sites:

That are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to, and are identified with, or that outstandingly represent, the broad national patterns of United States history and from which an understanding and appreciation of those patterns may be gained (Criterion 1); or

That are associated importantly with the lives of persons nationally significant in the history of the United States (Criterion 2); or

That represent a significant, distinctive and exceptional entity whose components may lack individual distinction (Criterion 4).

When applied to Stonewall Jackson's 1862 Campaign, the above National Historic Landmark criteria stand up well. The battlefields of the Jackson campaign--First Kernstown, McDowell, Cross Keys, and Port Republic --are well documented as outstanding examples of the military strategy of Stonewall Jackson. These battlefields retain high integrity, the latter three being among the best preserved battlefields in the Valley. The battlefields of First Winchester and Front Royal may no longer meet the criteria for integrity and would not be eligible for Landmark status.

A case can be made for the national significance of Second Winchester within the context of the Gettysburg Campaign of 1863. The battle was not decisive in the campaign, yet the crushing victory achieved there may well have contributed to the aura of invincibility that the Confederate army carried with it to Gettysburg. This battlefield should be considered a valuable, supporting resource for understanding and interpreting the Gettysburg Campaign.

Turning to the 1864 Lynchburg campaigns of Sigel and Hunter, the national significance of the representative battlefields--New Market and Piedmont--is evident when viewed in context of General Grant's Overland Campaign. New Market Battlefield is currently listed in the National Register of Historic Places to commemorate the role of the Virginia Military Institute cadets and alumni in the battle. It also represents a failed attempt to accomplish what Union forces were able to do a month later at Piedmont. Piedmont ranks among the three bloodiest battles of the Valley, yet it is modest in size when compared to other major battles of the Civil War. Its significance within the context of Valley and Virginia warfare has been underrated, however. The Confederate defeat at Piedmont allowed General Hunter's army to penetrate as far as Lynchburg for the first time during the war and forced General Lee to detach nearly a third of his army to deal with this threat, materially influencing the direction of the campaigns for Richmond and Petersburg.

Early's and Sheridan's 1864 Valley campaigns initiated the largest and most costly events, in terms of casualties, forces engaged, and frequency of combat, in the history of Valley warfare. Early's invasion of Maryland, Union defeats at Cool Spring and Second Kernstown, and the subsequent burning of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, by Confederate raiders, led directly to the appointment of Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan as overall commander of the Union armies in the Valley. Sheridan fielded the largest Union fighting force--the Army of the Shenandoah--to act in concert in the Valley. Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early, who learned his art at Stonewall Jackson's feet, conducted a masterful campaign with fewer men and resources than Jackson and came close to defeating Sheridan's much larger army at Opequon and again at Cedar Creek. Union successes at Opequon and Fisher's Hill led to ``The Burning.''

Indeed, the scope, size, and casualties of the battles of Opequon and Cedar Creek would rank in any list of significant battlefields of the Civil War. A strong case can be made that either or both of these battlefields can be considered nationally significant in their own right, although the campaign context offers the strongest evidence of significance. Cedar Creek Battlefield already is designated a National Historic Landmark and has retained a high degree of integrity, while Opequon has gone unrecognized, has deteriorated, and faces further fragmentation in the immediate future. Taken together, the battlefields of the Early-Sheridan campaigns--Cool Spring, Second Kernstown, Opequon, Fisher's Hill, Tom's Brook, and Cedar Creek--represent a unique and nationally significant chapter in the history of the Civil War.

Collectively, thirteen battlefields appear to meet National Historic Landmark criteria, excluding Front Royal and First Winchester. Of the largest Valley battlefields, Cedar Creek is already designated a National Historic Landmark, and Opequon might qualify on its own for National Historic Landmark designation, pending a full assessment of integrity. Both of these battlefields represent the same campaign but neither site tells the whole story of its campaign. The ability of other battlefields to warrant such NHL designation individually is problematic. Certainly these sites appear to qualify for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

The National Park System Advisory Board, after reviewing the draft report, recommended listing all of the battlefields on the National Register. Review of this report by the Board was required under the legislation authorizing this report. Documentation prepared on these battlefields for this study, as well as the resolution of the National Park System Advisory Board, will be provided to the Virginia State Historic Preservation Officer to initiate the nomination process. Since listing in the National Register of Historic Places usually is a process initiated through States, and for which owners are afforded by law the opportunity for input, this process would be the next appropriate step in recognizing the importance of these sites.

In conclusion, Jackson's 1862 Campaign is undoubtedly the most famous and most widely studied of the Valley campaigns. It was, however, not the longest, nor the largest, nor the most influential in terms of the war's outcome, nor the most costly in terms of either men or materiel. All of these ``laurels'' belong to the Early-Sheridan campaigns of 1864. Second Winchester attains its significance within the context of the Gettysburg Campaign of 1863, which amply demonstrates the Valley's strategic importance as an invasion corridor into the North. Civil War Veterans considered Gettysburg to be the pivotal battle of the Eastern theater, and sites associated with this campaign, such as Second Winchester, may justifiably share its significance. New Market and Piedmont attain significance within the context of Ulysses S.Grant's grand strategy to end the war by pushing his armies forward on all fronts.

No single battlefield can be singled out to represent the entire Shenandoah Valley Civil War period, since each represents one campaign (with the exception of the overlapping Kernstown battlefields). In addition, there is no clear line of historical argument that assures a credible ranking of battlefields within the individual campaigns, again, excepting Cedar Creek and Opequon, which stand out as the culmination of Early's and Sheridan's decisive confrontation. Cross Keys and Port Republic marked the culmination of the 1862 campaign, but Jackson's campaign itself is the story, and each of the individual battlefields tells but one episode.

Figure 16 summarizes the standards of comparison that have been developed in Parts Two and Four of this report. These rankings, combined with levels of threat and risk, and an assessment of the preservation potential for each site, may provide guidance for a regionally coordinated approach to preserving and interpreting as many of the battlefields as possible.


[NEXT SECTION]

Return to contents page

Creation Date: 3/23/95
DWL

Last Update 7/17/95 by VLC