America's Best History Spotlight
On this page we're going to Spotlight the lesser known historic sites and attractions that dot the history landscape across the USA and are worth a visit if you're in their area. And while they may be lesser known, some are very unique, and will be that rare find. You'll be, at times, on the ground floor, or maybe even know something others don't. It'll be fun. Visit them.
First and Second Battles of Kernstown, Virginia
Two battles amidst the seventy-two changes in possession amongst the six or seven major battles within the confines that today we'd call suburbs of Winchester, Virginia. That's what these battles of Kernstown, two years apart, represent. And today, interpreted by a dedicated volunteer staff and saved by the city, state, American Battlefield Trust, and many more individuals who value the land and battle history, the Kernstown Battlefield is a treat to visit for those that love the timeline of history beyond the major events of the Civil War. It may not be Gettysburg or Shiloh or Antietam in scale, but its value settles well beyond the mere mention it may currently get amongst too many. Without Second Kernstown in July of 1864, a determined Sheridan may not have been summoned, the Valley burned, and the siege of Richmond and Petersburg successful. Oh, what the easiest victory for the South might just have done for Union incentive. Photo above: Mural inside the exhibit barn at the Kernstown Battlefield.
Info, What's There Now, History Nearby
It was 1862 and Stonewall Jackson, fresh off a stellar career in the first year and one half of war that saw no defeats (some historians think that Hoke's Run in 1861 disagrees with that), was now embarking on a new mission to lay claim to the Shenandoah Valley by keeping the Union tied up north while they pursued Richmond during the Peninsula Campaign.
First Kernstown, on March 23, 1862, provided the first test of Jackson's strategy. However, with poor information about the size of the Union force under General Banks, success was going to be difficult. The Union Army that he faced was twice his own. With action to his left by Turner Ashby designed as a feigt, Jackson sent his main division against the Pritchard Hill defenses and artillery, his men guarded behind the stone wall fronting the Pritchard farm lane. Subsequent reinforcements could not overcome the initial thrust when the Stonewall Brigade under Garnett ran out of ammunition.
Troop strengths at First Kernstown are estimated at 6,500 to 9,000 for the Union Army and 3,000 to 4,200 for the South. Total casualties for both armies were 590 killed, wounded, and missing for the Union, and 718 for the Confederates.
Photo above: Engraving of Stonewall Jackson and the First Battle of Kernstown, Harper's Weekly. Below: Farm buildings on the Kernstown Battlefield.
Where Is It
The Kernstown Battlefield is located at 610 Battle Park Drive, Winchester, Va. 22601. It's located off Exit 310 of Interstate 81, several miles south of Winchester proper. Take Route 37 North, then Route 11 North. Battle Park Drive is a little over one mile up Route 11 on your left.
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What is There Now
Kernstown Battlefield includes 388 acres of battlefield land from the first and second battles, including the Pritchard House, built in 1854, and yes, therefore part of the battle. There are farm buildings which are used as a Visitor Center and Museum, and an Exhibit Barn with a fantastic mural that should get even more attention, plus cannons. Surprisingly there were not a whole lot of artillery here during the Second Battle.
There's clean bathrooms, a conference room, a picnic table or two, interpretive markers throughout the grounds, historic fencelines and stone walls, the Opequon Church on the Confederate battle line. The church was there in a former incarnation during the battle. There are also guided tours, which if needed also include a golf cart ride, or self-guided tours.
When Open and How Much to Visit
The Kernstown Battlefield is open from May to October on weekends with tours on Saturdays. Check their website for the times plus special events during the year.
Free, but donations are appreciated. The battlefield is run by a non-profit Battlefield Association. You can join the association or donate to them here.
It's a corridor, this Shenandoah Valley, that saw so much history from 1861 to 1865 during the Civil War, but even more from the western days of expansion to lands off the coast and today up and down Interstate 81. You can visit the nature and beauty, or these Civil War landmarks, or both.