For Civil War buffs, living in Virginia or Maryland means ready access to reminders of some very big battles. Imagine driving past the Bull Run Battlefield at Manassas as part of your weekday commute or passing Antietam on your way to the doctor. Surprisingly, although I never heard friends or co-workers mention Kernstown, Virginia, it was the site of not one but two major Civil War battles.
When I arrived in the Commonwealth in the 1980s with a small child, I realized that Civil War remembrances were more than a lot of street signs with arrows pointing to monuments and battlefields. Reminders of the war literally hung in the air. While I have never felt the urge to take part in re-enactments or turn studying the War Between the States into a major hobby, I resolved to use at least one weekend a month to visit local sites connected to it with my daughter.
The First Battle of Kernstown
I discovered Kernstown quite by accident on a gorgeous early summer day awhile visiting Winchester, Virginia a few years ago. Now a neighborhood within Winchester, Kernstown was the site of two important Civil War struggles. The First Battle of Kernstown occurred on March 23, 1862, according to the Civil War Trust.
While in Winchester, I discovered that admission to the Kernstown Battlefield, located on the Pritchard-Grim farm, is free. The battlefield is open seven days a week from May through October, and there is a lot to see. The Kernstown Battlefield Association suggests getting a glimpse of what occurred on the site by starting with a walking tour. The organization sponsors commemorations of both battles.
I learned that March 23, 1862 occurred on a Sunday, after a snowfall. Confederate General Stonewall Jackson decided to seize an apparent opportunity and brought fewer than 3,000 troops to an area just south of Kernstown. His orders were to shadow the Union troops, but not to do anything that could result in huge defeat.
Acting on unreliable intelligence, Jackson decided to try to retake Winchester. He ran into nearly 8,000 Union troops at the Pritchard Farm and had to order his troops to retreat. Casualties of the battle numbered more than 1,000 Confederate and Union men. It was the first battle in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign and Jackson’s only tactical loss. However, afterward, the Confederacy profited for a while from some Union miscalculations of troop strength.
The Second Battle of Kernstown
On July 24, 1864, the Second Battle of Kernstown marked the start of Sheridan’s campaign to gain control of the Shenandoah Valley. After the fighting, the area was decimated. Nine months later, the war ended at Appomattox.
Visitors love touring the battlefield because the landscape has changed very little since the Civil War. Benner’s Tavern, the Opequon Presbyterian Church cemetery, and the Pritchard House all pre-date the war and are part of the battlefield.
The Winchester area is a treasure trove of Civil War attractions. Among them are several restored manor houses and attractions such as the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley that interest all age groups.