Kernstown now site of development battle

Preservation: Efforts to save the 342-acre site of two Civil War battles are going forward.

October 10, 2004|By Devon Fink | Devon Fink,SUN STAFF

When one passes the Opequon Presbyterian Church, just west of Valley Pike, U.S. 11, and three miles south of Winchester, it should be recalled that two decisive battles in the Civil War were fought on its grounds, and another decisive battle is taking place today - a fight to preserve the 342-acre Kernstown Battlefield site.

Thanks to a network of programs including local governments, the Kernstown Battlefield Association, and the Cedar Creek Battle Foundation, a coalition has been formed to help prevent the site from future development that could take place within the next 20 years.

The 1996 plan

The Frederick County-Winchester Battlefield Task Force proposed a plan in 1996 that included strategies and actions to be undertaken that would ultimately "provide substantial economic and educational benefits," said the Kernstown Battlefield Association.

Included in the plan were provisions for tour routes to connect the battlefield sites and to include vehicular, bicycle and pedestrian routes. Because tourism is an important local industry, this plan coincides with ultimate economic development for the area.

Jerry Russell of the Mid-Missouri Civil War Round Table reports that the remaining 342 acres of the original Kernstown battlefield may go to a local Assembly of God Church. If allowed, the church plans to build a "mega-site" complete with day care, a school and other church facilities. It would operate seven days a week.

Donations from members of the Kernstown Battlefield Association, along with public grants from local, state and federal governments, have aided in the effort to save the 315-acre Pritchard-Grim farm. It is now protected by a permanent preservation easement. But that doesn't mean it still can't be destroyed.

Perhaps a better understanding of the historical significance of this plot of land is needed before action is taken.

Bookends

Like a set of bookends, the two battles fought at Kernstown, First and Second Kernstown, were among the first and last battles fought in the Shenandoah Valley. This significance alone, preservationists and historians say, makes the site essential to tourism and the preservation of historical landmarks.

On March 23, 1862, Maj. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson fought the opening engagement of his Valley Campaign. A strategic victory covered his early tactical defeat and in a month after Kernstown, he swept Union forces from the Valley and concurrently secured the salvation of the Confederacy.

After the battle Jackson recalled, "I do not recollect of ever having heard such a roar of musketry." His force of 6,000 men attacked a Union force of 9,000. Causalities totaled over 1,300 men.

On July 24, 1864, the Second battle at Kernstown was a decisive Confederate Victory. Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early's victorious Confederates inflicted 1,185 causalities on Brig. Gen. George Crook's Army of West Virginia, clearing the valley of Union troops.

The Civil War Preservation Trust lists the Kernstown battlefield as the most threatened by development as well as a "major battle important to the outcome of a campaign."

1742 gravestone

Today, the community of 1,000 still enjoys Benner's Tavern, the Pritchard House and the Opequon Presbyterian Church cemetery, all pre-Civil War structures. A gravestone in the cemetery is marked by the year 1742, the earliest marked gravesite in the Shenandoah Valley. The church is the oldest Presbyterian congregation west of the Blue Ridge, and the Grim Farm, in the heart of the battlefields, is eligible for inclusion on the Virginia and National Registers of Historic Places.

Both industrial and residential development continue to threaten the land.

Visit www.kernstownbattle.org or call 540-662-1824. KBA is a nonprofit organization. To join the KBA email kba@kernstownbattle.org.

Devon Fink is a senior majoring in journalism at Loyola College in Baltimore. This article was written as part of an academic internship with The Sun.

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