Battlefields Foundation raising funds to preserve Third Winchester
The Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation is embarking on an ambitious project to restore and interpret the Third Winchester battlefield, site of the largest battle ever fought in the Shenandoah Valley – with a goal of completing critical work before the battle’s 150th anniversary next September.
During the Third Battle of Winchester, fought on September 19, 1864, over 54,000 men clashed in a ferocious see-saw struggle that saw the outmanned Confederates gradually forced back until a final decisive Union attack sent the Confederates “whirling through Winchester.” It was one of the pivotal battles of the Civil War, and it was also the costliest battle ever fought in the Valley, as over 5,000 Union and 3,600 Confederate soldiers became casualties – including 3,000 in the Middle Field.
Today, that same Middle Field is the centerpiece of the Foundation’s “Campaign for Third Winchester,” a fundraising effort to support the restoration, interpretation, and community use of the 567-acre Third Winchester battlefield site. This work is the culmination of a long drive to preserve the remarkable Third Winchester property. For more than 16 years, a host of individuals and organizations have worked tirelessly to preserve the site. Now the SVBF needs to raise an additional $340,000 to complete the restoration and interpretation of the battle area south of Redbud Run by June 1st, to ensure the battleground will be open to the public for the Sesquicentennial events that are planned on September 19 and 20 of next year.
“This anniversary is a once-in-a-lifetime anniversary to show off the battlefield and to draw visitors from all across the nation,” says Denman Zirkle, Executive Director of the SVBF. “But we need to be ready – and we need the public’s support and generosity for that to happen.”
“The Campaign for Third Winchester” is the largest project the SVBF has ever undertaken, with a total cost of $2.2 million for the three year effort. The carefully thought-out plans for the site include not just the restoration of the Middle Field south of Redbud Run, but also making the northern portion a community resource for educational and recreational activities. That will include expanding the existing trails and adding an education center, scouting facility, and restored Civil War-era apple orchard and kitchen garden; the northernmost section will be devoted to community events.
Already this year, the SVBF has undertaken archeological work, restoration clearing, and interpretive planning on the Middle Field. Youth volunteers have stepped forward to help, including Boy Scout troops and volunteer efforts such as the “Day of Caring.” And in June the SVBF’s Benefit for Third Winchester drew almost two hundred people for a fundraising event that officially kicked-off the campaign.
But the Foundation needs to complete the first phase of the project in the coming nine months, to remove the overgrowth and neglect and restore the topography that existed in 1864, to add interpretative trails and signage, and to make the lovely Redbud Run stream valley accessible to all who wish to witness and learn from the site of this tragic conflict. When the SVBF completes this work, the property will allow generations of visitors to better understand the battle and the impact that it had on our nation.
“This is not a National Park Service property, and we do not have access to federal funds – matching or otherwise – to accomplish this task,” says Denman Zirkle, Executive Director of the SVBF. “We are looking to our friends and supporters for the financial assistance we need.”
If you visit the battlefield today, you can see the progress already being made in clearing brush and trees from the Middle Field to return it to its 1864 use as a grain field. It is a solemn but inspiring place, and it is impossible not to be moved when walking on the same ground where so many brave men walked almost a century and a half ago…many for the last time. One visitor to the field on the evening of the battle “came to a point where the two lines of battle must have stood for some time, steadily firing at each other.” Another soldier remembered that, “The two lines were so near each other that the paper of their cartridges flew into our faces.”
“The Middle Field is a special place,” says Zirkle. “Standing there, you’re very aware that you’re at the epicenter of one of the turning points of American history. For us, we’re also at a turning point. We need to raise the funds necessary to complete this work – and raise them quickly – so that we can have this site ready and open to the public in time for the anniversary next September. Next year is an incredible opportunity for this battlefield, and for the Winchester-Frederick County area. But the clock is ticking.”
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