3 Days ‘Til Moorpark 2014

This video was filmed at a Civil War Re-enactment in Pennsylvania…  If you’re on the west coast of the US and thinking “I would’ve loved to go, but couldn’t make it to Pennsylvania”, fear not.

MOORPARK CIVIL WAR RE-ENACTMENT 2014 starts in 3 days and is the largest Civil War event west of the Mississippi River. Here’s a link with lots of information. (And remember: the event’s at a new location this year, so check for the new address.)

“McGuire Home, Winchester, Virginia,” Civil War Living History Group is attending this event. (Yeah, I need to go finish ironing about 15 yards of calico skirts…). We have some new display items and will be packing a Christmas box for the McGuire men who are with the Confederate military…can you guess some of the practical items we’ve accumulated? (I’ll post some photos of the display and event next week, in case you’re not attending).

Check out the new Living History pages. And if you’re attending this event or another Civil War re-enactment you may find this page (and the Student Questions) helpful!

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Oh, by the way, the video clip is supposed to portray the Battle of Fairfield (July 3, 1863). Captain Hugh McGuire of the 11th Virginia Cavalry fought there.


The Valley of the Shadow

“Now at the end of this valley was another, called the Valley of the Shadow of Death; and Christian must…go through it…now this valley is a very solitary place. …Thus he went on, and I heard him here sigh bitterly; for besides the danger…the pathway was here so dark, that ofttimes, when he lift up his foot to go forward, he knew not where, nor upon what he should set it next…”  John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress   

The Shenandoah Valley  (Attribution: http://www.ForestWander.com)

The Shenandoah Valley
(Attribution: http://www.ForestWander.com)

This week we lay aside the discussion of ethics in The Burning of the Shenandoah Valley and focus only the some of the effects on the civilians. There’s a time for long-winded debate, but there’s also a time to reflect on the loss and sacrifices caused by war.

The following quotations will speak for themselves, telling the story of the civilian experience in the Shenandoah Valley during the autumn of 1864.

Laura Lee, a Confederate resident of Winchester, made the following entries in her journal: September 20, 1864 – Again our town is one vast hospital….All day the streets have been filled with ambulances and wagons of their wounded. They have been taken to the Taylor Hotel and six churches besides other houses. They brought in 4,000 [wounded] without doubt, and over….The citizens are indefatigable in attending to our wounded, but of course there must be a terrible amount of suffering in the confusion of such a time, and many must die for want of proper attendance….The Yankees moved up the Valley [going South] early this morning and there has been skirmishing.     September 27, 1864 – We know nothing in these dreadful days but Yankee rumors of their progress up the valley….

The next quote comes from “A Youth’s History of the Great Civil War, 1866” and, though written and published after the conclusion of the war, contains a vivid description of the civilian experience. “And now General Sheridan, with the instincts of savage warfare, determined to utterly devastate this beautiful valley. He therefore set his troops at work, and all the way from Staunton to Winchester was soon one scene of desolation. He burned every house***, every barn, every mill, all the corn cribs, haystacks, and the entire food crops of all kinds for the year. Not only this, but he seized all the ploughs, harrows, spades, and every description of farm implement, and putting them into piles, made his soldiers burn them. He then drove off all the cows, horses, oxen, cattle, sheep, pigs, and every living animal for the use of man in all that wide valley. In fact nothing that devilish ingenuity could invest was left undone to transform the loveliest and most fertile valley in the world into a desolate and howling wilderness. Not less than ten thousand innocent women and children were by this savagery reduced to starvation, and thrown, in the fall of the year, out of comfortable homes, to perish in tents and caves by the cold of the winter.”

(***Not every house in the Valley was burned, but maybe in the writer’s area this was the experience.)

Henry K. Douglas, a Confederate Officer, wrote: “I try to restrain my bitterness at the recollection of the dreadful scenes I witnessed. I rode down the Valley with advance after Sheridan’s retreating cavalry beneath great columns of smoke which almost shut out the sun by day, and in the red glare of bonfires, which, all across that Valley, poured out flames and sparks heavenward and crackled mockingly in the night air; and I saw mothers and maidens…shrieking to Heaven in their fright and despair, and the little children, voiceless and tearless in their pitiable terror. I saw a beautiful girl, the daughter of a clergyman standing in the front door of her home while its stable and outbuildings were burning, tearing the yellow tresses from her head, taking up and repeating the oaths of passing skirmishers and shrieking with wild laughter, for the horrors of the night had driven her mad… …It is an insult to civilization and to God to pretend that the Laws of War justify such warfare.” 

The Civilians of the Shenandoah Valley could have truthfully said they lived in a valley shadowed by death in the year 1864. It was a time of uncertainly, bitterness, pain, and fear.

However, returning to the phrasing and imagery borrowed from Pilgrim’s Progress… In the allegorical tale the Pilgrim emerges from the valley victorious because of his trust in God and he sees a new day dawn. The same is true for many of the Shenandoah Valley’s civilians. They were stronger people because of the trials. Their faith was strengthened. They survived.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Your thoughts on the Shenandoah Valley experience of 1864?

Why Virginia?

I’m about 10 days away from attending the largest Civil War Re-enactment west of the Mississippi River…and yes, I’m excited. This will be the third year I’ve participated, but the first year that I get to take my own living history group to the event. Right now, I’m busy prepping the packing lists, finishing some sewing projects, and anticipating (and somewhat dreading) ironing the civilian costumes. (Each skirt is five yards of fabric!)

Since I’ve started portraying a member of the Virginian McGuire Family, I’ve noticed that one question a lot of spectators ask is “are you related to the family?” The answer is “no, unfortunately I’m not.” Then they usually get a curious look and ask, “Then why are you portraying Miss McGuire?” That’s a good question.

Short answer: I greatly admire Margaretta McGuire and her family. Long answer: I’m launching some extensive research projects about Virginian civilians and military leaders during the war and I needed to streamline my living history endeavors and research. I started searching for a Virginia family. Through studies of General “Stonewall” Jackson I knew about his surgeon – Dr. Hunter McGuire. A bit of historical paper-trails led to the re-discovery of Hunter’s family. When I found Miss Margaretta and learned that she lived in Winchester for the whole war (surviving 48 enemy occupations of the town) I knew I’d found someone special. Further research has revealed the strength of Miss Margaretta’s character, her godly life, and her willingness to fulfill a “daughter at home” role in family life.

Miss Margaretta

Miss Sarah as Margaretta McGuire

So “Why Virginia? How did your interest start there?” Well, Virginia is one of cornerstone states for the Confederacy during the Civil War. It is also one of the most war torn states since a lot of fighting happened there. The political advantages of Virginia, its strategic military location, and citizens’ tenacity are fascinating to me. But, ultimately, it is the people of Civil War Virginia and their personal stories set in that extreme tide of war that captivate me…

As I survey my Virginia histories and biographies (either on the shelf, stacked on my desk, or scattered around my study room), I feel “at home.” This feeling is difficult to put into words, but the history of these Virginians is welcoming and fascinating. I’m proud to say that in my living history persona and favorite area of study: Virginia Is My Home.

Enjoy this song from the soundtrack of “Gods and Generals.” Its sweeping melody is one of my favorites, and it wordlessly communicates the pride, enthusiasm, and honor of Civil War Virginia.

See you at Moorpark 2014?

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Last post on the Shenandoah Valley during the Autumn 1864 on Friday!

The Valley Is Lost and Won – 1864

It’s time to launch into the beginning of the military campaign which resulted in the Union final occupation of the Shenandoah Valley during the American Civil War. (If you missed the introduction last week, you can find it here.)

There were conflicts in the Valley in the spring of 1864 (including the famed Battle of New Market), but we’re going to focus on the situation in the autumn. During the summer Confederate General Jubal Early and his army had marched north and actually fired some shots toward the fortifications protecting Washington City (District of Columbia).

Frustrated by the raid and the audacity of the Confederates, General Ulysses Grant – commander of all Union armies – put General Philip Sheridan in command of the Army of the Shenandoah, which was a combination of infantry and cavalry divisions. Grant gave orders for Sheridan to follow Early “to the death.

Map of the Shenandoah Valley Campaign in Autumn 1864 Attribution: Map by Hal Jespersen, www.cwmaps.com

Map of the Shenandoah Valley Campaign in Autumn 1864
Attribution: Map by Hal Jespersen, http://www.cwmaps.com

1. Sheridan Enters the Valley

In the early autumn Sheridan was ready. A series of relatively small scale battles were fought between August 16 and September 4 in the region between the Potomac River and the town of Winchester. They are traditionally called Guard Hill, Summit Point, Smithfield Crossing, and Berryville. The Battle of Berryville opened the road toward Winchester as the Confederates retreated to that town. (Winchester was the largest town in the northern end of the Valley).

The Confederate defense of the Valley was not going well. Though they had managed to delay the Union army for almost a month, the gray-clad soldiers were still forced to retreat. For many a retreat with total defeat looming on the horizon was something they had never considered.

2. The Decisive Battles

The 3rd Battle of Winchester (sometimes called the Battle of Opequon) was fought on September 19, 1864. The Union attacked, the Confederates defended. Sheridan cleared away wagon trains hindering the advance of his troops, and, ultimately, his army swept the field. The Confederates retreated through Winchester; for many this was the first time their lines had broken into a disorderly retreat. Early lost 1/4 of his army, including the service of five high ranking officers. The Confederates withdrew to Fisher’s Hill, approximately 22 miles to the south.

The Union army followed. In the Battle of Fisher’s Hill on September 21-22, 1864, Sheridan devised several flank attacks and, once again, the Confederates were forced to retreat. At this battle Sheridan had approximately 30,000 troops and the Confederates had less than 10,000. Five Union soldiers received the Medal of Honor for their actions at Fisher’s Hill.

General Early and his army retreated a long 60 miles to the town of Waynesboro, leaving the entire northern area of the Valley open to raids and destruction. Early had tried his best, but there were simply too many enemy soldiers and too many casualties for a continued defense at this time.

3. The Outcome

With many miles of farmland virtually undefended, Sheridan could unleash his cavalry to destroy the crops and cripple the agricultural society by burning mills. This time is Shenandoah history is simply called “The Burning.” Confederate cavalry tried to retaliate using guerilla tactics, but ultimately over 400 square miles of the Valley would be left blackened and desolate.

4. Conclusion

Though the Confederate army desperately resisted, there were outnumbered and overwhelmed. General Sheridan’s relentless “press forward” tactics wore down the already weary Southerners. Sheridan and army gained possession of the Shenandoah Valley and though they would make stubborn attempts, the Confederates would never regain this land.

A former defender of the Valley for the Confederate was General “Stonewall” Jackson. He said, “If the Valley is Lost, Virginia is Lost.” With the Shenandoah Valley firmly in the Union grasp, Virginia and the Confederacy faced numbered days.

Oh, but this isn’t the final conclusion – we still have two more weeks. Next week we’ll discuss The Burning and an unpleasant surprise for Mr. Sheridan, and then conclude with an examination of the total war strategy that the Union employed and its harsh effects on civilians.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. I’m off to a Civil War Re-enactment this weekend – not attending in living history character, but going on a research trip. I’ll probably share some photos and maybe a short list of new CW facts that I learned. But for now I need to go pack my backpack… see ya’ll later!



Shenandoah Valley: Introduction

Well, folks it’s the first Friday in October and time to launch our new topic for the month….The Civil War in the Shenandoah Valley – 1864. One hundred and fifty years ago General Sheridan and his Union troops swept through the Valley and burned the farmland. The month of October was simply called “The Burning.” (By the way, if you to learn about an early American history hero from the Valley, check last week’s post about Daniel Morgan).

Painting of a Shenandoah Valley farm by William L. Sonntag (c.1860)  Image in Public Domain

Painting of a Shenandoah Valley farm by William L. Sonntag (c.1860)
Image in Public Domain

I’d like to add a personal note here: I love the Shenandoah Valley and its Civil War history! If you don’t already know, in my living history group I portray a young woman who lived in Winchester, Virginia, which is in the northern end of the Valley. The land, civilians, troops, commanders, battles, and entire war-experience of the Shenandoah Valley fascinates and inspires me. I hope by the end of this month, you’ll appreciate the amazing history of this location…and beg me to write more posts on the topic. (Please?)

Now, I have a feeling that we may need a quick introduction to the beautiful Virginia Valley, the 1864 army commanders in this region, etc. So this post will provide the setting and in the following weeks, we’ll dive deeper into the autumn campaign and the motivations of “The Burning.”

  1. What’s the American Civil War? (I always give the quick facts when I do a historical presentation, so here’s a quick review…it’s just habit for me now) The American Civil War – aka “The War Between The States” if you’re a rebel – was fought between the years 1861-1865. Basically, 11 Southern states (Virginia included) seceded and decided to form a separate nation called The Confederate States of American. The remaining 22 states stayed part of the United States of the America (the Union) and tried to coerce the return of their sister states. Confederate troops typically wore gray uniforms and Union troops usually wore blue uniforms. Oh, and slavery was not the main cause of the war; it was a factor in the States’ Rights debate which was the focus issue at the time.
  2. Where’s the Shenandoah Valley? Excellent question – 10 points to the reader who thought of it first! The Shenandoah Valley is located in the western part of Virginia, between the Allegheny and Blue Ridge Mountains.
  3. Why’s the Shenandoah Valley Important? Short answer #1: food supply. The Shenandoah Valley was an important agricultural region, and wheat was the number one cash crop. The Confederate army was fed with supplies coming from the Valley. Short answer #2: avenue of armies. The mountains provided a good shelter and hiding place for armies. Marching through the valley could bring either sides army to the backdoor of the enemy’s capital: Washington City or Richmond. It was a very strategic region to control, and both sides realized that.
  4. Who’s fighting in the Valley in 1864? Well, by the time we get to the autumn it’s basically Union General Sheridan (and army) against Confederate General Jubal Early (and army). We will probably mention more commanders in the coming weeks, but for now, Sheridan and Early.
  5. What happened in the Shenandoah War in the previous years? Here’s the oversimplified answer: 1861=a lot of men enlist in the Confederate army   1862=Confederate General Stonewall Jackson defeats three Union armies in the Valley Campaign (troops march 646 miles in 48 days!); General Lee, a Confederate, uses the Valley to make a “semi-sneaky” invasion of Maryland   1863=Union troops occupy the north Valley area for 6 months; General Lee uses the Valley to “secret” march into the north – he ends up at a little place called Gettysburg.

With its rich agricultural land, patriotic people, and strategic location, the Shenandoah Valley was an important and heavily contested area during the war. As one of the Valley’s best defenders General “Stonewall” Jackson said, “If the Valley is lost, Virginia is lost.” We could add to the statement by saying, “If Virginia is lost, the Confederacy is lost.” Union army commanders knew this. Thus, as Sherman prepared for a March to the Sea through Georgia, and Grant sieged Petersburg, Sheridan fought to win the Valley and cripple its ability to support the Confederacy. The Confederates where facing hard times, but determined to struggle on to defend their “breadbasket” Valley.

Now, the stage is set –

Join us next week for a discussion of the Autumn 1864 Valley Campaign.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Don’t forget that the Historical Snowmen Creative Writing Contest is now OPEN for story submissions! Start writing…

Daniel Morgan: General From The Shenandoah

Last week of September and the last post on the American War for Independence, at least for now. Alright, news release before the main feature post: we have a story contest here at Gazette665! Check it out and join the fun. And now, moving on to our patriot commander for this week:

General Daniel Morgan

General Daniel Morgan (Image in Public Domain)

General Daniel Morgan
(Image in Public Domain)

1. Colonial Life

Born on July 6, 1736, Daniel Morgan was the son of Welsh immigrants, living in the colony of New Jersey. There must have been a rebellious temper in the lad because at age 17 he ran away from home after a fight with his father. The teen worked in Pennsylvania for a time and then wandered south to Virginia, eventually settling in the Shenandoah Valley, near the future location of Winchester. (At this time, the western valleys of Virginia were still considered “the frontier.”) Here, Morgan worked hard and in a year he’d saved enough money to buy a team of horses.

For some men the French and Indian War (1754-1763) was training for their military role in the American War for Independence, but not for Daniel Morgan. Taking his new team of horses, he joined as a civilian teamster and drove baggage wagons for the British/Colonial forces. (During the American War for Independence, Morgan’s troops would affectionately call him “the Old Wagoneer”). However, he did develop a bitter hatred for the British; he hit a superior officer and was sentenced to a severe whipping as consequence.

After the war, Morgan married Abigail Curry; they would have two daughters. The family lived on a prosperous farm in the Shenandoah Valley. Morgan volunteered as a rifleman and helped defend the western borders of Virginia from Native American raids; in 1774 he fought in Dunmore’s war against the Shawnee tribes in the Ohio valley.

2. American War for Independence

After the battles of Lexington and Concord (1775) started the conflict, southern colonies sent militia companies help with the siege of Boston. The Virginia government appointed Daniel Morgan to lead a company from the Shenandoah Valley. “Morgan’s Riflemen” would gain a reputation for accurate sharpshooting. The company arrived near Boston on August 6, 1775, after completing a 600 mile march in 21 days (that’s averaging 28.5 miles a day).

Morgan participated in an invasion of British-held Canada. At the Battle of Quebec on December 31, 1775, Morgan was forced to surrender and was a prisoner of war until January 1777.

Rejoining General Washington’s army, Morgan discovered that he’d been promoted to colonel, and he organized the 11th Virginia Regiment. He was also the commander of the Provisional Rifle Corps, a special unit of marksmen organized to harass the British with guerilla-like tactics.

Joining General Horatio Gate’s force near Saratoga, Morgan participated in the Freedman’s Farm and Bemis Heights conflicts. At Bemis Heights the riflemen’s sniping helped turn the tide in the American’s favor.

In 1778 Morgan lead his command (reorganized as the 7th Virginia Regiment) in various raids on British supply lines. Although a successful commander, Morgan was overlooked by Congress for promotion, even though he had temporarily commanded a brigade. Frustrated and suffering from poor health, he resigned in 1779 and returned to his home near Winchester.

By 1780, with American military disasters increasing in the Carolinas, Morgan agreed to fight in that region. He was given a corps of infantry and a promotion to brigadier general. His commander, Nathanael Greene, split the American forces, ordering Morgan to harass the British in the South Carolina backwoods. Morgan was strictly ordered to avoid a confrontational battle.

Then there was British Colonel Tarleton. This fierce, ruthless dragoon commander was sent by General Cornwallis to track down and destroy Morgan’s army. Knowing that Tarleton made hasty decisions and despised colonial militia, Morgan decided to disobey Greene’s orders and planned a battle strategy. Using his Virginia riflemen along with the militia, Morgan positioned them in front with clear directions to withdraw after inflicting initial losses on the British force. Tarleton took the bait…and charged toward the fleeing militia, not even noticing the soldiers waiting in reserve. A point-blank range volley stopped the British attack. The Battle of Cowpens (January 17, 1781) was an American victory.

In February severe back pain forced General Morgan to return home. Later in the year he returned to fight Tarleton, who had invaded Virginia, but this time he was not as successful. The following year (1782) he formally resigned his commission.

3. Post-War Life

Morgan invested in large tracts of land around Winchester and Charlestown, Virginia, eventually owning 250,000 acres. After returning from war in 1782, he built a new home – called “Saratoga” near Winchester. Two years later Congress sent him a gold medal in honor of his decisive victory at Cowpens.

As squabbles rocked the new nation, Morgan led part of the militia army which suppressed the Whiskey Rebellion. He served in Congress’s House of Representatives from 1797-1799, aligning with the Federalist political party.

Daniel Morgan died on July 6, 1802, at age 66. He was buried in the graveyard of the Presbyterian Church that he attended. However, about sixty years later, with the American Civil War raging, his body was reburied in South Carolina because local citizens were afraid that Yankee soldiers would steal his body or desecrate his grave. After the war ended, Morgan was buried in Mount Hebron Cemetery, Winchester, Virginia.

Daniel Morgan is one of the American commanders who did not receive rapid promotion, but who diligently worked to succeed at wherever he was placed. “Morgan’s Riflemen” were feared by the enemy for their accurate aim and new tactics. Morgan’s greatest war-time achievement was the Battle of Cowpens, which turned the Carolinas war-tide in the American’s favor. Devising a daring strategy, Morgan won a morale-raising victory for the American cause, proving that Tarleton’s dragoons and British infantry were not invincible. Without the victory at Cowpens, would the war in the Carolinas have turned in the Americans’ favor? There’s a lot of “what-ifs” in this situation, but, in conclusion, Daniel Morgan’s success was the launch point of American campaigns which concluded with the victory at Yorktown in 1783.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Who was your favorite commander in this series? Greene, Lincoln, or Morgan? (Share your thoughts in a comment…) I have a hard time choosing because their characters and lives were very different. However, I really enjoyed writing about Morgan, since he was a Winchester, Virginia “pioneer” and hero. (In case you didn’t know, my Civil War living history scenario uses the setting of Winchester.)

P.S.S. If you’ve watched a certain American War for Independence movie, you may notice the similarities to its final battle and the history of Cowpens. It seems the screenwriters “borrowed” Morgan’s battle strategy, Tarleton’s terrifying dragoons, and a combination of Daniel Morgan and Francis Marion to build the plot of the movie.