WINCHESTER, Va. – Today the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation (SVBF) announced an effort to preserve a 34-acre parcel of the historic “West Woods” on the Third Winchester battlefield. Because of the value of the property, this will be the largest battlefield preservation effort ever undertaken in the Shenandoah Valley.
The 34-acre tract was the center of a vortex of battle that drew in and spun off troops of both armies throughout the Third Battle of Winchester on September 19, 1864. No parcel of ground was more involved in the fighting. The property is one of the last large parcels of ground available to preserve on this part of the battlefield. It also connects directly to the SVBF’s 572-acre Third Winchester Battlefield Park to its north. This announcement will kick off a four-year capital campaign to preserve this battlefield site.
Keven Walker, CEO of the Battlefields Foundation, said that “The preservation of this parcel of land forever saves the site of some of the most ferocious fighting of the largest battle ever fought in the Shenandoah Valley; the site where for a few moments the fate of our entire nation rested.”
Heavily wooded at the time of the fighting, and comprised of both a relatively commanding knoll and a steeply narrow ravine, the terrain within this parcel of ground and its relationship to the open fields immediately to its east made it a tactically significant location during all phases of the Third Battle of Winchester. The ground here is remarkably preserved – the eye in a hurricane of development to its west, east, and south – and connects directly to the 572-acre Third Winchester Battlefield Park to its north. But it has come increasingly under threat. The West Woods is surrounded by major development with plans to construct additional business facilities.
“For the Battlefields Foundation, our responsibility was clear,” said Bob Mitchell, the Secretary of the SVBF’s Board of Trustees. “If this battlefield land is not preserved now it will be lost forever. But it is an enormous undertaking.”
Fortunately, the SVBF’s preservation initiative has already been blessed with the invaluable help of many key partners. Among them are Bruce Griffin and his family, owners of the property, who have been both generous and patient during the long, detailed process. Another is United Bank, which has been creative and laudably community-minded in supporting the effort. And a critical part of the effort is the James R. Wilkins Charitable Trust, which has made an exceptionally generous donation to launch the fund-raising stage of the preservation campaign.
James R. Wilkins noted that the Trust’s decision to support the project reflected their belief in the value of this preservation opportunity, saying that, “The opportunity to preserve several hundred acres of open and wooded land for future generations while recognizing the Shenandoah Valley’s legacy in the history of the United States is important enough for our involvement.”
The property is also of exceptional historical value because of the notoriety of those who clashed on the land. The fighting in and around the West Woods involved some of the most famous names and units of the war in the Valley – Confederate Gen. Robert Rodes, Union Gen. David Russell, the “Louisiana Tigers,” and Union Gen. Emory Upton. Both Rodes and Russell were killed during the battle, and Upton was wounded. And for the common soldier, the fighting in the woods was just as costly.
“Perhaps no place on this bloody ground [Third Winchester] did the demons harvest more souls than on the thirty or so acres of trees known as the West Woods,” wrote Historian Jeffry D. Wert, author of From Winchester to Cedar Creek. “This woodlot seemed to be engulfed in its own particular terribleness. The officers and men who fought in the West Woods wrote later of volleys that cut down entire ranks, of lines that ‘melted away,’ or of regiments that ‘went to pieces’ amid the musketry and cannon fire. A Yankee asserted that West Woods ‘was the deadliest spot of the day.’”
Today, the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation embarks on an ambitious, multi-year effort to honor those me by preserving the ground on which they fought and died.
“The Battlefields throughout Winchester and Frederick County are stark reminders of how much has been sacrificed to forge our great nation,” said Keven Walker. “Preserving this woodlot preserves for all time a place of remembrance and reflection; a place of learning and understanding; a place healing and unity.”
For more information, call the SVBF offices at 540-740-4545 or go to www.ShenandoahAtWar.org.
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