Daily Archives: 25 January 2009

3rd Winchester – Federal Left Flank

A few weeks back I was asked by a friend to do some stomping around the Third Winchester Battlefield, specifically sections outside the Civil War Preservation Trust property boundaries.  My friend is not able due to health and other circumstances to walk the ground on his own, so my task was to be his eyes on the ground.  He provided some pin points on the map and directions to look.  My chore was to navigate to those points and report what I saw.  Sort of a job an old scout platoon leader can relate to.

I arrived in the battle area by way of the Berryville Road (Va. 7), and after crossing the Opequon, I took the turn southwest on Valley Mill Road (CR. 659).  Abrams (or Abraham’s) Creek passes through a parallel valley to the Berryville Canyon (itself drained by Hollow Run).

Valley Mill Road Bridge over Abrams Creek

Valley Mill Road Bridge over Abrams Creek

The War Department maps (made in 1873) indicate a mill stood in this vicinity, with a supporting mill race running down the valley. The valley opens up somewhat to the west, but not enough to allow full freedom of maneuver.  The maps of the time indicate several abandoned farms stood along the road.

Abrams Creek Valley

Abrams Creek Valley

Further to the west, the Valley Mill Road intersects Greewood Road (CR 656) between the Shenandoah Hills and Greenwood Heights subdivisions.  Turning north on Greenwood Road, a convenient place to take in the head of Berryville Canyon is a church parking lot just before where Greenwood Road meets Va. 7.

fed-left-pano2

Center of First Federal Line

In this view looking north, Greenwood Road passes from the left down to the Berryville Road (modern Va. 7).  As one can see, Va. 7 is a divided highway with heavy traffic.  The widening of the road did modify the landscape somewhat.  But not as much as the school seen in the background beyond the highway.  The position of the Federal center around 11 a.m. can be appreciated from this perspective.  Ricketts’ (3rd) Division of Wright’s VI Corps dressed across what is now the school grounds facing west (left).  Beyond them to the north Emory’s XIX Corps deployed and advanced into the trees seen in the center horizon.  Those trees are the south end of the CWPT Third Winchester Battlefield.

However, Getty’s (2nd) Division of Wright’s Corps deployed on the south side of Berryville Road.  The ground they dressed on is today broken by modern development and difficult match with War Department map.  High ground just west of the intersection of Greenwood and Valley Mill Roads matches to that used by the Division’s artillery.  Unfortunately, the intersection is busy and does not offer much chance for the visitor to stop.   Nor is there much to be excited about viewing the hill from a nearby subdivision:

High Ground Overlooking Branch of Abrams Creek

High Ground Overlooking Branch of Abrams Creek

Getty’s advance was generally parallel, if not astride, the Valley Mill Road.  However, again with so much development there is little to pick out of note.  Further west on Valley Mill Road, just before the intersection back with Berryville Road, is a County Workshop.  The bend of the road to intersect with the main highway marks the point of contact between Getty and Ramseur’s Confederate Division main line.

Getty and Ramseur

Getty and Ramseur

The battle lines extended south behind what is today the workshop.

Looking to the South Down the Battle Lines

Looking to the South Down the Battle Lines

Heading up to the intersection of Valley Mill and Berryville Roads, just before the light is a section of the old road bed that offers a view down the Canyon.

Ricketts' Advance

Ricketts' Advance

Two items to note.  First Ricketts’ left flank was roughly on the pike, with his division on the north side (left), advancing west in line with Getty.  Second, this view well illustrates the effects of highway widening and development on the battlefield landscape;  and why it is difficult to appreciate the true magnitude of the Battle of Third Winchester just from the small tracts which have been preserved.

One other stop on the “Federal Left” to make.  In the Regency Lakes subdivision lays the ground over which Gen. Russell’s Division (1st) of Wrights’ Corps advanced.  This view looks from the far west bend of Regency Lakes Drive, to the east over a modern impoundment of Hollow Run.

Russell / Upton Advance

Russell / Upton Advance

As Getty and Ricketts advanced, a gap opened between VI Corps and XIX Corps (see the panorama above for the starting positions).  This gap offered the Confederates under General Robert Rodes a chance to split the Federals before Crook’s VIII Corps could be engaged.  Russell’s Division, in reserve behind Ricketts, was moved into the gap.  Somewhere among the trailer pads General Russell was mortally wounded.  General Emory Upton assumed command, with his brigade in the “hot corner” of the fight.  On the Confederate side, and probably behind the camera in this view, General Rodes was also mortally wounded in the fighting.

After that series of charge and counter charges, the action on the south half of the battlefield paused for a few hours.  Sheridan maneuvered Crook’s Corps to the right and Torbert’s Cavalry were then coming in from their flanking march to the north.  After the hammer blows were delivered on the north side of the battlefield, the Federals in Wright’s Corps would advance in pursuit of the retreating Confederates.  Eventually the last stand of the Confederates of Ramseur’s  Division was made just north of where the National Cemetery stands today (in an early 20th Century residential part of town).

The side trip taken to view the Federal left’s battleground is not far out of the way for visitors to the CWPT Third Winchester Battlefield – all told probably less than twelve miles driving distance.  However with traffic patterns and stops to appreciate the ground, the trip can take up to thirty minutes.  Little stands to interpret the south end of the battlefield, only two state markers J 3 and J 13.  However, as interest in the battlefield has risen in the local community recently, perhaps someday one or two interpretive waysides might orient the visitor to the battle lines, even if they have to use a lot of imagination to picture the wartime landscape.