About 1,200 men left their lives in the tech age last weekend to put on an explosive, emotionally heightened and smoke-filled re-enactment of a couple of the most important battles of the Civil War in the region.
Hundreds of residents gathered at the edge of a field near Lovettsville on Saturday and Sunday to watch re-enactments of the Battle of Third Winchester and the Battle of Fisher’s Hill—the battles that opened the door for Union Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan to scorch the earth throughout the Shenandoah Valley. Put on by Rear Rank Productions with ticket sales benefitting the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation’s preservation of the “West Woods” at the Third Winchester Battlefield Park, the weekend’s re-enactments saw smaller and shorter displays of battles that devastated the Confederate Army.
Re-enactors not only came close to spectators viewing the battlefield through binoculars and cameras and sometimes plugging their ears at the sound of cannon fire tearing through northern Loudoun’s hillsides, but they also marched around them, as if the crowd were a patch of trees they had to navigate.
On Sept. 19, 1864, Confederate Maj. Gen. Jubal Early advanced his 15,200 troops toward the 39,240-troop Union Army, led by Sheridan. Forcing a Union retreat early on, the Confederates were eventually pushed back toward Winchester, handing an important victory to the Union. About 5,000 Union and 3,600 Confederate soldiers died that day.
Two days later, Sheridan, under orders from Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, secured another victory against Early’s division 20 miles south near Strasburg in the Battle of Fisher’s Hill—a battle that saw about 500 Union and 1,200 Confederate troops killed.
Early’s retreat farther into the Shenandoah Valley opened the region to Sheridan’s “scorched earth” campaign, which saw Union forces destroy military and civilian communities from Winchester to Staunton.
Before and after the re-enactments, visitors also mingled with re-enactors dressed in period garb and shopped for Union and Confederate clothing and accessories.