PEC pursuing grant to research Battle of Berryville

Posted: January 21, 2013

The Winchester Star

BERRYVILLE — Coming up on its 150th anniversary, the Battle of Berryville may be on the way to new acclaim.

The Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC), a nonprofit land protection organization, is seeking a grant from the National Park Service to hire a historian to research the clash between Union and Confederate forces, who fought over the ground now occupied by the new Clarke County High School on Sept 3, 1864.

The short conflict signaled the beginning of Gen. Philip Sheridan’s drive to free the Shenandoah Valley from Confederate control and the final months of the Confederate States of America.

With the 150th anniversary of the battle just over a year away, the PEC wants to “piece together the puzzle,” said Don Loock, land manager for PEC, who wrote the $40,000 grant proposal to the NPS.

There is a “dearth of information” on the battle, he said, and a it appears a good deal of the battle site itself has been radically altered over the years.

“It may be now or never,” Loock said, to determine what parts of the battlefield are still intact and whether there are places “where the story can still be told. It’s sort of nebulous at this point.”

The Civil War Sesquicentennial seems a good time to try, he said.

A stone monument on a weedy bank across from the high school commemorates the battle.

The two sides apparently stumbled into each other at the town.

Sheridan, coming south on what is now U.S. 340, with 50,000 men in his Army of the Shenandoah, sent Col. Joseph Thoburn’s division of the VIII Corps ahead to Berryville.

Thoburn was setting up camp about 5 p.m. when his pickets west of the town, along a line where Rosemont manor and the new high school crown the old “Grindstone Hill,” were attacked by a Confederate division under Maj. Gen. Joseph B. Kershaw.

Kershaw had been sent east from Winchester by by Gen. Jubal Early. He was headed to Loudoun County.

Kershaw’s troops drove back Thoburn’s left flank.

However, the rest of the division was able to prop up the line and, as night fell, the fighting ceased.

The next day, after the Confederates realized the strength of the Union forces, they retreated west to a line across the Opequon Creek.

The fight was a prelude to the Third Battle of Winchester and the Battle of Cedar Creek.

Few people, driving west on Main Street past the high school, realize the fighting and dying that once raged there, Loock said.

The clash is considered one of the 384 “principal” battles of the Civil War, according to a federal Civil War Sites Advisory Commission, he added.

Loock said the NPS should decide by July whether to fund the study, which would give more than 12 months to complete the task before the anniversary.

If PEC is successfully in getting the funding, Loock said the organization would work with landowners to see what few remnants of the battlefield might be left.

And there would be public meetings to explain the history of the battle to local residents.

Alison Teetor, Natural Resource Planner for Clarke County, said, “We’re really excited that the PEC has taken an interest in the Battle of Berryville.”

The details of the battle remain sketchy, she added.

“There seems to be little known about that battle. We’re hoping they can uncover some information.”

— Contact Val Van Meter at vvanmeter@winchesterstar.com