McCormick Civil War Institute hosts 2-day event
Posted: October 4, 2012
The Winchester Star
Winchester — A detailed look into history and extraordinary access to local Civil War sites are set to make the McCormick Civil War Institute’s 17th year an exceptional experience, organizers say.
The annual two-day event offers the opportunity to learn about the Civil War in a relaxed setting, said Dr. Brandon Beck of Columbus, Miss., the institute’s director.
The event starts at 6 p.m. Friday with dinner and lectures by Beck and Steve Ritchie of Muncie, Ind., a longtime guest speaker. The dinner will be at the Oak Crest Building, 126 N. Kent St.
On the second day, Jonathan Noyalas, assistant professor of history at Lord Fairfax Community College, will lead a battlefield tour starting at 8:15 a.m. Saturday from Shenandoah University and going until 5 p.m.
“It is not an academic seminar,” said Beck, professor emeritus at Shenandoah University. “It is not a convention of scholars or anything like that. It is just pages from American history for the general public who are interested.”
The cost is $75 for the two days or $35 for Friday, $40 for Saturday and $20 for college students Saturday. For tickets, contact 540-535-3543 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Much of the weekend’s events will focus on the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864, Noyalas said. The past three years, the institute has focused outside of the Valley. But newly acquired properties and access to others made this a good time to shift the focus back locally.
“It is a great opportunity for individuals to get onto these properties that you could read about for so many years but you could never step on because they were private property,” he said.
For his lecture, Beck is going to talk about Gen. Cullen Battle, who served with and then led the 3rd Alabama Infantry, which spent the Civil War in Virginia.
Shortly before his death in 1905, Battle wrote a memoir as a tribute to his regiment. It somehow ended up in the Alabama Department of Archives and History, where Beck found the manuscript while researching the Third Battle of Winchester. He edited and published “Third Alabama!” in 2000.
“He was a fine writer. He wasn’t interested in making himself out to be a military genius,” Beck said. “He just wanted to be sure that when he was gone, the memory of the men he led would stay behind and be the legacy.”
Ritchie will compare the Valley campaigns of 1862 and 1864, which had vastly different outcomes, Beck said. The campaign in 1862 was a huge success for the Confederacy, but the one in 1864 failed in the end.
“That is going to be a really good backdrop for Jonathan’s tour,” Beck said.
People who participate in the battlefield tour Saturday will carpool to locations, Noyalas said.
The day starts with visits to sites associated with the Battle of Fisher’s Hill Sept. 22, 1864. This part of the tour will include Hupp’s Hill, St. Stephen’s Church, Ramseur’s Hill and a private property where part of the old Valley Pike still is preserved.
“Fisher’s Hill was a complete Union success,” Noyalas said. “Union soldiers who wrote about the battle after it was over said they had never been involved in something that was such a lopsided victory.”
Lunch will be served at Hotel Strasburg and is included in the cost of the tour.
From there, participants will go to sites related to the Battle of Cedar Creek, Noyalas said. Thoburns Redoubt is a piece of property owned by the Shenandoah Valley Battlefield Foundation that is not normally open to tours. They also will go to the site of the 8th Vermont monument site, which is newly acquired by the National Park Services.
Rienzi’s Knoll marks the spot where, on the morning of Oct. 19, 1864, U.S. Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan ended his ride from Winchester to Cedar Creek and rallied his army. The property was acquired less than a year ago by the Civil War Trust.
“This will be the first tour group ever on that piece of property,” Noyalas said. “I have been out there, but only a handful of historians have been out there.”
Stickley’s Farm is a private property that the tour has special permission to enter, he said.
The grave of John Helms, a Confederate soldier from Georgia, will be part of the tour. He was wounded during the Battle of Cedar Creek, and while his brothers, who were with him, tried to carry him to a field hospital at the farmhouse, he died. His brothers asked teenager Mary Stickley to take care of his body until they returned, but they never did.
By the end of the weekend, Beck and Noyalas hope participants have a better understanding of the battles and how they fit into the overall picture of the war.
“Our second goal, and most importantly, is that people are able to make an emotional connection with the past,” Noyalas said.
As a legacy, McCormick, wanted a program that provided solid, factual content about the Civil War plus field trips to the places being discussed, said Beck, who stayed involved with the institute even after he retired from SU in 2006.
— Contact Laura McFarland at email@example.com