WINCHESTER — A new interpretive marker unveiled Saturday morning in downtown Winchester highlights the story of Black men who were willing to fight and die for their freedom during the Civil War.
It's the first of two planned markers sponsored by the Winchester-Frederick County Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) and the Williamsburg-based Civil War Trails organization that are intended to give a more comprehensive view of what happened in and around Winchester during the racially charged War Between the States. The second sign is expected to be unveiled in the coming months in Stephenson.
The marker unveiled Saturday during a brief ceremony featuring Winchester Mayor David Smith, City Manager Dan Hoffman and Winchester NAACP President Michael Faison is located on the grounds of Rouss City Hall at 15 N. Cameron St. That's the same site where Black soldiers from the Union Army attempted to muster other Black men to join their ranks in April 1864.
According to Jonathan A. Noyalas, director of Shenandoah University’s McCormick Civil War Institute, soldiers from the 19th United States Colored Troops marched into the heart of Winchester — surviving a Confederate ambush along the way — to see if any local Black men would be willing to join their fight for freedom.
Unfortunately, only two men enlisted during the company's time in Winchester. While that number was low, it was most likely due to the fact that nearly 200 African Americans who lived in Winchester had already joined the Union Army before the 19th came to town. Among them were 42-year-old William Banks, who died from wounds he sustained in a skirmish on James Island, S.C., and 43-year-old Robert Lucas, who was promoted to sergeant by war’s end and spent the rest of his life as a free man.
Justin Kerns, executive director of the Winchester-Frederick County CVB, said it took more than two years to make the downtown Winchester marker a reality.
"We're trying to expand the story of the Civil War and its impacts on the community versus what battle happened where," Kerns said.
The second planned sign will tell the story of the Stephenson's Depot train station in Frederick County, where residents of the Confederacy would board trains to travel north into Union states. Among the people who boarded there were numerous Blacks fleeing from enslavement.
Due to the time it will take to get the necessary permissions to install the sign, Kerns said, "That's a longer-term project." No date for its unveiling has been announced.
"Anything Civil War-related is on our radar as potentially being controversial," Kerns said, "but these are good stories to tell and we're happy to help tell them."