THIS WEEKEND: Battle of Front Royal relived

The Warren Sentinel

FRONT ROYAL — History will come alive this weekend as re-enactors set up camp and portray a commemorative Battle of Front Royal for Civil War Weekend.

Union re-enactorsí campsite will be on the lawn in front of the Warren County Courthouse and the Confederate camp will be at the Balthis House Green behind the Warren Heritage Society.

Main Street and Chester Street will be closed Saturday from about 8 a.m. to 4p.m. Front Royal Tourism Coordinator Tim Smith said the re-enactors will be in full character and participating in interactive forums with the public from 10 a.m to 4p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Smith said the re-enactors will teach about encampments, weapons, uniforms and performing drills.

The battle re-enactment, which the public can view from sidewalks, will begin 1 p.m. Saturday on Main Street near the courthouse and end at the Warren Heritage Society on Chester Street.

"That's never been done before in Front Royal. This will be the first time theyíve ever done an actual reenactment of the Battle of Front Royal," Smith said.

Other Saturday events include an 11 a.m. performance from BÈbhinn Eggerís violin and fiddle students at the gazebo and 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. performances by the Tuscarora Brass band at the Warren Heritage Society.

Executive Director of the Warren Heritage Society Patrick Ferris said the Battle of Front Royal took place May 23, 1862, as 1,100 Union soldiers were pitted against a Confederate army totaling about 16,000 men led by Stonewall Jackson.

The fight was drawn out considering the lopsided numbers of opposing soldiers, Ferris said. The mismatch occurred because the Union army expected Jackson to arrive 12 miles west of Front Royal in Strasburg.

"The fighting was very intense in the town, right when the attack happened," Ferris said.

Jackson's first action was charging men from the First Maryland Confederate Unit into downtown Front Royal to seize the courthouse, Ferris said. Jackson did this because the First Maryland Union Unit was guarding the town. Jackson wanted to boost Maryland troopsí morale and get headlines and the Maryland population on the Confederate side.

The two Maryland units were once one group, which is why Ferris said the Battle of Front Royal is the epitome of the "well-worn cliché that the Civil War was a brother against brother battle."

While Maryland and Louisiana and Virginia troops were sent directly into the Town of Front Royal, a division of Louisiana troops was sent around the left side town, which flanked the Union position.

"The Federals are caught in a vice by the afternoon, with Confederates in their front, and a Confederate division coming around on their right side," Ferris said. "That's why they have to finally give up Front Royal."

Upon retreat, in attempts to impede the Confederate advance, Union soldiers attempted to burn bridges. Confederates were able to extinguish the fires and continue north to Cedarville and Winchester.

Ferris said Jackson's strategy was not to hold territory, but use his army to defeat smaller garrisons of Union soldiers to draw their troops from the campaign around Richmond. Ferris said Jackson's strategy was a "complete and total success" as 20,000 troops were diverted from Richmond.

Union General George McClellan forever blamed Abraham Lincolnís decision to order the troops away from Richmond for his failure to take the city, Ferris said. McClellan claimed those 20,000 men would have been enough to finish the confederates that spring. Ferris said historians disagree with McClellanís assertion.

Casualties during the Battle of Front Royal on the Federal side included about 700 prisoners of war, about 100 killed and wounded, and 20 Union soldiers who escaped. Ferris said under 40 Confederate soldiers were killed and wounded.

Smith said he hopes people are interested to see the reenactment because it is a part of Front Royalís history.

"It's the first time they've ever done anything like this in Front Royal and it's a chance for people to come out and learn a little bit about the Civil War and what took place in Front Royal," Smith said.

Ferris said the battle is an important aspect of local history, and the commemorative day should remind people that the history of the Civil War is immediate and present.

"The war took place literally where we go to school, where we shop, where we go to lunch — this is not something that's abstract," Ferris said.

He said to understand the Shenandoah Valley, one must understand the transformative effect the Civil War had by changing demography and inspiring industrial developments.

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