First-hand account of Jackson’s Valley Campaign

June of 2012 marks the 150th anniversary of the conclusion of General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign, a succession of maneuvers and battles occurring throughout Virginia that temporarily turned the tide of the Civil War in the Confederacy’s favor and secured Jackson’s legendary status. As in many battles of the war, Jefferson County played a key role in the Valley Campaigns by virtue of its location. Situated on the lower (northern) tip of the Valley at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, Jefferson County was part of a strategic buffer area between the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains stretching southwest to Rockbridge County.

In late March 1862, Union forces mobilized at Harpers Ferry and began moving up the Valley toward Winchester, initially defeating Jackson at Kernstown. However, Jackson’s audacity in battle created such a stir that Union leadership rearranged their strategic approach to the defense of Washington D.C. and their planned assault on the Confederate capital city of Richmond.  Control over the Valley’s agricultural assets and transportation routes resulted in a state of constant conflict throughout the war, but Jackson’s campaign stands out for its impressive string of victories after Kernstown – his only loss during the entire war.

One of the many volumes in the West Virginia GeoExplorer Project book collection is Four Years in the Saddle, a “diary of recollection” by Col. Harry Gilmor (1866) which includes a section on his activities serving under Jackson during the Valley Campaign.  Gilmor casts himself as a dashing and heroic figure, relating anecdotes about his fighting and shooting prowess and seeming to relish the prospect of engaging the enemy.  However, his reverence for Jackson is clear; in one passage Gilmor describes a religious service given by Jackson’s adjutant Robert L. Dabney the morning after the Battle of McDowell:

I watched him closely, and saw not a muscle change during the whole service. The sturdy soldiers, browned in many a hard-fought field, were lying around on bunches of hay, taken from the stacks nearby; and although an incessant skirmish fire was going on, all listened attentively, with every eye fastened upon the great chief. Few have I ever seen with such unflinching nerve, and it was his iron will that won for us many a stubborn fight… Fear had no lodgment in that man’s breast.

Other books, articles, and printed contemporary resources can be found on the West Virginia GeoExplorer website in this sample listing or by searching the database.

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Harpers Ferry NHP Announces Partnership with WV GeoExplorer

From a National Park Service News Release (June 1, 2012):

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park and Harpers Ferry Historical Association are formalizing a partnership with the West Virginia GeoExplorer Project.  The park is digitizing some microfilmed newspapers with funding provided by the association.  Many of these digitized collections are historic Virginia, now West Virginia, newspapers that are of interest to researchers and are not readily available in digital format.  These microfilmed papers are part of the non-circulating library located at the park and managed by the park’s Museum Management Program.  This new partnership will allow the park to have a location to post these valuable research tools for easy access.

The GeoExplorer Project created an innovative geographically-based web resource for exploring the history, culture, and architecture of West Virginia. Jefferson County has served as the starting point for project efforts, which will later be expanded to encompass the rest of the state.

“I am excited to be able to enter into this partnership,” says the park Museum Curator Michael Hosking. “We have many resources at the park including the museum collection and the park library and a small staff dedicated to preserving and providing access to it.  This partnership will enable us to have the digitization funded through a grant by our non-profit Historical Association and then utilize the volunteers and infrastructure of the West Virginia GeoExplorer Project to make these digital files available to anybody with interest on their website.”

As part of this partnership, the GeoExplorer Project is actively looking for other copies of the Harpers Ferry Free Press, the Constitutionalist, the Spirit of Jefferson, and the Virginia Free Press to help fill in missing, damaged, or poorly microfilmed copies, making a complete set of these newspapers.  They will eventually transcribe and link the original scans to these transcriptions for anybody to access through the web.

“This is a win-win situation for everybody” Hosking says, “the Association is fulfilling its mission by helping make these resources available to the public, the park is able to get these resources out of the drawers and make them readily available for all that are interested without appointments or formal requests, and the GeoExplorer Project is increasing their database of Jefferson County related documentation for its other partners.”

For additional information on the park and research policy please visit the park website at http://www.nps.gov/hafe and go to the collections page.  For more information about the Harpers Ferry Historical Association and their mission please visit http://www.harpersferryhistory.org.