The peaceful beauty of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley was shattered during the American Civil War. Control of the Shenandoah Valley was critical to the fate of Virginia and the Confederacy. The Valley witnessed Stonewall Jackson’s brilliant 1862 Valley Campaign, Gen. Robert E. Lee’s advance to the Confederate “high tide” at Gettysburg, the VMI Cadets’ valiant charge at New Market, and U.S. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan’s final campaign to crush Confederate hopes in the Valley—which included The Burning, the destruction of the region’s agricultural bounty. Today you can still view much of the landscape as it was seen by soldiers and civilians during the war, and you can explore the region’s dramatic Civil War story at historic sites, battlefields, courthouses, cemeteries, walking trails, and museums that tell the story of those storm-tossed years. The Valley’s historic towns and preserved landscapes offer a wealth of sites where you can experience the region’s dramatic Civil War story. You can also explore the spectacular natural beauty of the Valley via historic roadways, winding mountain roads, leisurely walking tours, or challenging hiking trails to spectacular overlooks.
Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley saw no fewer than 325 clashes during the Civil War as both sides battled to control this strategic north–south corridor. But more recently, the valley has been the scene of another kind of conflict, pitting preservation against economic development. In 1992 the National Park Service studied Civil War sites in eight Shenandoah Valley counties and identified fifteen battles of national importance. The study also found that most were threatened by encroaching residential and commercial development. The sheer number of Civil War sites and the scale of the landscape created a daunting preservation challenge. The idea of multiple national parks under federal management was rejected by valley residents as too intrusive and by the National Park Service as too expensive. In 1996, Congress designated eight counties in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia as a National Heritage Area – the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District – which preserves and interprets the region’s significant Civil War battlefields and related historic sites. This management strtegy created a locally-driven vehicle for preserving the valley’s historical character, protecting battlefields, and increasing public awareness, and the National Park Service was enabled to provide critical planning and interpretation expertise in a non-intrusive way.
Today this effort is led by the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, which works with partners to preserve the hallowed ground of the Valley’s Civil War battlefields, to share its Civil War story with the nation, and to encourage tourism and travel to the Valley’s Civil War sites. By developing community-based preservation plans tailored for each battlefield, the Shenandoah Valley Battlefield Foundation, the management entity for the historic district, has worked with local governments to preserve open space and to adopt design guidelines for new construction. During the development of the Cross Keys and Port Republic Battlefield preservation plan, a number of property owners expressed interest in conserving their land. These private efforts and partnerships with such organizations such as the National Trust for Historic Preservation have made a major contribution to conserving this landscape. In the words of Howard Kittel, the Foundation’s former executive director, the mission of preserving the valley can be best achieved “by keeping stewardship of the resources in local hands.”