McDowell Reenactment Marks 150th Anniversary Of Civil War Battle
McDowell, VA – In early May 1862, 6,500 Union troops occupied the tiny village of McDowell, Virginia, with plans to continue the attack toward the critical Confederate rail center at Staunton. A larger Confederate force under General Thomas Jackson arrived at McDowell on May 8 and occupied a long hilltop overlooking the village. In a battle that raged through the afternoon, Union troops attacked, but failed to dislodge the rebels from the high ground. The battle was the first of Stonewall Jackson’s several victories in his famed Shenandoah Valley campaign.
On Saturday afternoon, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the battle, hundreds of reenactors recreated the engagement, as hundreds of spectators looked on. With muskets blaring, a formation of Union troops assaulted the rebel right flank, only to be repulsed by the steadfast rebels. A second United States attack on the rebel left failed, and Union troops retreated in disarray through thick clouds of gunpowder smoke, admonished by officers and NCOs. Like an angry swarm of hornets, a rebel cavalry squadron rushed down the hill and tormented the fleeing invaders.
The event was organized by the Highland Historical Society, which maintains a museum in McDowell. Society director Lorraine White says the event went well.
“I think very well,” she said. “The weather, obviously, did not cooperate. It’s been raining all day and all of the reenactors are soaked. But, I think everything went well. We had a good turnout, considering the weather, and everyone seemed to really enjoy the activities.”
Vietnam veteran Will Crisp, who lives part-time in McDowell, is a graduate of Virginia Military Institute, where General Jackson was a professor of philosophy. Crisp says Jackson’s campaign is studied around the world.
“This represents the first victory in Stonewall Jackson’s Valley campaign,” he said. “This battle and then, the movements of Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley, are studied throughout the world. Something that’s not recognized. I would guess that the military colleges in the former Soviet Union, China, Japan, Germany, Britain, study this battle. Primarily because of Jackson’s use of mobility, knowledge of the terrain, surprise and basic fundamentals of how to commit an army into an operation.”
Crisp says reenactments serve an important purpose.
“I think, in America, a lot of us have lost contact with where we came from, what our forebears experienced and it’s so important to reach back and understand what our forebears went through,” he said. “My great grandparents, great uncles, fought in the Civil War on the Confederate side. To try to understand what they experienced – what their wives experienced, when they were left home alone with young children, in some cases, lost husbands and brothers – that’s very significant.”
Bob Denton, of Winchester, Virginia, has served as reenactment coordinator for several years. Denton says he got involved in reenacting after learning some family history.
“I found out that I had relatives who fought in the 37th Virginia Infantry,” he said. “That understanding that I did have relatives who were in the war got me interested in the 37th. Myself and some friends started portraying that unit and it kind of went on from there.”
Many youngsters were awestruck by the historic performance. Kyanna Eames says the battle was probably frightening for the residents of McDowell.
“I think it would be scary,” she said. “Because, mama told me, ‘think – now, if you were like across the street from the battle, and you were downstairs waiting for the battle to end. Like, if a cannon shot a ball over your house and it landed right on your house, and you would be down in your basement and you would be safe.'”