Winchester, Virginia is a thriving city today but it was once ravaged by war as control over the town was hotly contested between the North and South. There are a lot of reasons why everyone wanted control of this city and region around it. I won’t bore you with all those details but will mention this – the railroad and the surrounding farmland made Winchester important to both sides.
While southern states farmed, they focused on cotton and tobacco – crops that you cannot eat. But the rich, fertile lands of the Shenandoah Valley were ripe for growing crops, making Winchester the bread basket of the Confederacy.
Historians say that control over Winchester changed at least 72 times, possibly 73. Thirteen times in a single day. When residents woke up each morning, they had to look outside to see which flag was flying to know who was running the show that day.
This makes the area an excellent source for learning about the Civil War, the War Between the States, the War of Northern Aggression or whatever you like to call it. There are historic markers all over the region and lots of museums.
If you choose to visit, there is no shortage of places to help sharpen your understanding of the war. This is such an important topic these days as we continue to grapple with vital issues like racism and the controversy over celebrating Confederate leaders in communities across our nation.
It’s hard to believe that 154 years after the Civil War ended we haven’t advanced a little further than we have today.
But I digress.
Old Town Winchester is home to the Shenandoah Valley Civil War Museum and there are many more important sites across the region.
I most appreciated my visit to Stonewall Jackson’s Headquarters, high atop a hill overlooking the city. Here, my tour guide (I think her name was Reva) was a retired history teacher who spoke of Stonewall Jackson as an old friend and of the history of Winchester as though she lived it.
If only we all could be so lucky to have a history teacher like this woman.
She told us about the house, constructed in 1854 and occupied by Jackson during the winter of 1861-62. At the time, it was owned by Lewis T. Moore who had previously served in the military with Jackson. He was in the process of boarding up his gorgeous home to seek medical treatment out of town when he learned that Jackson needed a quiet place to set up his office. He had been working out of a hotel in what is now Old Town Winchester (it’s now a restaurant) and faced constant interruptions in this high traffic area.
So Moore offered the use of his home, believing it better occupied by Jackson than left empty and vulnerable. Jackson sent for his wife who joined him for the remainder of his stay in town and who remembered that winter as being one of the most romantic times of their marriage.
You can tour the home. It’s furnished with antiques – some original to the region but not to the house. However, there are a number of pieces original to the home and to Jackson himself. They have his desk and his personal prayer book which Jackson carried everywhere. Sometimes he rode with it in his hands, not to read, but simply for comfort. You can almost imagine him sitting in his office, wrestling with decisions that might cost lives if he chose wrong.
You cannot take pictures inside the house but they do sell postcards featuring some of the more important rooms.
Reva did a commendable job telling the human side of the house and the people who occupied it. She spoke of Jackson as a very humble, pious man. She talked about the difficulties of cooking over fire and how skilled a cook must be to prepare a large meal using cast iron and wood heat. She pointed out that this house was warmed by forced air heat and explained how such as system worked in 1861. We learned about the personal heartache and loss that endured by Jackson during his brief 39 years on this earth.
We also learned that Mr. Moore had a descendant, an elderly woman who used her wealth to help the museum during her later years. That woman was the actress Mary Tyler Moore, a fact I found terribly cool having grown up watching reruns of her shows on television.
I often think that people don’t like history because there’s too much focus on memorizing facts and dates and not enough emphasis on the people and their stories.
Reva’s tour beautifully illustrated how to relate history to a modern audience and how to give new life to the past.
Stonewall Jackson’s Headquarters is available for tours April through October and they would welcome you as a guest. It’s a bargain at just $5 for a guided tour and a must-see if you’re in town.
Check back tomorrow for more from my road trip adventure!