Piedmont And The Shenandoah Valley

In the great strategic movements of the opposing armies of the Civil War they repeatedly traversed a large part of Virginia and Maryland to the north-west of the route between Washington and Richmond. Like the general coastal formation east of the Alleghenies, Virginia rises into successive ridges parallel with the mountains. The first range of low broken hills stretching southwest from the Potomac are called in different parts the Kittoctin, Bull Run and other mountains extending down to the Carolina boundary. From these, what is known as the Piedmont district stretches all across the State, and has a width of about twenty-five miles to the base of the Blue Ridge, being a succession of picturesque valleys and rolling lands, the general elevation gradually increasing towards the northwest, where it is bordered by the towering Blue Ridge and its many spurs and plateaus, with passages through at various gaps. The Blue Ridge is elevated about fifteen hundred feet at the Potomac, but Mount Marshall, at Front Royal, rises nearly thirty-four hundred feet, ‘and the Peaks of Otter, farther southwest, are much higher. Beyond this is the great Appalachian Val-ley, which stretches from New England to Alabama, the section here being known as the ” Valley of Virginia,” and its northern portion as the Shenandoah Valley. This is a belt of rolling country, with many hills and vales, diversified by streams that wind among the hillsides, and having a varying breadth of ten to fifty miles in different parts. Beyond it, to the northwest, are the main Allegheny Mountain ranges. The opposing troops marched and fought over all this country in connection with the greater military movements, and here was the special theatre of Stonewall Jackson’s exploits and his wonderful marches and quick manoeuvres which made his troops proudly style themselves his “foot cavalry.” The memory of Jackson is cherished by the South-ern people more than that of any other of their leaders in the Civil War, and his brilliant exploits and inopportune death have made him their special hero.

In the Piedmont region, to the southeast and in front of the Blue Ridge, are the towns of Leesburg, Manassas, Warrenton, Culpepper, Orange and Charlottesville, all well known in connection with the op-posing military movements. Charlottesville, about sixty-five miles northwest of Richmond, in a beautiful situation, was an important Confederate base of supplies. Here are now about six thousand people, and the town has its chief fame as the seat of the University of Virginia and the home of Thomas Jefferson. The University was founded mainly through the exertions of Jefferson, and has some five hundred students. Its buildings are a mile out of town, and the original ones were constructed from Jefferson’s designs and under his supervision, the chief being the Rotunda, recently rebuilt, and the modern structures for a Museum of Natural History and an Observatory. Jefferson was proud of this institution, and in the inscription which he prepared for his tomb described himself as the ” author of the Declaration of Independence, and of the statute of Virginia for religious freedom, and father of the University of Virginia.” Among its most famous students was Edgar Allan Poe, and a fine bronze bust of him was unveiled at the University in 1899, on the fiftieth anniversary of his death. Thomas Jefferson lived at Monticello, the old house being an interesting specimen of early Virginia architecture, and standing on a hill southeast of the town. Here he died just fifty years after the Declaration was promulgated, July 4, 1826, and he is buried in the family graveyard near the house. Monticello is now celebrated for its native wines.

The Shenandoah Valley during the war was noted for the way in which the opposing forces chased each other up and down, with repeated severe battles. Here was fought, in June, 1862, the battle of Cross Keys, near the forks of the Shenandoah. Jackson had previously retreated up the Valley, but by a series of brilliant movements, begun after the battle of Fair Oaks before Richmond, he was able to meet and defeat in detail the various armies under Banks, Fremont, McDowell and Shields, thus managing to foil or hold in check seventy thousand men, while his own troops were never more than twenty thousand. Then coming southward out of the Valley, he joined in turning McClellan’s right wing before Richmond at the end of June, afterwards following up Banks in August, and defeating him at Cedar Mountain, near Culpepper; then joining in the defeat of Pope at the second battle of Bull Run ; then capturing Harper’s Ferry and eleven thousand men September 15th, and finally taking part in the battle of Antietam two days later. When Grant began his siege of Richmond after the second battle of Cold Harbor, in 1864, he made General Sheridan commander of the troops in the Shenandoah Valley, and fortune turned. Sheridan opposed Early, and in September and October had a series of brilliant victories, the last one at Cedar Creek, where he turned a rout into a victory by his prompt movements. Sheridan had been in Washington, and came to Winchester, “twenty miles away,” where he heard ” the terrible grumble and rumble and roar” of the battle, and made his noted ride, the exploit being so conspicuous that he received the thanks of Congress. Early in 1865 he made a cavalry raid from Winchester, in the Valley, down to the westward of Richmond, around Lee’s lines, and rejoined the army at Petersburg, having destroyed the James River and Kanawha Canal and cut various important railway connections in the Con-federate rear. The Shenandoah Valley today is very much in its primitive condition of agriculture, but has been opened up by railway connections which develop its resources, and its great present attraction is the Cave of Luray. This cavern is about five miles from the Blue Ridge, and some distance southwest of Front Royal. It is a compact cavern, well lighted by electricity, and is more completely and profusely decorated with stalactites and stalagmites than any other in the world. Some of the chambers are very imposing, and all the more important formations have been appropriately named. The scenery of the neighborhood is picturesque, and the cavern has many visitors.