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Beleaguered Winchester

A Virginia Community at War, 1861–1867

Richard R. Duncan

Publication Year: 2006

During the Civil War, the strategically located town of Winchester, Virginia, suffered from the constant turmoil of military campaigning perhaps more than any other town. Occupied dozens of times by alternating Union and Confederate forces, Winchester suffered through three major battles, including some seventy smaller skirmishes. In his voluminous community study of the town over the course of four tumultuous years, Richard R. Duncan shows that in many ways Winchester's history provides a paradigm of the changing nature of the war. Indeed, Duncan reveals how the town offers a microcosm of the war: slavery collapsed, women assumed control in the absence of men, and civilians vied for authority alongside an assortment of revolving military commanders. Control over Winchester was vital for both the North and the South. Confederates used it as a base to strike the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and conduct raids into western Maryland and Pennsylvania, and when Federal forces occupied the town, they threatened Staunton—Lee's breadbasket—and the Virginia Central Railroad. At various times during the war, generals "Stonewall" Jackson, Nathaniel Banks, Robert Milroy, Richard Ewell, Jubal Early, and Philip Sheridan each controlled the town. Guerrilla activity further compounded the region's strife as insecurity became the norm for its civilian population. In this first scholarly treatment of occupied Winchester, Duncan has compiled a narrative of voices from the entire community, including those of groups often omitted from such studies, such as slaves, women, and Confederate dissenters. He shows how Federal occupation meant an early end to slavery in Winchester and how the paucity of men left women to serve as the major cohesive force in the community, making them a bulwark of Confederate support. He also explores the tensions between civilians and military personnel that inevitably arose as each group sought to protect its interests. The war, Duncan explains, left Winchester a landscape of wreckage and economic loss. A fascinating case study of civilian survival amid the turmoil of war, Beleaguered Winchester will appeal to Civil War scholars and enthusiasts alike.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix-xix

The destructive forces of the Civil War were nowhere more so than in the border communities. Divisions over secession rent their social fabric. Worse, towns strategically positioned suffered the wrath of competing armies in fluctuating occupations, and the resulting destruction. Few...

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1. The Brewing Storm

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pp. 1-42

Life in Winchester on the morning of October 16, 1859, was like any other day. Citizens, merchants, and farmers went about their business as usual. Yet events some thirty miles to the northeast later that day would radically change their lives. John Brown’s raid on the armory at Harper’s Ferry...

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2. The Taste of Humiliation

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pp. 43-90

The cold winds of March 1862 were nothing in Winchester compared to the chill of a prospective evacuation by Jackson. News on February 27 that Union troops occupied Charles Town, some twenty-four miles to the northeast, struck fear. Rumors of a pending threat had circulated for several...

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3. Redemption, Destruction, and Occupation

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pp. 91-134

On Saturday, May 24, 1862, fleeing Union soldiers shattered Winchester’s morning calm. The turmoil sent Unionist hopes plummeting into despair. A despondent Julia Chase observed that “the Secessionists are in their glory that Jackson’s Army is coming back.” Sensing the hopeless...

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4. The Brute: General Robert Milroy

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pp. 135-168

Once again the residents of Winchester watched as Federal troops marched down their streets. Anxious Southerners waited for the new commander, Gen. Robert Milroy. His reputation for harshness preceded him. As it had been for previous Union commanders in Winchester, one of...

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5. The Chess Game

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pp. 169-205

The withdrawal of Lee’s army ushered in another period of instability for Winchester. Military operations shifted to the east along the Rapidan- Rappahannock line. No major operations were undertaken in the Shenandoah until the onset of the 1864 campaign season. Instead, frequent cavalry...

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6. "Whirling through Winchester"

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pp. 207-249

In Sheridan “Old Jube” would face a worthy opponent. Hunter’s return to Maryland offered little effective counterweight to Southern incursions, much less the possibility of a Federal push up the Shenandoah Valley. Early’s presence threatened western Maryland and southern Pennsylvania...

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pp. 251-266

Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, followed by Johnston’s in North Carolina, effectively ended the Civil War. Parades joyously celebrated the victory. Even many Southerners welcomed the restoration of peace, although they resented Unionist jubilation. Yet perplexing problems remained. The...

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Selected Biographical Sketches

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pp. 267-269


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pp. 271-332


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pp. 333-361


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pp. 363-380

E-ISBN-13: 9780807135792
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807132173

Page Count: 408
Publication Year: 2006