Valley prepares for Civil War anniversary

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The Shenandoah Valley likely will attract attention in 2011 when the country observes the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War.  The area was the scene of many battles and Stonewall Jackson’s legendary 1862 Valley Campaign. Local officials and representatives from the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation (SVBF) are trying to make sure that visitors understand how events in the Valley fit in the war’s larger picture.

As a result, three orientation centers for the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District have opened in region’s northern end in recent years. The latest is in Harrisonburg’s historic Hardesty-Higgins House Visitor Center.

The new orientation center provides information on battlefields, museums, historic sites and Civil War markers. Maps, dioramas, photos and videos, for example, offer an overview of battles at Cross Keys, Fort Republic and the Piedmont. The center also tells the story of the “The Burning” in 1864 when Union Gen. Philip Sheridan scorched the Valley to eliminate it as a Confederate breadbasket.
The other orientation centers are in Winchester and McDowell, where Jackson’s Valley Campaign began.

“The centers are designed not just to tell what happened in that specific area, but how they all connect. So when you come to one, it references the entire story of the Valley and also encourages people to go visit the other orientation centers in the other areas,” says Terry Heder, program manager for field services at the SVBF.

He says that that additional orientation centers could be built before the 2011 anniversary, but those decisions will be made by local tourism officials.

Meanwhile, SVBF re­­cently was instrumental in preserving 209 acres that were part of the battlefield during the Third Battle of Winchester.

“We’ve already got the sites available to tell the story of what happened here, but now what we’ve got to do is improve our ability to tell that story,” Heder says. “And that means improving interpretation, improving visitor services and improving our marketing to attract more people here.”

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