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Patrick Farris: May 23 was an important day in Front Royal's history

By Patrick Farris

This past May 23rd marked the 151st anniversary of the Battle of Front Royal. Few days are as significant in our county's history than this, for on that day in May of 1862 the town of Front Royal witnessed and even became a part of a battle that scarred its buildings, forced its civilian population to seek cover - something many were loathe to do, either out of pure curiosity or to take part in impromptu, partisan celebration - and forever cemented Warren's county seat as part of Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson's legendary Valley Campaign.

For the Warren Heritage Society, the actions of Confederate spy Belle Boyd during the war, and especially as they relate to the Battle of Front Royal, have been an integral part of our organization since the 1980s when the cottage in which she lived and conducted much of her local espionage was moved to our grounds on Chester Street. Today's visitor can relive the drama of the Battle of Front Royal and the dramatic life of Belle Boyd in the very house associated with the woman and the battle through a tour of Belle Boyd Cottage and by reading her autobiography.

The Battle of Front Royal Committee, created by the Town of Front Royal with a grant from the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Association, released a CD to accompany the driving tour of the battle as described in the Civil War Trails markers throughout the town and county. An invaluable tool in understanding the battle as it unfolded here in Front Royal. Belle Boyd's autobiography and the Battle of Front Royal CD are available at the Warren Heritage Society's Ivy Lodge Gift Shop on Chester Street.

The New York Times covered the battle in a column devoted to the event, appearing in print on May 25, 1862 - only two days after the battle. Reprinted here, it should be recalled that this piece was written from the Northern perspective. Readers should note the changes in spelling from today's standards, as is the case with the spelling of the town of Strasburg.

The New York Times May 25, 1862

A Defeat in Gen. Bank's Department

Our Forces Driven from Front Royal with considerable loss

Strasburgh, Va., Saturday, May 24 Hon. E. M. Stanton, Secretary of War:

Col. Kenly's command of infantry and cavalry had been driven from Front Royal, with considerable loss in killed and wounded and prisoners. The enemy's force is estimated at from five to six thousand, and is reported as falling back on Front Royal. He probably occupies this place this morning.
(Signed,) N.P. BANKS, Major- General

Baltimore. Saturday, May 24.

The reported death of Col. Kenly produces intense feeling here, where he was widely known and highly esteemed, and where his regiment, The First Maryland, was raised. His numerous friends have been thronging the vicinity of the newspaper offices all the afternoon, evening the greatest anxiety to learn the particulars of the fate of the gallant Colonel and his men. The families of the soldiers are painfully alarmed by the numerous rumors flying about.

Washington, Saturday, May 24

Dispatches were received at the War Department at 10 o'clock tonight, from Gen. Banks, at Winchester. He had moved from Strassburgh to Winchester for the purpose of securing his stores and trains from the enemy and to prevent his communication from being interrupted. His advanced guard entered Winchester at 5 o'clock, with all his trains and stores, in safety. A strong attack was made upon the trains at Middletown by the rebel infantry, cavalry and artillery, but it was repulsed and a few wagons abandoned by teamsters were secured. Gen. Banks will return immediately to Strassburgh.

Col. Kenley, in command of the force at Front Royal, was not killed, but only wounded and taken prisoner. No particulars of the engagement at Front Royal yesterday have been received.

The enemies are in possession of Front Royal. Gen. Geary occupies a strong position on the Manassas Railroad, at White Plains. He was been reinforced. Gen. Banks has also been strongly reinforced.

Front Royal is the capitol of Warren County, Va. Ten miles northeast of Strasburgh, on the line of the Manassas Gap Railroad. Is 140 miles north of Richmond, and is in the department of Gen. Banks. It is west of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and is situated on the Happy Creek, one mile from the Shenandoah River, and is a village of 500 inhabitants. Col. Kenly's force on it was from Strasburgh to Manassas Junction.


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