Civil War Weekend aims to tell a range of historic stories

After spending close to a year planning for the event, the Shenandoah Valley National Historic District is hosting its annual Civil War Weekend next week in Winchester and Frederick County.

According to Terry Heder, director of interpretation, education and history for the historic district, the event will take place between Aug. 18 and Aug. 20 and is the largest one the organization holds every year.

“There’s nothing that matches this in terms of the variety of sites and the variety of stories and the variety of interests it can appeal to,” Heder said.

In some years, the Civil War Weekend has some kind of unifying theme. But Heder said that this year the event will be centered around telling a wide range of stories about the Civil War in Winchester and Frederick County.

In order to make sure the events in the weekend weren’t all the same, Heder said people from different regional sites all met occasionally throughout last year.

“Every organization can choose what programs that they’d like to do,” Heder said. “But we do like to coordinate to encourage that…we cover a broader slate of topics and activities.”

This year, there will be a tour focusing on African-Americans in the Civil War, something Heder said is new to the Civil War Weekend. He said that the number of regional sites focusing on telling the story of African-Americans during the Civil War has increased in recent years.

“There often have been programs about it at Belle Grove (Plantation in Middletown), which does a terrific job at showing the story of slavery at the plantation,” Heder said.

But he  said that the number of sites discussing the topic has been expanding, which he said he was proud of.

There will also be an event at the Shenandoah Valley Civil War Museum where children can draw graffiti. The museum is the site of the old Frederick County Courthouse, where a number of Union and Confederate soldiers drew graffiti.

“[Children will] both learn about graffiti in the courthouse, why it was made, and then they’ll have a chance to do their own,” Heder said.

Heder clarified, saying that the children would not be drawing on the walls, though their drawings will be hung briefly on the walls of the courthouse.

Heder said that the graffiti of Union and Confederate soldiers can tell a story about the Civil War. The signatures of officers and soldiers can link individuals to a particular site, while some drawings and writing can tell specific stories about the war.

For instance, Heder pointed to the “curse of Jefferson Davis,” a piece of graffiti inside the courthouse that wished for Jefferson Davis to be sent off to sea without a compass to navigate back.

“The thing is, we do not know for certain whether it was left by a northern or southern soldier,” Heder said. “It easily could have been a Yankee who just didn’t like Jeff Davis. But it also could have been a confederate who, as the war was going on, they just wanted to go home.”

Another piece of graffiti shows someone falling off a horse.

Heder said that some of the programs in the Civil War Weekend stay the same from one year to the next. But others, he said, are new.

In some years, the events will stretch beyond Winchester and Frederick County, he said.

“If you come this year and you come next year, some (events) will be the same, but there will be a great variety to encourage people to return,” Heder said.

If You Go

• 7 p.m. Aug. 18: Civil War Soldier for an Evening, 336 Belle Grove Road, Middletown.

• Aug. 19: Civil War Era Picnic, on the Pritchard House lawn, 610 Battle Park Drive, Winchester.

• 9 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 19 : Gordon’s Attack at Cedar Creek. Ranger Rick Ashbacker talks about the attack.  7712 Main St., Middletown.

• 9 a.m.  Aug. 19: The African Americans’ Civil War in Winchester. A 1.5 hour tour on the life of African-Americans around the time of the Civil War.  Starts at 1400 S. Pleasant Valley Road, Winchester.

• 10 a.m.-3 p.m.  Aug. 19: Star Fort and Second Winchester.  Programs about Star Fort during the Civil War.  Fortress Drive off U.S. 522 North, Winchester.

• 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Aug. 19: Stonewall Jackson Seminar.  A lunch and lecture by historians Steve French and Jerry Holsworth on Stonewall Jackson. $20, includes lunch.  At 610 Battle Park Drive, Winchester

• 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Aug. 19: National Regiment Living History Encampment and Firing Demonstrations.  National Regiment members give firing demonstrations and discuss the life of a Civil War soldier, 2262 Claven Lane, Middletown.

• 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Aug. 19: Battlefield Walking Tours. Kernstown Battlefield, 610 Battle Park Drive, Winchester.

• 2:30 p.m. Aug. 19: The Life of the Enslaved Cook Judah. A 30-minute program on an enslaved cook at Belle Grove Plantation. 336 Belle Grove Road, Middletown.

• 3 p.m.- 9 p.m.  Aug. 19: The Court House and Second Winchester. Programs on the Old Frederick County Court House during the Second Battle of Winchester. 20 N. Loudoun St., Winchester.

• 3:30 p.m. Aug. 19: Civil War History Presentation.  Historian Steve French talks about scouts and civilians in 1860s Newtown, 810 Fairfax St., Stephens City.

• Aug. 20: The Manufacture and Use of Artillery Fuses in the Civil War.  Features a cannon that served in the Michigan Brigade. 610 Battle Park Drive, Winchester.

• 2:30 p.m. Aug. 20: Battle of Cedar Creek in a Box.  A program on the Battle of Cedar Creek, 336 Belle Grove Road, Middletown.