By Josette Keelor
Visitors come to the Kernstown Battlefield for various reasons. History buffs want to learn more about the Civil War, which reshaped the region. But a lot more are interested in the experience that redefined lives.
"And they're also very much interested in the experiences of the family, the Pritchard family," said Gary Crawford, president of The Kernstown Battlefield Association.
What's so stunning is that the Pritchards stayed on the farm through three battles, he said.
"And that had to be kind of scary to make the decision to stay," Crawford said. They could see the troops gathering on all sides. In the Second Battle of Kernstown, soldiers were fighting 20 feet from the Pritchards' front door.
Still, they stayed and treated wounded soldiers from both sides. They witnessed their prosperous family business wither under the scars of war.
And then they lost their farm.
The Kernstown Battlefield reopened for the season on May 11, and the association offers tours on the otherwise unaltered land of the Pritchard-Grim Farm at 610 Battle Park Drive, Winchester.
Crawford said maps at the battlefield's museum help orient visitors and give them a better understanding of what troops might have faced during the two main battles that took place in 1862 and '64.
"The primary thing is up on Pritchard's Hill," said Crawford. "That's the key to the whole thing. When you're there, you can just see forever."
From there, Union troops had no trouble defeating the Confederate army in the first battle. Marching shoulder to shoulder, Confederate Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson's army saw massive losses in trying to retake Winchester, Crawford said.
"These were young men who had not been in the army very long," Crawford said. It had snowed three days earlier, and many were barefooted. Supplies were dwindling. A few weeks earlier, they were home with their families. Now, on March 23, 1862, they were dying in the boggy fields of the Pritchard Farm.
"And yet they kept marching, and I don't know how they did that," Crawford said. "Military men from armies all over the world have been here and can't tell either. But they did."
Despite winning, the Union lost 181 soldiers. The Confederacy lost 139.
There were no journals to tell of the three battles in Kernstown, Crawford said -- only sketches by Civil War artist James Taylor, whose painting of the Pritchard House hangs in the on-site museum -- but the stories made it through the lines.
Stories like Col. James Mulligan, a Union officer in charge of the Irish brigade in the second battle who, on July 24, 1864, ordered his troops to retreat without him after he sustained multiple wounds.
His wife Marian learned of his injuries but arrived too late to say good-bye. He died under the Pritchards' care.
Mulligan was a popular politician in Chicago, Crawford said, and "even the Confederates respected him highly."
After returning her husband's body to Chicago, Mrs. Mulligan learned of her brother Lt. James Nugent's death while trying to save Mulligan.
She posted notices around Winchester begging information about him, but she never recovered his body.
He likely was lost among those mass buried by Confederates who needed to move bodies underground quickly to escape the summer heat, Crawford said.
When graves were opened later, the bodies were identified and buried in Winchester National Cemetery, but Nugent was named among the six to 10 left unidentified.
In the second battle, Gen. Jubal Early succeeded in retaking Winchester from the Union.
"[Winchester] switched hands, you know, 74 times," Crawford said. "Pick a number."
The Union counted 1,200 soldiers killed, wounded or captured in the second battle, Crawford said. The Confederacy lost between 200 and 300, based on records that survived being burned during wagon raids.
"That's the story that we try to tell here," Crawford said. "It's the people that make the story."
The museum doesn't tell the story of the third battle on that property, considered the Second Battle of Winchester, which happened in 1863 between the first and second Kernstown battles.
"It isn't really that much of the story [of Kernstown], so we don't have a slot for it here," Crawford said.
The Pritchards made it through the war, but their farm never recovered.
During the war, a mile in every direction was a Union camp, Crawford said.
"They burned all of the fences. They killed all of the animals," he said. "They were living off the land."
Samuel Rees Pritchard, who built the house in 1854 on land his family owned since 1756, died shortly after the war. He had applied to the U.S. government for reparations, not able to afford to pay bank notes on the farm.
After his death, his wife Helen received the news that they were denied funds. They thought he was a southern sympathizer, Crawford said, even though Mrs. Pritchard was from New Jersey.
James Henry Burton purchased the house and land from the bank in 1878 and raised 17 children in the house. In 2000, the Kernstown Battlefield Association purchased the estate from the Burton's great-granddaughter.
"You can imagine the amount of living that went on in the house," Crawford said. Until the late 1990s, the land was a fruit farm.
Crawford helped create the corporation in 1996 and began negotiations to take control of the battlefield, fearful that the property would be destroyed and used for development.
"The property is all paid for now," Crawford said. "It took about five years."
He petitioned preservation groups, road organizations -- "Wherever it was possible and from pure donations," he said. "We had a very diverse group of people with all sorts of skills." In the end, they raised $4 million to seize control of the land.
Otherwise, he said, "There'd be nothing left for people to see." In Winchester, there's almost nothing left from the first and second battles, Crawford said.
He fought to preserve the property "so Winchester doesn't become another spot on the map."
The Kernstown Battlefield is open May through October, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and from noon to 4 p.m. Sundays. For more information, visit www.kernstownbattle.org. President Gary Crawford can be reached at 540-869-2896.
Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or firstname.lastname@example.org