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Battle of Front Royal's deadly end commemorated

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Dan Toomey, historian and author of numerous books on the Civil War, stands beside a case of historic artifacts he has collected that are linked to Col. John Kenley, commander of the First Maryland Union Regiment that fought in the Battle of the Front Royal. Joe Beck/Daily

They planted an oak tree Saturday to remember the soldiers who died almost 150 years ago at the harrowing conclusion of the Battle of Front Royal.

An audience of 50 or so gathered in a pastoral setting under clear skies and shirtsleeve-friendly temperatures that gave no hint of the bloody mayhem that Union and Confederate forces inflicted on each other at the site along U.S.340/522.

The ceremony included an appearance by a color guard of National Guard units from Virginia and Maryland, a reminder of the clash between units from Maryland and Virginia that played major roles in deciding the battle.

Patrick Farris, executive director of the Warren Heritage Society, reminded the audience of the toll taken by the fighting. The two sides fought a running battle that began on the south end of town with outnumbered Union forces slowly giving ground over three hours until they reached a site known as Fairview, about a quarter mile north of the present day Holiday Inn.

"The wounded were strewn everywhere over a 10-mile stretch road," Farris said.

The catalyst for the battle was an attempt by Confederate Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson to maneuver behind the 9,000 member Union force commanded by Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks in Strasburg.

A few minutes before the tree planting, historian Dan Toomey of Linthicum, Md., spoke at a breakfast about his research into the life of Col. John R. Kenly, who commanded the 1,063 federal troops in Front Royal before and during the battle.

Toomey described Kenly as a courageous and skillful military leader who, despite losing the battle to a superior force, managed to buy time for Banks in Strasburg to withdraw toward Winchester when he realized the threat posed by Jackson's forces in Front Royal.

Kenly was severely wounded in the battle and captured in its aftermath. Kenly lost 904 of his original 1,063 men int he battle, most of whom were identified as prisoners of war, Toomey said. He estimated Confederate casualties at 25 to 50.

"It was a total loss as far as Kenly's command was concerned, but he had bought a day's time," Toomey said.

Another retired U.S. Army historian, Joseph Whitehorne, also spoke about the battle during a tour of Fairview. Whitehorne said the lengthy struggle for control of the Shenandoah Valley made the area "the Howard Johnson's of the Civil War. Everybody came through here."

Saturday's event was part of a weekend of activities marking the beginning of the 150th anniversary observance of the battle. Other activities are planned through the week of May 23.

1 Comment

It was 50 years ago that the Town of Front Royal celebrated the Centennial of the Battle of Front Royal.

It was very similar to the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival with a queen (a decedent of one of the generals participating in the Battle) and several local youths (high school and college age) selected as princes and princesses. On Saturday of the event there was a knighting of the queen at Randolph-Macon Academy, a parade down Main Street, a battle reenactment at Bing Crosby Stadium and a dance at John Mosby Academy (now Warren County Middle on 15th Street). On Sunday there was a dedication of a Battle of Front Royal marker at the triangle corner of Royal Avenue and Chester Street (near Bo's Belly Barn and the former Duncan Brothers Tire Center). On Friday night, I believe there was a square dance.

I was not born when this event occurred May 19-20, 1962, but I have a copy of the program from that event. It includes a depiction of the battle written by the late Laura Virginia Hale.

I'm wondering why such an event was not planned this time and if anyone remembers this event from 1962.

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