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Marsh: War split families, states

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Former Secretary of the Army and U.S. Rep. John O. Marsh delivers his perspective on the legacy of the Battle of Front Royal in remarks Friday night at the Holiday Inn in Front Royal. — Joe Beck/Daily

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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 Front Royal. — Joe Beck/Daily

Former Secretary of the Army speaks for Civil War dinner

By Joe Beck -- jbeck@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- The Battle of Front Royal did more than hurl the town squarely into the middle of the Civil War. It was also a lethal tragedy pitting family members and residents of the same state against each other, former Secretary of the Army and U.S. Rep. John O. Marsh told a dinner audience Friday.

Marsh's remarks about the battle were among the first of a weeks-long series of events commemorating the 150th anniversary of the battle that rocked the town on May 23, 1862. Marsh was Secretary of the Army from 1981 to 1989 and represented Warren, Shenandoah and Frederick counties as part of congressional district from 1963 to 1971. He spoke before an audience of 40.

"It was a classic example of father against son, and brother against brother," Marsh said.

He focused his commentary on two Maryland infantry regiments, one fighting for the Union and the other for the Confederacy.

Maryland was one of four slave states that remained in the Union, but many of its residents chose to join military units in the Confederate forces. The First Maryland Regiment with the Confederacy played a prominent role in Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson's famous brigade during the Valley Campaign of 1862, Marsh said.

On May 23 at the Battle of Front Royal, the First Maryland Confederate Regiment clashed with the First Maryland Regiment in the Union army, he said.

"For many, it was a reunion of family, albeit a tragic one," Marsh said. "A Maryland Confederate commander captured his own brother. Col. [John] Kenley, the union commander, was badly wounded and captured."

Contrary to some popular misconceptions about the treatment of prisoners after the battle, Marsh said, Kenley "testified later how well his regiment had been treated by their foe."

Marsh said historic ties between Virginia and Maryland before the Civil War reasserted themselves in the war's aftermath. He cited the example of Baltimore residents who shipped farm tools, seed and money free of charge to areas in the South, including Winchester, after the war ended in 1865.

Marsh concluded his comments by citing the need "to teach our children more history. The past is prologue. We, in studying the past, can shape the future."

The 150th anniversary commemoration continues today with another lecture at 8:30 a.m. at the Holiday Inn and a commemorative ceremony at the Fairview battle site just north of the Holiday Inn off of U.S. 340. The ceremony at 10 a.m. will feature the planting of a symbolic evergreen and appearances by Maryland and Virginia National Guard units.

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