Foundation plans for 150th anniversary celebrations

By Katie Demeria

WINCHESTER — For the Shenandoah Valley Battlefield Foundation and CEO Keven Walker, the 150th anniversary of the Third Battle of Winchester is more about the future than it is the past.

The foundation’s sesquicentennial celebration will take place throughout the weekend of Sept. 20. Events will start Friday, the date of the battle’s actual anniversary, then continue into Sunday.

“This event has become overshadowed over the years by other battles, such as Antietam and Gettysburg and Manassas, which are all very near to here,” Walker said in a news briefing Wednesday. “But I will tell you this — there is no other battle that is any more important to the political landscape of the 1860s than the battle here at Winchester.”

“Had the battle been lost by the federal army, there is a very real chance that Abraham Lincoln would not have been reelected and the course of American history would have been changed forever,” he continued.”

The event, according to Walker, will be the largest the foundation has held, and is meant to kickoff off the next phase of the 567-acre battlefield’s development, the first being securing the ground.

Walker said the battlefield is now meant to become a community resources through which those in the surrounding areas can understand and engage with their Civil War history.

“If we can gain strength and inspiration from how we were able to overcome our differences and heal our wounds in the past, we can build a better tomorrow for our country,” Walker said.

While many of the weekend’s events are free, including the programs on Friday such as a candlelight tour in downtown Winchester, Saturday’s events, lasting from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., cost $10, and registration is required.

But all residents of Frederick County and Winchester will be offered admission free of charge, Walker said, in order to encourage them to interact with the area’s history.

“If we don’t get people to come, we won’t be passing the torch along,” he said.

Saturday’s events, according to Director of Interpretation and Communications Terence Heder, will appeal to all ages. From a “walk in their footprints” program to a kids adventure camp, all individuals, whether or not they are experts on the Civil War, will find something appealing.

“We’re going to be using the phrase ‘you are there,’ a lot because we want people to really know what it was like,” Heder said.

Director of Donor Relations and Development Janice Hannah said the foundation has received $175,000 in private donations over the past several years.

But while Walker said the sesquicentennial event is not meant to be a money-making opportunity, he does anticipate that it will add a great deal to the local economy.

“And we will carry on that economic benefit,” he said. “This battlefield will still be here after the event.”

He added that, while many battlefields see a decline in visitation after sesquicentennial celebrations, the foundation is working to ensure that the event is not an end, but rather a beginning.

“This place is hallowed ground,” he said. “If we can focus on the folks who lived through this generation, as a generation from whom we can gain wisdom in the future, then the American Civil War will not have been in vain.”

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com