Tour of Warren County battlefield set for Saturday

By Alex Bridges

A chance encounter during the Civil War between opposing forces led to a bloody battle north of Front Royal.

The Warren Heritage Society plans to commemorate the Battle of Guard Hill with a tour of the site on Saturday as part of the Civil War’s sesquicentenial. The tour will be held from noon to 2:30 pm. Saturday. The tour beings at the Ivy Lodge, 101 Chester St., Front Royal.

Society Executive Director Patrick Farris said the battle, referred to as a meeting engagement, ensued on Aug. 16, 1864, when portions of the federal and Confederate armies collided with, rather than advancing toward each other.

“They were both just in movement and just happened into each other,” Farris said. “Both sides were rather surprised to find each other and because of the surprise factor there was very little preparation before either side went into battle and, for the Confederates, that turned out to be disastrous.”

More than 400 troops were either killed or captured in the engagement as a result of going “headlong into battle” rather than first examining the terrain, Farris said. Dismounted federal troops also caught the Confederate soldiers by surprise.

The engagement occurred during U.S. Gen. Philip Henry Sheridan’s valley campaign of that year. Reinforcements sent by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from Richmond to aid Gen. Jubal A. Early in Strasburg confronted a small group of federal forces north of Front Royal in the Riverton area in northern Warren County. The Confederate troops advanced north of the Shenandoah River on the morning of Aug. 16 thinking they would encounter only a small number of enemy soldiers.

After suffering heavy casualties, the remaining Confederate forces decided the next day to keep moving forward to meet Early, Farris said.

“What that did is it allowed the federal troops, who were left without an enemy, to chase [the Confederate soldiers], to begin the systemic destruction of civilian property in northern Warren County,” Farris said. “This is the period of the war in the Shenandoah Valley in the fall of 1864 … called ‘the Burning.'”

Sheridan concentrated on what is known as The Burning in the counties of Augusta, Rockingham and Shenandoah during which troops destroyed crops, graineries and mills and to kill or drive off livestock to deprive Confederate forces of these resources.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com