Strasburg battle significant in war

By Ryan Cornell

FISHER’S HILL — The rolling hills and tree-dotted slopes of the Fisher’s Hill battlefield stand precisely as they did 150 years ago, according to Richard Kleese.

Kleese, a Civil War historian and author from Strasburg, presented a detailed play-by-play commentary of the advancements and retreats by soldiers as well as tales from the battle and references to local townsfolk on Monday evening. The sesquicentennial “On This Day” tour was attended by about 150 people.

The Battle of Fisher’s Hill was fought on Sept. 21 and 22, 1864.

Following a bloody defeat at the Third Battle of Winchester two days earlier, the Confederate Army retreated south with the Union troops in hot pursuit.

As they reached the town south of Strasburg, they were suddenly attacked by Union forces.

Although the casualty count was relatively minor — 52 Union soldiers and 30 Confederate soldiers killed — Kleese cited the battle’s significance as leading to the Union’s control and subsequent burning of the Shenandoah Valley.

Without the valley, often referred to as “the breadbasket of the Confederacy,” Gen. Robert E. Lee’s troops were left without a food source and were less likely to invade Washington, D.C.

“If you don’t have anything to eat, you can’t feed an army as they march through here to get to Washington,” Kleese said.

One of the stops on his walking tour featured a sprawling oak tree, believed to be more than 200 years old.

The story of the tree, he said, is that the top of it was cropped and used to house a signal platform.

Former Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation President Mike Kehoe, who attended the tour, said that out of the half-dozen signal trees that once stood throughout the valley, only two remain.

The Fisher’s Hill battlefield is owned by the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation.

Kleese said he prefers the method of preserving it by leaving it pristine and as it was 150 years ago, rather than cluttering it with monuments and historical markers.

Kleese has written “Shenandoah County and the Civil War,” “The 49th Virginia Infantry,” “The 23rd Cavalry” and “Recollections of an Old Dominion Dragoon.”

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com