Out of the Past: Remembering the First Evacuation of Winchester

Before we start today’s post, if you are a Civil War aficionado, take note that Kernstown Battlefield will open March 23 for the 159th anniversary of the First Battle of Kernstown. You may also wish to register for a tour and book event with Gary Ecelbarger on March 27. For more information and to register for the tour, visit www.kernstownbattle.org or leave a message at 540-450-7835.

By fortuitous happenstance while looking for information in the Library of Virginia’s newspaper collection on local buildings, we came across a news story close to the anniversary it mentioned. Although we are about one week late of the actual 110th anniversary of its first publication, here is an article recounting the lead-up to the first occupation of Winchester by Union General Banks (March 12-May 25, 1862). The article originally ran in the Winchester Star, but was reprinted in the Times Dispatch on April 16, 1911. The article as reprinted reads:

Forty-Nine Years Ago.

Saturday was the anniversary of an event in our city, but it is only the silvered heads that remember what was passing in Winchester on the 11th day of March, 1862. Forty nine years of shade and sunshine have passed since then, and few of us care to own to memories of that faraway time; but clear-cut as a cameo those days stands [sic] before us. Our first taste of what war meant came then; our forced parting with those we loved, our forced meeting with those we hated. How strange it all seems now; how horribly real it was then. 
Many in our midst remember when Jackson's headquarters were in the historic mansion on Peyton Street, now owned by Dr. Hyde; that rainy winter of 1862, and the terrible sufferings of poor Loring's command, who left Winchester on the first day of January for a forced march of six weeks through the mountains. There was snow or rain during all that time, and as there were many from the far South in his command they suffered terribly from exposure to the weather. Some were left in lonely graves on the mountains. That march that resulted in no good was probably the only blunder that Jackson made in his whole military career. Loring bitterly resented the unnecessary suffering of his poor Southern boys, so unused to the exposure. But those were hopeful days. Had an angel come to us and told of the three dark, bloody years to follow we would not have deemed it possible. 
But the 11th day of March, 1862, found Jackson carrying out his Fabian-like policy of falling back before the enemy. Banks with a large army was advancing on the Martinsburg Pike [Rt. 11], and Jackson then must have been aware of the fact that owing to the hills around the town that the attacking army had all the chances in its favor, for the forces inside of the town could be flanked and cut off from retreat. We yet remember that the fateful day of the first evacuation of Winchester was balmy and bright, and that there was a full moon that night [the full moon was actually March 15-16 in 1862, but still close to full on the night in question. - Ed.]. By night the last tent had been struck from the camps north of the town, and the last soldier in gray had disappeared. The camp fires on the western hills were left burning brightly to deceive the enemy, not many miles away. But there was little sleep that night in and around Winchester. There was many an agonized parting with the loved ones who were going out into that dread unknown that held such awful possibilities, and those who remained were feeling as did the people of Brussels the night before the battle of Waterloo--"whispering with white lips, the foe, they come, they come." 
But the full moon looked calmly down upon it all, and we were angry that nature did not sympathize with our misery. We were new to sorrow then, but we have never forgotten that first baptism of it on the 11th day of March, 1862. But many a full moon has shown since that night, of many years ago.--The Winchester Star.