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The hunt for a Virginia battlefield

During Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s famous 1862 Valley Campaign, he surprised and routed a Union contingent at Front Royal before pushing on to Winchester. Although the campaign is well documented and many books have been written about it, the area where Union forces surrendered to the Confederates in the final phase of the Front Royal battle has never been identified.

A group of archaeologists was dispatched to the most likely site, a property known as Fairview . They spent three separate days at the site between 2005 and 2008. The most recent issue of the Quarterly Bulletin of the Archeological Society of Virginia had the final report.

Going into the search, the archaeological team members knew their chances of finding anything substantial were slim. The area had been extensively developed and a road there had been widened but the Virginia Department of Historic Resources had requested the survey nonetheless. Complicating the search was a later military action in the same area in 1864 known as the Skirmish at Nineveh. Artifacts from both military actions might be found at Fairview.

“The final phase of the battle of Front Royal was ephemeral and may have left a subtle archaeological footprint,” Robert L. Jolley wrote in the report. “Only one volley was fired by Union infantry before they surrendered. . . They may have had time to intentionally discard ordinance and accoutrements.”

At least that was the hope. After surveying 11 acres and conducting an intensive search on a small part of it, the team found five Spencer carbine casings on a ridge overlooking Front Royal Pike. They were probably from the Nineveh action. In the side and front yard of the house, military items found included a hand-forged stirrup and a spur marked CS (Confederate States) as well as several buttons. Other items found were probably discarded by the residents of the house.

No dropped or fired ordnance that could be attributed to the 1862 battle was found. The report concluded the site had been so compromised by development that “little is likely to be learned about the exact location of the battle.”

By Linda Wheeler  | October 31, 2010; 10:23 PM ET
Categories:  News  | Tags:  Front Royal battle  
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