Wanted: A Regiment of Volunteers

Troops skirmish at the annual Marching Through Time Living History Encampment at Marietta House Museum.
Troops skirmish at the annual Marching Through Time Living History Encampment at Marietta House Museum. (By Fred Blonder)
By Linda Wheeler
Thursday, July 12, 2007

Consider making a real contribution to Civil War preservation -- not just money, but volunteering to help at battlefields, forts, museums and historic properties, particularly the nonprofit groups and others dependent on public support.

John Stevens, the Fort Collier Civil War Center president, struggles to keep the house and grounds maintained on a 10-acre preserve in Winchester that was central to the Battle of Third Winchester on Sept. 19, 1864. Early in the war, the Confederates seized the home of Isaac Stine because of its strategic location to defend Winchester from attackers, built earthworks on three sides, evicted the family and named the place Fort Collier.

The fort saw action in 1862 and 1863, but it is remembered as Lt. Gen. Jubal Early's last stand at Third Winchester. After Union forces had pushed the Confederates back from an earlier position, 6,000 horsemen under Brig. Gen. George Armstrong broke the Confederate battle line, sending the Southerners into retreat through the streets of Winchester. Stine's house was destroyed, and the Confederates never regained control of the city.

Stine rebuilt his house right after the war, leaving the earthworks in place. In 2002, the house and intact fortifications came on the market, and an all-volunteer nonprofit organization ( http://www.fortcollier.com) was formed to purchase the property to save it from industrial development. Last year, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

"We need help with everything," Stevens said. "The chimney in the house is collapsing. The grounds need landscaping. We need someone to run a membership drive. We need a fundraiser. We need help advertising events."

Stevens is particularly interested in having volunteers assist with his group's major fundraiser July 27 to 29, when the 9th Virginia Infantry will be there for an encampment and living history event. Stevens said available jobs include selling tickets, directing traffic and welcoming visitors.

He can be reached on his cellphone (there is no office) at 540-327-7403.

Nearby is the 315-acre Pritchard-Grim farm, the site of the First and Second Kernstown battles. The stately, three-story brick house still stands where the Pritchard family hid in the basement as each of the battles rolled through the working farm, destroying crops and damaging buildings. On March 23, 1862, Lt. Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson fought the first battle of his famous Valley Campaign at the farm, losing to a much-larger-than-anticipated Union force. The second battle, on July 24, 1864, was a Confederate victory in which forces under Early overcame Union resistance at Pritchard's Hill, forcing those troops to retreat into Winchester and then on to the Potomac River.

The property, which straddles the Winchester and Frederick County line, was purchased in 2000 by members of the nonprofit, all-volunteer Kernstown Battlefield Association for about $4 million with the assistance of local, state and federal governments. At the time, there was intense interest on the part of several developers to turn the still-active farm into acres of densely packed housing.

President Larry Duncan said the group immediately selected a barn, one of about a dozen outbuildings on the land, to use as a visitors center and began recruiting volunteers. Although there is a core of about 30 active volunteers, including several from Northern Virginia and Washington, there is a need for more. The battlefield is open only on weekends from May to October, but that means filling 104 shifts, Duncan said.

"We are a grass-roots group with a mission to spread our story to as many people as possible," he said. "We keep everything simple and low-key. We ask volunteers to be there to open the place, put out the flag and greet visitors."

Read the current newsletter at http://www.kernstownbattle.org for more information, or call 540-869-2896.

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