Saturday and Sunday, May 7-8, 2016, was the First Experience of Front Royal, Virginia, during the Civil War. It took place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. Living history demonstrations were held at the Warren County Courthouse and Warren Heritage Society. At 11 a.m. Saturday were violin performances by Bébhinn Eggers Violin and Fiddle Students at the Town Gazebo. At 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 2 to 3 p.m. Saturday the Tuscarora Brass Band performed at the Warren Heritage Society.
At 1 p.m. Saturday the Battle of Front Royal re-enactment occurred on Main Street at the Warren County Courthouse and continued down Chester Street to the Warren Heritage Society. The Battle of Front Royal was the only time during the Civil War that pitted “brother against brother” as the 1st Maryland Infantry CSA battled with the Union 1st Regiment Maryland Volunteer Infantry.
At the gazebo were performances by the Tuscarora Brass Band (TBB), a recreation of the 26th North Carolina Regiment Band that when captured, hid their music books so they were the only Confederate music books known to survive the Civil War. TBB uses reproduction and authentic instruments from the mid 1800s. Some instruments are “over-the-shoulder” to direct music towards the soldiers while the band marched with them. TBB seeks to educate about our rich heritage in brass band.
The 8th Virginia Infantry (Confederate) and the 87th Pennsylvania Infantry (Union) are re-enactors who participate in numerous reenactment events. They portrayed the Maryland Units (CSA and USA) involved in the Battle of Front Royal.
Several hundred spectators lined the streets of Front Royal as the Confederate and Union units fought each other through the streets. Many re-enactments are observed from a distance. This time the audience was a matter of feet as the shots were fired. It is hoped that this becomes an annual event. More information about Front Royal can be found at warrenheritagesociety.org and discoverfrontroyal.com.
The Battle of Front Royal – May 23, 1862
As part of the Shenandoah Valley Campaign, Maj. Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson demonstrated his use of valley topography and mobility to unite Confederate forces while dividing the Union forces. At minimal cost, Jackson forced the withdrawal of a large Union Army by striking at its flank and threatening its rear.
The results of the battle were lopsided. Union casualties were 773, of which 691 were captured. Confederate losses were 36 killed and wounded. Jackson’s victory over the small Union force at Front Royal forced the main Union Army at Strasburg under General Nathaniel Banks into abrupt retreat. Jackson deceived Banks into believing that the Confederate Army was in the main valley near Harrisonburg; instead he had marched swiftly north to New Market and crossed Massanutten via New Market Gap to Luray.
The advance to Front Royal placed Jackson in position to move directly on Winchester, Virginia, in the rear of the Union Army. On May 24, 1861, Banks retreated down the Valley Pike to Winchester, harassed by Confederate cavalry and artillery at Middletown and Newtown (Stephens City), setting the stage for the First Battle of Winchester the following day.
The confusion engendered by Jackson’s appearance at Front Royal and the hasty Union retreat from Strasburg to Winchester contributed materially to the defeat of Banks’ army at First Winchester on May 25. Jackson used his cavalry to good advantage at Front Royal, to sever Union communications east and west, and to strike the final blow at Cedarville.
After the battle, the victorious First Maryland CSA took charge of prisoners from the beaten Union First Maryland regiment. Many men recognized among them former friends and family. According to J. J. Goldsborough, who chronicled the history of the Maryland Line in the Confederate Army: “nearly all recognized old friends and acquaintances who they greeted cordially, and divided with them the rations which had just changed hands”.
William S. Connery is a frequent contributor to the Gazette. He has written two History Press books in their Sesquicentennial Series: Civil War Northern Virginia 1861 and Mosby’s Raids in Civil War Northern Virginia. He has power-point presentations on both his books and other War Between the States topics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.