Celebrating Smithfield

150 years ago, the Civil War came to today’s Middleway

MIDDLEWAY – Many Jefferson County residents don’t know that Middleway played a role in Civil War history, but organizers of a four-day commemoration that kicks off Thursday hope to change that.

“Anyone with an interest in the history of Jefferson County and the Civil War should find the area and tours interesting,” said Bill Chappell, who is a leader with the Middleway Conservancy Association.

Bill Chappell is among the organizers of this week’s commemoration of the 1864 Battle of Smithfield in presentday Middleway. Visitors can take in talks, tours, special events and even music of the Civil War era.

Bill Chappell is among the organizers of this week’s commemoration of the 1864 Battle of Smithfield in presentday Middleway. Visitors can take in talks, tours, special events and even music of the Civil War era.

Starting Thursday night, Smithfield – today known as Middleway – will host special events, exhibits, guided tours and more. We asked Chappell to share more about the Battle of Smithfield and efforts to bring the area’s history to light.

 

Q. How did the event come to be? 

 

A. “The real impetus for this project began in June of 2013 when the National Park Service’s archaeologist Kristen McMaster and historian Matt Borders first discussed the battle and their studies of it. This was the first time that even lifelong members of the community appreciated that there had been a serious battle right in their back yards. It has taken a while to get organized, but the interest has grown as our research has made us come to realize that Middleway lived up to its name as a crossroads of the Civil War.

 

Q. How large of a role did the Battle of Smithfield play in the county’s history? Did it affect the Civil War as a whole?

 

A. “Being on what was the main road from Charles Town to Winchester [Virginia] and adjacent to a major bridge crossing of the Opequon Creek ensured both Confederate and Union armies would pass through Smithfield – today, Middleway – many times during the war.

“The Battle of Smithfield was one of a series of small battles and skirmishes leading up to the Third Battle of Winchester. The direct result of the Battle of Smithfield was that Gen. Philip Sheridan found that the Confederates were still in the lower Shenandoah Valley in force.

“He waited another two weeks, until Confederate forces were reduced, before making his major attack on Winchester and the Confederate Army in the Valley. On Sept. 19, 1864, Union forces drove the Confederate Army out of Winchester and out of the lower Valley for the duration of the Civil War.

 

Q. The area has a unique place in history?

A. “Smithfield is unique in Jefferson County in two ways. Outside of Harpers Ferry, it has probably the most pre-Civil War buildings of any locality of the county. Many of the surrounding field and farms look much as they did during the Civil War.”

 

Q. You’re planning other way to make Middleway’s history better known?

 

A. “The Middleway Conservancy Association plans to continue to advertise a driving tour and the battle. We will be working with the Jefferson County Historical Society and other community organizations to host events addressing aspects of the Civil War and the Battle of Smithfield.

“We also hope to work with the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program in doing additional work on documenting and interpreting the battle. We will be asking for grants and looking for volunteers to continue the work. In the meantime, we would enjoy seeing folks coming to Middleway and enjoying a little history.”

 

Q. One last thing – how and when did Smithfield become Middleway?”

A. “The town was officially named Smithfield by the Virginia Assembly in 1798. However, an older Smithfield on the James River took precedence as post offices were opened. So when the first postmaster, Daniel Fry, was appointed in 1806, it was to the town of Middleway, named because of its location in the center of the commercial district at that time.

“The original name was slow in falling from usage and the town was still being called Smithfield throughout the Civil War.”

 

 

WANT TO GO?

What: Commemoration of 150th anniversary of the Battle of Smithfield

When: Thursday through Sunday

Where: Middleway Community Center at 112 East St. in Middleway and at other locations

How much:  Events are free and open to the public

For details: Go online to MiddlewayConservancy.org.

 

A look at some of the special events:

 

THURSDAY

7 p.m., “The Battle of Smithfield” presented by Civil War battlefield guide, historian and author Scott C. Patchan.

 

FRIDAY

10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Models of cannons, Civil War correspondence by Middleway residents, maps and related battlefield materials and other exhibits on display in the Middleway Community Center. Maps for self-guided driving tours of the Battlefield will be available.

 

10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. Walking tours of Historic Middleway and/or the Smithfield Battlefield will leave from the Middleway Community Center. Maps for self-guided driving tours of the Battlefield will be available.

 

7 p.m. Friday: “The Search for John Read” presented by John Bagladi and “Maps, Jefferson County and The War” by Donald E. Watts of Origins Historical Research. Bagladi, a local history and genealogy buff, will detail research involved in identifying a member of the Union cavalry who fought in the Shenandoah Valley campaigns. Following his talk, Watts, a native of Jefferson County, will talk about the use of maps by the opposing forces in the Civil War.

 

SATURDAY

10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Models of cannons, Civil War correspondence by Middleway residents, maps and related battlefield materials and other exhibits on display in the Middleway Community Center. Maps for self-guided driving tours of the Battlefield will be available.

 

10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. Walking tours of Historic Middleway and/or the Smithfield Battlefield will leave from the Middleway Community Center.

 

7 p.m. Outdoor concert by the Country Dog Gentlemen featuring music of the Civil War era. Lars Prillaman, Matthew Metz and Martin Metz play traditional Appalachian music and vintage country tunes. Visitors are asked to bring lawn chairs or blankets. In case of rain, the concert moves indoors.

 

SUNDAY

2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Exhibits will be on display again in the Middleway Community Center and maps available for the self-guided driving tour.

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