Author: Jonathan A. Noyalas

an assistant professor of history and director of the Center for Civil War History at Lord Fairfax Community College in Middletown, Virginia

Martinsburg during the Civil War

Martinsburg, Virginia (now West Virginia), the county seat of Berkeley County, was in 1860 the Shenandoah Valley‘s second largest town, with a population of 3,364. Located in the northern portion of the valley, Martinsburg enjoyed a booming economy because of its location along the paved Valley Pike and because it was a major depot along the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. The same strategic location that made Martinsburg economically prosperous prior to the American Civil War (1861–1865), however, also spelled its wartime demise. The town changed hands between Confederate and Union forces thirty-seven times, was the site of two battles, and played host for a time to the intrigue of Confederate spy Belle Boyd, who was born there.


Harpers Ferry during the Civil War

Harpers Ferry, in what is now West Virginia, lies at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers and serves as the gateway to the Shenandoah Valley. Before and during the American Civil War (1861–1865), this small, isolated town was an economically thriving community with great strategic importance because of its location along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and its firearms industry—including the United States Arsenal and Armory and Hall’s Rifle Works. In 1859, Harpers Ferry emerged onto the national stage when the radical abolitionist John Brown and a small band of followers raided the armory in an attempt to ignite a slave insurrection. The town also became an object of intense military interest immediately after Virginia’s secession in April 1861, during the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862, the Maryland Campaign of 1862, and the Valley Campaign of 1864.


Shepherdstown, Battle of

The Battle of Shepherdstown, fought on September 19 and 20, 1862, during the American Civil War (1861–1865), was the bloodiest battle in what would become West Virginia. Although often overlooked by historians because, as one Union soldier termed it, Shepherdstown “was not much of a battle as modern battles go,” it had important consequences. First, it marked the end of Confederate general Robert E. Lee‘s first invasion of the North, which had been effectively repulsed at the Battle of Antietam, near Sharpsburg, Maryland, on September 17. In addition, the Battle of Shepherdstown, where Lee’s army retreated back into Virginia, convinced Union general George B. McClellan that a second invasion was possible, paralyzing the Army of the Potomac in Maryland for the next month and allowing Lee’s army time to regroup. Furthermore, it contributed to U.S. president Abraham Lincoln‘s decision to remove McClellan from command of the Army of the Potomac.