Shenandoah Valley Civil War Museum

Shenandoah Valley Civil War Museum The Frederick County Courthouse served as a hospital, prison, and a barracks during the Civil War. Soldiers left their names and other graffiti on the walls including a curse to Jeff Davis.

The museum also features a collection of over 3,000 artifacts.

Operating as usual

On New Year's Eve 1862, the citizens of Winchester were preparing for occupation by Union General and abolitionist Rober...

On New Year's Eve 1862, the citizens of Winchester were preparing for occupation by Union General and abolitionist Robert Milroy. The first day of 1863 was to be the date that Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation was set to take effect. It was expected that the announcement was to be made at the courthouse and the bells rung. Three of Winchester's female diarists recorded their thoughts that evening and on New Years Day.

Confederate supporter Laura Lee wrote on December 31, 1862,
"New Year's Eve. A sad and dismal time, weather dark and gloomy, and everyone more depressed than I have ever seen them. We are told that tomorrow emancipation is to be proclaimed from the Courthouse, with the ringing of bells, and that the soldiers are to be quartered on the citizens without distinction. They do not have wood from the country, but tear down the few fences that were left, and the outhouses and wooden buildings around the town. They have torn the [Winchester] Academy to pieces, and are now destroying the Market House. There seems to be no hope of relief from our dismay."

Mary Greenhow Lee was perhaps the town's most devoted Confederate woman. She wrote that evening,
"The excitment of this morning was caused by the Yankees firing at a mark; if the rumors of the day are correct, Milroy with his force is to be here to-night or to-morrow, it is said. They are to be quartered in the private houses...I believe the threat will be carried out & though the may not infest every house, no one can tell who will escape...It is said that bells are to be rung to-morrow, & the emancipation of the slaves, to be publicly announced. Each day brings new threats of atrocities."

Union supporter Julia Chase wrote on January 1st,
"Clear but cold today. Some prisoners brought in this morning. Father is still at Baltimore, we hope to see him soon. According to the President's Proclamation, all the slaves are to be freed from today. This will give great dissatisfaction to slaveholders but joy to the Negroes. I doubt whether they will be better off by their freedom."


The Shenandoah Valley Civil War Museum will be closed again today 12/17/20.


The Shenandoah Valley Civil War Museum will be closed today 12/16/20.


The Shenandoah Valley Civil War Museum will be closed for Thanksgiving Day 11/26/20. Have a safe and happy holiday!
-SVBF Staff

Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society

Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society

Our regular museum season will be ending this Saturday, October 31st. However, George Washington's Office and Stonewall Jackson's Headquarters will be open Sunday, November 1st from noon to 4:00 p.m.

Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District

Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District

The Skeleton of John Brown’s Son and the Winchester Medical College

The Winchester Medical College was founded by Winchester native Dr. Hugh H. McGuire in 1847 who later became a Confederate surgeon. His son, Dr. Hunter Holmes McGuire (bottom right), was a professor at the college and also served in the Confederate army as the medical director of the Stonewall Brigade and Stonewall Jackson’s physician. Medical colleges were still very primitive in the Civil War era and corpses for the students to examine were not easy to obtain…through legitimate means that is. So-called “resurrectionists” were tasked with the unsavory business of securing corpses that were unlikely to be missed.

In October of 1859, when news of John Brown’s raid reached Winchester, the medical college saw an opportunity to collect a casualty of the fighting. A few men from the college hopped on a train from Winchester to Harpers Ferry and brought back a body. When the body was searched, they found papers in the man’s pockets that strongly suggested that he was Owen Brown, one of John Brown’s sons. However, other accounts say that it was Oliver Brown or Watson Brown (bottom left). Supposedly the body was dissected, and the skeleton was kept at the college. They also robbed the graves of two of Brown’s African American supporters John Copeland and Shields Green.

After the Civil War began, the college became a hospital along with countless other buildings in Winchester. When Nathaniel Banks occupied Winchester in 1862, Union soldiers arrived who had heard the stories of the skeleton of Brown’s son. Dr. Jarvis Jackson Johnson, the surgeon of the 27th Indiana, searched the medical college and found a skeleton in the museum of the college. On May 16, 1862, the medical college was burned to the ground in an apparent act of arson. Winchester resident Mary Greenhow Lee wrote “The explanation of the burning of the college is that the skeleton of Oliver Brown was there…They buried in the yard what they supposed were his bones, but the genuine ones had been removed by Hunter McGuire, thus foiling their malicious designs.”

Exactly what happened is lost to history and muddled by legend. Whether or not the skeleton was ever there, if Hunter McGuire had actually removed it, or even who it was is not clear. Dr. Johnson took the skeleton found at the college, which he believed to be Watson Brown, back to Indiana with him. In 1882, it was returned to the Brown family and buried in North Elba, New York.

Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District

Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District

156 Years Ago Today
The Battle of Cedar Creek

Sheridan's victory at Cedar Creek broke the back of the Confederate army and ended effective Confederate resistance in the Shenandoah Valley for the remainder of the war. President Abraham Lincoln rode the momentum of Sheridan's victories in the Valley, along with Gen. William T. Sherman's successes in Georgia, to re-election. Cedar Creek was one of the two largest battles fought in the Shenandoah Valley.

Major Charles FarnsworthCharles Farnsworth was born on January 30, 1836 in Norwich, Connecticut. Farnsworth was a Major ...

Major Charles Farnsworth

Charles Farnsworth was born on January 30, 1836 in Norwich, Connecticut. Farnsworth was a Major in Company B of the 1st Connecticut Cavalry. After the Battle of Gettysburg in July of 1863, Lee's army was retreating south toward the Potomac River while Federal cavalry pursued them. On July 14, Farnsworth led a charge that overran the picket line of the 13th Virginia Cavalry near Halltown, West Virginia. However, Farnsworth was surrounded by the Confederates and shot off his horse. He then fought hand-to-hand with his sabre before being captured along with 24 of his men.

Farnsworth was severely wounded and, likely due to this, was taken to the Frederick County Courthouse in Winchester. While held on the second floor of the courthouse, which now houses the museum, Farnsworth left not only his name on the wall, but also a drawing meant to explain the circumstances of his capture.

In this graffiti we can clearly see a horse with a leg in the air behind it. Unfortunately, broken plaster obscures much of the area around the doodle but to the right of the leg there is a figure here. This figure appears to have its arm raised in the air and is holding a sabre. This strongly suggests that the graffiti is Major Farnsworth. Two other features that I argue are meant to identify him are the shape by his head which is possibly an epaulet to mark his rank, and I believe the lines below the head were meant to be Farnsworth's beard.

Farnsworth was paroled on March 14, 1864 and resigned from the army due to poor health. He died on April 15, 1867 and is buried in Norwich, Connecticut.

Stonewall Jackson House

Stonewall Jackson House

Yes! The House is open again! Stop by, Thursdays - Mondays for our NEW self-guided tours!

Civil War Trails, Inc.

Civil War Trails, Inc.

Fall is THE best time for a road trip especially when you...

Visit Virginia's Shenandoah Valley for the colors, the hiking, the battlefields, & the local beer. 🍁🥾📯🍺

We've found a partial box of the (older) Shenandoah Valley brochures. Request one today before they are gone (again)!


Prisoner of War - Pvt. John F. RichardsJohn Richards was born in New Hampshire in 1840. Census records show that he work...

Prisoner of War - Pvt. John F. Richards

John Richards was born in New Hampshire in 1840. Census records show that he worked as a blacksmith in Westford, Massachusetts at the onset of the war. On July 2nd, 1861, he enlisted as a Private in Capt. King’s Company (subsequently Company C) of the 16th Massachusetts Infantry. Richards was captured on August 29, 1862 during the Second Battle of Manassas. He was held prisoner in Richmond and was eventually exchanged. He returned to duty on December 13, 1862.

His service record for July and August of 1863 states that on July 19 he fell behind on the march and was presumed to have deserted. In actuality, he fell behind and was captured in Loudon County, Virginia on July 20. Richards was sent to Winchester, Virginia and briefly confined in the courthouse. Like so many other prisoners held here, he left his name on the museum’s wall which is still visible today.

On July 28, 1863 he was transferred to Belle Island Prison in Richmond. He was admitted to a hospital in Richmond on October 12 and died the following day from pneumonia. He is buried in the Richmond National Cemetery. It wasn’t until after the war that his legacy as a deserter was corrected. A notation in his service record dated September 28, 1887 states the truth about his capture and death.

Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District

Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District

156 years ago today, the Third Battle of Winchester was fought here on these grounds. Over 54,000 men fought here resulting in over 8,000 casualties making it the largest and costliest battle fought in the Shenandoah Valley. In this video, our park ranger, Jay Richardson, gives a brief overview of the battle from different locations at Third Winchester Battlefield Park.

Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District

Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District

It is with great sadness that we confirm the passing of Edwin C. Bearss at the age of 97. War hero, Chief Historian Emeritus of the National Park Service, and preservation warrior. Rest well dear friend - the tens of thousands of preserved battlefield acres across this country will forever be part of your legacy.

Our artifacts from the museum's collection are moving into their new home here at the James R. Wilkins Winchester Battle...

Our artifacts from the museum's collection are moving into their new home here at the James R. Wilkins Winchester Battlefields Visitor Center! This display features the military escutcheon for Brevet Brigadier General Frank Peck of the 12th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry. Peck was mortally wounded by a shell fragment at the Third Battle of Winchester. He was posthumously brevetted Brigadier General on July 24, 1868.

At approximately 5 P.M. on September 19, 1864, the final, chaotic stages of the Third Battle of Winchester engulfed the ...

At approximately 5 P.M. on September 19, 1864, the final, chaotic stages of the Third Battle of Winchester engulfed the downtown area. After a day of fierce combat east and north of the city, Confederate Gen. Jubal Early’s outnumbered men were flanked, broken, and forced to retreat through the streets with Union Gen. Philip Sheridan's army in hot pursuit.

Sketch artist James Taylor described the “dramatic spectacle” of the “whirling mass of Gray madly pouring through the streets of Winchester amid shells shrieking and moaning their death cry.” Confederate officers attempted to hold back the Federals—and their own fleeing troops.

Gen. Stephen Ramseur established defensive positions in Mount Hebron Cemetery. Resident Mary Greenhow Lee recalled that Confederate Gen. John Gordon "seized a flag & called to the running soldiers to rally & follow him. We shouted & cheered & implored the men to follow their leader, but to little purpose." Even Gordon's wife, Fanny tried to stem the tide. “[She} rallied a party of near two hundred and sent them back to the field [but] the Yankee cavalry made a charge on this mob [and] went right through them,” wrote Louisiana Capt. George Ring.

“I never ran so fast in all my life [and] I had good company,” admitted Sgt. Sam Collier of the 2nd North Carolina. Pvt. Richard Waldrop of the 21st Virginia wrote that, “The road was filled with fugitives.” As the day ended combatant George Peyton said that he “could see Yanks by the thousands marching towards town, while cheer upon cheer rent the air.” That night, Sheridan's chief of staff Col. James Forsyth reported that “we just sent them a whirling through Winchester.” Control of the city had passed permanently into Union hands.

James Taylor sketch of Confederate retreat through Winchester (Courtesy of The Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, Ohio)

Remains of an 1842 Springfield MusketThe remains of this musket were recovered from an 1864 Confederate camp near Kernst...

Remains of an 1842 Springfield Musket

The remains of this musket were recovered from an 1864 Confederate camp near Kernstown, Virginia (Courtesy of Harry Ridgeway). It is a model 1842 smoothbore Springfield and was manufactured in 1858 based on the stamp on the barrel. This musket was discarded by a soldier likely due to wear or poor manufacturing. By the summer of 1864, the state of the Confederacy was very dire and desperate soldiers were using and recycling whatever materials that were available. While the remains have suffered greatly from exposure, the small holes in the barrel cannot be explained by weathering. It is possible the barrel failed because of wear, poor manufacturing, and the accumulation as black powder residue known as fouling. Smoothbore muskets were very vulnerable to fouling which could prevent a fired bullet from exiting the barrel and the buildup of pressure from the firing of the gun could cause the barrel to fail. This would render the weapon useless.

This artifact is one of several from the Shenandoah Valley Civil War Museum’s collection that will soon be featured on display at the James R. Wilkins Winchester Battlefields Visitors Center.

Gettysburg National Military Park

We recently had the honor of partnering with Gettysburg National Military Park to share the stories of the six Union officers who were captured after the Battle of Gettysburg and held prisoner at the Frederick County Courthouse.

For today's #EchoesofCampaign, join us in Winchester, Virginia. Here we'll explore the historic courthouse, now a museum, and examine graffiti left behind by soldiers - a tanglible link to our past.

Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District Shenandoah Valley Civil War Museum Civil War Trails, Inc. Winchester-Frederick County Convention & Visitors Bureau

#civilwartrails #openairmuseum #RoadsFromGettysburg

Mess Kit and Socket BayonetWhy highlight these items together you may ask? Well, these utensils and the bayonet were ver...

Mess Kit and Socket Bayonet

Why highlight these items together you may ask? Well, these utensils and the bayonet were very essential camp tools. The utensils are standard issue iron items (the knife and fork had full tang, wooden handles) that soldiers carried in their haversacks along with their rations. U.S. Grant wrote in his memoir that, "In addition to the supplies transported by boat, the men were to carry forty rounds of ammunition in the cartridge-boxes and four days' rations in haversacks.” Very often, the only sustenance that men had was hard tack and coffee. But for times when they were able to eat a more decent meal, a simple mess kit like this was very nice to have.

While men were in camps during the war, a variety of items were repurposed as tools. Tin canteens, such as the one we highlighted in an earlier post, could be split apart and the halves used as plates. A bayonet was another such item. In fact, bayonets were very rarely used as combat weapons. However, they could be used for digging or as a tent stake for instance. The one shown here is an 1855 Springfield socket bayonet. One of the most common rationed food items was salted pork. Excess fat from the pork could be saved. If you were fortunate enough to have some cornmeal you could make a very stiff batter with the fat and cook it using a bayonet as a skewer. The socket attachment even makes for a very ergonomic handle. -Recovered from the Third Winchester Battlefield by Harry Ridgeway

The Taylor Hotel was one of the most significant buildings in Winchester during the Civil War. It was built in 1847 by B...

The Taylor Hotel was one of the most significant buildings in Winchester during the Civil War. It was built in 1847 by Bushrod Taylor during major improvements to the Valley Turnpike (present day Rt. 11 and I-81) and only seven years after the construction of the Frederick County Courthouse half a block southeast. Taylor was a successful farmer in Clarke County, Virginia and later bought the orignial McGuire Tavern in 1830. On October 21, 1846 the McGuire Tavern was destroyed by fire and rebuilt the following year as the three-story, brick, colonnaded structure that stood during the Civil War. Taylor owned around 24 slaves at the time and it's possible they were involved in the construction. Historian Ann McCleary wrote that this type of architecture in the Shenandoah Valley is evidence of “the growing sophistication and thriving economy of these turnpike towns in the early to mid-nineteenth century...” Bushrod Taylor died from an infection in July 1847 shortly after the building was completed and was buried in Mount Hebron Cemetery. In 1861, Stonewall Jackson used the hotel as a temporary headquarters. Throughout the war it was one of the numerous buildings in Winchester that was used as a hospital by both sides. After the Battle of Antietam, the Taylor Hotel was packed with so many wounded soldiers that they lined the street. The hotel was featured in the famous sketch by James E. Taylor (no relation) depicting the Confederate retreat down Loudon Street during the Third Battle of Winchester on September 19, 1864. He alliteratively described the scene as "the Rebels whirling through Winchester"

Source: Intensive Level Documentation of the Taylor Hotel by Anne Stuart Beckett, Architectural Historian


20 N Loudoun St
Winchester, VA

Opening Hours

Monday 10:00 - 17:00
Tuesday 10:00 - 17:00
Wednesday 10:00 - 17:00
Thursday 10:00 - 17:00
Friday 10:00 - 17:00
Saturday 10:00 - 17:00
Sunday 13:00 - 17:00


(540) 542-1145



Be the first to know and let us send you an email when Shenandoah Valley Civil War Museum posts news and promotions. Your email address will not be used for any other purpose, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

Contact The Museum

Send a message to Shenandoah Valley Civil War Museum:



About the Museum

The Shenandoah Valley Civil War Museum is located in the historic Frederick County Courthouse; a Greek Revival courthouse built in 1840. During the Civil War, it was used by Union and Confederate forces as a hospital, a prison, and a barracks. Soldiers from both sides wrote their names and other graffiti on the walls including a curse to Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The first floor is free to the public and features the preserved 1840 courtroom as well as a souvenir shop and book store. The second floor is by admission and features the graffiti walls along with a nationally recognized collection of over 3,000 Civil War artifacts that illustrate the common life of a soldier.


I visited the museum last week and fund the experience enjoyable and educational. Thank you. I hope you will not mind if I point out two things that bothered me. First, there's the monument to local Confederate soldiers out front. I'm not a fan of Confederate monuments, most of which were erected during various eras of white racist backlash as emblems of white supremacy. I have some sympathy for the desire to "honor" local citizens who went to war, but because the statute stands in such a prominent public place it takes on other meanings and makes it hard to separate that from honoring the Confederacy itself. I would suggest moving the statue indoors where you could provide a bit more context, including information on when the monument was erected and by whom. Second, I don't recall seeing anything about slavery in the museum itself. A war is not just a series of battles. It's hard to tell the story of a war without mentioning the cause of the war. There are displays of how the war affected local citizens and vice versa, but I didn't notice anything about the enslaved population. How many slaves lived in the valley at the time? How did the war affect them? Did they play a role in the war? Did the Emancipation Proclamation change any of that? This would seem to be a central part of the story. I hope you will consider adding such a display.
Can someone tell me who would be considered the expert with the most knowledge of the life of Brigadier General James Shields?
Thank you to Terry Heder, Jay Richardson, & the presenters for giving such an awesome live tour & discussion through Google Meet to our Admiral Byrd Middle School students. They loved seeing & hearing about the uniforms, weapons, artifacts, & bell tower. Such a treasure to have this here in Winchester!
Missing the Shenandoah Valley Civil War Museum today! Love that place! Missing the beautiful historic Bell House and the historic city of Winchester!
Fun at the SVCW Museum!
Folks today having fun at the Shenandoah Valley Civil War Museum in the Old Courthouse! They portrayed the judge and lawyers! Took photos and had a good time! Toured the Civil War Museum and had fun learning Winchester history!
The museum is open today Monday, December 24th until 3pm. We will be closed on Chrismas Day and the day after. We will be open Thursday, December 27th - Saturday,December 29th 10am-5pm. We will be closed on December 30th - Jan. 1 We will reopen on Jan. 2, 2019 10am-5pm. Hours are subject to change during the off season. Please call ahead 540-542-1145 to confirm hours. Happy Holidays!
Someone stole Civil War revolvers, cartridge box and other artifacts, leaving a Virginia battlefield group mad as hell about it.