Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A Trip to Winchester

     Living in Virginia has advantages; one such being that nearly everyplace is historic.  Saturday I went with family to see my nephew march with the West Allegheny [Pennsylvania] Band in the Winchester Apple Blossom Festival Parade.

     This was my first opportunity to stop in the town.  The ground we staked out on the parade route was on Cork Street directly across from historic Loudon Street, which sported a large bold  sign over the intersection  that read ‘Old Town Winchester.’  Its now a pedestrian arcade.  The  old buildings had  signs that dated them back to the early 1800’s.  I asked one of the nearby vendors selling hamburgers if the Old Courthouse was nearby.  She was not from the area, but recalled seeing it listed on her gps  when she drove to work that morning.  It was about a block and 1/2 over that way, she said pointing.

      In March, 1862, the 13th Massachusetts Volunteers marched into Winchester; — among the first ‘Yankees’ to occupy the town, and the first of many times the town would change hands during the war.

Charles Davis, Jr. wrote in the regiment’s history, “Three Years in the Army,”:

     “We had hardly entered the main street of the town when General Jackson and Colonel Ashby were discovered on horseback, in front of the Taylor House, waving an adieu with their hats.  An order was immediately given to fire, but we were not quick enough to do them harm or retard their flight.  This was a daring thing to do, though common enough with such men as Jackson and Ashby.

     “We were marched down the main street, the band playing patriotic airs, while the people scanned our appearance to see what a Yankee looked like.  Some who were prepared to scoff could get no farther than “How fat they are!”

    “..The regiment was detailed as provost guard of the town, and proceeded at once to secure quarters in the unoccupied buildings.

     “…Two of the companies were quartered in the hall in the court-house.”

     The 13th Massachusetts regiment had its fair share of hubris.  Four days after arriving,  Chaplain Noah Gaylord “preached a rattling sermon on, "The Evils of Secession," in front of the court-house.  Notice having been given out to the town-people that he was to preach, advantage was taken by some of them to be present and listen to a  “Yankee” preacher.

     A soldier named Frank, in Co. K of the 13th Mass, described the sermon in a letter home, published in the local newspaper,  the ’Westboro’ Transcript.’

“Since writing the above we have attended services. They were held in the square in front of the court-house.  

There was a large assemblage of citizens and soldiers beside our own regt.  I don’t know what the people thought of Mr. Gaylord, for he did give it to the rebel Virginians good.  I saw some awful long looking faces, and also some smiling ones.  He told the citizens that here was a sample of the mudsills of the North.  A sample of the soldiers that were a coming South, to burn, destroy property, ravish their women, commit murder, and such depredations, as the Southern press has led the people to believe.  He asked the people if they had seen any indications of such actions or treatment amongst the Union troops since they had been here, &c.

Mr. Gaylord was in all his glory as he stood on the court-house steps addressing the people.  I never saw him when he was so eloquent.  I think he must have forgot it was the Sabbath when he spoke of Senator Mason.  He called him a traitor and everything but what was good.  He told his hearers that he had draggooned the people of Virginia into this rebellion, and it was such as he, and his kind, that had got the whole South drawn in.  There was something novel about our services, considering the time, place and circumstances.  I think that Mr. Gaylord is the first chaplain that has had an opportunity of speaking to the Virginians in such a hot-bed of rebeldom, and so large a town as this. “

     History shows, Chaplain Gaylord’s sermon made little impression on the citizens of Winchester.

     Back to the parade…

    There was a half hour before the Apple Blossom Festival parade was to start, so with my sister-in-law, we started down the arcade in search of the historic court-house.  Like any place, local residents are probably not much impressed with familiar land-marks they see frequently in their home town.   Such must be true of the court-house, amidst the ‘touristy attractions’ of local shops and restaurants.  But for me, the Chaplain’s sermon always loomed large, among the many memorable and humorous incidents in the history of the 13th Massachusetts Volunteers.

     Because of the hamburger vendor’s instructions we circumvented the area, not knowing that a short stroll directly down Loudon would get us to our destination.  Coming around from the back  made the surprise that much greater for me when we found it.  My sister-in-law prompted me to have a picture taken on the steps.

     So, here I am in front of the  historic Winchester Court-House, now a Civil War museum.  I refrained from giving any sermons however, although the subject of "How the 13th Massachusetts Won the Civil War For the Union,” did come to mind.   …Perhaps another day.

     Right down the street I spotted the unmistakable architecture of the  Taylor House, with its imposing 3 story columns rising up from the street.  There were amusing stories about this place too.  But it was time to get back for the parade.

     It turned out to be a long wait for the West Allegheny Marching Band.  Two hours passed and there was still no evidence of their approach.   The afternoon waned and  a chill descended upon the parade watchers, for it had been a wet and rainy day. I went in search of coffee to warm ourselves, my wife and I.   I was directed across the street to a new bakery that served it.  And, of course, while I was inside, waiting for my order, the West Allegheny Marching Band went marching past the big bay window of the store front facing Cork Street.

     We are proud of you Robby!