The Battle of Third Winchester (or Battle of Opequon) was fought in Winchester, Virginia on September 19, 1864 between Confederate Lt. Gen. Jubal Early’s Army of the Valley and Union Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan’s Army of the Shenandoah in the American Civil War. The battle resulted in approximately 8,600 total casualties.
Like other battlefields in the Shenandoah Valley, the Third Winchester battlefield is a result of piecemeal purchases of private property, spurred by donations from preservationists. The Civil War Trust has preserved 222 acres of the 567-acre battlefield. The most recent acquisition was made in 2009 by the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation.
Third Winchester was the largest Civil War battle, in terms of importance and number of troops engaged, in the Shenandoah Valley. 40,000 Union soldiers fought 10–12,000 Confederates, with predictable results. The Union soldiers, however, were inexperienced and fighting Jubal Early’s veteran divisions. Despite losing the battle, the Confederates inflicted a disproportionate number of casualties.
During the Civil War, it was considered suicidal for mounted cavalry to directly engage infantry, but at this battle, Brig. Gen. Wesley Merritt’s cavalry division broke Early’s defensive line with a classic Napoleonic cavalry charge.
This battle is also notable because Col. George Patton, grandfather of Gen. George Patton, commanded a brigade in Early’s army. He was mortally wounded by a shell fragment as his men withdrew under relentless assault by Union cavalry.
A small museum and visitors center is located in a century-old house at 541 Redbud Road outside Winchester, Virginia. It opened in 2015 and its hours of operation are Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Third Winchester Battlefield is open year-round and features a self-guided, 5-mile walking and biking trail.