Closeup view of the Star Fort wayside marker

Closeup view of the Star Fort wayside marker in Winchester, Virginia

Star Fort

Guardian of Winchester


Three times during the Civil War, Star Fort played a major role in the defense of Winchester. Union Gen. Robert H. Milroy’s troops began constructing the fort in January 1863 on the site of artillery emplacements Confederate Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s men had built in 1861. Milroy, a fervent abolitionist, used stone from the nearby home of U.S. Senator James Mason, author of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act. Star Fort commanded the Martinsville Turnpike and the Pughtown Road.


In June 1863, Gen. Robert E. Lee led the Army of Northern Virginia here in his second invasion of the North. On June 14, in the Second Battle of Winchester, Confederate Gen. Richard S. Ewell’s corps spearheaded Lee’s advance, forcing Milroy into the Winchester forts. Gen. Jubal A. Early’s division captured West Fort and shelled Star Fort, which fired in return. “The guns in the Star Fort greeted them,” wrote one of Milroy’s soldiers, “with shell after shell planted among them with astonishing precision.” Milroy withdrew that night. Most of his men surrendered at Stephenson’s Depot the next day, then were held temporarily at Star Fort. A year later, on July 24, 1864, Union Gen. George Cook fought a delaying action here while retreating north after the Second Battle of Kernstown.


Star Fort figured prominently in the Third Battle of Winchester on September 19, 1864, when detachments of Early’s cavalry and horse artillery held it to guard his army’s left flank. Union Col. James M. Schoonmaker’s cavalry brigade twice charged the fort, then dismounted and stormed it. Schoonmaker received the Medal of Honor for his actions.


Captions of photos (l to r):

Gen. Robert H. Milroy, Gen. Jubal A. Early and Col. James M. Schoonmaker, all courtesy Library of Congress.

About the Author • ©2007-2014 Steve Hawks