If you blink, you’ll miss the turn-off and the sign for “Chrisman Hollow Road” at the very top of New Market Gap in Massanutten Mountain in the Virginian Shenandoah Valley. But if you make the turn to the north and wind your way along the narrow, paved road, you’ll reach several trailheads at the top of the hill.
Massanutten Mountain Storybook Trail, with a clearly marked parking area and starting point, is a great path to see a spectacular view of the Luray Valley. The trail is about a quarter-mile one way, and it’s paved—making it easy and accessible for walking, strollers, or wheelchairs. There are unofficial trails that branch off the main path for the more adventurous to explore.
A couple of weekends ago I was in New Market to film some video clips before the cicadas made their predicted appearances and on the way back had some time to finally explore this short trail that had been on my Shenandoah Valley bucket list. The signage along the trail is about the geology and floral and fauna of the area, so you’ll have to take the history with you in a book or in your mind as you wander to the overlook and explore the view.
How is this relevant to the Civil War? Luray Valley lies between Massanutten Valley to the west and the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east and is part of the larger, encompassing Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Massanutten Mountain spans north-south from Strasburg to Harrisonburg. During the 1860’s conflict, armies of both sides used the Luray Valley in multiple campaigns to maneuver and get to their enemy’s flank.
As I stood at the overlook and studied the smaller valley stretching away from the mountain and New Market Gap, the peaceful scene contrasted with the irregular and destructive warfare that had played out on that landscape over a century and a half ago.
For example, this excerpt appeared in northern newspapers in October 1864 and corroborated by Colonel William Henry Powell’s reports in the Official Records.
The Herald correspondent gives the following particulars of Col. Powell’s cavalry raid in the Luray Valley:
Their first adventure was with a guerrilla rendezvous, where they surprised the guard and captured the army wagons. The stores captured were valued at $7000. At Luray all the barns were destroyed, and while in the act a Union soldier was seized by citizens and murdered by cutting his throat. Subsequently two of Mosby’s men were captured and shot to death in retaliation. The same day a [Confederate] Government tannery was destroyed, in which was $85,000 worth of leather, and $300 worth of stock was seized. From Newmarket to Woodville the country was laid waste, as also in the circuit to Madison Court House and Little Washington, back to Luray. Thence the command proceeded to Front Royal, where all the barns for four miles and their contents were destroyed.
On the route Col. Powell heard that McCausland, with cavalry, was near, and he gave chase, but being encumbered with a heavy train, could not overtake him.
At Sandy Hook the fine residence and barns of Jas. Chancellor, one of Mosby’s guerrillas, were destroyed. Chancellor had murdered a Union soldier a few days previous.
The result of the expedition was the capture of 6,500 head of cattle, 500 horses, the destruction of 32 flouring mills, 30 distilleries, 4 blast furnaces and upwards of 50 barns.[i]
The community of Luray rests directly ahead (east) in the view from the overlook. That’s where those barns were burned and civilians murdered a Yankee. Was it the cool evening air or the memories of something else lingering in the stories of the land that made me shiver?
Massanutten Mountain Storybook Trail
Open Sunrise to Sunset
Coordinates for trailhead/parking: 38.653242493067815, -78.60320862164613
[i] Daily Ohio Statesman (Columbus, Ohio)21 Oct 1864, Fri Page 3 (Accessed at Newspapers.com on 6/3/21)