Mainer offers tours highlighting Jackson’s Valley Campaign

Peter Dalton, a Civil War author from Northport, operates Shenandoah Civil War Tours, specializing in two- and three-day tours covering the 1862 Valley Campaign waged by Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and his Confederate troops. In this photo, Dalton stands beside his car, parked across from the Cross Keys Cemetery, part of the Cross Keys battlefield. (Brian F. Swartz Photos)

Civil War buffs traveling with Shenandoah Civil War Tours can glimpse the 1862 Valley Campaign through the eyes of Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, courtesy of Peter Dalton of Northport.

Passionate about the Civil War since he was in sixth grade in Belfast, Peter knows the Shenandoah Valley intimately, and he shares battle details and wartime stories with tour participants. Now in his fifth year of offering tours, Peter has seen business increase every year.

While campaigning in the Shenandoah Valley in spring 1862, Stonewall Jackson and his men traveled along the Valley Pike at Rudes Hill. The view is to the north or “down the Valley.” During a stop at this site, tour guide Peter Dalton explained the hill’s importance during part of the 1862 Valley Campaign.

Peter and his wife, Cyndi, had visited the Shenandoah Valley for many years. They visited battlefields throughout the Valley, and he took friends from Maine and Virginia “on unofficial tours of the ’62 and ’64 campaigns,” Gettysburg, and the Peninsula Campaign.

“We were coming at least twice a year and staying at least a week at a time,” Peter said. The Daltons bought a home in Bayse, “the closest place we could stay to Washington, D.C. in a time share.”

An information placard set near the West View United Church indicates where Jackson and his men passed by on the Parkersburg Pike while en route to attack Union troops at McDowell.

Not until one particular fall did he realize that “there is a strong Maine connection to the Shenandoah Valley. I saw my first sign that had the 1st Maine Cavalry on it” outside an inn alongside Route 11 (the Valley Pike) in Middletown, and “I found out about the ’62 connection with the 1st Maine Cavalry and the 10th Maine Infantry.”

Tour guide Peter Dalton (right) and David Sulin, a Civil War buff and re-enactor from Rockport, read an information placard pertaining to the spring 1862 Battle of McDowell. On this day, Dalton’s tour took Sulin and Brian Swartz on a warm hike up Sitlington Hill, occupied by Confederate troops as the battle unfolded.

Peter soon developed an interest in Maine’s involvement in the Valley’s myriad fights. Another time after he stopped to read the Middletown sign again, “Cyndi said, ‘I’ve seen these signs enough’” and then suggested that Peter “take some other people” on paying tours.

A computer specialist, Peter promptly created a website promoting his new business, Shenandoah Civil War Tours. He booked two tours the next year, one in spring (a beautiful time in the Valley), the other in the fall (ditto).

Armies romped up and down the Valley until late 1864, but Peter focuses on the 1862 campaign waged by Jackson and his Confederate troops. “I know it best,” Peter said, referring to that famous campaign, and “Thomas Jackson was always kind of my hero when I was growing up.”

Jackson’s Valley Campaign “became my passion,” said Peter, who has read multiple books and articles about the campaign.

Shenandoah Civil War Tours takes participants to many lesser-known sites, such as the Confederate cemetery in Mount Jackson.

Peter developed two- and three-day tours, each covering core battles affiliated with the 1862 campaign that saw Jackson and his hard-marching troops outfight three Federal armies. According to Peter, the three-day tour “is more comprehensive” and takes participants deep into the Allegheny Mountains to visit McDowell, where Jackson defeated Union troops on May 8, 1862.

During the Battle of Port Republic (the last fight of the 1862 Valley Campaign), Union and Confederate troops engaged in savage combat at this now peaceful site called The Coaling. This is a “must” stop on tours offered by Peter Dalton and his Shenandoah Civil War Tours.

Tours cover terrain and venture to places unfamiliar with many Civil War buffs visiting the Valley. The Parkersburg Turnpike along which Jackson marched his men while en route to McDowell has remained a gravel road; careful research led Dalton to “discover” this historical road a few years ago.

“I’ve tried to make the tours as historically accurate as possible by following the original routes,” such as the Parkersburg Turnpike, he said.

Tours encompass driving and walking, especially at the sites where the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation has developed hiking trails. The SVBF has placed information placards at some battlefields, and Peter’s tours include stops at different monuments, too.

Brooding beneath springtime clouds, Massanutten Mountain looms over the lower Shenandoah Valley today as the elongated mountain did in spring 1862. People traveling with Shenandoah Civil War Tours see Massanutten from many angles.

He details what happened at each battlefield. Although Jackson won his campaign, he made mistakes, as Peter acknowledges. “Jackson isn’t always brilliant” as he maneuvered back and forth and fought the three converging Union armies, Peter said. “He’s learning the art of war; he learned from his mistakes.”

Given the Valley’s often rugged terrain, “I usually take my vehicle or rent a vehicle,” Peter says. “I can go places buses can’t go, so I like to keep the groups small.”
Peter donates all tour profits to the SVBF, which is raising funds to erect a Maine monument at the Third Winchester battlefield in the lower Valley.

For more information, email jacksonsvc1862@gmail.com, call 1-540-325-0787, or log onto www.shenandoahcivilwartours.com.

Disclaimer: Brian Swartz participated in a tour offered by Peter Dalton’s Shenandoah Civil War Tours. Swartz can be reached at visionsofmaine@tds.net and enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.

Brian Swartz

About Brian Swartz

Welcome to "Maine at War," the blog about the roles played by Maine and her sons and daughters in the Civil War. I am a Civil War buff and a newspaper editor recently retired from the Bangor Daily News. Maine sent hero upon hero — soldiers, nurses, sailors, chaplains, physicians — south to preserve their country in the 1860s. “Maine at War” introduces these heroes and heroines, who, for the most part, upheld the state's honor during that terrible conflict. We tour the battlefields where they fought, and we learn about the Civil War by focusing on Maine’s involvement with it. Be prepared: As I discover to this very day, the facts taught in American classrooms don’t always jibe with Civil War reality. I can be reached at visionsofmaine@tds.net.