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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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 email@example.com and enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.