Category Archives: Sesquicentennial

Fighting for Freedom: Leesburg’s newest Civil War marker, and first for the African-American contribution

Earlier this week, the Civil War Trails marker team installed this marker at Mt. Zion Cemetery in Leesburg, Virginia:

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The full text and location details are up at HMDB (of course!).  The entry also has photos of four veterans’ tombstones mentioned in the marker text.  There will be a dedication ceremony for this marker on September 6, details for I’ll post at a later date.

This marker is the fulfillment of a project I took up several years back. In 2011, Kristen Umstattd, Leesburg’s Mayor, asked if there were plans to highlight the experience of Leesburg’s African-American community as part of the sesquicentennial.  At the time I was not a member of the Loudoun County Sesquicentennial Committee, nor did I know of a “story” which we might highlight.  But the project was there.

When I joined the sesquicentennial committee in mid-2012, I went head-on for two marker projects – Edwards Ferry (which had my priority of effort due to timing considerations) and a USCT marker of some form.  Still, I didn’t have the “story” to serve as the grounding for that second project.  About the same time that Emanuel Dabney asked “…how have you incorporated their stories in your interpretation?” a news item provided the story I’d been looking for.  And not just “a” story, but a “great story” that fit into history of the community.  With that, I made the formal proposal to the committee for a marker at Mt. Zion Cemetery (that happening somewhat concurrently with the addition of Kevin Grigsby, who’s research was highlighted in that news story, in the committee).

Through the work of the committee as a whole, we’ve matured that project to a focal point – a dedication scheduled for the afternoon of September 6.  There are some important parts of that dedication – that will make this a really “big thing” – that I cannot relate at this point.  Suffice to say, this will be a good event to attend.  From our estimates, this may feature the largest attendance of any of the 150th marker dedications.

And let that sink in for a moment.  The sesquicentennial has occurred in a broad spectrum of colors.  There’s a lot more on the stage than was the case fifty years ago.  I think that is the best possible legacy we can hand over to those who will follow.  This marker at Mt. Zion Cemetery will be there long after the 150ths have faded from the headlines.  Tourists will see that “red star” on their tour maps and mentioned at travel information kiosks.  In short, it will serve a purpose.  And I do hope that we are able, with time and resources, to add more markers for the USCT veterans from Loudoun (see the map on the marker itself, as we have ample reason to add more interpretation).

One of my professors impressed upon me that good history is about “Three Ps” as he put them – People, Place, and Perspective.  With that marker, we have those three Ps.  And more importantly, a place where people can consider that perspective.

Again, please mark your calendars for September 6.  If you are in the area, you’ll want to attend this dedication, trust me!

Lessons for the learning at Rutherford’s Farm

Yesterday I attended the Rutherford’s Farm 150th tour, one of the Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park’s “150 Years Ago… On This Day” programs highlighting the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaigns.  This was, as with the Cool Spring tour on Friday, a convenient early evening two-hour tour.  After all, the battle was not that large – though it was significant in the scope of the campaign which followed.

The 150th tour was fairly well attended.  Not a large gathering, as seen at some other events.  But considering the subject, a few dozen attendees is about what one would expect.  Those of us attending were treated to a detailed discussion of the battle and a hands-on, in the ranks demonstration of tactical movements.  And this was an important aspect of the battle, as the Federal troops had to move from column to battle line at a critical juncture of the engagement.  Good for us to understand why “column of fours” was the march order and what it took to transform from that into a line of battle.

We were also treated to an object lesson in battlefield preservation… though probably not the type we preservationists would like to see.  The heart of the battlefield at Rutherford’s Farm is gone.  Well to be accurate, it is still there, but not in the sense of being an interpretable battlefield.  It’s a parking lot.

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There is a pull off beside the old turnpike (now US Highway 11, and a divided highway at that point).  There are some waysides and state markers.  But there’s just nothing that visitors might point to with respect to the battlefield.

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I tweeted, half-joking, that the 14th West Virginia rolled up the Confederate flanks, fighting through the woods where Target now stands.

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I thought about taking a photo from inside the store. But thought better of it.   (And I do wonder why all of the ghosts which allegedly haunt so many Civil War battlefields are at peace with a store selling everything from lingerie to alcoholic beverages.   Then again, maybe that’s proof contrary to the paranormal activity premise….)

What little “green” appears in the photos is not long to remain green.

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As the curb suggests, plans call for another store in this area.  Construction is ongoing to the south side of the road, which will completely blot out the heart of this battlefield.

Honestly, we must rate Rutherford’s Farm as a lost battlefield… a preservation failure.  It was just not to be.  The development potential of that ground, being so close to an interstate and bisected by a major highway, was too great for any idea of preservation to hold back the bulldozers.  And this happened in recent memory, as this photo I took in 2007 documents:

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I think, as related several times before, that we are the last generation which will even have the option to preserve Civil War (and other war’s) battlefields here in the United States.  The pace of development and practices of land use are simply forces too great for these sites to remain fallow if unprotected.  My son’s generation will be far more engaged over “view sheds” and defining complementary activity near battlefields.  They won’t have battlefields left to preserve.

We here at the 150ths of these events might look back at earlier times when the battlefields were intact.  That’s because we can, in many cases, actually remember what the fields looked like.  Fifty years from now, Civil War Bicentennialists will look back with envy upon us sesquicentennialists who walked some of these sites.  And they won’t have a memory of Rutherford’s Ford … or Rappahannock Station … or Chantilly… before the development.

“You can’t save it all” will be the response. But should that deter us from, fighting the good fight, saving all that we can?

 

Big crowd for Cool Spring 150th

Cool Spring was a small battle in the middle of a season of war.  But the July 18, 1864 engagement was the largest fought in Clarke County, Virginia (in terms of casualties).  Just one of a string of fights in the Shenandoah that summer, coming as General Jubal Early withdrew from his “scare” on Washington. All told, around 13,000 troops engaged.  The result was a Confederate victory and just over 800 casualties.

But it was deserving of a sesquicentennial observance.  Yesterday afternoon I drove over the Blue Ridge for Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park’s “150 Years Ago … On This Day” program at Cool Spring.  Nothing better than a quick Friday afternoon tour of a battlefield.  Icing on the cake was a timing coinciding, nearly to the hour and minute, to events 150 years in the past.

I expected, this being a smaller event of the war, the attendance would be somewhat smaller than other 150ths I’ve attended this season.  Not so.  At the start point, on the Cool Spring Farm and Holy Cross Abby, parking was at a premium.  And the crowd was much bigger than I expected.

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Ranger Shannon and Jonathan Noyalas were our guides for the tour.

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The battle straddles the Shenandoah River, so after an overview orientation, we walked across the Abby grounds to overlook the site where most of the fighting took place.

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The site of the battle on the west side of the river is still much the same as 150 years ago.

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After that, we drove over to the east side of the river to Shenandoah University’s Shenandoah River Campus.

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Here we took stopped down at the river for a view of Island Ford, and discussed the closing actions of the battle and aftermath.

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This portion of the battlefield was only recently transferred from golf course to campus.  Now it serves a different purpose – as a “hands on” classroom for environmental studies.  The long range plan calls for continued rehabilitation towards a landscape closer to what it was in the 1860s.  Not only is this portion of the battlefield now preserved, but it will serve as a laboratory for those learning how to work the environmental aspects of preservation at other locations.

The site is open for visitors and boasts a couple of Civil War Trails markers:

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I got in a few tweets and Facebook posts while out.  What impressed me the most was the crowd.  Not some 20-30 folks.  Easily over 100.  Not overwhelming, but plenty of evidence that the “big” events this season have not played out us sesquicentennialists.

Be sure to follow Cedar Creek and Bell Grove National Historical Park on their Facebook Page.  They have several of these “150 Years Ago … On This Day” tours scheduled.  Next up… Rutherford’s Farm… beyond the parking lot!