Category Archives: Sesquicentennial

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.


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.


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


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.


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:

Winchester 14 Sept 001

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.

CoolSpring 166

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

CoolSpring 167

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.

CoolSpring 169

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

CoolSpring 172

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

CoolSpring 184

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

CoolSpring 189

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:

CoolSpring 152

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!


July: Terror on the Border – Chambersburg Civil War Seminars and Tours

Since I’m mentioning Civil War events for this summer, let me throw in one more.  The Chambersburg Civil War Seminars and Tours hosts another of their excellent programs in July.  From their website:

This Civil War tour will feature Ed Bearss, Jeffry Wert, Richard Sommers, Ted Alexander and others for this action-packed seminar.
July 23-27, 2014
Based in Chambersburg, Pa.

Click here to download the brochure: July – Terror on the Border Brochure.

  • Wednesday includes an optional tour of Jubal Early and the lower Shenandoah Valley with Ed Bearss and Jeffry Wert.
  • Wednesday/Weekend package begins with a walking tour of the Burning of Chambersburg with Keven Walker and Ted Alexander.
  • Thursday bus tour led by Ed Bearss and Steve French of “Chambersburg Avenged: The Road to Moorefield.”
  • Friday seminars including lunch and dinner followed by our Civil War Auction.
  • Saturday bus tour led by Ed Bearss covering the “Annual Invasion: Early’s Raid and the Battle Monocacy”
  • Sunday includes an optional tour of the “Monocacy to Fort Stevens: Early’s Advance on Washington” led by B.F. Cooling

As you can see from the highlights, this program fits nicely with the previously mentioned events on the Virginia side of the Potomac.