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.
Ranger Shannon and Jonathan Noyalas were our guides for the tour.
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.
The site of the battle on the west side of the river is still much the same as 150 years ago.
After that, we drove over to the east side of the river to Shenandoah University’s Shenandoah River Campus.
Here we took stopped down at the river for a view of Island Ford, and discussed the closing actions of the battle and aftermath.
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:
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!