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:
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?