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August 2, 2012 12:10 am


'Marching Through Culpeper,' presented by the Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield, is a multimedia musical production based on Virginia Morton's Civil War novel. we080212playscr3.jpg

Pat Ballard plays Harriet Armstrong, mother of the headstrong Constance, in this historical drama production. we080212playscr2.jpg

Patricia Hill-Davidson (left), Maddison Hicks and John Fleming rehearse a scene from 'Marching Through Culpeper.'



OK, not so famous a name as Manassas or Antietam.

But its defenders have a compelling case that it ought to be.

And over the next two weeks, they're pulling out all the stops to make its Civil War past as alluring and inviting as they can.

Culpeper County's observance of the war's 150th anniversary will be robust, thanks to the work of many volunteers from every walk of life.

"We think Culpeper is doing some pretty unique events for such a small town," local author and Civil War tour guide Virginia Morton said.

On July 21, the county hosted a symposium and bus tour devoted to African- American experiences during the war.

On Friday, the story takes a romantic turn with the world premiere of a stage adaptation of "Marching Through Culpeper," Morton's popular novel. She calls it a story of "love across the battle lines."

There will be five more performances through Aug. 12. The organizers call it "performing for preservation," noting that all proceeds will aid battlefield heritage groups.

"I was motivated by the legal battles over the Brandy Station battlefield to focus on preservation and history, why they're important, and how they help to promote tourism, which enriches an entire community," Morton explained Wednesday about writing "Marching" years ago. "And the book has done just that."

Morton's novel, which has sold more than 10,000 copies since its first edition in 2000, features many of the colorful, real-life figures who put wartime Culpeper on the world stage--among them J.E.B. Stuart, John Pelham, A.P. Hill and George Armstrong Custer.

But the historical drama centers around four main characters:

Constance Armstrong, a headstrong Culpeper native courted by officers on both sides.

Frank Stringfellow, a wiry scout for J.E.B. Stuart who established a spy network linking Richmond with Confederate sympathizers in the War Department in Washington. Called "one of the most dangerous men in the Confederacy," he had a $10,000 price on his head by war's end. He was also Constance's childhood pal.

Aaron James, a handsome, Harvard-educated Union officer.

Sadie Jordan, a loyal Armstrong family servant.

Descendants of two of the novel's real-life characters--J.E.B. Stuart IV and Dr. Frank Stringfellow, great-grandson of the Confederate scout--will be on hand for the play's premiere on Friday night.

Another honored guest, historian and author James I. Robertson Jr., will speak Saturday at the Inn at Kelly's Ford on Confederate Gens. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson and A.P. Hill, the latter a Culpeper native whose boyhood home still stands in town.

A fourth honoree, Seattle-area songwriter Rod Stone, penned original compositions for the interactive stage production that tugs at the audience's heartstrings.

Introduced to the novel by his wife, Stone said its characters captivated him.

"I also was drawn in by the story's message of reconciliation and hope, two things our nation needs today," he said. "I want to be part of something that will build bridges between all races and regions."

During a 20-year career in Nashville, Stone had songs recorded by country artists George Hamilton IV, Rickey Lee Watson, Crystal Gayle, and Jeff and Sheri Easter. Lee Greenwood recorded and released Stone's song "USA Today" for the 25th anniversary of Greenwood's hit, "God Bless the USA."

One of Stone's new songs enlivens one of the play's big moments, the Union army's George Washington's Birthday Ball, held Feb. 22, 1864, in Culpeper. With great humor, the scene puts Constance and her Union beau, Aaron, in the room with Confederate scout Stringfellow, who is disguised as a woman.

But Morton, who leads tours of Culpeper's Civil War hot spots, also acknowledges the grim realities of war.

It was in Culpeper, she notes, that Gen. John Pope's Union army implemented his "total war" policies, targeting civilian and soldier alike.

"The conduct of Pope's army takes mankind back two centuries into barbarism," a British reporter wrote in 1862.

Historians Jeffrey Wert, Todd Berkoff, Clark B. Hall, Greg Mertz and Nicholas Picerno will dissect Pope's "hard war" strategy and other facets of Culpeper's early encounters with the war next Thursday, Aug. 9, during a symposium at the Daniel Technology Center on Germanna Community College's Culpeper campus. Tanya Gosset of the Interior Department's American Battlefield Protection Program will discuss battlefield preservation.

Thursday will be the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Cedar Mountain, which set the stage for the momentous Battle of Second Manassas later in August 1862.

On Thursday evening, the former battlefield will be the setting for a historian-led walking tour, brass-band music, infantry and artillery demonstrations, and a closing service to honor those who fought at Cedar Mountain. The public is invited to comment briefly on their ancestors who fought there. (Parking costs $10 per vehicle; bring your lawn chairs.)

Lon Lacey, a retired FBI special agent and board member of Friends of Cedar Mountain, is organizing both events.

Lacey said he hopes the Aug. 9 evening program will appeal to young families. If it sparks their curiosity about the Civil War, he said, that's "an interest which can, in some, last a lifetime."

Clint Schemmer: 540/368-5029

AUG. 3 World premiere reception at Daniel Technology Center, Germanna Community College, Culpeper, 5 p.m. Purchase tickets at Stellar One Bank, Lake of the Woods branch, until Aug. 3. Limited number will be available at the door at 5 p.m. Friday. Premiere performance of "Marching Through Culpeper" 7:30 p.m. at Eastern View High School, 16332 Cyclone Way. AUG. 4

Walking tour of downtown Culpeper, 9:30-11:30 a.m. Luncheon lecture with James I. Robertson Jr. at the Inn at Kelly's Ford, 12:30 p.m. Tours and others activities at Salubria manor, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Performance of "Marching Through Culpeper," 7:30 p.m.

AUG. 5 Matinee performance of "Marching Through Culpeper," 2:30 p.m. AUG. 9

Battle of Cedar Mountain symposium, 8:45 a.m. Evening on the battlefield: 150th anniversary commemoration, 6:30 p.m.

AUG. 10 Performance of "Marching Through Culpeper," 7:30 p.m. AUG. 11 Walking tour of downtown Culpeper, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Performance of "Marching Through Culpeper," 7:30 p.m. Tour of Kelly's Ford and Stevensburg begins at 10 a.m. AUG. 12 Matinee performance of "Marching Through Culpeper," 2:30 p.m. AUG. 10-12 Living history on the battlefield, Cedar Mountain. Tours of Graffiti House and Brandy Station.

Tickets: marching throughculpeperonstage. com/tickets

Info: marchingthrough, friendsof

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