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Trust to save land at Cedar Mountain battlefield

August 4, 2012 12:10 am


This cabin served as a Confederate field hospital during the Battle of Cedar Mountain. Now, the Civil War Trust aims to save 6 acres at the end of the lane, on the left side. 080412cedarPlaque.jpg

'This is the only battlefield on which Gen. Stonewall Jackson drew his sword,' a marker tells visitors to 'The Gate' area.

"[T]he road was full of Yankees and there was such a fight as was not witnessed during the war; guns, bayonets, swords, pistols, fence rails, rocks, etc., were used all along the line. I have heard of a 'hell spot' in some battles, this surely was one."

--John H. Worsham, 21st Virginia Infantry


If you visit Virginia's Cedar Mountain battlefield, you'll pass right by Crittenden's Gate--whether you realize it or not.

Lying at the core of this hallowed ground in Culpeper County, it's where Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson was nearly captured or killed.

The Civil War Trust, allied with local residents, aims to save it for posterity.

As Culpeper prepares to observe the battle's 150th anniversary, the 55,000-member nonprofit group has launched a national fundraising campaign to preserve 6 acres at what locals still call "The Gate."

The vicinity is "what Henry Hill is to First Manassas or The Angle is to Spotsylvania Court House," the trust said Friday in announcing its sesquicentennial effort.

Here, by a gate where the Crittenden House lane met the main road to Culpeper, Confederate gunners waged what one Southerner thought was "the prettiest artillery duel ever witnessed during the war."

The Aug. 9, 1862, battle followed great Confederate victories in the Shenandoah Valley under Jackson and near Richmond under Robert E. Lee, as their forces outmaneuvered Union armies.

Lee outwitted the Union's top general, George B. McClellan, preventing the fall of Richmond and setting in motion events that led, six months later, to President Lincoln's issuing the Emancipation Proclamation.

Frustrated by McClellan, Lincoln appointed a Western general, John Pope, to assembly a new army in Northern Virginia and hit the Confederates hard. One of Pope's first moves was to authorize foraging by his soldiers and the arrest of disloyal Virginians and anyone who aided guerilla fighters.

Lee, incensed by those orders and concerned by Pope's advance on Culpeper Court House, dispatched Jackson to Gordonsville, telling him: "I want Pope to be suppressed."

Jackson's plans went awry and he was cut off when Union cavalry blocked the road near Cedar Run. Brig. Gen. Jubal Early hastily posted troops perpendicular to the road, anchoring his right on the shoulder of Cedar (or Slaughter's) Mountain. And the battle commenced, on what historians say may have been the hottest day of the war.

The fighting around Crittenden's Gate grew so fierce that Jackson and his division commander, Brig. Gen. Charles S. Winder, manned cannons themselves. A Union shell ripped away Winder's side, and he was off the field, mortally wounded.

In intense, hand-to-hand combat around the gate, including the trust's new target property, Union casualties reached 30 percent. Here, waving his saber (rusted inside its scabbard), "Stonewall" Jackson rallied his men and led them to victory.

"The opportunity to protect additional land associated with that struggle will give this anniversary period an even deeper meaning," Trust President James Lighthizer said Friday.

Diane Logan, president of Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield, welcome the effort. "The property that will be preserved with this new effort is at the very heart of the Cedar Mountain Battlefield," she said. "Its protection will materially enhance our ability to understand and interpret the engagement for visitors--today and for many years to come."

The 6 acres, contiguous to the trust's other Cedar Mountain holdings, will cost $120,000. Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield have pledged the first $10,000 contribution toward the purchase price.

Earlier, the two groups worked together to preserve 154 acres of the scenic, rolling battlefield.

The friends group plans what Lighthizer called "a tremendous program" of special events to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the bloodiest day in Culpeper history.

It began Friday night with the world premiere of a multimedia stage production of Culpeper author Virginia Beard Morton's novel "Marching Through Culpeper."

At 9:30 a.m. today, Morton will lead a walking tour of downtown Culpeper.

At 12:30 p.m., during a barbecue luncheon at the Inn at Kelly's Ford, Virginia Tech professor emeritus James I. "Bud" Robertson Jr.--author of a new, best-selling National Geographic book on the Civil War--will chronicle the rift between Jackson and Confederate commander A.P. Hill that erupted at Cedar Mountain, with major consequences for the battle.

At 7:30 p.m. tonight and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, there will be more performances of the stage adaptation of Morton's story of love across the battle lines, based on real events.

On Thursday, Aug. 9, noted historians, including Todd Berkoff, Clark B. "Bud" Hall, Greg Mertz, Nicholas Picerno and Jeffry Wert will illuminate the Battle of Cedar Mountain Symposium at Germanna Community College's Daniel Technology Center in Culpeper.

That evening, on the 150th anniversary of the fight, the Cedar Mountain battlefield will light up with artillery and infantry demonstrations, brass-band music of the era and a historian-led walking tour.

The Civil War Trust's Cedar Mountain effort is part of its "Campaign 150: Our Time, Our Legacy," kicked off last year. That project aims to raise enough money by 2015 to protect 20,000 acres of prime land on the most historically significant Civil War battlefields.

Civil War Trust campaign: civil Culpeper County friends group: Special events: marchingthrough

Clint Schemmer: 540/368-5029

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