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An untold story at Cedar Mountain

August 10, 2012 12:10 am


At left, Union cavalry cross a stream near Cedar Mountain on the day of the battle. At right, visitors search for graves on the battlefield below Cedar Mountain in August 1862. jacksonStonewall1.jpg

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Culpeper County's Cedar Mountain is one of the most beautiful Civil War battlefields in the East, advocates say. These 154 acres, saved by the Civil War Trust, welcome visitors. 081012CedarMtnGraves.jpg



As Union Gen. John Pope's army exited Culpeper County after the Battle of Cedar Mountain in August 1862, Confederate commander Robert E. Lee monitored its movements north.

Watching the spectacle from atop Clark's Mountain, south of the Rapidan River, Lee turned to trusted lieutenant James Longstreet and said, "General, we little thought that the enemy would turn his back upon us this early in the campaign."

Lee's remark came on the heels of the Battle of Cedar Mountain, found in Culpeper County 150 years ago Thursday. It is well-known and widely published.

What isn't, according to Virginia historian Clark B. Hall, is that the triumphant campaign was the idea of Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, who then held his own independent command.

Usually, Lee gets credit for the audacious advance against John Pope, the Western general brought east to shake things up after Union Gen. George B. McClellan failed to seize Richmond.

Hall detailed his claim during a daylong forum on Cedar Mountain held in Culpeper County on the battle's sesquicentennial.

The symposium and an evening of special tours, artillery and infantry demonstrations, and stories shared by the soldiers' descendants on the battlefield capped the 150th anniversary of the battle that launched Lee's momentous Second Manassas Campaign, precursor to his army's invasion of Maryland.

Hall was one of seven historians who presented a wide variety of material--some of it never before shared with the public--during the symposium at Germanna Community College's Daniel Technology Center. The others were lecturer Todd Berkoff, National Park Service interpreters Greg Mertz and Ray Brown, 10th Maine Regiment expert Nicholas Picerno, acclaimed author Jeffrey Wert and Tanya Gossett of the Interior Department's American Battlefield Protection Program.

Mertz, supervisory historian at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, shared the Clark's Mountain anecdote. He said the Culpeper battle is important as the beginning to Lee's leadership in his first full campaign of the Civil War.

"Lee seized the initiative at Cedar Mountain and never relinquished it until his army retreated back across the Potomac River after the Battle of Antietam, a month later," Mertz said in concluding the forum.

But it was Jackson who sparked the campaign, at some risk to his military career, Hall said.

"Jackson has never been given credit for having this idea to begin with," he said.

Not long after Lee's victorious Seven Days' battles east of Richmond, which saved the Confederate capital and defeated McClellan, Jackson tried his idea on Lee, Clark said.

He suggested that Confederate forces, if they stayed in their trenches back of the Chickahominy River, risked losing a great opportunity to go into the Piedmont, march north and attack Pope before he could organize the separate commands he'd been given into a new army.

But when Lee didn't respond to the notion, Jackson acted on his own, Hall said.

Capitalizing on great victories in his famed Shenandoah Valley campaign and his friendship with congressman Alexander Robinson Boteler of Shepherdstown (then a part of Virginia), Jackson took his argument to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, he said.

Boteler acted as his surrogate, for Jackson didn't want to get crosswise with Lee, his commander general, Clark said.

That led to a late-July meeting in Davis' mansion, the so-called White House of the Confederacy, between Lee, Jackson and Davis to discuss the matter, he said.

There, they decided what Jackson's role would be in the upcoming campaign. Boteler's account and writings by a Jackson aide, Charles Minor Blackford, have received little attention, Hall said.

The Northern Neck historian said his research into this start to the Second Manassas Campaign gave him a new appreciation for Jackson's skills.

The resulting win by Jackson at Cedar Mountain, one of the most hard-fought battles of the war, broke Pope's confidence and sent his army retreating back across the Rappahannock River, Hall said.

"It was the first time the tyrannical and obnoxious Pope meets an Eastern opponent and his confidence is badly shaken," he said.

"He loses the strategic initiative, and after Cedar Mountain, he is merely reacting to what the Confederates are doing."

As did many of the symposium's speakers, Clark testified to the surprising, epic nature of this lesser-known battle and its landscape--called "a hell spot" by one participant.

"It is the most poignant battlefield I've ever visited," he said. "What makes it so is the sheer savagery of the fighting, how quickly it happened, and how horrific the battle was for both sides."

Clint Schemmer: 540/368-5029

Sesquicentennial anniversary weekend, Cedar Mountain battlefield: Friday, Aug. 10, through Sunday, Aug. 12. Living history programs and artillery demonstrations with Carpenter's Battery, CSA; Thompson's Independent Battery "C," Pennsylvania Volunteer Light Artillery; and the 23rd Virginia Infantry continue. These experienced units have appeared in the films "Gettysburg" and "Gods and Generals" and on the Gettysburg and Antietam battlefields. Sponsored by the nonprofit, tax-deductible Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield Inc. Visit In Culpeper County, look for Cedar Mountain Battlefield sign at James Madison Highway (U.S. 15) and General Winder Road (State Route 657). Drive 0.2 mile on Route 657 to the parking area. National fundraising effort: The Civil War Trust is campaigning to preserve 6 pivotal acres at Crittenden's Gate, comparing them to "What Henry Hill is to First Manassas or The Angle is to Spotsylvania Court House." The site is where "Stonewall" Jackson was nearly killed or captured and Confederate Gen. Charles S. Winder was mortally wounded while commanding an artillery battery.

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