20 October 2008 by Published in: Battlefield preservation 5 comments

Hat tip to reader Stu Younkin for bringing this to my attention….

From today’s issue of the Winchester Star newspaper:

Belle Grove soldiers on after Cedar Creek split
By Jason Kane
The Winchester Star

Middletown — For the first time in decades, Belle Grove Plantation commemorated the Civil War alone.

The entirety of this year’s Battle of Cedar Creek re-enactment took place on the adjoining Civil War Battlefield south of Middletown, leaving Belle Grove visitors to contemplate gentler things.

A league of women in hoop skirts told guests about everything from Civil War food rations to parlor games Sunday as the sounds of musket fire and cannon blasts echoed from the battlefield next door.

The separate events stemmed from a disagreement in June between Belle Grove Inc. and the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation over the expansion of a quarry near the 18th century plantation and the adjoining battlefield.

Elizabeth McClung, executive director of Belle Grove, said of this weekend’s divided festivities, “We don’t really see it as separate, but complimentary events. They provide battle re-enactment and we provide the social history.

“Both are windows into the past. People come here to have more of a low-key experience.”

In addition to a wreath-laying ceremony Sunday afternoon in honor of all those affected by the battle on Oct. 19, 1864, the mansion brought in the Frederick [Md.] Ladies Relief Society, a Civil War-based living history organization, to give tours of the plantation house turned museum.

On Saturday and Sunday, people from all over the United States, including California, Michigan, Texas, and Washington state, drove up the plantation’s long entrance.

Rather than hearing a litany of battle names and war-related dates, visitors instead learned of the Cooley family, which lived in the plantation house when the battle broke out in 1864.

Many civilians starved in those years, but not the Cooleys, who probably would have been “comfortable” during the war, said Marty Riddell, vice chairwoman of FLRS. They had money, she said, and were able to continue raising livestock and growing vegetables in their garden.

Still, they weren’t immune to the common inconveniences of the times, Riddell said.

Cut off from drinks like coffee, the Cooleys probably made a substitute concoction composed of sweet potatoes and dried chicory. Black molasses made a nice fill-in for sugar, and if the family wanted salt, they probably scraped it off the ground of their smokehouse.

Riddell has been participating in the Belle Grove battle commemoration for the past 10 years, and said the crowd this year was particularly sparse.

“I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the economy,” she said.

Attendance figures were not available Sunday, McClung said.

In one of the mansion’s rooms, Tammy Strickland and Breanne Lamb sat in hoop skirts, showing visitors a sampling of war-time games from the 1860s including a board game similar to Chutes and Ladders. A “gentleman’s only” game drilled young boys on morality by illustrating “scenes from the life of a country gentleman.”

Visitors learned how to produce fine lacewear through needlework and knitting — which continued to be the vogue throughout the war, even as entire cities were reduced to rubble.

Another guide told of how the Cooleys moved to safer ground when the bullets began to fly around the mansion on Oct. 19, 1864. A few stayed behind, as was the tradition, to “make sure that not too much walked away” in the hands of soldiers, said Larry Keener-Farley.

Several shots hit the front of the plantation house in the rain of gunfire, but “if a [mortar] shell would have come in and exploded, the damage and the resulting fire could have destroyed the house,” Keener-Farley said.

He loves to tell visitors about Confederate Maj. Gen. Stephen D. Ramseur’s death in the mansion.

During the Battle of Cedar Creek, he had been wounded once and had two horses shot from beneath him, but he still rallied his men. He was wounded in both lungs and died the next day.

After he took his last breath, Union officers visited Ramseur’s body in Belle Grove’s library.

“They were killing each other during the day, but when the battle was over, they would stop to honor a gallant foe,” Keener-Farley said.

Dave Lamb, an archaeologist from Des Moines, Iowa, stopped to visit the plantation during a pilgrimage to Middletown.

Since he was a little boy, Lamb had been hearing stories about his great-grandfather being captured at the Battle of Cedar Creek and taken to a Confederate prison camp outside of Savannah, Ga.

The long wait to visit the battlefield was worth it, he said. “From a preservation standpoint, this is tremendous.”

In the front yard of Belle Grove, a group of soldiers lounged and laughed, playing fiddle music and singing. The scene mimicked a picture of war-time Belle Grove, minus the battle.

That this sort of thing happened at all is a tragedy, but not so much of a tragedy as a stewardship organization that abrogated its sacred duty, all for eight lousy acres.

And my guess is that attendance was down at the Foundation’s event because people heeded the call to boycott an organization that would sell its soul to the devil for eight acres. I’m glad people stayed away. Maybe, just maybe, the Foundation will get the message that it screwed up in epic terms. At least I hope so.

Scridb filter


  1. Charlie Knight
    Mon 20th Oct 2008 at 10:07 am

    Against my better judgment I participated in the reenactment this weekend (mainly b/c they already had my $$ to attend), and attendance both in terms of reenactors and spectators was noticably lower than in past years. Attendance in my bttn was down significantly, as we usually field at least 300 for this event and didn’t even break 200 this year. One count i have seen provided by the CCBF claims nearly 4,000 participants – seems high to me – down about 1,000 from last year’s #s.

    Tactically, not having use of the field between the CS camps and Belle Grove definitely cramped the battle scenarios. In past years (when the organizations have gotten along) we have fought through the CS camp but not so this year. Instead Sunday’s battle began with the opposing skirmish lines about 70 yards apart on the ridge overlooking the Heater House with our troops I suppose wearing their cloaks of invisibility so as to take the Yankees by surprise.

    This event used to be a high-light of the reenacting season, mainly b/c it is held on the original ground. But in the past few years it has gone steadily downhill, while the cost – both to reenactors and spectators – continues to rise. And they have lost all total control of parking – it is a ridiculous and unnecessary vehicular nightmare on Sunday afternoon. This is the last year I for one will be giving them my $$ and presence.

  2. Mon 17th Nov 2008 at 11:27 pm

    Greetings Charlie- I apologize that you had a seemingly bad experience this past 2008 reenactment year. Our parking at Cedar Creek was quite smooth and we actually widened our parking choices and had more help than ever with volunteers. If there were parking issues, I definitely suggest contacting our Visitors Center.

    Our count this year was over 4,200 actually that paid and registered to reenact and we had a record amount of walk-on registrations this year due to the gas prices lowering and people being able to afford the travel. Our reenactment is still held on the original grounds, parking was not an issue and we were there from Monday thru Sunday late evening (actually until the following Tuesday as volunteers) and the price has not significantly risen over the years- especially considering what it costs to rent a tent space in a regular KOA campsite, AND your money doesn’t go towards historic preservation of a national landmark in a KOA. Negative campaigning is not the way to preserve our hallowed ground. We should all work together to support historic preservation nationwide, one battlefield at a time.

  3. Mon 17th Nov 2008 at 11:30 pm

    Normally, I would agree.

    However, abrogating your sacred duty and selling out for eight acres of garbage land gives me no reason to want to work with you.


  4. Mon 19th Jan 2009 at 4:09 pm

    It’s most wise that before anyone comments on an 8-acre parcel ‘sellout’, you check all professional and legitimate sources regarding the rezoning. You have been given false information, period. Such sources would include the archaeologists who are now studying hundreds of acres in a survey, the historians hired to review the battle layout based on these survey findings, the donors that have given their land to historical interpretation, and the preservation folks who are working on the future of Cedar Creek as a historical resource for generations to come. These names are available and are open for comment by contacting the NPS, the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation or Belle Grove.

    The 8-acre parcel that has been advertised ridiculously is ultimately going to Belle Grove. There are 220+ acres that are going into conservation/preservation easement, that’s another subject and one that isn’t widely advertised yet. There is much happening in the realm of preservation at Cedar Creek that is quietly being done. Perhaps reviewing the information, if you’re truly interested in knowing the facts, is advisable. Thanks ever so much for your support of historic preservation in Virginia.

  5. Gregg Jones
    Sat 17th Oct 2009 at 2:56 pm

    Since 1961 we had “signature” battles/reenactments that were annual and were known for quality of our time and experience. Back in the 70’s and early 80s there was Cedar Mountain where Ed Gentry had one of the best reenactments on historical ground. There was New Market too, but no more. Ed Gentry got out of the business of reenacting and that was the end of a fantastic event. New Market use to have a very big turn out but then it was over come by politics. It is just a shell of its former self. Now Cedar Creek is falling into something we don’t recognize. In the past we camped near Belle Grove Plantation. The campgrounds were wonderful. But now we have a house divided with the Belle Grove bunch not getting involved with the Cedar Creek bunch. Now the camping is not in an idyllic environment; the cavalry are parked close to Rt66. We are distant from any of the other camps. It has not been the best of time but is seems to be getting to the worst of times. I started going to Cedar Creek about 1990 and enjoyed it a lot now, it just is not the same. Just as Cedar Mountain and New Market have ceased to be as a great an annual event as they were for many years, the shrank to about nothing, Cedar Creek seems to be heading that way too. It is Saturday but I will be curious to see how we fair this weekend.

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