Seventy-seven acres in Virginia that saw both a devastating loss to Union forces and a surprising rally against Rebel forces during the Civil War are the focus of a $1.3 million fund-raising campaign launched by the Civil War Trust.
The parcels, in two tracts, would be added to the Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park.
“The announcement of either one of these acquisition opportunities would be cause for excitement in the preservation community,” said Trust President James Lighthizer. “But the chance to simultaneously and permanently protect both of these sites is truly remarkable. Projects like this, which will give the public an opportunity to explore previously inaccessible historic lands, is why the Civil War Trust is in the preservation business.”
The two target properties, the Vermont Monument site and Rienzi’s Knoll, located on opposite ends of the battlefield, each represent a critical moment in the October 19, 1864, struggle — a Union victory that clinched Abraham Lincoln’s reelection to second term as President.
To learn more about the significance of the battles that played out on this ground, watch this video with National Park Service historian Eric Campbell.
During a press conference last week to announce the fund-raising drive the Civil War Trust was joined representatives of a variety of entities involved in historic preservation at Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park. Joining Mr. Lighthizer at the speakers’ podium were Bell Grove Plantation Executive Director Elizabeth McClung, park Superintendent Diann Jacox, representatives of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, and Laura Jeffords, daughter of former Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont, as well as several former members of his staff.
“Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park is a partnership park, which exists because of our unique collaboration with a variety of preservation partners,” said Supterintendent Jacox. “This collaboration is perfectly illustrated by the Civil War Trust’s work to preserve these two iconic sites on the battlefield. Their latest efforts will help our visitors better understand the full scope and extent of the battle — particularly on the northern part of the battlefield, where no land associated with the Union counterattack had yet been saved.”
The first property is a 12.5-acre tract near Belle Grove Plantation associated with the pre-dawn Confederate attack that overwhelmed an unsuspecting Union army. In a desperate attempt to buy time for the Northern lines to reform, a single brigade — outnumbered by some estimates 10-to-1 — was ordered forward into the Confederate advance and held its ground for a crucial half-hour. One regiment, the 8th Vermont, lost 110 of its 164 men in the brutal, often hand-to-hand fighting. Vermont’s heroic stand at Cedar Creek is often considered to be among the state’s finest hours during the Civil War.
An enormous mural depicting the fighting hangs in the State House in Montpelier. A monument to the 8th Vermont, one of only three on the entire Cedar Creek Battlefield, sits on the property the Trust is seeking to acquire.
The second property covers 64.5 acres on the northern end of the battlefield, where no land has previously been protected, but where one of the greatest reversals of fortune in the Civil War took place. After retreating five miles, the situation looked bleak for the defeated and disorganized Union forces. It was then that Union Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan, arriving after a brutal 13-mile ride to the sound of the guns, rallied his men and launched a devastating counterattack that nearly destroyed the Confederate army. The event was immortalized in Thomas Buchanan Read’s poem “Sheridan’s Ride.” The area where the improbable rally took place became known as Reinzi’s Knoll, after Sheridan’s horse — although the steed was renamed Winchester to commemorate his journey.
Acquisition of these two historic properties, which is expected to cost $1.3 million, would not be possible without the assistance of the American Battlefield Preservation Program (ABPP – an arm of the National Park Service) and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR). Virginia DHR has already announced a $224,000 Virginia Civil War Sites Preservation Fund grant for the project, with a $337,500 grant expected from ABPP’s Civil War Battlefield Preservation Program.
Meanwhile, towards the acquisition of the Vermont Monument, the Trust will apply $415,000 in federal transportation funding allocated specifically for land preservation projects at Cedar Creek by former Sen. Jeffords in 2005. Previously, the Trust was able to secure three other properties totaling 74 acres elsewhere on the battlefield, including two immediately adjacent to the Vermont Monument site, using grant funding from this source.
“To the people of Vermont, the blood spilled by our ancestors makes this truly hallowed ground,” said Jim Eismeier, Sen. Jeffords’s former administrative director. “Today’s announcement is the product of much effort stretching back across almost a decade and the culmination Sen. Jeffords’s vision for the protection of land deeply important to him and his state.”
In addition to the Cedar Creek properties, the Trust is currently engaged in fundraising efforts to save significant battlefield properties at Bentonville, N.C., Fredericksburg, Va., Gaines’ Mill, Va., Perryville, Ky., Mill Springs, Ky., and Shiloh/Fallen Timbers, Tenn., as well as an ambitious national campaign to protect hallowed ground during the Civil War sesquicentennial commemoration. To learn more about these active fundraising efforts and the Trust’s ambitious sesquicentennial preservation initiative, Campaign 150, please visit www.civilwar.org/campaign150