Civil War Sesquicentennial travelers are often surprised to discover that the vast acreage of Civil War battlefields lies outside established National Parks, either only partially preserved through by foundations and trusts—or more likely—absolutely unprotected.
A further irony—many pivotal battlefield sites of historic import are unmarked or located on private land and rarely visited by the public. That’s the case of the 8th Vermont Monument, which was placed in 1885 on the Cedar Creek battlefield.
Jump forward 148 years after the battle, and this monument and a growing portion of the battlefield are in the hands of the National Park Service and preservationists.
New Tours Now Available
There have been occasional tours to the Vermont Monument over the years—but starting July 20 ranger-led visits to the monument will be held Tuesdays and Saturdays, at 1 p.m., through mid-August. Visitors should meet the park ranger at the site, located at 8739 Valley Pike, Middletown, Virginia. The programs are free and last an hour. A short walk over moderate terrain is required. Good walking shoes or boots are recommended.
Added access to the monument comes thanks to the Civil War Trust, whose campaign to preserve “hallowed ground” purchased the once-private tract and immediately sold it to the National Park Service.
“We just got this land,” says Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park interpretive ranger Eric Campbell, “so we can’t permit unrestricted access this year. We have to do a cultural land survey. But we can take as many people as possible to the monument on organized walks.”
Understandably, park Superintendent Diann Jacox, says, "We are delighted to conduct these guided tours while working to provide greater access to the National Park." The presentations will highlight one of the few monuments located at the battlefield (there are only three) and explore the role of the 8th Vermont Infantry at the Battle of Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864.
The superintendent calls this “a park-in-development.”
There’s only 82-and-a-half acres of National Park Service property out of a 3,700-acre battlefield established by Congress in 2002. Luckily, 1,500 acres of that land is protected through the efforts of the park’s five partners—Belle Grove Plantation (owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and managed by Belle Grove, Inc.), Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation lands and Headquarters, Shenandoah Valley Battlefield Foundation, and a developing Shenandoah County Park. The partner sites continue to be owned and operated independently.
Fascinating Piece of Civil War History
Why visit this battlefield? It has an amazing story that includes playing a role in Abraham Lincoln’s re-election, says Ranger Campbell.
“There are two major reasons this was such a pivotal battle,” he says. “The first is that the Union victory ends Confederate military operations in the Shenandoah Valley for the rest of the war, effectively putting it under Union control.
“Another is that Lincoln wanted to get re-elected, and after a long, hard fight, he wanted to show that he was winning the war,” the ranger continues. “After Atlanta was captured in September, an October defeat here could have jeopardized his re-election.”
Campbell says this victory helped gain Lincoln a 55 percent majority.
But that victory was in no way assured.
In fact, Union commander Phillip Sheridan was absent, 15 miles away in Winchester when his army was routed by a surprise Confederate attack. “The Union forces were retreating,” Ranger Campbell says, “when Sheridan rides non-stop and rallies his men—‘we’re not retreating, we’re counter attacking!’ Sheridan turned a horrible defeat to incredible victory.”
The park's interpretation adds that, “The story of the 8th Vermont is one of the most famous incidents related to battle. Belonging to a brigade of approximately 1,500 men, the regiment sacrificed itself against a Confederate onslaught four times its size during the early morning hours of the battle. Nearly twenty years later, a simple monument was erected to honor the sacrifices of the regiment.”
Ranger Campbell says a poem called “Sheridan’s Ride” was written celebrating the victory and the “poem appeared in newspapers on election day.” Northern school kids memorized the poem for a few generations afterwards. Later, Gen. Sheridan renamed his horse Winchester (the city changed hands 70 times during the War). It’s a fascinating story—learn more here.
Reasons to Visit—Re-enactments, Trading Cards And More
The park and its diverse resources also include Belle Grove Plantation, a site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The authentic 1797 Manor House, was built by Major Isaac Hite and his wife Nelly Madison Hite, sister of President James Madison. Hite expanded his original 483 acres to a prosperous 7,500 acre plantation.
A big plus for visiting soon is that a number of great re-enactments and events are on the horizon. Battle re-enactments are not usually held on National Park Service property so the a staging of the Second Battle of Manassas will be held on non-NPS land at Cedar Creek this coming August 3-5. This “once in a lifetime event” will bring more than “6,000 Civil War reenactors,” some “portraying actual people from the past.” Click for more information and to register.
The Battle of Cedar Creek reenactment will be held October 20 & 21, 2012.
Another reason to visit, especially for kids, is that the park has announced it’s now offering free trading cards featuring various stories and sites associated with the park and its history.
They’re part of a series of 550 cards available at participating national parks throughout the United States. To "earn" a trading card, kids may participate in a ranger-led tour, answer a question about their visit to the park or visit one the park's partner sites, operated by Belle Grove or the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation.
"The trading cards are vehicles for telling some 'lesser-known' stories - including those of civilians, women and African-Americans," said Superintendent Jacox. The superintendent also says the cards provide an incentive to families with children to visit all parks that offer the cards.
The National Park Service says, “the Civil War Sesquicentennial and the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement provide opportunities for us to reflect upon our past, celebrate the strides we have made and look forward with commitment to achieve a more perfect union.”
For more programs, including other ranger-conducted presentations offered regularly by the National Park Service, visit the park’s website or or call: (540) 8689-3051.