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Vermont troops' 'suicide mission' honored

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Eric A. Campbell, National Park Service Park Ranger, interprets the history of the Rienz's Knoll site north of Middletown on Thursday where Civil War Trust announced its latest campaign to save 77 acres of hallowed ground on the Cedar Creek Battlefield in Frederick County. Rich Cooley/Daily

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Park ranger Eric A. Campbell interprets the history of the Rienz’s Knoll site north of Middletown on Thursday. Rich Cooley/Daily

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Laura Jeffords, daughter of former U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords, holds a map of battle action around Vermont Monument which was part of the 77 acres of battlefield land that the U.S. Civil War Trust announced Thursday was part of a $1.3 million fundraising effort. Rich Cooley/Daily

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Dainn Jacox, park superintendent for Cedar Creek and Belle Grove, walks along Rienzi’s Knoll with Laura Jeffords, daughter of former U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords, during a battlefield tour on Thursday. The Civil War Trust announced a $1.3 million fundraising effort to save the Rienzi Knoll site and the Vermont Monument site, where Sen. Jeffords helped secure funding for the property. Rich Cooley/Daily

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Laura Jeffords, daughter of former U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords, holds a map of battle action around Vermont Monument which was part of the 77 acres of battlefield land that the U.S. Civil War Trust announced Thursday was part of a $1.3 million fundraising effort. Rich Cooley/Daily

77 acres adjacent to site to be preserved

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

MIDDLETOWN -- The sites of Vermont's role in the Battle of Cedar Creek and the start of "Sheridan's Ride" may soon receive protection, thanks to a national group.

The Civil War Trust announced its campaign at a news conference Thursday at Belle Grove Plantation to save 77 acres adjacent to the Cedar Creek Battlefield. The effort targets two sites that represent what historians consider crucial moments in the battle that took place Oct. 19, 1864.

The trust already has made strides toward raising the $1.3 million needed to buy the two properties. The plans call for the sites to join the rest of the Cedar Creek Battlefield for inclusion into its tours and programs.

A monument on a 12.5-acre site off U.S. 11 south of Belle Grove memorializes the Vermont soldiers sent on what historians call a suicide mission. Union troops went forward to hold off Confederate forces that morning while other federal troops retreated north. The 8th Vermont regiment lost 110 of its soldiers in what often turned into hand-to-hand combat.

Vermont reveres its role in the Battle of Cedar Creek. In 2005, then-U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords secured funding to help preserve the monument site. Jeffords' daughter, Laura Jeffords, attended the conference and toured both sites.

"It's a big deal," Laura Jeffords said after the conference. "It means a lot to Vermont and the country, really, to preserve this existing site. You learn by your mistakes. It should be held and known for all."

"Virginia's very lucky to have so much land and, actually being ground zero for most of these battles, Virginia's lucky and unlucky to say," Jeffords said.

A veteran of the Battle of Cedar Creek lived to create a 20-foot by 10-foot painting of the skirmish that now hangs in the Vermont State House in Montpelier.

But for years the monument, made of Vermont granite, sat on private property, according to Mary Koik, a spokeswoman for the trust. While a U.S. senator for Vermont, Jim Jeffords secured funding to help preserve the 12.5-acre tract. The effort announced Thursday would fulfill Jeffords' longstanding goal, according to the trust.

The second parcel of 64.5 acres represents the first effort to preserve land north of the battlefield. The property also served as the site where historians say one of the greatest reversals of fortune in the war took place. Union troops retreated five miles to the site, disorganized and defeated, according to the trust. Then U.S. Gen. Philip Sheridan arrived shortly before 10:30 a.m., rallied the troops and moved forward against the Confederate forces.

"This is the rally to end all rallies," Koik said.

The area where he rallied the troops was named Reinzi's Knoll after Sheridan's horse. The ensuing attack, which ended in a Union victory, became known as Sheridan's Ride. The ultimate defeat of the Confederate forces is believed to have helped President Lincoln win re-election later that year.

The trust expects to receive $337,500 from the National Park Service's American Battlefield Preservation Program and $224,000 in a Virginia Civil War Sites Preservation Fund grant through the Department of Historic Resources. The trust plans to apply for the $415,000 in federal transportation funding allocated in 2005 by the senator specifically for land preservation projects at Cedar Creek.

The national organization has preserved about 533 acres at Cedar Creek.

Visit www.civilwar.org for more information.

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