By Ryan Cornell
The Battle of Cedar Creek might have ended 149 years ago, but for the thousands of reenactors drawn to Middletown each October, it rages on. More than 2,000 reenactors are preregistered for this weekend's reenactmentthe event and 500 more might sign up depending on the weekend's weather.
Fought on Oct. 19, 1864, the battle is easily considered one of the most significant turning points in the area during the Civil War. Not only did the (spoiler alert) Confederacy's loss at Cedar Creek detach its grip on the valley and destroy its primary food source -- the breadbasket of the Confederacy -- but also the outcome gave sagging Northern morale a much-needed boost and propelled Abraham Lincoln to a second term.
The Confederate troops, led by General Jubal Early, launched a surprise attack out of the dense fog in the early morning hours and managed, even though they were outnumbered by about 10,000 men, to force the Union army to a full retreat. Union General Philip Sheridan, who was in Winchester, rode on his horse straight to Middletown and ordered a counterattack after rallying his men, winning the battle and resulting in one of the biggest comeback stories of the war. By the end of the daylong battle, total casualties numbered about 8,000 men.
Stan Hirschberg, vice president of the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation, said that by this time, the war had stretched on for four long years and had racked up thousands upon thousands of casualties. He said Lincoln and George B. McClellan were in a tight race for the November presidential election.
"If McClellan would've won, he would've had peace at any price," Hirschberg said. "He would've let the South secede and Virginia would be its own country."
He said that unlike the reenactments of the battles of Gettysburg and Antietam, which are fought on farms near the federally owned battlefields, this weekend's reenactment will be fought on the actual Cedar Creek battlefield.
"When you're able to walk on the grounds it was fought, it means a whole lot more," he said. "It hasn't changed in 150 years."
Sutlers at the battlefield will sell food, crafts and replica Civil War uniforms. Live bands will be performing authentic music from the time period. Basically, the only thing missing are bullets whizzing by, as the soldiers will be shooting at each other with gunpowder blanks.
"If we had bullets, the surgeon would be very busy," Hirschberg joked.
"We try to make them quite historically accurate," he said. "We try to stay as close as we can to the way the battle was fought."
This year, they're changing it up a little. They're adding a new feature.
Hirschberg said the reenactors will build Fort Milroy out of telephone poles, slab wood, dirt and branches on the battlefield, with sharpened spikes extending out from the fort.
The fort is named after Union Brigadier General Robert H. Milroy, who defended Winchester during the Battle of Second Winchester and was eventually defeated.
This weekend, the fort will be guarded by Confederate troops and attacked by the Union.
The Battle of Second Winchester will be reenacted at 3 p.m. on Saturday. The Battle of Cedar Creek will be reenacted at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday. Artillery demonstrations are scheduled at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday and noon on Sunday. An infantry demonstration is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Saturday. Candlelight tours of the camp will be led at 6:15 p.m. on Saturday. A non-denominational gospel service will be held in the symposium tent at 10 a.m. on Sunday.
Tickets are available for purchase at the entrance gate on the day of the event or in advance at the battlefield foundation's headquarters.
- Where: Cedar Creek Battlefield, 8437 Valley Pike, Middletown
- When: Saturday, 9 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
- Cost: $12 for adults, $6 for students ages 7-17, Free for children 6 and younger
- Call: 540-869-2064
- Online: ccbf.us
Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org