Cedar Creek, revisited

Reenactment for 150th anniversary of battle this weekend

By Ryan Cornell

MIDDLETOWN — What are the ingredients to make a successful reenactment event?

If the recipe for this weekend’s 150th anniversary of the Battle of Cedar Creek is correct, it’s:

  • 5,000 to 6,000 reenactors
  • 250 cavalry horses
  • 70 cannons
  • 40 to 50 sutlers and merchants
  • Four days of beautiful dry weather

“This is going to be one of the larger of our reenactments, certainly in recent years,” said Pat Kehoe, office manager of the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation. “By the time we’re done, we expect to have almost twice as many reenactors as we’ve had in previous years.”

He said registration for the sesquicentennial event opened in January, but it wasn’t until this past month that activity reached a fever pitch.

The Battle of Cedar Creek, fought on Oct. 19, 1864, began with a surprise attack by Lt. Gen. Jubal Early on Union forces. The victory that seemed so near for his Confederate troops was turned on its side as Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan rode down from Winchester and rallied his men to action.

“It was a Confederate victory in the morning, and Union total victory by dark,” Kehoe said. “A reversal of fortunes that essentially swept the Confederates off the field and wrested total control of the Shenandoah Valley for the rest of the war from the Confederate forces.”

This had been a “valley of humiliation,” Kehoe added.

“Prior to the fall of 1864, every Union commander that came down here failed,” he said. “Through the Stonewall Jackson campaigns of ’62, the Gettysburg campaigns of ’63 and then through the summer of ’64 when Jubal Early marched down to the outskirts of Washington, D.C.”

A slew of events and activities planned from Friday to Monday will commemorate the battle and the men who sacrificed their lives for it.

Events slated for Friday include an interpretive hike to the top of Signal Knob from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., ranger-led car caravan tours beginning at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and a History at Sunset program about the historic Heater house and farm at 5 p.m.

Two reenactments on Saturday will commemorate the Battle of Toms Brook at 11 a.m. and the Battle of Third Winchester at 3 p.m.

Symposium tents at Belle Grove and on the Cedar Creek battlefield will feature presentations by various Civil War historians.

A reenactment of the Battle of Cedar Creek is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Sunday, exactly 150 years after the original battle. Leading up to the reenactment, a real-time program will retrace the events as they happened that day, starting at 5 a.m.

The dedication for a new state historic marker honoring the commitment and sacrifices of Vermont troops at the battle will begin at 11:30 a.m.

A final event scheduled at 10 a.m. Monday will rededicate the monument for Maj. Gen. Stephen Dodson Ramseur, who was mortally wounded at the battle.

Throughout the weekend, reenactors will provide military demonstrations, including those of the cavalry and firing of cannons.

Living history demonstrations will be held at the Belle Grove Plantation and at the infantry camps.

Kids can participate in activities at a kids tent and complete a program to earn a junior park ranger badge.

Five battlefield stations — preserved areas typically closed to the public — will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. These include: the site of Col. Joseph Thoburn’s 8th Corps troops at the beginning of the battle, the trenches constructed by the 19th Corps and 128th New York monument, the 8th Vermont monument, the Middletown Cemetery where Union troops held off Confederates and the Rienzi Knoll where Sheridan rallied his demoralized troops.

Shuttles will transport visitors to various points within the park, though comfortable walking shoes are recommended.

Unlike past reenactments, visitor parking will be located across U.S. 11 from the battlefield.

Admission is $18 for adults and $9 for seniors, students and active or retired military personnel with ID. Admission is free for children younger than 6.

Proceeds from the event will support preservation efforts on the battlefield.

For more info or to purchase tickets, visit http://www.ccbf.us

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com