Suspicious device found at battlefield
MIDDLETOWN — Less than a day after they were evacuated from their campground due to a suspicious item found at the site and then destroyed by a bomb squad, re-enactors at the Cedar Creek Battlefield were back to fight another battle on Sunday morning.
Only this time, there was little fanfare.
Officials barred spectators and the media from going inside the battlefield grounds located at the Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park along U.S. 11 south of Middletown after an announcement Saturday night that all public events for the 153 anniversary of the Civil War battle had been canceled.
“Due to this unfortunate situation our event staff is unable to fulfill the required logistical needs to continue the event on Sunday,” Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation President Joe D’Arezzo stated in a news release late Saturday night. “It is regrettable that a nice family event would be disrupted in this way.”
Contacted early Sunday about a rumored private re-enactment later that morning, D’Arezzo said the re-enactment weekend was over.
“There is no event for the re-enactors; there is no event for anyone whatsoever,” D’Arezzo said. “There is no event. The people are packing up and leaving. That is it.”
But re-enactors discussed plans throughout the morning and at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, smoke shot out of the Union cannons. Confederate soldiers soon marched up the hill to meet up with the Union soldiers and exchange gunfire.
By 11:15, the Union forces had won. Chants of “USA! USA!” came out of the Union and Southern camps in the waning minutes of the battle.
Some re-enactors left the battlefield before Sunday’s private event began. Tom LaPointe said that he had come to the re-enactment with a distant cousin who is 18 years old.
LaPointe wasn’t worried about himself, but he wasn’t willing to bring the cousin to the battlefield.
“His parents are worried sick now,” LaPointe said. “So I can’t bring him. I feel responsible. I don’t want to go. I don’t want to put him into jeopardy.”
Others, like Dennis Brown and Linda Tenney, saw the Sunday morning event as holding symbolic significance.
“We’re going to go on because whoever did this, they’re not going to win,” Brown said. “That’s all there is to this.”
Tenney added, “We’re not afraid, because if we leave, they win.”
The discovery of a suspicious item at around 4 p.m. Saturday by officers from the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office and Middletown police shut down activities at the battlefield. An evacuation began and a safe zone was established, according to a news release issued at 10:59 p.m. Saturday by Karen Vacchio, public information officer for Frederick County.
After the two local departments learned of the device, other agencies including the Virginia State Police Bomb Squad, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives responded. The release stated that the Virginia State Bomb Squad “rendered the device safe.”
“We had all kinds of blue lights here,” Tenney said. “[Officials] went in with dogs. They were all sweeping the camps.”
Officials, meanwhile, told re-enactors to evacuate. Some, like David Moseley, went to the back of the camp. Others, like Alan Colvin, ended up at a nearby school.
Kevin Shover, a re-enactor from Tabernacle, New Jersey, said that he had heard, primarily from higher-ranking re-enactors, that officials had found a bomb in the area where vendors sold food and Civil War-themed items.
The officials taped off the vendor area, Shover said, and added that he had heard them detonate the device that was found.
The Sheriff’s Office and the FBI declined to state whether or not officials had found a bomb. An FBI news release on Sunday stated that nobody was injured in the incident and that no further information would be released at this time. The FBI is seeking witnesses who may have seen something or have information about the incident. They urge anyone with information to call 804-261-1044.
The incident on Saturday comes after the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation received a threatening letter related to the weekend’s anniversary events.
Frederick County Sheriff Lenny Millholland said Tuesday that the group received a single letter related to the event but that the Sheriff’s Office and the FBI had determined that the threat was not credible.
Shover said that he had read about the letter online but didn’t think about it.
Even after the incident, he said he wasn’t particularly worried.
“Being that I could see exactly where they had [the field] taped off, I figured there wasn’t too much of a worry,” Shover said. “I figured everything was all right, they had it all under control. And that seemed to be the general consensus. Nobody seemed too worried about it.”