Save 77 Acres at Cedar Creek
A Message from Jim Lighthizer, Civil War Trust President
Normally, I could give you three or four good reasons why you should want to help the Civil War Trust save a significant piece of hallowed ground.
But today, I don’t have three or four good reasons:
I’ve got ten GREAT reasons why I think you will want to participate in our latest historic effort.
Reason #1: Right now, we have a chance to save 77 key, crucial acres (in two separate tracts of land) at the Cedar Creek battlefield, one of America’s most highly threatened sites, in the heart of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.
Reason #2: In saving these 77 acres, I can turn every $1 you give today into $4.40, using a variety of matching grants we have secured. Is a 440% return on your preservation-dollar investment a good thing in this day and age? I sure think so.
Reason #3: Those government funds total an enormous $971,500 – that’s nearly a full $1 million just sitting there on the table – if you and I can raise the final $286,500 to take advantage of them. (Total purchase price is $1,258,000, in part because we are getting a historic pre-war home on one farm property.)
Reason #4: We will be adding crucial acres to a part of Cedar Creek where we have already been enormously successful in the past – in short, we will be building on our previous successes.
Reason #5: We will also be saving irreplaceable acres at a major part of this battlefield – where some of the most intense fighting occurred – where nothing has ever been preserved before, saving key history now while setting the stage for future victories!
Reason #6: As I mentioned, Cedar Creek is one of the most highly threatened Civil War battlefields in America. This is because a foreign-owned mining company controls more than 500 acres of land there, and they are mercilessly and relentlessly destroying key parts of it with each passing day. And unfortunately, due primarily to the reluctance of local political officials to do anything to prevent the limestone mine’s expansion, all we can do at this point is try to match them acre per acre, preserving, protecting and defending as much hallowed ground as we can – hopefully faster than they can destroy it.
It is frustrating but, for the foreseeable future, like two scorpions in a Mason jar, the mine and the Civil War Trust are stuck facing off against each other every day, fighting over much of the same ground, and we need to strike first and often by preserving hallowed ground whenever we have an opening, as we do now.
Reason #7: According to the congressionally authorized study that we use to prioritize our efforts, Cedar Creek is a “Priority I.1 Class A” battlefield, one of only eleven sites in America to hold this top-most ranking. In this case, however, being at the top of the list means Cedar Creek is one of those battlefields “most in need of urgent and immediate preservation action.” So we’ve got to move faster than a speeding Minie ball whenever land becomes available.
Reason #8: By saving these 77 acres now, we will add another 15% to the total amount of preserved land that has already been saved at Cedar Creek, going from 533 acres to 610!
Reason #9 (and I’m going to spend a few moments on this, because it is so important): Both of these tracts are covered in extraordinarily significant history.
On our Cedar Creek battle map, I urge you to look at the map that shows the early morning action, when the Confederates surprised the Federals with a 5:00 a.m. attack.
This 12.5 acre tract was the scene of some of the most significant fighting during the early morning hours of October 19, 1864, when a brigade of approximately 1,500 Northern soldiers sacrificed itself against a Confederate onslaught four times its size.
Portion of the Civil War Trust Battle Map showing the location of the 8th Vermont Monument on the battlefield (Civil War Trust)
This dramatic action was a desperate attempt by the Union high command to buy time for the rest of the army, which was reeling in confusion from a crushing Southern surprise attack that struck at dawn. The combat on this property included brutal hand-to-hand fighting for control of several regimental flags, and eventually resulted in the near destruction of the Northern defenders. The losses were not in vain, however, as they delayed the Confederate attack for 30 precious minutes.
A monument to the 8th Vermont, one of only three memorials on the Cedar Creek Battlefield, is also located on this tract. The monument marks the spot of their desperate struggle to save their battle flags. Located on private property, this monument has – up to now – been nearly inaccessible to the general public.
On our other Cedar Creek battle map, please note the large 64.5 acre tract known as Rienzi’s Knoll. Just how important is this ground? Hold onto your hat…
By 10:30 on the morning of the battle, the Union Army of the Shenandoah was bloodied, battered and on the verge of a demoralizing defeat. They had been driven across five miles of rolling Virginia fields during five hours of combat. To most Union soldiers and their officers, the battle was over. Cedar Creek appeared to be a stunning Confederate victory.
It was on the land we working to save, and the adjoining farms around it, that these Union lines attempted to rally. The army's commander, Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan, soon arrived on the scene. Having attended a council of war in Washington the day before, he spent the night in Winchester, over 13 miles to the north. Sheridan had no idea of the disaster that had befallen his army. As the sounds of battle reached him, followed by fleeing Union soldiers and rumors of defeat, he quickened his pace and rode hard to the field, rallying his demoralized soldiers. “Sheridan’s Ride,” as it became known, forever secured his status in American history. Upon his return to the field, Sheridan described the scene that greeted him:
"...there burst upon our view the appalling spectacle of a panic-stricken army -- hundreds of slightly wounded men, throngs of others unhurt but utterly demoralized, and baggage-wagons by the score, all pressing to the rear in hopeless confusion, telling only too plainly that a disaster had occurred at the front."
Sheridan rejected all suggestions to order a retreat, and instead began a counterattack. To restore his army’s morale, Sheridan rode along the length of his battle lines. Part of this ride occurred across the fields of the farm property we are attempting to save. One Northern soldier recalled the impact Sheridan's presence had on his troops:
"The men sprang to their feet and cheered as only men under such circumstances can....Hope and confidence returned at a bound. No longer did we merely hope that the worst was over, that we could hold our ground until night, or, at worst, make a good orderly retreat to Winchester. Now we all burned to attack the enemy, to drive him back, to retrieve our honor and sleep in our old camp that night."
By 4:00 p.m. Sheridan had stabilized his lines and launched his counterattack. The left end of the 6th Corps line was located on this Rienzi’s Knoll land and passed over its fields during their advance toward the Confederate line.
This counterattack has been portrayed in many histories of the battle as overwhelming, sweeping the entire Confederate line from the field. In truth, the Union advance was met by fierce and stubborn resistance and, for a few critical moments the fate of the battle hung in the balance. One Confederate described this deadly struggle, writing, "For about thirty minutes, such fighting never had been: we mowed them down like wheat." This often overlooked critical phase of the battle, which involved some of the heaviest fighting during the day, started in the area of Rienzi’s Knoll.
Ultimately, the Confederate left flank was turned and a Southern retreat rapidly disintegrated into a rout. The final result was a crushing Union victory and the end of further Confederate military resistance in the Shenandoah Valley.
It is amazing to think that to mark this crucial moment in our nation’s history, not one acre of ground has ever been protected before now. Acquisition of this tract will set the stage for further preservation efforts across this critical, yet totally unprotected northern end of the battlefield.
Finally, Reason #10 why I hope you will be a part of saving these hallowed acres today: We only have about 180 days left to raise our portion of the match, before we must close on the properties. (And don’t forget that $996,500 in matching funds on the table – a combination of federal and state grants, and land acquisition funds from the National Park Service.)
In closing, I’ll give you one bonus reason why I think you should support this urgent effort at Cedar Creek today:
Because with your support, and even in these difficult times, the Civil War Trust is still the most effective and efficient organization of its kind in America, and we do what we say we are going to do with our members’ donations.
As evidence of that, I will direct you to the press release we sent out recently, just in case you did not see it. It outlines the incredible year you and I had in 2011… more than 2,000 acres saved… victory over Walmart at The Wilderness… victory (for the second time) over casino interests who sought to desecrate Gettysburg… over 60,000 “fans” on the social media site Facebook… the launch of several wildly successful smartphone-based “battle apps,” funded in large part by the Virginia Department of Transportation.
So if you are looking for the biggest bang for your charitable buck (we can turn it into nearly $5 at Cedar Creek if we act fast), want to save absolutely key parts of your country’s history, prevent future destruction of hallowed ground by a foreign-owned mining company, build on our past successes and set the stage for future victories, then I humbly suggest that this may be the project for you!
To say “thanks” both for taking the time to read my letter today as well as in anticipation of any help you might send, I’ve will send two modest gifts to you.
I’ve heard from some members that they wished they had a Civil War Trust bumper sticker to put on their car or truck. I’ve heard from others who’ve said they don’t use or like bumper stickers, but would put a removable “window cling” in their rear window to help spread the word.
So today, not knowing exactly which camp you might be in, I will go ahead and sent you one of each! I hope you will put them where lots of folks can see them and ask you about this “Civil War Trust” group that you are such a key part of.
I hope you will give this preservation opportunity thoughtful consideration. We must raise from the overall membership to raise the $261,500 we need to save these important 77 acres before our August 1 deadline.
I thank you for your dedication to our great cause, and look forward to saving even more of America’s priceless hallowed ground with you in the rest of the year.
Yours in preserving America's history and heritage,
P.S. Before you even think about making a donation to this important effort, I urge you to visit our Cedar Creek appeal page on our website at www.civilwar.org/cedarcreek12. There you will get to see more photos and maps of the property than I could ever afford to print and put into an envelope (being good stewards of the funds entrusted to us).
You can also watch the great animated map of the Battle of Cedar Creek that we produced a while ago, which includes key information about the limestone mining operation that threatens this hallowed ground, and, if so motivated, make your donation securely online with a credit card (perhaps earning travel miles or other bonus points, depending on your card).
I look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible. Thank you once again for all you do.