Save Cross Keys and Tom's Brook
A Message from Jim Lighthizer, Civil War Trust President
On June 8, 1862, Stonewall Jackson’s men fought in the hills and swales
at the Battle of Cross Keys, Virginia…
On October 9, 1864, Phil Sheridan’s cavalry sent Confederate horsemen reeling
after the Battle of Tom’s Brook…
…today, I ask you to help save much of that crucial, Shenandoah Valley hallowed ground
at these two battlefields — about 10.6 million square feet of it —
for less than 2 cents per square foot!
Dear Dedicated Member,
As you look at these maps, recall that it was at Cross Keys where Stonewall Jackson – nearing the end of a masterful military campaign that would later bear his name – ordered Major General Richard Ewell and his 5,000 troops to hold off Union General John Fremont and his 10,500 boys in blue.
In the preceding 36 days, Jackson’s men had marched 250 miles, won three battles and had thwarted every effort to trap them. At Cross Keys, the worn-down Confederates turned to make their stand, near the site of a crucial bridge at Port Republic, where the Federals could have united to defeat Jackson.
On June 8, Fremont's troops advanced and launched an attack that failed to disrupt the Confederate lines. Cross Keys was another Union failure in Jackson's amazing 1862 Valley campaign.
On your map, please find the tract that I have highlighted in yellow. As you can see, this 83-acre tract was not only the site of some of the most decisive fighting of the battle, it is also the “bridge” that links all of the rest of the significant previously preserved hallowed ground at Cross Keys!
It was on this very ground that the 15th Alabama regiment, (which would, about a year later, draw the duty of attacking Little Round Top at Gettysburg), along with several other regiments under Brig. General Isaac Ridgeway Trimble, attempted to flank the Federals, and change the course of the battle.
If you want to read the best blow-by-blow account of the history of the combat on this ground, I highly suggest historian Robert K. Krick’s book, Conquering the Valley , specifically the chapter entitled “Trimble’s Attack,” on pages 183-209. Bob describes far more eloquently than I ever could the crucial decisive action that took place on this part of the battlefield…
… Confederates moving to flank the Union line, stubborn Union resistance, communication breakdowns in the heat of battle, individual stories of courage, valor and sacrifice – these 83 acres are “key” to story of the Battle of Cross Keys.
But what is truly amazing is that until twelve years ago, not one acre of this important place – this essential chapter of the story of America’s Civil War – was preserved.
In fact, the 51-acre “Widow Pence Farm” (the southernmost large parcel of land shown on your map, and the site of the “Slaughter of the 8th New York” regiment, a crucial moment in the battle) was the first piece of property this organization bought right after I became president.
At the time, in the year 2000, the farm was slated to be chopped up into a subdivision of new homes. I personally went to the open auction of this land, where there were only two bidders: me (representing you and the other Members of the Civil War Trust) and the land developer’s representative.
To make a long story short, with the help of a local preservationist who agreed to split the final cost 50-50 with us, we won out over the developer with a bid of $288,000.
When the auctioneer asked if I had any message for the crowd of 200-to-300 spectators, I told him to say that “the land would be preserved forever.”
I wish you could have heard the cheers.
The only problem was, back then, we didn’t have $144,000. We had to take out a 90-day loan. But, I put out a call for help from Trust members like you and – for the first time – put a color troop-movement map in the envelope along with my letter, and Trust members responded enthusiastically; we raised the full amount we needed in 87 days.
It was the first of many victories, and today, we have the opportunity to take another giant step closer to completing this crucial section of the Cross Keys battlefield. (As you know, completing the preservation of the important battles of the Civil War is the main goal of our current $40 million capital campaign – of which we have already raised $22.3 million in gifts and commitments – THANK YOU!! What a tremendous start!)
For this current 83-acre piece-of-the-puzzle, we are working with our good friends at the local Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation (SVBF), who are actually purchasing an easement to this essential property.
They have asked us to be the final $161,250 in this $374,750 transaction – meaning that I can multiply every $1 you give today for this effort into $2.32 – I can more than double the value of your gift. (There are also “use-them-or-lose-them” grants from the federal battlefield protection program as well as the Commonwealth of Virginia in play.)
But that’s not the end of the story. If you will now please look at the other battlefield map I sent created for to you, you’ll see a similar opportunity to save even more land, with a much higher leverage factor.
Working again with the SVBF to secure an easement, we can add an additional 161 acres to the 491 acres that both groups have already preserved the Tom’s Brook battlefield. For a minimal amount, we can create a nearly-700-acre preserved battlefield!
This was THE major cavalry battle of the 1864 Valley Campaign, and a major victory by the Union. One of the prominent division commanders at this battle was a young cavalryman named George Armstrong Custer; I’m guessing you’ve heard of him.
The battle is described wonderfully on the History.com “This Day in History” website for October 9, which I have excerpted here:
Union General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant dispatched one of his best generals, Philip Sheridan, to pursue the Confederates under Confederate General Jubal Early, who had been operating in and around the Shenandoah area for four months.
Sheridan turned the tables on the Confederates, scoring major victories at Winchester and Fisher's Hill in September. Early's battered force sought refuge in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, while Sheridan began destroying the Valley's rich agricultural resources.
Confederate cavalry chief General Thomas Rosser harassed the marauding Yankee force, but Union cavalry General Alfred Torbert refused to allow his generals, George Custer and Wesley Merritt, to counterattack. He insisted they continue to stick close to the Union infantry. Sheridan heard of this and demanded that Torbert attack.
At dawn on October 9, Custer and Merritt attacked the two wings of the Confederate cavalry. Merritt's 3,500 Yankees overwhelmed General Lunsford Lomax's 1,500 troopers, but Custer had more difficulty. His 2,500 men faced 3,000 men under the command of Rosser, who was, coincidentally, a close friend of Custer's at West Point before the War.
Under heavy pressure, both groups of Confederates broke in retreat. The Yankees pursued the defeated Confederates for over 20 miles, a flight called the ‘Woodstock Races,’ and has been called the most complete victory of Union cavalry in the eastern theater during the entire war.
Why did I spend so much time today telling you about the Battle of Tom’s Brook? Well, believe it or not, it’s because this is the first time in my more than 12 years as president of this organization, that we have ever attempted to raise funds to buy hallowed ground at this battlefield, so I thought you might want to know a little more about it.
Based on the number of times I write to you each year, you probably think it’s amazing that I have never written to you before about Tom’s Brook, but I swear it’s true: We have very quietly worked to save 491 acres there, behind the scenes, without ever once mounting a special fundraising campaign for that site.
In fact, I don’t send you a letter for every acre of ground the Trust saves each year; if I did, you’d be getting a letter once a week instead of once a month or so, and even I realize that you don’t want to hear from me that often!
Every year, we save hundreds of additional acres of battlefield land that we pay for using grants, gifts from major donors, gifts from bequests and other sources, so that I don’t have to trouble you with more requests for help than I already do.
Today, though, since we can save 161 acres at Tom’s Brook by putting in the final $25,000 for a $425,500 transaction (that’s a $17-to-$1 leverage factor!), I thought you should hear about this one.
To think of it another way, 244 acres is about 10.6 million square feet. Today, you and I can help save this land for – are you ready? – just 1.8 cents per square foot!
For a few pennies that you might not even bother to pick up off the sidewalk, you can help save a piece of hallowed not much bigger than the map you hold in your hand. Imagine how much land a few dollars will save!
Mark my words; the housing market won’t be down forever. When it heats back up, both of these places would be prime areas for residential development. If that happens, the historical significance of that land – plus much of what we’ve already saved – will be destroyed and erased forever, robbing future generations. We must save them now, while we can… while prices are reasonable and we have willing landowners… and while we have matching funds to help.
Can I count on you to help us meet this challenge by sending your most generous possible donation to save Cross Keys and Tom's Brook today? To honor our commitments to our friends at the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, we need to raise our share within the next 90 days.
The Board of Trustees, our small yet dedicated staff and I are all counting on you. Thank you very, very much.
P.S. Remember, there is always so much more information on our website at www.civilwar.org/crosskeys2012 and www.civilwar.org/tomsbrook2012. As you look through the rich material we have there for both Cross Keys and Tom’s Brook – maps, photos, historical accounts – I ask you please to remember just a few numbers: 1.8 cents per square foot… leverage factors of $2.32 and $17-to-$1 … 90 days. I will be grateful for any help you can provide. Thank you again.