Read about our March 31, 2019 Generations event below or online at starexponent.com
Written by Allison Brophy Champion
RAPIDAN—Children dressed in little Union soldier uniforms—and regular modern street clothes—confronted a whooping Confederate line on a windy Sunday morning at the Cedar Mountain Battlefield along U.S. 15 in southern Culpeper County.
“For your homes, for Virginia!” rang out the Rebel call as both sides hurled plastic balls at the other and gusts carried the light spheres into the air, a few striking their intended targets.
“Let’s get so close to them to kill them all!” shouted one youngster in blue, the tactical lines shifting all around the grassy field overlooking the mountain for which the Aug. 9, 1862, Civil War battle at the site was named.
Like the actual battle here 157 years ago, the Union line that also included parents and grandparents eventually retreated. The Confederate line, with its similar makeup, overtook them as part of the weekend’s interactive “Generations” event hosted by Washington, D.C.-based American Battlefield Trust.
The Trust provided the period outfits for the smallest participants, including a straw hat and flowered apron for one little girl.
The Trust owns more than 150 acres at the battleground where nearly 3,700 men were injured or killed. It was a “quick, brutal fight” in temperatures that soared to 98 degrees, Kris White of the Trust told an assembled crowd of more than 100 prior to the battle simulation.
Outnumbered two to one, Union forces were pushed back to Culpeper following a Confederate counterattack led by native son, Maj. Gen. A.P. Hill. It was at Cedar Mountain where the famed Stonewall Jackson drew his sword, nearly rusted to the scabbard for lack of use, for the only time during the war to rally his troops.
It is also where Clara Barton performed her first official duty, tending to wounded on the battlefield in the days after the fight, though the Red Cross founder did not earn a mention during Sunday’s program.
“People actually fought, bled and died out here,” said Garry Adelman with the Trust. “When we simulate the battle, nobody actually dies.”
Intended to activate interest in history among young people, the Generations event attracted all ages and drew people from near and far. Joanne Price, of Bel Air, Md., visited Cedar Mountain with her husband, son, daughter-in-law and grandson, 12-year-old Tyler.
“We are history buffs,” said Mrs. Price. “Who goes to Gettysburg on July 3? I do.
“I’ve been a member of the Civil War Trust for many, many years,” she said of the renamed American Battlefield Trust. “We love this stuff.”
The wool blend blue coat may have been a bit much for her grandson.
“Grandma, I’m sweating,” he told her.
But the uncomfortable attire didn’t stop him from enjoying the event.
“It’s pretty cool; you get to throw stuff at people,” Tyler said after.
Asked what he learned, the sixth-grader at Magnolia Middle School in Joppa, Md., responded that the tactical formations were something new.
“I didn’t know they had to stand in lines on the battlefield,” he said.
He added he enjoyed visiting Culpeper for the weekend.
“It’s like real old and historic,” he added.
His father, Rich Price, said his interest in battlefield history was born from his own father’s interest.
“This is his deal,” Rich Price said. “He wanted us to come out as a family and experience it with him.”
A half-dozen re-enactors in gray, representing the Valley Guards, participated in the day’s activities and demonstrated what life would have been like at camp and on the battlefield. The actual Valley Guard was part of the 10th Virginia Volunteer Infantry Regiment, a militia that organized in the late 1850s in Rockingham County. The unit suffered 43 casualties in the 1862 battle at Cedar Mountain.
On Sunday, the smell of campfire drifted with the wind and so did smoke from Confederate guns booming from the farm field. Dark clouds eventually rolled away, revealing blue sky and sunshine.
“One of the main things we get out of this lifestyle is interacting with people, with you,” said Patrick Heelen of Culpeper, one of the Valley Guards. “We love history, but you can only get so much history out of a book.
“We want to know, what was it like to walk 20 miles a day? What did it smell like? We try to bring this experience alive.”
The wool jacket worn by Civil War soldiers would have weighed around nine pounds, he said. It was part of battle gear that totaled up to 50 pounds and included three days rations, gun, blanket, canteen and cartridge box. Loading a musket was a 10-step process, Heelen added, demonstrating the process, further noting that a well-trained infantry man could get off three rounds per minute.
Re-enactor Bobby Sapp wore his ancestor’s quilt wrapped around his body. He said it was the same quilt his ancestor was wearing when he was shot and killed at Gettysburg.
“This quilt is 156 years old and has been in my family for that long,” Sapp said. “It has blood stains inside the quilt from where he was shot twice.”
With its squares of faded plaids, purple flowered material and bits of white stuffing exposed, the quilt rarely sees the light of day, he said.
“It is falling apart. I shouldn’t wear it, but I like to bring it out,” Sapp said. “We do take this stuff seriously. We wear original stuff.”
He said he re-enacts for the dozens of ancestors who fought for the Confederacy.
“There is nothing better than going out on weekends and shooting at Yankees,” Sapp said, noting his fiancée, from Illinois, advised him not to say that. “It is a stress reliever. I can go through 200 hand-rolled rounds in a weekend.”
Heavy on Confederate history, Sunday’s Generations event included brief mention that the “Fried Chicken Capital of the World” is town of Gordonsville, from where Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s army marched to fight at Cedar Mountain. Not mentioned was the fact that the town earned that name due to the African-American women who fixed and sold the delectable fare to feed train passengers passing through the war-torn area.
Attendees at Cedar Mountain were instead offered a taste of “hardtack,” provisions for Civil War soldiers that, as its name implies, is nearly inedible. There were also little packets of Goldfish crackers and oranges for the kids.
Participants at the local event donned 3D glasses to view bulging Civil War photos of dead horses and Union soldiers barely in their battlefield graves. The first photos of dead horses on an American battlefield were, in fact, taken at Cedar Mountain, Adelman said.
“The horror of war,” he described as children reacted with exclamations of, “Yuck!”
At Gettysburg, he continued, so many horses were killed, they were put into piles and burned, causing “a fog of foulness that wafted over the scarred countryside.”
“So keep this in mind when we’re out there,” Adelman said. “These places are hallowed ground.”
Michael Snyder, a grandfather from Pottstown, Pa., agreed. He brought two grandsons with him to the Generations program, one from Long Island, N.Y. and the other from Lancaster, Pa.
“I wanted to bring them down because of this idea of how important it is to get the younger generation interested in Civil War history and preservation,” he said.
Diane Logan, president of the Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield, said the organization was thrilled to host the event, telling the crowd, “All of you are the future for keeping the history of these battlefields alive.”