Lon Lacey, a remembrance

By Michael Block, Vice President, Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield

FCMB Board Member Lon Lacey passed away, Friday, December 13, 2019.  He was 84.

I first met Lon Lacey in February 2012, when we both joined the Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield (FCMB) Board of Directors. We were two of three new members who joined at that time, with the general thought of infusing ‘fresh blood’ into the organization. It was also just prior to Cedar Mountain’s Sesquicentennial commemoration. We were both thrown into the deep end from the start. Lon didn’t miss a beat. His first project was to plan and execute a one-day symposium on the Battle of Cedar Mountain. The program went off flawlessly. 

Lon brought a passion for the history of the fight with him, having an ancestor who fought with the 27th Indiana Infantry. The historical detail of the battle was something Lon realized was missing from the FCMB. The current board makeup had an understanding of the fight, but lacked the details. We decided that needed to change. 

Over the intervening seven years we served together the variety and depth of tours increased significantly. No longer were visitors conducted along the wartime road and out to the “Point.” They were taken onto Cedar Mountain where Joseph Latimer positioned his guns. They strode down into the “brushy field” where George H. Gordon’s men were set upon from three sides. Our guests were also taken off the battlefield, to the streets of Orange Court House, the Widow Brown house site, the front yard of the Gilbert House, where McGilvery’s battery anchored the Federal left. And most importantly for Lon, the positions of Capt. James Thompson’s Battery C, Pennsylvania Light Artillery in their late night engagement with Captain Willie Pegram’s Purcell Artillery. That evening, the Federal guns stopped the Confederates. 

Lon researched that portion of the fight in significant detail. Not only diving into archives and online resources for the bits of information, but also reaching out to re-enactment groups who had the passion for the units involved. The information Lon assembled was amazing. He pin-pointed the battery’s location. Having served in the U. S. Marine Corps and a full career in the FBI, it is no small leap where he acquired his skills. His efforts rewrote our understanding of the artillery duel, and how Thompson was able to use his guns to their maximum effect, quickly rendering the Confederates combat ineffective and forcing their withdrawal. The impact of Thompson’s skill was documented for posterity by Timothy O’Sullivan’s stunning photo of the dead horses of Pegram’s battery, the first Civil War image of dead on the battlefield. 

His quest for accuracy did not end there. In 2013, the American Battlefield Trust (ABT), then Civil War Trust, proposed to replace our aging wayside markers with updated ones, with new text, images and maps. Lon and I dove into that project, reviewing the proposed markers line-by-line, discussing what was being said, its relevance to the location and the proposed supporting material. In nearly every case, based on our research, the markers were revised based on the on-the-ground battlefield knowledge and the significance of the position where the marker was placed. In Lon’s mind, this was fast becoming his battlefield, and the accuracy was not to be encroached upon. 

The locations and types of the fences throughout the battlefield was another project Lon pursued. Fences on the Cedar Mountain battlefield have never been mapped, though there is a wealth of information available in the period photographs, after-action report, diaries and letters and the art. Lon convinced the ABT to revise and relook at their understanding of the battle and how the fences impacted the fight. It was through Lon’s efforts that a fence now runs along the “Point.” Each year, on Park Day, it grows a little more. And this coming April, that legacy Lon began will continue. In my mind that fence is and will always be Lon’s. 

Lon was also a teacher. He loved nothing more than meeting guests on the battlefield and detailing the brief campaign and Battle of Cedar Mountain. The groups were varied and diverse, and Lon had the skill to speak to each group at their level of understanding and their particular interest. He coordinated and brought corporate leaders led by Maj. Gen. (Ret) Eric Vollmecke, members of the North-South Skirmish Association, and the Warwick School. These are just three of the hundreds of tours, groups or individuals Lon led across the battlefield. 

The corporate leaders participated in a staff ride of the battlefield and had an additional experience during their afternoon. They were taken to a nearby farm that had a firing range. Once there, Lon broke out a number of rifles from his extensive collection. After describing the weapons, the staff riders were allowed to try their hand at firing these historic weapons. 

When the North-South Skirmish Association toured the field, Lon gained permission and access to the Cedar Mountain Shelf, a private location few have had the privilege of visiting. The view is spectacular and you gain an immediate understanding of the impact on the battle Confederate artillery had from that position. 

In April 2016, we were visited by the Sixth Form (or Seniors) from the Warwick School, Warwick, England. This boys’ school is believed to be the oldest boys’ public school in the world. The group was traveling up and down the east coast and made Cedar Mountain a stop on their journey to Charlottesville. For three hours, Lon and I described the battle and the relevance to the Virginia campaign of 1862. While I am sure the young gentlemen enjoyed the tour and talk (and lunch) what got them all excited was the opportunity to handle Lon’s weapons. It was a rare treat and the boys thoroughly enjoyed the moment. 

Lon was instrumental in acquiring the two replica cannon that crown a hill on the battlefield. Plans were underway and funds collected to purchase a replica when the opportunity to have two from a former museum at Gettysburg were made available to the FCMB. Lon took point on all aspects of the cannon movement and refurbishment. He worked to transport them from Gettysburg, found a location and individual who would strip, break down, repair, rebuild and repaint the 126-year-old cannon. The result of the six-month process revealed two nearly pristine 3 inch ordinance rifled cannon you see at Cedar Mountain. 

As many of our board members d0, Lon re-enacted with a passion. He was key in finding units that would journey to Culpeper to take part in living history events or demonstrations. He brought Thompson’s Battery C down from Pennsylvania (a unit after his own heart) and the 2nd Maryland Fife and Drum Band, of which his son is a member. Artillery and music on the battlefield provides impact, and Lon delivered. 

Lon was intensely focused on battlefield preservation. He constantly looked for opportunities for some positive action whenever a piece of property on the battlefield became vulnerable. One of our first actions was supporting the ABT in purchasing the home on the edge of the battlefield that is now used for multiple purposes and functions as well as the ten acres directly across the street. When property fell onto our radar, Lon would research the history of that ground so the significance was understood. The documentation created was passed to those who needed it to fight whatever the fight was, be it an outright purchase, a viewshed challenge or just to better understand its relevance. 

I will miss the battlefield walks Lon and I took, going over the movements, actions and reactions, as well as the healthy discussions on what each of us believed happened, and where it happened. We always parted friends. His conversations at board meetings were always on task as to how the actions taken by the FCMB would move the group forward. The impact of his loss has not yet been realized. But Lon Lacey, you are already sorely missed. 

Rest in peace my friend, and Semper Fi! 

The 27th Indiana Volunteers at Cedar Mountain

This is the 2nd installment of our look at four memorable tours given at Cedar Mountain in 2019.

The 27th Indiana at Cedar Mountain, September 19, 2019

In July, Mr. Bob Shaffer contacted FCMB Vice President Michael Block to share information about his grandmother’s uncle, Edmund R. Brown, and to schedule a private tour with the Friends of Cedar Mountain.   The date September 19 was set to escort Mr. Shaffer around the battlefield.  Edmund R. Brown wrote the beautifully descriptive regimental history of the 27th Indiana Volunteers published in 1899.   His eloquent words are often quoted on tours of the battlefield. Here’s a brief example describing the regiment’s  eight mile march to Cedar Run which began just beyond Culpeper.

“The air was as hot as a bake oven.  Going directly south, near the noon hour, the sun beat mercilessly into our faces.  Our small, cloth caps, with narrow visers, were poor protection for our heads and eyes, while, with our heavy, regulation dress coats tightly buttoned, our bodies seemed to be a furnace of fire.  Not more than one or two of the Twenty-seventh were sunstroke and fell down in convulsions, but scores of other regiments were affected in that way. As we passed along in the intense heat we saw many o them lying on the ground, frothing at the mouth, rolling their eyeballs and writhing in painful contortions.  This march was the first of several almost incredible things accomplished that day.”

The day of the battle, August 9, 1862, happened to be Edmund Brown’s 17th birthday.  What were you doing when you were 17?  

Bob brought a copy of his ancestor’s book with him to Cedar Mountain while the 3 of us, Mike, Bob and I, explored the battle from the perspective of the 27th Indiana.  We drove behind the preserved land to see the high hill where the Brown House once stood, the jump-off point of the 27th when they advanced into battle.  From here,  two companies, C & F, were detached to the right a half mile as flank guards and were not engaged this day.  They were forgotten about when the Union lines fell back, so the two companies had an adventure finding their comrades after the retreat.  From the Brown House the regiment stepped off on the double-quick, across Cedar Run, towards the battle already in progress.  It was a long difficult approach.  

Our tour stopped in the woods, again on private property, where the old road trace of the Civil War era Wayland’s Mill road can be found.  Before us was the rugged, rock-strewn embankment the 27th charged over during their advance.  Brown wrote:

“Where the left wing of the Twenty-seventh struck the slope it rises at an angle of almost forty-five degrees.  All the way up the surface is not only steep, but mostly very broken.  Ravines, gulches, ledges of rock and innumerable loose stones, large and small, impede the progress at every step.  Trees and low bushes stand thick, with fallen tops and limbs and a tangle of vines and briars in many places, next to impenetrable.”

Looking down the slope today, the ground remains the same and Edmund Brown’s words came alive for us.   Nearby, on top of the wooded hill, stands a monument to the 27th, near the spot where the regiment stepped off the hill into combat.   It was placed in 1901 by John Bresnahan, of Washington, D.C., a Company A veteran who also placed the regiment’s monument at Chancellorsville. 

Our tour group left the woods and proceeded to the battlefield proper, where we walked the ground near the 3rd Wisconsin Monument.  It was here the 27th met the enemy in earnest.  When the regiment hit the fence bordering the wheat field they had to climb over it, or get around it somehow as best they could.  The enemy brigades of James J. Archer and Charles A. Ronald were in front and firing.  The regiment, being unprepared to respond,  had to fall back.  They reformed on a ridge a short distance from the fence and went in again, this time firing as they entered the fray.  Now in addition to Archer & Ronald’s brigade, William D. Pender’s brigade was on their flank.  And here we have a mystery, still to this day.

In the first advance the  3rd Wisconsin, was on the left of the 27th Indiana.  Six companies of the 3rd Wisconsin followed  Crawford’s brigade into the wheat field after a short delay and were forced back.  The 27th Indiana passed some of these troops in the woods on their advance.  The 3rd WI troops reformed and returned to the battle.  Because their battlefield monument is so far to the right of the Union line, it is presumed they came in on the right of the 27th Indiana.  It is a puzzle that remains to be solved.

Historian guide Michael Block was able to point to certain characteristics of the ground here, and offered his theories on the location of the hill where the 27th fell back and re-formed before their second charge. 

One last point on behalf of the 27th Indiana Infantry.  Their Brigade Commander General George H. Gordon constantly slighted them.  Another member of our board, historian Alonzo Lacey, whose great great uncle, Henry A. Ferris (Farris) served in the 27th and survived all its campaigns, said to me, “at Buckland Station, between Strasburg and Front Royal, the [27th IN] regiment, with some others of the 3d WI skirmished with Turner Ashby’s Cavalry and beat them back, but Gordon said they were routed.” 

General Gordon slighted the regiment again in his official report of Cedar Mountain.  But as Edmund Brown points out, in Gordon’s own book, “From Brook Farm to Cedar Mountain,” which was written years later, the brigade commander gives a more accurate account of events.

And so ended our exploration of the 27th Indiana at Cedar Mountain.  Its a part of the battle we don’t often get to tell due to time considerations.  In Mike’s words, “getting down to details and really understanding what was happening” make these kinds of tours especially rewarding for visitors and guides alike.  As Bob Shaffer summed up, “Walking the ground is the only way to understand it.”

Pictured above is the author at left with Mr. Bob Shaffer at the 27th Indiana Monument.

Some Memorable Moments from the 2019 Tour Season

Reflecting on the past year’s activities, the board members of Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield take great pride in their successful efforts to increase the number of public and private guided tours of the battlefield offered in 2019. In addition to the regularly scheduled and advertised monthly tours, generally given on the 3rd Saturday of each month, May through October, there were a few tours given by happenstance. The most important of these for the author was when he guided Mr. George Griffin, a descendant of a 10th Virginian soldier, and fulfilled this out of state visitor’s long-time desire to walk in his ancestor’s footsteps.

The last time George and his wife Jo Ann visited many years ago, the land was not preserved, nor were there any markers to delineate where the fighting happened. It was a marvel for George to have access to the land and walk in his ancestor’s footsteps. It was especially meaningful for me to provide that service. And then there were the pre-arranged tours presented by special request. All of these were significant but four tours stand out as being especially enjoyable for the visitors as well as the guides.

We will feature a summary of these special guided tours, each as an individual post, in the coming weeks. Here is the first installment.

Adjutant Charles Sprout’s Sword Returns to Cedar Mountain, May 13

On May 13, Mr. Joseph Maghe and his wife Deb brought several artifacts from their private collection to the Cedar Mountain Battlefield Visitor’s Center. Most prominent among them was the sword of Adjutant Charles P. Sprout, 28th New York Volunteers, who was killed in action at the Battle of Cedar Mountain on August 9, 1862. I’ve had a long association with Joseph through our common interest in the 13th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. He is one of the most magnanimous collectors it is my pleasure to know, who has no qualms about sharing his collection with interested parties. In his words, “The historical articles are meant to be seen and shared.”

Many years ago, it was Joseph who tipped me off that eBay was auctioning one of my great-great grandfather’s Civil War letters. Joseph’s consideration, allowed me to purchase this singularly treasured artifact, a September 1861 letter written from Harper’s Ferry. When I learned Joseph was traveling to Manassas to share some of his collection with a private tour, I invited him to Cedar Mountain. He accepted. We had not yet met face to face, but that introduction was made at the Manassas tour. A couple of days later we met again at Cedar Mountain.

FCMB Vice President Michael Block and battlefield historian Lon Lacey were also in attendance. The most exciting relic was the sword of Adjutant Charles Sprout, the popular officer of the 28th NY Infantry whose death in the battle was widely lamented. He was killed during the famous charge of General Samuel W. Crawford’s first brigade, against the weak left flank of Stonewall Jackson’s line. In this action the regiment went in with 320 men, and lost 209.

General Crawford himself mentioned Sprout in his report of the battle:

“Lieutenant Sprout, adjutant of the Twenty-eighth New York, was killed at the side of the enemy’s battery, and the gallant conduct of the men was sufficiently attested by one of the generals of the enemy himself, as we stood together upon the battlefield twenty-four hours after the action amid the mingled bodies of the dead of both sides.” A touching denouement to this story is that Adjutant Sprout’s daughter attended the 28th New York monument dedication ceremony at the Culpeper National Cemetery in 1902.

Harry E. Bowen, the son of Captain Erwin Bowen, described the scene in a letter to his family:

“Mrs. Stilson [of Detroit] was introduced to the audience as the daughter of Adjutant Sprout being three months old at the time of his death at Cedar Mountain. Her father had wished her named Annie Lourie Sprout, which lent an added charm to the song of Annie Lourie which she sang. The enthusiasm brought her back the second time, and all joined in the Star Spangled Banner.”

After enthusiastically swapping stories and sharing personal artifacts from the war, we walked the battlefield together. A drizzly day gave the tour added interest.

Pictures are worth a thousand words, so here are  several from that special day.

Board members Michael Block and Lon Lacey talk while Joseph reads the transcript of my great-great grandfather’s September 1861 letter written from Harper’s Ferry, on the Maryland side of the river.

Board member Lon Lacey shows Joseph his ancestor’s carbine with name inscribed on the stock.

FCMB Vice President Michael Block sets the stage for the battlefield tour.

At “The Point.” This is the spot on the battlefield where the 28th New York charged through the wheat field to attack the weak Confederate left flank.

Near the spot on the battlefield where Adjutant Charles Sprout, 28th NY, was killed.

Walking the field, Cedar Mountain in the background.

FOCMB Vice-President Michael Block, with Adjutant Sprout’s Ceremonial Sword.  Mike gave a talk the following week in Sprout’s home-town of Lockport, N.Y.

A photo of Mike speaking at the New Holland Land Office Museum, in Batavia, N.Y., May, 2019.  He spoke on the 28th New York’s action during the Battle of Cedar Mountain, and the postwar reconciliation between the 28th NY and the 5th Virginia Infantry.  This included the “returning of the 28th’s battle flag by the Virginians in 1882, and the New Yorker’s visit to Staunton, VA the following year.

So that’s it for this week.  Next up will be a recap of a July tour that focused on the 27th Indiana Infantry with the descendant of Edmund Brown, the author of the 27th’s regimental history.