The following is an editorial published by the Culpeper Star Exponent on June 9, 1863, available at www.starexponent.com
Ancestors of some who read this newspaper lived in Culpeper 156 years ago, and experienced firsthand the carnage of June 9, 1863.
Roughly 20,000 cavalrymen, both blue and gray, fought for their lives that day, slashing on horseback their brothers who served a different flag. More than a thousand died. All these decades later, many remain where they fell, buried in the rich green meadows of Culpeper County.
Coming as the anniversary of the Battle of Brandy Station does on the heels of Thursday’s 75th anniversary D-Day observance, sober thoughts bow our heads in gratitude for the grit of those who fought and in sorrow for the futility of war.
Explaining how he shuttled shells to the guns of the USS Texas as it bombarded Omaha Beach, longtime Culpeper resident Howard Mills shared his story in the June 6 Star-Exponent article, “Hometown hero recalls role in D-Day on 75th anniversary.”
This past week, the world watched—with ceremony, tears and fascination—as that era’s aircraft soared again over Normandy’s beaches and countryside, which the French and Americans have preserved to honor the history made and the lives lost as the Allies liberated France from the grip of Nazi Germany. (That’s All Brother, a Douglas C-47 that visited Culpeper in the weeks before the 75th anniversary, led the air fleet that flew past world leaders and D-Day veterans at Omaha Beach on #DDay75. Seventy-five years before, she led the 800-plus other Dakotas carrying paratroopers into Normandy for their night drop over enemy territory.)
June 6, 1944, was Howard Mills’ 19th birthday; when the Allies’ fleet appeared off Normandy’s coast that morning, his whole life lay ahead of him. That day became a defining moment for him and the world, one he says he still thinks about every day. This year, Mills marked his 94th birthday on D-Day’s anniversary.
So, too, was the Battle of Brandy Station a defining moment—not just for its horsemen, but for the American Civil War itself.
In today’s Star-Exponent, columnist Clark B. Hall highlights this fact in his piece, “Hamlet of Brandy Station saw start of fabled 1863 campaign.” (Link to article)
Hall notes that Col. Frederick Newhall, helping dedicate the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry Monument at Gettysburg in 1888, said, “While Gettysburg is generally thought of as a struggle which began on the 1st and ended on the 3rd day of July, 1863, the fact will someday be fully recognized that it had its beginning many miles from here … It was at Beverly Ford then that Gettysburg was inaugurated.”
Had Gen. Robert E. Lee’s plan for the Gettysburg Campaign succeeded, Washington, D.C., might have been captured, with Southern victory a clear possibility.
The Confederates’ retreat after defeat in Gettysburg—the war’s costliest battle—ended Lee’s final strategic offensives. After that point, all combat operations of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia were in reaction to Union initiatives, until Lee surrendered his army at Appomattox Court House in April 1865.
Hall, with the help of others, has worked for more than 30 years to preserve hundreds of acres of Culpeper’s Brandy Station battlefield, where the largest cavalry battle in the Western Hemisphere was waged.
Much of this land now belongs to the American Battlefield Trust, a national land-preservation nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. The trust, as well as an alliance of supporters—including the Culpeper County Board of Supervisors, Culpeper Town Council and state legislators such as Sens. Bryce Reeves and Emmett Hanger and Dels. Nick Freitas and Michael Webert—hope that Virginia will create a state park from the ground saved at Brandy Station and the nearby Cedar Mountain battlefield.
Mark Coombs, deputy director of government relations for the American Battlefield Trust, said the park initiative has come close to becoming a reality during the past two years, with a budget amendment approved by the Virginia Senate both years, but failing to win House approval before last winter’s legislative session ended.
More public support from people all across Virginia, and particularly from folks living in Culpeper County, is needed to make a state park a reality.
“We need people to become more active and engaged with the Brandy Station Foundation and Friends of the Cedar Mountain Battlefield,” Coombs told us. “Events are conducted year-round at both sites that aid in bringing attention to the battlefields and their resources and help from both an advocacy and stewardship perspective. These are the ideal vehicles through which people can assist, in multiple ways.”
Such a state park would be a blessing to the Culpeper region economically. But more importantly, the park will honor, commemorate and interpret our country’s biggest cavalry battlefield, and preserve for future generations the memory of those who lost their lives in the bloody struggle there.