Cannon boomed, rifles and muskets flashed, smoke billowed, rows of infantrymen in butternut and blue wheeled, turned and clashed, and surgical gear was unpacked.
But no blood was shed this weekend on Culpeper County’s Cedar Mountain battlefield, unlike the real thing on that ground 157 years ago, when 3,600 Union and Confederate soldiers lost their lives in the fighting between Cedar Run and its nearby mountain.
This year’s action at Cedar Mountain brought only an appreciative crowd of visitors eager to learn what happened there during the American Civil War, and to get some feeling for what it was like.
Members of two living-history regiments—the 10th Virginia Volunteer Infantry, from the Shenandoah Valley, and the Lincoln Guards, Company D of the 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry, with members mostly from Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania—lent their expertise and realism to helping people understand the history and significance of the place.
The re-enactors expressed pleasure at the response from the spectators, who numbered more than 250 during the weekend’s commemoration of the Battle of Cedar Mountain.
The living historians and their host, the local Friends of Cedar Mountain nonprofit group, invited people to return next year to a three-times-larger set of events that will recreate a battle scenario as well as local civilian life during the clash of Aug. 9, 1862.
The weather, with high temperatures in the mid-80s, cooperated, said Karen Quaintance, a member of the Friends’ board of directors.
The battle was fought on a brutally hot day when the mercury reached about 100 degrees and many soldiers, wearing their woolen uniforms, dropped from heatstroke.
A family connection
“Every event is different and has a personality of its own, but the part that fascinates me the most are the people who come who had an ancestor on the field—me being one of them—and want to see the field where they fought and in some cases, died,” said Quaintance, who lives in Culpeper near Cedar Mountain.
“The stories of visitors’ ancestors range but have that common thread—fighting for what they believed in,” she said. “I love the people who stop by our table and tell us with great passion about their ancestor. So many stories. And, yes, there can be tears.”
Quaintance’s cousin was Lt. Col. Lawson Botts of Brig Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s division, 1st Brigade.
A Fredericksburg native who practiced law in Charles Town, Va., Botts survived the Battle of Cedar Mountain but apparently was wounded in Jackson’s next engagement, the Battle of Second Manassas on Aug. 28-30, 1862. He died Sept. 16 in Middleburg, and is buried in Charles Town, which is now part of West Virginia. Aged 37, Botts left behind a wife and several children, Quaintance said.
Attendees at this year’s commemorative weekend included people with soldiers on both sides of the sectional conflict. Visitors came from Culpeper, Northern Virginia, Southwest Virginia, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
Michael Block, a Friends group director, met the descendant of an officer in the 12th U.S. Infantry.
“Capt. William M. Quimby was wounded in the corn on that oppressively hot afternoon,” Block said Monday. “I was able to discuss the role the 12th played and the impact they had on the battle, and how in particular the [United States] Regulars were recognized for their skill by the Confederates.”
During the day on Saturday and Sunday, the soldiers with the Virginia and Minnesota units conducted a “School of the Soldier” for visitors of all ages, teaching basic infantry skills that gave adults and children a feeling for how difficult it was for men to march, obey commands, keep together, and coordinate their movements in battle. The infantrymen and a gun crew also demonstrated the use of their long guns and an artillery piece.
As sunset drew near on Saturday, the soldiers rested in the shade of a wartime “witness tree” and ate rations, then gathered for a brief ceremony honoring the soldier ancestors of people who have registered with Friends of Cedar Mountain, in person or via its website. Each year, the list of ancestors grows steadily longer.
When 6 o’clock came, an honor guard with men from both regiments marched into the area, and stood at attention with weapons. Solemnly, as visitors assembled in the old Orange Road, the names of 100 soldiers and their regiments were read aloud by Block and Brad Forbush, another board member of the Friends group, as well as Jeremy Hilliard and Patrick Heleen, leaders of the 10th Virginia.
As they announced each soldier’s name, a director softly rang a bell suspended from the split-rail fence along the old Orange-to-Gordonsville road. More re-enactors stood quietly in the road, doffing their kepis and slouch hats out of respect, a few holding their mess kits at their side.
Then the gun grew fired the cannon, with its muzzle blast unrolling toward Cedar Mountain, far in the distance.
A gaunt Confederate soldier took up his fiddle to play “The Vacant Chair,” a sorrowful tune that was popular in both North and South as a tribute to fallen comrades.
One re-enactor, Gary Carlberg of the 1st Minnesota, also took a few minutes during the ceremony to honor a friend, Dr. Ian Webber, a scientist who died of cancer at age 75 on March 15, 2019, at his home in Garner, N.C.
Webber, an avid photographer, accompanied Carlberg to many Civil War living-history events. In 2017, Carlberg participated in the Cedar Mountain re-enactment. On that hot day, a member of Friends of Cedar Mountain found a hat for Webber so he wouldn’t scorch his head. “He really appreciated that kind gesture,” Carlberg said.
A week before he died, Webber asked his friend to enlarge several of his photos from that event, mount them on canvas, and give them to the Friends of Cedar Mountain.
“The … image shows both cannons firing at exactly the same moment,” Webber wrote of his favorite image, a matter of split-second timing. “The nearest cannon has emitted a very bright orange flash, which does not seem to always be the case, but, as a photographer, I lucked out.”
Afterward, once dusk fell, about 30 visitors took part in the evening’s Torchlight Tour, touring the soldiers’ camps and hearing vivid stories of the battle.
Having the 10th Virginia and 1st Minnesota re-enactment groups return year after year has helped build interest in the annual event, said Diane Logan, president of Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield.
An ‘incredible’ day
“It’s been incredible today,” Logan said Saturday evening. “We’ve had lots of spectators interested in learning about our history. Some of them were talking about the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, too. ... People talked about how great it was to be here and see what happened on the field during the American Civil War, or the Late Unpleasantness, depending on where you’re from. They said they will come back. ... And that’s why we’re here.”
Logan said a regional initiative to create a state park from the already preserved land at Culpeper’s Cedar Mountain and Brandy Station battlefields also has increased people’s awareness of the two historic sites. And it has generated more interest in the annual anniversary weekend of Culpeper’s bloodiest Civil War battle, Cedar Mountain, she said.
Both battlefields are preserved by the American Battlefield Trust and stewarded by the trust and local friends groups, including the Brandy Station Foundation. On the two battlefields, the trust has permanently protected about 1,200 acres of hallowed ground.
The Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain State Park Alliance is leading the effort to establish the park, if state lawmakers consent.