In the late summer of 1864 during the Civil War, Maj. Gen. Phil Sheridan was given command of the Union Army of the Shenandoah by Grant, with orders to quell Confederate opposition in the Valley and stem the flow of the local food supplies to their armies. To that end, Sheridan burned barns, mills, and crops that could be used to feed Southern soldiers.
In retaliation, Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early launched an early morning, surprise attack on the Federal army at Cedar Creek, routing the 8th and 19th Corps in a well-executed tactical maneuver on October 19, 1864. But Sheridan reacted quickly, riding from Winchester and rallying his troops. In the afternoon, he launched a brutal counterattack, reclaimed the battlefield and wrested control of the Shenandoah Valley from the Confederates.
This one day of conflict resulted in more than 8,000 casualties.
The Battle of Cedar Creek was a critical Union victory that nearly wiped out Early’s Confederate army, and coupled with Sherman’s March to the Sea did a great deal to ensure Lincoln’s reelection.
It is one thing to examine a Civil War action academically, and quite another to walk the fields where men died in that action. Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park, located near Middletown, affords that opportunity. We asked Karen Beck-Herzog, Site Manager of the Park, for some more background on this historic battlefield.
Beck-Herzog: Cedar Creek and Belle Grove NHP is a “partnership park,” in which the National Park Service works with several Key Partners to create and manage the park and its resources. These Key Partners are all non-profit or governmental organizations and include: Belle Grove, Inc., The National Trust for Historic Preservation, Shenandoah Valley Battlefield Foundation, Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation, and Shenandoah County, Virginia. The beauty of this Partnership Park is that we are much more than one day of Civil War history. While the Battle of Cedar Creek was a pivotal moment during the American Civil War, a trip to Cedar Creek and Belle Grove NHP will give visitors an opportunity to learn about the rich history of the region–“From Backcountry, to Breadbasket, to Battlefield, and Beyond.”
Beck-Herzog: Visitors can take an interpretive walk on our Morning Attack Trail to learn about the battle, or just to be contemplative on a historical landscape. There are also a battlefield auto tour, a Junior Ranger program for kids and Star Parties where you can sit back and enjoy the heavens of the Shenandoah Valley.
The Park and partners offer a wide array of interpretive programs as well. The themes cover the rich cultural history of the Shenandoah Valley, the settlement history of the Shenandoah Valley, and the Battle of Cedar Creek and the impact of the Civil War on both the local communities and the nation as a whole. On select Friday evenings during the summer and fall, Cedar Creek and Belle Grove NHP present a series of specialized tours called “History at Sunset.” These tours occur in and around the park and cover a wide variety of subjects related to the park and its rich cultural history. These programs will give visitors an opportunity to see sites not normally open to the general public.
Beck-Herzog: Every October, the Park and Partners offer an annual commemoration weekend for the Battle of Cedar Creek. The park and partners offer education programs, interpretive programs, and living history demonstrations. The Park also works with the town of Middletown to co-host a luminary event to commemorate the fallen soldiers on October 19, 1864. Some visitors come specifically to honor a Civil War ancestor that fought at the Battle of Cedar Creek or to learn about the strategies and political consequences of the actions that occurred in the Valley. Others come to learn about how the Homefront endured the consequences of the Burning.
Currently, Belle Grove Plantation is doing extensive research both archival and archeological about their enslavement story. This expanding understanding of the African American experience is broadening the spectrum of visitors to the Park.
Our final event for 2018 was just completed at Belle Grove Plantation— “Inalienable Rights: Free & Enslaved Blacks Crafting a Life in the Shenandoah Valley,” on Saturday, November 10. Joining us were special guests from The Slave Dwelling Project. The day included hearth cooking, blacksmithing, a presentation by Robin Lyttle of the Shenandoah Valley Black Heritage Project, a talk by The Slave Dwelling Project founder and director Joseph McGill, and “Kneading in Silence: A Glimpse into the Life of the Enslaved Cook Judah.” Then at 5:00 p.m. we presented a History at Sunset program “Free at Last: The Complicated Road to Freedom for Emmanuel Jackson” by Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park Ranger Shannon Moeck. We look forward to co-hosting a new African-American History program with the Warren–Page NAACP in February 2019.
SVTA: Any future plans for the Park?
Beck-Herzog: As the park continues to develop and add additional visitor services, additional walking trails will be added.
Cedar Creek and Belle Grove NHP Visitor Contact Station, Hupp’s Hill Civil War Park and Belle Grove Plantation Manor House, are open to the public. The Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation Headquarters is open by appointment. All are good places to start learning the many stories of Cedar Creek, Belle Grove and the Shenandoah Valley. The Visitor Contact Station is located at 7712 Main Street, Middletown, Virginia 22645 in the Middletown Courts plaza.
Banner photo: Interpretive Ranger programs are an integral part of Cedar Creek’s commitment to public education.