Friday, February 20, 2015

Cedar Creek (Va.) battlefield: Belgian-owned quarry operation threatens historic Belle Grove Plantation house

Click here for battlefield panoramas from Antietam, Cedar Mountain, Chickamauga, Gettysburg, Harris Farm, Manassas, Malvern Hill, Salem Church,  Spotsylvania Courthouse and more.
Union veterans gathered for a reunion at the Belle Grove Plantation in 1883. 
(PHOTO: United States Military History Institute, Carlisle Barracks, Pa. via National Park Service)
Union General Philip Sheridan used the Belle Grove manor house as a headquarters.
On Oct. 19, 1864, the Union and Rebel armies clashed near the Belle Grove mansion during the Battle of Cedar Creek, resulting in more than 8,000 casualties. Confederate General Stephen Ramseur, mortally wounded by a bullet through the lungs during the battle, was visited on his deathbed in the mansion by George Custer and other Union soldiers who attended West Point with the 27-year-old North Carolinian.  "Bear this message to my precious wife," said Ramseur, who shortly before the battle received word that Nellie Ramseur had given birth to the couple's first child, "I die a Christian and hope to meet her in heaven." 

Union General Philip Sheridan, who famously rushed down the Valley Pike from nearby Winchester, Va., and rallied his troops at Cedar Creek, used the Belle Grove mansion for his headquarters during the Shenandoah Valley campaign.  

But despite death and destruction so near, the 218-year-old manor house survived the Civil War surprisingly unscathed.  Today, however, the property faces a far different, and perhaps far greater, threat. Expansion of a Belgian-owned limestone quarry about a half-mile from the Belle Grove mansion threatens the core of the battlefield and the house itself. Last Wednesday, a caretaker at Belle Grove told me that he worries what blasting at the quarry, often felt more than a mile away, will do to the foundation of the house, which ironically was made from limestone quarried on the property. "That company," he said, "doesn't care about American history."

Unfortunately, there are plenty of examples along the historic Valley Pike of Americans not caring about their own history. The Kernstown battlefield, 10 miles north of the Cedar Creek, is bordered by a hodge-podge of business development and housing. Three miles south of Cedar Creek, Hupp's Hill, site of a large Union encampment and earthworks, sits across the road from a supermarket and just down the road from a sea of housing in Strasburg, Va.

Throughout Virginia, there are plenty of other examples of the destruction of Civil War history. The site of the Third Battle of Winchester, despite preservation efforts by the Civil War Trust and others, is so carved up by development that it's difficult to comprehend what happened there on Sept. 19, 1864. Beaver Dam Creek, Fair Oaks, Mechanicsville -- all those battlefields are mostly destroyed. And only 2 1/2 months ago, the historically significant farm house on the Harris Farm battlefield in Spotsylvania County (see my post here) was demolished to make way for another McMansion.

        Nearly 32,000 Union soldiers camped in fields surrounding Belle Grove mansion.
                              (Click at upper right for full-screen interactive panorama.)

Beautiful, rolling farmland on the Cedar Creek battlefield.
Union soldiers camped in this field before the Battle of Cedar Creek on Oct. 19, 1864.

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