|Man at work: Former police officer Aaron Siever, clutching a weed eater, prepares to battle |
his enemy near a monument that marks where two Confederate veterans were executed.
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"I hate the weeding," Siever tells me, "but I do it."
Humdrum work? Hardly. For this history-loving former police officer, his new gig as Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation resource management associate is almost heavenly. "My job," says Siever [pronounced S-EVE-er], "is to hang out at battlefields all day." Oh my, how some of us would give up our day jobs to join him.
|Aaron Siever swapped a police officer's uniform|
for one from the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation.
When he patrolled with law enforcement colleagues or trainees, Siever frequently steered conversations to what happened at such-and-such a place a century or more ago, earning him an eyeroll or three. "It got to the point where they’d say, 'OK, no more talking about the history,' ” he says with a smile.
Months ago, Siever decided he needed a change. The resource management position opened with the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, which preserves and interprets the region’s significant Civil War battlefields and related historic sites. The organization thought so highly of the history-minded Siever -- who maintains an excellent Facebook page about his Civil War travels -- that it offered him the job and made it a full-time position. One major stipulation: He must take a substantial pay cut. Siever consulted with his "amazingly supportive" wife, who enthusiastically agreed the job was worth making the leap.
Hello, battlefields, green grass, and often-splendid views of the Massanutten Mountains. Goodbye, office cubicle, desktop computer, and patrol car. Former colleagues were supportive: “That’s your passion," one of them told him about his new position. "Can’t fault you for that.”
|Ex-police officer Aaron Siever stands on the war-time road trace|
at the River Road site on the New Market battlefield.
(Courtesy: Jack Owens)
In the Valley in 1862, the audacious Stonewall Jackson ran circles around the incompetent Nathaniel Banks -- ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY NO RELATION TO THIS BLOGGER! -- and other Union commanders, at Winchester, Port Republic, Kernstown, and elsewhere. On Sept. 21-22, 1864, Union commander Phil Sheridan whipped Jubal Early at Fisher's Hill, where I have eluded scores of -- ahem -- "landmines" and once lost a staredown contest with a herd of angry cows, apparently despondent over the recent demise of one of their own. Fisher's Hill is one of the organization's major saves.
The SVBF's nerve center is the historic (and beautifully restored) Strayer House in New Market, several musket shots from Interstate 81. (Quick aside: No human should ever say something nice about gawdawful I-81, which slices through New Market, Cedar Creek, Tom's Brook, and other Virginia battlefields. "I-81 did more damage to battlefields in the Shenandoah Valley," a wise man once said, "than Sheridan.")
|A cottonwood tree at the River Road site|
at the New Market battlefield. Did it
witness the battle on May 15, 1864?
But the SVBF has saved important sections of the battlefield, too. The organization's River Road site -- where the 30th and 62nd Virginia Infantry fought against the 123rd Ohio -- is Siever's favorite. (The cadets later moved through this area.) There, on his first day on his new job, the former cop picked up trash at the uninterpreted site on the opposite side of I-81 from VMI-owned battlefield. Working at River Road on 157th anniversary of the Battle of New Market, Siever and a colleague distinctly heard the boom of cannon and firing of muskets by living historians over the roar of highway traffic.
"One of the most awesome things," Siever says of the experience.
On my River Road sojourn with Siever, I do what my wife says I do best: Watch another person work. Wearing goggles, a ballcap and a longsleeve shirt with SVBF logos, Siever rolls the mower from a trailer on a Dodge 4x4 and cuts grass for roughly an hour -- he circles around stumps and boulders, weaves near a huge cottonwood (presumably "witness tree") and war-time road trace, and briefly disappears behind a post-war house. I occasionally stare at the ground -- you know, just to see if something turns up.
The River Road site, nearly surrounded by trees, is hardly Siever's most challenging. At the SVBF's Third Battle of Winchester site, he maintains 640 acres, which makes me sweat just by typing that. Siever sometimes wonders what lies beneath the ground -- bullets, artillery shells, perhaps even bodies? No battle artifacts have turned up yet during his two months on the job, but he has found a Confederate round ball while digging for a rose bush in his yard in New Market.
Occasionally, Siever uses well-honed interpretation skills to educate visitors. Clearly, this job is a labor of love. (Oh, Lord, my junior high English teacher may hurt me.)
“I loved police work," Siever says, "but the stress level of this job is so small that it’s a whole different world."
|At the River Road New Market battlefield site, Siever completes his task in roughly an hour. |
The war-time road trace is at left; the cottonwood (center) may be a witness tree.