Friday, April 08, 2022

Virginia man: I'll be buried on my battlefield someday

Cattle farmer Dirk Warner on his Cumberland Church (Va.) battlefield.

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Meet Dirk Warner: former musician in amateur rock bands Captain Jack and Radio Silence; a 30-year cattle farmer; longtime producer at a Richmond TV station; owner of a Siberian Husky-American Eskimo mix named Izzy, who tried to kiss me; and a black Angus named Nibbles, whom he doesn’t have the heart to take to market.

Oh, and Warner owns core battlefield.

Nibbles and I share a special moment.
Not just any battlefield. The Cumberland Church (Va.) battlefield, where Robert E. Lee earned his final victory of the Civil War on April 7, 1865. Warner cherishes the place, plans to be buried someday on this very field—“over by those red buds,” he told me during the chilly, deep-blue sky morning we walked his farm.

When Warner is out here on his tractor, near a stretch of the Old Jamestown Road that snakes through his field, he often relives the battle. This hallowed ground—Union Army headquarters for the unheralded, five-hour brawl—is part of his soul. He relishes sunsets from a chair near his fire pit, the history unearthed in the fields, the poignant stories uncovered—everything about his battlefield.

“This is sacred ground,” Warner told me. “I’m out here baling hay some day and it hits me, ‘Holy crap! I live here.’ "

At Cumberland Church, Ulysses Grant asked for Lee’s surrender. “Not yet,” James Longstreet told Lee. Two days later, at Appomattox Court House, roughly 30 miles away as the crow flies, it was all over.

Warner may bawl his eyes out on his battlefield someday. A 148th Pennsylvania soldier, decapitated by Confederate artillery, may rest somewhere on the field. His descendant plans to walk the farm this year with Warner—an experience guaranteed to be emotional for him and his host. Maybe he and Warner will discover the soldier’s remains.

Warner’s father-in-law once owned this farm. The man had two requests of Dirk when he married off his daughter: “Promise to look after my daughter and look after my place.”

Sir, it’s in fabulous hands. Consider this a perfect marriage of person, passion and place.

Old Jamestown Road snakes through Dirk Warner's battlefield.
Sunset on Warner's Cumberland Church battlefield.

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