Walk the ground where “Stonewall” Jackson snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, in a short but bloody prelude to the Second Battle of Bull Run.
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The Battle of Cedar Mountain (aka Slaughter’s Mountain) was fought on August 9, 1862 between Union forces commanded by Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks and Confederate forces commanded by Maj. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson in Culpeper County, Virginia during the American Civil War. In what was also known as the Battle of Slaughter’s Mountain, Confederates snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, resulting in 3,691 total casualties.
In July 1862, Union Maj. Gen. John Pope’s newly formed 51,000-man Army of Virginia was spread out in three corps across northern Virginia. U.S. President Abraham Lincoln had appointed Pope to lead this new army after Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan’s disastrous Peninsula Campaign earlier that summer, and Pope intended to distract Confederate forces to cover McClellan’s withdrawal.
Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee sent Maj. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson north with over 14,000 men to confront this new threat. He was later joined by Maj. Gen. A.P. Hill’s division with an additional 10,000 men. Jackson intended to strike Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks’ II Corps while it was isolated, but Banks struck first. On August 9, Banks’ 8,000-man force attacked Confederate Brig. Gen. Charles S. Winder’s division northwest of Cedar Mountain after a long artillery duel. Winder was mortally wounded and in the confusion, his men fled.
Jackson rode onto the field and rallied his men, and the Confederates counter-attacked, blunting the Union advance. Two more Confederate divisions, led by Maj. Gen. A.P. Hill and Maj. Gen. Richard S. Ewell, tipped the scales and sent Banks’ corps into full retreat. Darkness ended the battle and Union reinforcements ended Jackson’s pursuit.
Though small in comparison with more famous battles, the Battle of Cedar Mountain was unusually bloody for its size. Union forces lost 314 killed, 1,445 wounded, and 594 missing to the Confederates’ 231 killed and 1,107 wounded. “Stonewall” Jackson escaped defeat, and the inglorious affair kicked off the Northern Virginia Campaign, from which Confederate forces would emerge victorious by the end of August.
Fought between Northern and Southern states from 1861 to 1865, the American Civil War erupted over questions of slavery, the legality of secession, and the primacy of the Federal government. It ended with Northern victory and restoration of the Union. Nearly 850,000 people died in the conflict, the bloodiest war in U.S. history. Most of the war’s battles were fought in the South, devastating its economy and leaving generational scars.
Cedar Mountain is an excellent example of private organizations coming together to preserve a historic site. Beginning in 1998, the American Battlefield Trust and Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield have acquired and preserved 498 acres. Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield has reforested 6.5 acres, restored a portion of road, and erected fences to more closely match the battlefield’s appearance in 1862. Interpretive signs tell the story of the battle, and an annual reenactment is held there in August.
You won’t find many monuments at this battlefield, but the 1.22-mile interpretive trail is well-maintained and informative. Rolling hills offer a sweeping view of the terrain, and side trails take you to a couple old cemeteries. Picnic tables and a small parking lot are also available.
Cedar Mountain Battlefield, at 9465 General Winder Road (off James Madison Highway) in Rapidan, Virginia, is open daily from dawn to dusk. Parking is limited. A small monument to the 46th Pennsylvania Infantry is located in the woods off Dove Hill Road at GPS coordinates 38.409971, -78.066585. Monument is on private property.