EDITORIAL: Preserving Culpeper’s heritage must be our priority
By THE CULPEPER STAR-EXPONENT
Ancestors of some who read this newspaper lived in Culpeper
156 years ago, and experienced firsthand the carnage of June 9, 1863.
Roughly 20,000 cavalrymen, both blue and gray, fought for
their lives that day, slashing on horseback their brothers who served a
different flag. More than a thousand died. All these decades later, many remain
where they fell, buried in the rich green meadows of Culpeper County.
Coming as the anniversary of the Battle of Brandy Station
does on the heels of Thursday’s 75th anniversary D-Day observance, sober
thoughts bow our heads in gratitude for the grit of those who fought and in
sorrow for the futility of war.
Explaining how he shuttled shells to the guns of the USS
Texas as it bombarded Omaha Beach, longtime Culpeper resident Howard Mills
shared his story in the June 6 Star-Exponent article, “Hometown hero recalls
role in D-Day on 75th anniversary.”
This past week, the world watched—with ceremony, tears and
fascination—as that era’s aircraft soared again over Normandy’s beaches and
countryside, which the French and Americans have preserved to honor the history
made and the lives lost as the Allies liberated France from the grip of Nazi
Germany. (That’s All Brother, a Douglas C-47 that visited Culpeper in the weeks
before the 75th anniversary, led the air fleet that flew past world leaders and
D-Day veterans at Omaha Beach on #DDay75. Seventy-five years before, she led
the 800-plus other Dakotas carrying paratroopers into Normandy for their night
drop over enemy territory.)
June 6, 1944, was Howard Mills’ 19th birthday; when the
Allies’ fleet appeared off Normandy’s coast that morning, his whole life lay
ahead of him. That day became a defining moment for him and the world, one he
says he still thinks about every day. This year, Mills marked his 94th birthday
on D-Day’s anniversary.
So, too, was the Battle of Brandy Station a defining
moment—not just for its horsemen, but for the American Civil War itself.
In today’s Star-Exponent, columnist Clark B. Hall highlights
this fact in his piece, “Hamlet of Brandy Station saw start of fabled 1863
Hall notes that Col. Frederick Newhall, helping dedicate the
6th Pennsylvania Cavalry Monument at Gettysburg in 1888, said, “While
Gettysburg is generally thought of as a struggle which began on the 1st and
ended on the 3rd day of July, 1863, the fact will someday be fully recognized
that it had its beginning many miles from here … It was at Beverly Ford then
that Gettysburg was inaugurated.”
Had Gen. Robert E. Lee’s plan for the Gettysburg Campaign
succeeded, Washington, D.C., might have been captured, with Southern victory a
The Confederates’ retreat after defeat in Gettysburg—the
war’s costliest battle—ended Lee’s final strategic offensives. After that
point, all combat operations of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia were in
reaction to Union initiatives, until Lee surrendered his army at Appomattox
Court House in April 1865.
Hall, with the help of others, has worked for more than 30
years to preserve hundreds of acres of Culpeper’s Brandy Station battlefield,
where the largest cavalry battle in the Western Hemisphere was waged.
Much of this land now belongs to the American Battlefield
Trust, a national land-preservation nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. The
trust, as well as an alliance of supporters—including the Culpeper County Board
of Supervisors, Culpeper Town Council and state legislators such as Sens. Bryce
Reeves and Emmett Hanger and Dels. Nick Freitas and Michael Webert—hope that
Virginia will create a state park from the ground saved at Brandy Station and
the nearby Cedar Mountain battlefield.
Mark Coombs, deputy director of government relations for the
American Battlefield Trust, said the park initiative has come close to becoming
a reality during the past two years, with a budget amendment approved by the
Virginia Senate both years, but failing to win House approval before last
winter’s legislative session ended.
More public support from people all across Virginia, and particularly
from folks living in Culpeper County, is needed to make a state park a reality.
“We need people to become more active and engaged with the
Brandy Station Foundation and Friends of the Cedar Mountain Battlefield,”
Coombs told us. “Events are conducted year-round at both sites that aid in
bringing attention to the battlefields and their resources and help from both
an advocacy and stewardship perspective. These are the ideal vehicles through
which people can assist, in multiple ways.”
Such a state park would be a blessing to the Culpeper region
economically. But more importantly, the park will honor, commemorate and
interpret our country’s biggest cavalry battlefield, and preserve for future
generations the memory of those who lost their lives in the bloody struggle