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A Modern Day Fight Over Re-enactment

The 18th annual Cedar Creek battle reenactment on Oct. 18 and 19 in Middletown, Va. will go on as scheduled, with an anticipated 5,000 soldiers and hundreds of horses fighting their way back and forth across the original battlefield. It is a great spectator event and there is always a crowd.

For awhile there was some question about this year's show due to a major blowup between the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation officials and those in charge of neighboring Belle Grove Plantation. More than neighbors, they are also partners in the country's first public-private national park created six years ago, an agreement that leaves individual partners free to control their land and continue to raise funds.

In recent years, Belle Grove participated in the reenactments, allowing the mansion and grounds to be used as camp sites and special events. Not this year. .

Each group will host its own event. They were not on speaking terms until Sept. 23, when a facilitator hired by the National Park Service helped the parties establish peace.

The modern day battle involves a mining company's successful bid to greatly expand its operations on land within a sword's throw of the mansion and the preserved battlefield area, land considered an important part of the original battlefield. A formidable team including the foundation, Bell Grove, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Civil War Preservation Trustand others had banded together to fight the quarry expansion.

This is the type of public battle over hallowed ground that has made headlines in recent years and often ends with the "good guys" winning by purchasing the disputed land at record high prices or convincing the local officials to vote against the property owner's proposal. Not this time.

After two years and several heated public meetings, the Frederick County Board of Supervisors had yet to vote on Carmeuse Lime and Stone Co.'s rezoning request. Suzanne Chilson, executive director of the foundation, said board members were growing concerned that the outcome would favor the mining company and leave the preservationists with nothing to show for their solid wall of opposition.

Since foundation officials had years of experience working out deals to buy or conserve battlefield land, they quietly approached Chemstone, as the Belgium company is known locally. Within days they reached a private, legal agreement that included the company donating to the foundation an 8-acre tract near Belle Grove, allowing archaeological examinations at several locations plus other concessions.

In exchange, the foundation would go one record as being neutral concerning the rezoning request. Chemstone agreed to abide by the agreement without regard to how the board of supervisors voted.

The only problem was the foundation had not shared any of this information with its national park partners or the other preservation groups. When the supervisors finally did take a position in May, the mining company won by one vote.

Then the information about the secret agreement leaked. Verbal hell broke loose and the foundation was accused of many things, but in particular of selling out its partners for a small slice of the battlefield pie.

The dust has not settled yet. A lawsuit has been filed appealing the board's vote by several of the groups who opposed the quarry expansion. There will be more to come on this story, but in October, the Battle of Cedar Creek will be enacted only as a Civil War event.

By Linda Wheeler  |  October 6, 2008; 4:31 PM ET
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It's good to have Linda Wheeler back again. Without her, the Post was missing a vital part of its Institutional Memory.

Posted by: Tom Lowry | October 7, 2008 8:56 AM | Report abuse

Linda Wheeler's story about Cedar Creek is fascinating. It will be fun to see what happens next.

Posted by: Kathleen Ewing | October 7, 2008 1:17 PM | Report abuse

Wheeler is to the Civil War as Churchill is to WW2. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: Otto Fahrer | October 7, 2008 7:38 PM | Report abuse

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