Culpeper Battlefields State Park won’t open for a little while, but that’s not stopping its advocates from sprucing up some of its historic sites.
Four entities recently collaborated to update and add wayside markers on Culpeper County’s Cedar Mountain battlefield, where Confederate troops ended the Union’s attempt to seize Gordonsville’s strategic railroad junction in 1862.
Officials of the American Battlefield Trust, Civil War Trails Inc. and Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield installed the illustrated markers as overcast skies sprinkled rain on the June 27 undertaking.
The national nonprofit trust, which owns the preserved portion of the battlefield, and the town of Culpeper Department of Economic Development and Tourism split the cost of the 13 markers.
“We are very excited to have the interpretive signs installed in time for the 160th anniversary of the battle,” Daniel Davis, the trust’s senior education manager, said Thursday. “The signage will enhance visitors’ experiences at the battlefield and provide a deeper understanding of what happened on that hallowed ground.”
“It is amazing to see battlefields function as both an ‘open air museum’ and as places for visitors to hike or take a digital detox,” said Drew Gruber, executive director of Civil War Trails. “Watching families and friends create history of their own at sites like these makes our job truly rewarding.”
The partners installed 12 interpretive markers about the Battle of Cedar Mountain as well as one sign that describes the work of the American Battlefield Trust, which preserves battle-related sites of the American Revolution, War of 1812 and Civil War.
“As with most preservation work, fabrication and installation of these signs was a true team effort,” said Jim Campi, the trust’s chief policy and communications officer. “Civil War Trails fabricated and designed the signs, historian Mike Block did the initial crafting of the text, with the American Battlefield Trust team further refining the content and maps.”
All of the historical waysides include maps, quotes from battle participants and photos pertaining to different parts of the savage Aug. 9, 1862, battle, in which Confederate Maj. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson drew his sword (actually, his sword’s rusty scabbard) for the only time.
“The new signs build off existing stories being told at Cedar Mountain, enhancing the overall visitor experience,” said Paige Read, director of Culpeper Economic Development and Tourism.
Mike Block, a volunteer with Friends of Cedar Mountain, thanked Davis, Read, Gruber and Chris Brown, assistant director of the multi-state trails group, for making the project happen.
“It was this partnership and support that made the new waysides possible,” he said.
The marker project is part of an overall effort by the American Battlefield Trust, working with its local partners, to improve interpretation at Culpeper’s Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain battlefields, Campi said.
The partners started with Cedar Mountain in June, so the new signs were installed in time for the battle’s 160th anniversary next month.
“Next, we will be focusing on replacing signage at St. James Church and Buford’s Knoll in time for the 160th anniversary of Brandy Station next year,” Campi said.
The new markers will also help orient the influx of new visitors expected with the announcement of the new state park, which formally opens on July 1, 2024, he said.
And soon, signs will be erected in Culpeper to notify visitors about the new state park, Campi said.
At Cedar Mountain, seven of the new markers replace signage that served visitors from around the world for over a decade, Block said. They offer more engaging text and images “to help fuel the imagination of visitors as they stand where the historic events took place on the battlefield,” he said.
Each wayside has a map that reflects the 1862 terrain and locations of the contending armies on different parts of the field.
The partners placed four signs covering new material that enables visitors to understand the fighting on portions of the battlefield that had gone without interpretation, Block said.
Two describe the fighting in the woods on and behind The Point, and another above the Brushy Field.
A third sign near the Crittenden Gate, perhaps the best-known part of the field and the place where visitors now enter it, provides an overview of the battle.
Finally, a new wayside discusses KOCOA, a military acronym that stands for Key Terrain, Observation Points and Fields of Fire, Cover and Concealment, Obstacles and Avenues of Approach/Retreat.
As used by the U.S. armed services and the National Park Service’s American Battlefields Protection Program, KOCOA is the process that experts use to study military terrain and classify the cultural-landscape features of battlefields and battle-related historic sites.
“Now, a visitor to Cedar Mountain can study and understand the battlefield as a modern combatant,” Block said.
As indicated by signage there, the Cedar Mountain battlefield is part of the Civil War Trails Inc. system. Each CWT site is networked together with more than 1,400 others across six states, including Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.
CWT sites are marketed internationally by state tourism offices, destination marketing organizations and municipal partners.
The popular program, which provides a smartphone app, a website and free maps to travelers, helps drive economic development by promoting heritage travel.