A letter threatening bodily harm to Civil War reenactors and a later discovered "pipe bomb" forced the annual reenactment of the Battle of Cedar Creek to shut down and evacuate.
For 26 straight years, the Battle of Cedar Creek has been reenacted near Middletown, Virginia, in Frederick County without incident. However, in the shadow of local debates over the place Civil War monuments should have in Virginia, this year's reenactment was forced to evacuate early.
Late last week, organizers with the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation announced that they had received a letter threatening attendees with "bodily harm" at this year's reenactment. The Foundation announced that there would be increased security to ensure that everyone could have a "safe and enjoyable event" and apologized for any inconvenience these increased security measures might cause.
“The reenactment is a family event with no political ideology,” Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation President Joe D’Arezzo said at the time. “We strive to educate all Americans about our shared history and the great costs to bring freedom to all of those Americans.”
On Saturday, however, those increased security measures were not enough. At approximately 4 p.m. on Saturday, October 14, a "suspicious device" was found at the reenactment. Police were called in, along with the bomb squad and local K9 units, which were able to render the device safe.
The Frederick County Sheriff's Office released a full press release detailing their law enforcement reaction.
At approximately 4 p.m. on site personnel of the Frederick County Sheriff's Office and Middletown Police Department were alerted to a suspicious item at Cedar Creek Battlefield. Evacuations of the immediate area began and a safe zone was established. A Unified Command was set up with the Frederick County Sheriff's Office, Frederick County Fire and Rescue, and Middletown Police Department. Additional resources were brought in including the Virginia State Police Bomb Squad, and K9 Units from Frederick County, Virginia State Police, and several federal agencies. The Virginia State Police Bomb Squad rendered the device safe. K9 units continue to search all areas of the Battlefield."
The letter, combined with the discovery of the suspicious device, were enough to force the annual reenactment to close down and evacuate all attendees. Since then, local police have described the device as a "pipe bomb," which prompted agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation to join the investigation.
"Due to this unfortunate situation our event staff is unable to fulfill the required logistical needs to continue the event on Sunday. It is regrettable that a nice family event would be disrupted in this way," D'Arezzo lamented afterwards.
While the Battle of Cedar Creek might not have the name recognition of Antietam or Gettysburg, it was a crucial turning point in the Civil War that shifted momentum away from the Confederacy and to the Union forces. The battle began as a surprise Confederate attack on unsuspecting Union forces. Early during the battle, Confederate forces actually pressured seven different Union infantry divisions to retreat. However, when the Confederates failed to advance, the retreating Union forces were able to regroup and form a new defensive line before launching a successful counter-attack. The Battle of Cedar Creek was important because it marked the end of the South's failed invasion of the North. With this Union victory coming just weeks before the Presidential election, many historians have credited Cedar Creek with at least partially helping President Abraham Lincoln win his re-election.
Until this year's bomb scare, this pivotal battle has been reenacted every single year since 1990 at the historic Cedar Creek Battlefield. Locals, many with familial ties to ancestors who fought on both sides of the battle, help to reenact the battle every year, and the event has never faced threats like this. The Foundation's receipt of a threatening letter and then the discovery of what officials are calling a "pipe bomb" has certainly escalated the debate over the role that Confederate history should play in today's Virginia.
On Sunday, the reenactors took to the field and finished what they started, completing their reenactment of the Battle of Cedar Creek in defiance of those trying to shut it down.
What do you think? Has this Confederacy debate spun out of control? Let us know in the comment section below.
Featured image courtesy of the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation