Located in Culpeper County, Virginia, the Cedar Mountain battlefield is today preserved by the American Battlefield Trust and owned by the Virginia State Parks. Notable sites are the contact station and the loop trail system with interpretive signs following the battle events.
One of the lesser-known battles of the American Civil War and part of President Abraham Lincoln’s attempts to open a second front on Richmond in 1862, at Cedar Mountain, two adversaries of the 1862 Valley Campaign, Jackson and Banks, met for a second time.
By the summer of 1862, President Abraham Lincoln had grown tired of Gen. George McClellan’s slow progress on the Peninsula drive for Richmond and took matters into his own hands. President Lincoln formed the U.S. Army of Virginia and placed Gen. John Pope in command on June 26, 1862. His objective was to threaten the back door of Richmond from the west and put additional pressure on the Confederate capital.
At the beginning of the campaign, Gen. John Pope declared total war on the civilian population of Virginia for the very first time by coming out with a series of harsh general orders, for which the normally courtly Gen. Robert E. Lee labeled Pope a “miscreant.”
On July 13, 1862, while in Richmond, Gen. Robert E. Lee sent Gen. Jackson’s Army of the Valley to the west to deal with this new threat. Gen. Jackson saw an opportunity to strike at one of Gen. Pope’s isolated Corps near Culpeper Court House under Gen. Nathanial Banks before the other Union Corps could converge.
On August 9, 1862, Gen. Banks was positioned six miles south of Culpeper Court House along a ridge under the shadow of Slaughter Mountain (Cedar Mountain) and near Cedar Run creek (where the battlefield derives its name from).
Summer temperatures swelled as Jackson’s men came up the Orange and Culpeper Road. The rebels positioned their line along the Crittenden farm lane and anchored their right flank on the mountain with their left flank resting in the woods.
A large artillery duel erupted, signaling the start of the battle. Told to hold until the rest of Pope’s forces could converge, Banks decided to take the fight to rebels by making the first move. Confederate countercharges followed Union charges across the cornfield of no man’s land. The heat of the day was oppressive.
Shielded by trees along a ridge, Union Gen. Samuel Crawford launched a bold strike against the Confederate left flank, sending the rebels in his front fleeing. A desperate fight followed in the woods of that sector.
An epic moment in Civil War history happened next. Seeing his left flank caving in, Stonewall Jackson rode over to try and rally his men. Unable to unsheathe his sword, he waved the entire arrangement over his head with one hand and waved a battle flag in the other while yelling, “Jackson is with you!”
At that moment, Gen. Jackson’s Division of A.P. Hill arrived double-quick, just in the nick of time. Gen. Hill’s brigades stabilized the situation and hurled the Federals back towards Culpeper Court House. Federal artillery and the darkness would call off the battle.
At the end of the day, the Confederates owned the battlefield, and Jackson emerged victorious. This set the stage for the Second Manassas Campaign, which would later start the Maryland Campaign and its climactic ending at Antietam.
The toll of the day: Union casualties totaled 2,400, while the Confederates had 1,400 casualties.