As commemorations of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War continue across the land, Rappahannock County’s first major contribution is a Civil War Heritage Day on Saturday, Sept. 29, in and around the Rappahannock County Visitors Center.
The all-day event starts at 9 and features a multitude of activities, including artillery and infantry demonstrations, youth “boot camps,” live music and dance, and talks by Civil War scholars – including filmmaker Ron Maxwell, who wrote and directed “Gettysburg” and “Gods and Generals” and lives in Flint Hill, just up the road from the historically significant site of Saturday’s event on U.S. 211 just east of Washington.
The same weekend, the fourth annual Rappahannock County Farm Tour takes place at many farms, orchards and other venues around the county.
For students at Rappahannock County Elementary School on Friday there’s also a youth-oriented program of cooking demonstrations, troops drills and a firing display. About 50 reenactors will be present at the Visitor’s Center, according to Rudy Segaar, a Woodville reenactor who’s marshalling the weekend’s troops for the Rappahannock County Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee. The Friday events, he said, will segue into the boot camps offered for young people during the day Saturday.
Segaar, who will take part in the Saturday reenactments as a Confederate, said the goal of the youth boot camp is to “treat them to some time in the life of a Civil War soldier.” To that end, the camps will feature real drills and marches, as well as demonstrations on the proper – and laborious – way to load a musket.
Segaar pointed out that part of the reason for the massive number of casualties in the war was due to both sides using outdated, Napoleonic-era tactics. Muskets had evolved significantly since Napoleon’s time, when weapons could only reliably shoot about 70 yards, but by the time the Civil War began, that range had dramatically increased.
Nonetheless, despite the outdated tactics and primitive medical care costing lives, “disease actually killed more,” said Segaar.
Strictly speaking, Rappahannock County didn’t witness any direct battles in 1862, though plenty of soldiers did suffer thanks to a large outbreak of typhoid. “With so many troops packed together in such a small area, an outbreak like that was inevitable,” said local Civil War historian John Tole. For the past five years, Tole has been working on documenting the war’s local impact with commemorative Civil War Trails markers around the county.
Despite the lack of historical battles, there’s still plenty of history in the county, including commemorating the sesquicentennial anniversary of the Confiscation Acts, which introduced slavery as a war issue for the first time. According to Tole, the first act, originally passed on Aug. 6, 1861, authorized the confiscation of Southern property by Union forces. The second act was passed less than a year later on July 17, 1862, and stated that any Confederate official – military or civilian – who did not surrender within 60 days of the act’s passage would have their slaves freed. Although this only applied to Confederate areas that had already been occupied by Union forces, both acts served as precursors to the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863.
Union Maj. Gen. John Pope took the Confiscation Acts to heart, and used his troops, stationed in Rappahannock County in the summer of 1862, to pressure many Southern landowners into surrendering. His tactics caused Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee to label him “a miscreant who should be stopped.” The two would eventually meet at the Second Battle of Bull Run (or Second Manassas).
As “150 Years Ago This Week” columnist Arthur Candenquist of Amissville, one of the speakers at the Saturday event, wrote last week, the county once housed as many as 20,000 Union troops who would fight that day. Union soldiers were camped out all along what is now U.S. 211 – from the fields around the what is now the Visitors Center and Rappahannock County Library all the way to Massies Corner. More than 11,000 men were killed or wounded in Second Manassas, after which Pope was relieved of his command.
The Civil War Heritage Day – much like the war itself – will take place rain or shine. For more information, visit CivilWar.VisitRappahannockVA.com or call 540-675-3153.