Home History The One-Man Caretaker to One of the Civil War’s Final Battle Sites

The One-Man Caretaker to One of the Civil War’s Final Battle Sites

by Enochadmin

Whereas Dirk Warner toils on his 127-acre farm—the center of the Cumberland Church battlefield—he usually envisions April 7, 1865. Cannons increase, musketry rattles, battle smoke lingers, troopers shout, blood flows. Then a spade plunges into the wealthy Virginia earth. A soldier rolls a good friend right into a grave. The cycle of struggle and loss of life. How benumbing. How timeless.

Warner plans to be buried on the battlefield, too—“over by these redbuds,” he tells me as we stroll his hallowed floor. Till then, Warner has a battlefield to nurture, shield, and interpret. Artifacts to unearth. A battle e-book to write down. Desires to show into actuality. A thriller to unravel. I’ve one, too:

Why did it take me so lengthy to listen to in regards to the Battle of Cumberland Church?

Earlier than my journey to rural, south-central Virginia, I knew nothing about this battle fought within the struggle’s waning days. The five-hour brawl 5 miles north of Farmville grew to become the final bullet level on Robert E. Lee’s army resume, his closing victory. It resulted in 900 casualties—650 Union and 250 Accomplice—however earned solely a quick point out within the Official Information. Two days later, Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courtroom Home.

“Historical past makes however little point out of the battle … as occasions of higher significance adopted so carefully,” a Union veteran recalled, “however the contributors know that troops by no means fought extra valiantly than did Lee’s troopers of their final effort after they repulsed the assault of the veterans of the 2nd Corps.”

The earlier evening, I meet Warner for the primary time to get a bead on him and the lay of his land. I step right into a pile of cow manure however stay unfazed. It’s clear virtually immediately this shall be an epic go to.

Warner is a cattle farmer and a longtime producer and director for a Richmond TV station. We bond over a mutual enthusiasm for Civil Battle historical past. He introduces me to his Siberian Husky and American Eskimo combine named Izzy, who needs to kiss me. I shoot a selfie together with his pet black Angus steer named Nibbles. 

Till his loss of life in 2010, Warner’s father-in-law, Dr. Woodrow Wilson Taylor—a veterinarian and World Battle II vet—owned the farm and lived within the post-battle home on the property. Warner lives in Doc’s place now together with his spouse, Jane.

“He made two requests of me after I married his daughter,” Warner says of Doc. “Take care of her and take care of his place.” No drawback. Married since 1992, Warner nonetheless cherishes Wilson’s farm. 

“Sacred floor,” he calls the battlefield. “Unbelievable.”


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As we stroll the farm on a frosty morning, Warner reveals me the place Union troops shaped. Andrew Humphreys, the 2nd Corps commander, made his headquarters right here. U.S. Military cannons belched iron and loss of life from the farm.

Accomplice Normal William Mahone—all 5-foot-6 and 100 kilos of him—made his headquarters a mile away at Cumberland Presbyterian Church. The commander of Lee’s rearguard could have sought help from a better energy. The Yankees outnumbered “Little Billy” and the remainder of Lee’s military at Cumberland Church by practically 2-to-1.

Cumberland Church, a superb, white beacon in morning daylight, nonetheless holds companies. However don’t carry your steel detector. “No Relic Searching,” warns an indication out entrance. 

“See that prime floor. The Confederates commanded all that.”

As we stand in a subject in entrance of his home, Warner factors into the space, to a ridge past Unhealthy Luck Creek and the Jamestown Highway. That’s the place Insurgent troopers manned a powerful line. Warner’s sister-in-law bought land there that encompasses a part of the Confederates’ place to the American Battlefield Belief, defending it perpetually. 

Cumberland Church served as Accomplice Normal William Mahone’s headquarters.
(Photograph by John Banks)

Throughout Jamestown Highway, on the apex of a Accomplice line formed roughly like a horseshoe, Colonel William Poague positioned an artillery battery. Insurgent gunners gave the Yankees “hell with grape and canister trimmings thrown in,” a Union veteran recalled. Stays of earthworks stand in a entrance yard of a contemporary home there.

Close to the nook of Jamestown and Cumberland roads, 200 yards from Warner’s farm, hand-to-hand combating broke out on the Huddleston place. The proprietor hid within the fireside of a hearth with a slave in the course of the battle, based on native lore. 

To carry this obscure battle into focus, Warner mines regimental histories, manuscripts, and soldier letters—something he can discover—for a e-book he needs to write down. He mines his battlefield, too. In 1989, Warner started discovering Miniés whereas digging put up holes on the farm for “Doc.” He has since unearthed between 2,000 to three,000 bullets—15 totally different varieties in all, together with a uncommon Accomplice Whitworth spherical.

“See the place these cows are?” Warner factors to floor close to a tree line. “I discovered the Whitworth, a medical phalange, and an image body proper there. Accomplice shelling acquired so dangerous right here, the Union troopers needed to vacate.” Fifty toes from his entrance door, Warner uncovered a Union spur. Close to it, he discovered a beat-up U.S. belt buckle.

“See that humpy space.” Warner gestures towards the center of a subject. “A Accomplice cavalry man acquired killed on the market. Discovered a complete bunch of Richmond Lab carbine bullets in the identical spot. Somebody misplaced an ammo pouch.” 

John Banks with "Nibbles" the steer
“Nibbles,” Warner’s pet steer, appears skeptical of writer John Banks. Animals, they are saying, can choose up on issues….
(Photograph by John Banks)

Warner luggage most artifacts he finds for storage in bins in his home. He shows dozens of the relics in his dwelling workplace. Just one different particular person could relic hunt on his battlefield—a good friend who scours the fields with Warner and shares his ardour for the battlefield.

“All the pieces he finds right here, stays right here,” Warner says.

Warner factors out the “S” curve of an historical stretch of the Previous Jamestown Highway that snakes by means of his battlefield. To our proper, stood a thick development of pines in 1865. Shortly earlier than advancing, officers within the 2nd New York Heavy Artillery peeked from the sting of these woods.

“Boys,” a New York captain stated, “there’s one other wagon prepare for us over behind the insurgent traces.”

The Federals superior over an open, rolling subject on Warner’s farm—“no man’s land,” he says. The troopers halted briefly in a dip and charged as they closed to inside 250 yards of their well-entrenched enemy.

Confederates answered Yankee cheers with the Insurgent yell and sheets of lead and iron. Some Union troopers reached the entrenchments and “fought to the loss of life.” Your entire fifth New Hampshire coloration guard fell. The Yankees fell again. 

Sergeant John C. Moorehead of the 148th Pennsylvania and his good friend, 24-year-old bugler Joseph Harrison Legislation, surveyed the battle subsequent to one another from astride their horses—most likely on the very floor the place Warner and I stand close to the Previous Jamestown Highway. 

Legislation, a blue-eyed, light-haired farmer, had enlisted within the 148th Pennsylvania in Punxsutawney, Pa. He served in Firm E together with his youthful brothers, Charles and Daniel. He additionally glided by “Harrison” or “Harry.” Jovial and arranged, Legislation appeared a pure for the military.

Shortly earlier than he rode into battle at Cumberland Church, Harrison Legislation stated he was desperate to return to his 22-year-old spouse, Mary, and four-year-old son, Carl. He had not seen them since his enlistment in August 1862. “Lee is on his final legs,” he advised the regimental chaplain. “He’ll give up in a day or two after which we will quickly get dwelling.”

Shortly after Legislation completed his bugle name to rally the 4th Brigade, a Accomplice artillery shell or stable shot carried away the highest of his head. Moorehead leaped from his horse, plunged the brigade flag into the bottom, and pulled his good friend from his saddle. The bugler grew to become the 210th—and final—soldier to die within the hard-fighting 148th Pennsylvania in the course of the struggle.

Joseph Law and brother in Union uniforms
At Cumberland Church, bugler Joseph Legislation, above left with a brother, grew to become the final member of the 148th Pennsylvania killed in the course of the struggle.
(‘Historical past of the 148th Pennsylvania Volunteers’)

Moorehead buried Legislation on the battlefield. Later, he offered Harry’s blood-spattered bugle to his brothers, who gave it to his widow. Legislation’s stays, nevertheless, by no means made it again to Pennsylvania. Moorehead died shortly after the struggle, leaving the placement of Legislation’s grave a thriller.

“We all know the place he’s not buried,” Warner says. He stands in a shallow space in a skinny patch of woods, yards off the Previous Jamestown Highway. In 2021, Warner had deployed ground-penetrating radar to attempt to find Legislation’s stays. Nothing turned up, however he suspects the bugler rests close to the “S”-shaped highway. 

Earlier that 12 months, Warner had linked with Legislation’s great-great- grandson, who provided him with copies of dozens of wartime household letters and different data. Weeks after my go to, he walked the bottom with Warner—a surreal, emotional expertise for each.

On the evening of April 7, Ulysses Grant—commander of all U.S. Military forces—despatched a messenger by means of the traces to Lee: It’s time to surrender. Lee requested James Longstreet, his “Previous Battle Horse,” what he thought. “Not but,” the lieutenant basic stated.

“That messenger rode proper out right here alongside the Jamestown Highway and delivered the message by torchlight,” Warner says. Later that evening, Lee’s military withdrew by gentle of bonfires within the woods past Unhealthy Luck Creek.

The Military of Northern Virginia may have surrendered proper right here. However no historic markers designate the battlefield. “This place is forgotten,” Warner says.

And so Dirk Warner desires that sometime, maybe after each he and Jane relaxation in graves close to the redbud bushes, this unheralded battlefield turns into a nationwide park, his home the customer middle and museum. Relics unearthed on the farm grow to be its centerpiece. 

In the meantime, he’ll admire the nice and cozy glow of battlefield sunsets and consider the tales that linger on his farm like wisps of musket smoke.

“This place,” he says, “is so humbling.”

John Banks, writer of two Civil Battle books, has one other one coming in 2023. Try “A Civil Battle Highway Journey of a Lifetime” (Gettysburg Publishing) for extra on Cumberland Church and tales about Andersonville, Antietam, and extra.

this text first appeared in civil struggle instances journal

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