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First-of-its-kind program rounds out Culpeper's Civil War history with African-American perspectives
Historian Clark B. Hall, atop Pony Mountain, explains eastern Culpeper's strategic significance in the Civil War.
CLINT SCHEMMER/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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BY CLINT SCHEMMER
Fleetwood, Richard Hoope Cunningham's home in Culpeper County, was the epitome of gracious antebellum living, remarked many a visitor.
Resting in its well-furnished rooms, travelers savored their hosts' ice-cold lemonade and genteel conversation.
Neither guests nor the Cunninghams, though, spoke of those who made the farm such a productive and welcoming place: its 100 slaves.
That's what people learned Saturday during a daylong first-of-its-kind program devoted to all aspects of the county's Civil War history. It was but one contrast drawn during the special event hosted by two nonprofit groups, the new African American Heritage Alliance and Friends of Wilderness Battlefield.
The day blended military maneuvers, wartime politics and civilian hardships to set the stage for August's 150th anniversary of the Battle of Cedar Mountain.
Four nationally known historians kicked things off with a morning symposium, "Anguish and Freedom: The Yankees Descend Upon Culpeper," at Germanna Community College's Daniel Technology Center. It drew a diverse crowd of 136 people who came from as far away as Ohio to get a feel for the forces that thrust Culpeper into the national spotlight in the summer of 1862.
John Hennessy, chief historian of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, author James K. Bryant II and Daniel Sutherland, history chairman at the University of Arkansas, examined Culpeper's experience from many angles. Clark B. Hall, top expert on the Battle of Brandy Station, moderated the discussion.
Zann Nelson, president of Friends of Wilderness Battlefield, said organizers sought to provide an overview of how the war affected Culpeper, weaving in stories of African-American refugees, self-emancipation and black soldiers' service that haven't been part of the usual Civil War narrative.
"This is African-Americans' history, too--a big piece of it," she said.
Hennessy described how the Lincoln administration sharply shifted Union policy after the disastrous Seven Days' battles near Richmond, bringing Gen. John Pope from the West to take command in Northern Virginia and wage the "hard war" urged by its critics.