Cedar Creek and Belle Grove
National Historical Park
Park Photo
NPS photo

The fine lime stone valley of Shenandoah...the most beautiful, and most bountiful portion of our country.

—John S. Skinner, founding editor, American Farmer, 1820

From Backcountry to Breadbasket to Battlefield and Beyond

Sweeping from east to west, the landscape seen above, from the porch of Belle Grove manor house, holds stories of the Shenandoah Valley reaching from present time deep into Earth's history. These stories of geology, people, and place enrich this national historical park, set aside by Congress in 2002.

The valley's geologic story includes an ancient ocean that laid down vast limestone beds, the basis of fertile soil. Geologic forces built mountains that shelter the valley. Erosion created ravines, rolling hills, and fast-flowing water. All these features created a "breadbasket" that made this valley a battleground in America's Civil War.

Early Times in the Valley

The first people arrived in the Shenandoah Valley around 10,000 years ago and lived well on wildlife and plants. Eventually they cultivated the land, growing a variety of crops. Tribal warfare over this bounty pushed out most American Indians before European settlers arrived. Jost Hite, one of the first new settlers, arrived in 1731 with 16 families from Pennsylvania. They found what they were looking for: fertile soil and abundant water.

The Valley seems to be designed as the great thoroughfare between the west and southwest to the northern cities.

—1838 petition to obtain state support for building the Valley Turnpike

Belle Grove and the Age of Grain

The new settlers found that wheat grew very well in the Shenandoah Valley and made high quality flour. By the late 1700s, they began growing wheat to sell commercially. It soon was in demand throughout the colonies and Europe. During this Age of Grain, a few plantations were established in the valley. Belle Grove was developed by Isaac Hite Jr. and his wife Nelly (sister of President James Madison).

The Hites used as many as 100 enslaved workers in their huge fields. Some small farmers used slaves too, a practice that divided valley residents. As in the rest of the nation, the conflict over slavery would ignite the Civil War.

The Civil War Comes

The Union and Confederacy fought over the Shenandoah Valley throughout the war. But in 1864 the Union began a campaign to destroy the "Breadbasket of the Confederacy." This plan, called "The Burning," systematically burned farms the length of the valley, leaving residents with no food for themselves, let alone for soldiers of either side. But despite the immense destruction, the resilient valley and its residents recovered quickly after the war.

Fields of wheat spread far and wide, interspersed with woodlands ... quaint old mills, with turning wheels, were busily grinding the previous year's harvest ...

—Brig. Gen. Richard Taylor, CSA, 1862

The Shenandoah Valley

This historic valley continues to attract travelers. They can still follow the old Indian trail, now US 11, up and down hills and across rivers. They pass mills, barns, fields, cemeteries, and battlefields that speak of early European settlers, the Age of Grain, and the Civil War.

Quarries continue to yield limestone, which is still used for buildings and roads, among hundreds of other uses. This durable rock serves as a reminder of geologic forces that formed the valley and its landscape—a landscape that continues to inspire and challenge us.

The Battle of Cedar Creek

October 19, 1864 In the foggy dawn, Confederate soldiers crossed Cedar Creek and the North Fork of the Shenandoah River to surprise sleeping Union soldiers. Fighting raged as the Confederates chased the Union soldiers north. By late morning, Confederate Gen. Jubal Early thought he had won. But Union Gen. Philip Sheridan was racing south from Winchester, determined to rally his stunned troops. By sunset, in an epic reversal of fortune, Early was defeated. Over 8,600 Union and Confederate men were killed, wounded, or captured that day in one of the bloodiest battles in the Shenandoah Valley.

This wasn't the first time Sheridan had beaten Early's army, but it was the last. The Union's "Burning" campaign had destroyed the valley's irreplaceable food sources, making it impossible for the Confederacy to adequately feed their soldiers and for residents to feed themselves. The Union victory at Cedar Creek helped ensure Abraham Lincoln's reelection as President of the United States three weeks later. Within six months, the Civil War was over.

Plan Your Visit

park map
(click for larger map)

Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park, established in 2002, is being developed. You can learn about the park at the visitor contact station and at events and ranger programs, on the self-guiding auto tour, and at sites operated by park partners. Visit often to enjoy our progress.

Getting to the Park The park is about 90 minutes west of downtown Washington, DC, and three hours north of Roanoke, VA.

From the south Take I-81 exit 298, then go north on US 11. Belle Grove Plantation is on the left. The park visitor contact station is in Middletown.

From the north: Take I-81 exit 302 to US 11 south. The park visitor contact station is in Middletown. Belle Grove Plantation is past the town on the right.

Auto Tour Follow the battle on this self-guiding tour. Free guide at the visitor contact station; free podcast on the park website. Allow two hours. Buses and RVs should not do this tour.

Accessibility We strive to make facilities, services, and programs accessible to all. For information ask a ranger, call, or check our website.

Programs Enjoy programs, walks, and guided tours May through October. Some partners' programs have a fee.

Safety and Regulations Ask about road conditions before taking the auto tour. • Federal law prohibits removing natural or historic features. • Private property in the park is closed to the public. • Firearms regulations are on the park website.

Emergencies call 911

Park Monuments In the decades after the Civil War, veterans returned to the valley to honor their lost comrades. The park's three veterans' monuments—to soldiers from Vermont and New York, and to Confederate Gen. Stephen Ramseur—were erected in this spirit.

Reenactments Every October Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation holds reenactments of the battle. The National Park Service also conducts special programs during this weekend.

Belle Grove In the 1830s, the plantation passed from the Hites to other families. It was occupied by Union or Confederate troops throughout the Civil War. At the time of the Battle of Cedar Creek, Union Gen. Sheridan was using the Manor House as his headquarters and many of his 31,600 troops were camped on the property. The grounds include a historic apple orchard, garden, and slave quarters. You can tour the 1797 Manor House for a fee.

Park Partners The National Park Service works with partners to manage the park and provide visitor programs. Of the 3,700 acres within park boundaries, approximately 2,200 acres are private and not open to the public. The partners preserve and manage the remaining 1,542 acres, including historic structures.

Belle Grove Inc.
Offers guided tours of the Manor House April-December, and other programs throughout the year.

Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation
Operates foundation headquarters and Hupp's Hill Visitor Center, and conducts battle reenactments.

National Trust for Historic Preservation
Owns Belle Grove Plantation.

Shenandoah County Administers county parkland inside the national park boundary.

Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation
Manages the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District to preserve and protect 20 Civil War battlefields.

Source: NPS Brochure (2015)


Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park — December 19, 2002
part of Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District — Nov. 12, 1996
Cedar Creek Battlefield and Belle Grove Plantation National Historic Landmark — August 11, 1969

For More Information
Please Visit The
Link to Official NPS Website

Brochures ◆ Site Bulletins ◆ Trading Cards expand section


Cultural Landscapes Inventory: Whitham Farmstead, Cedar Creek & Belle Grove National Historical Park (2007)

Final General Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement for Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park (2010)

Foundation Document, Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park, Virginia (November 2018)

Foundation Document Overview, Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park, Virginia (November 2018)

"From Backcountry to Breadbasket, to Battlefield, and Beyond": Interim Interpretive Plan, Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park (May 2011)

Historic Resource Context Study Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park in Frederick, Shenandoah, and Warren Counties, Virginia (David W. Lewes and William H. Moore, William and Mary Center for Archaeological Research, December 20, 2013)

Junior Ranger, Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historic Park (2020)

Land Use History for Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation (Michael Commisso, August 2007)

Research and Documentation of the Agricultural Landscape and Agricultural Economy: Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park (Brian Katen, Mlntai Kim and Christine Calorusso, January 2020)

The Battle of Cedar Creek: Self-Guided Tour (Joseph W.A. Whitehorne, 1992)

'The Stars Fought From Heaven': Race and Slavery in the Shenandoah Valley from Early Settlement to Jim Crow — Historic Resource Study (James J. Broomall, September 2020)

Handbooks ◆ Books expand section


Last Updated: 23-Apr-2022