Coffin: Jeffords At Cedar Creek

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(Host) One hundred and fifty years ago, America was
torn apart by Civil War before the union was finally restored in 1865.
Since that time, preservation of the many historical sites associated
with that struggle has been a challenge. Historian and commentator
Howard Coffin  reflects on how one Vermonter in particular contributed
to that effort.

(Coffin)  Vermont’s
former U. S.
Sen. James Jeffords was honored last week on the Cedar Creek battlefield in Virginia’s
Shenandoah Valley. Jim isn’t well and doesn’t get out
much anymore. But his daughter Laura ably represented him.

Cedar Creek was the right place to thank Jim Jeffords.
During his storied congressional career he became a great friend of Civil War
battlefields. And Cedar Creek was the first Civil War battlefield he ever saw.

Years ago, when I was on his staff, he asked me to take him
on a battlefield tour. We spent a weekend in the Shenandoah Valley,
walking the Cedar Creek and Third Winchester battlefields, where the Vermonters
had played such a vital role. Then with Virginia
historian Bob Krick, we went to the summit of Bull
Pasture Mountain
where Stonewall Jackson won the first victory of his famed Valley Campaign.

Incidentally, as a result of our battlefield trip, Jim began
reading book after book about the Civil War. His first hero, to my chagrin, was
the Confederate Jackson.

At Cedar Creek, Jeffords saw the Eighth Vermont monument,
erected by members of the regiment, where they made a suicidal early morning
stand on Oct. 19, 1864. He
immediately thought it should be part of a park and he saw to it that it was.
The ceremony last week took place there.

A quarter century ago, before I worked for Jim, some friends
in Virginia who were desperately
trying to protect the battlefields from unregulated development sought my
assistance. They needed federal money. I went to Jim, an old friend, and over
lunch in Burlington I outlined the
problem and asked if he could help . He said he thought he could. Just what
might he do? I asked. "Save ‘em," he said. "Save which ones?" I asked. "Save
‘em all," he said. He almost did.

Among his triumphs was the preservation of 500 acres of Virginia’s
Wilderness battlefield where Vermont’s
greatest Civil War moment occurred on a May afternoon in 1864. There, 1,000
Vermonters fell to keep intact the Army of the Potomac,
fighting the first battle of the campaign that won the Civil War. Plans were
afoot to put a housing development there. But again I asked Jim for help and he
secured almost six million federal dollars and made that hallowed ground part
of a national park.

The day the Vermont
monument at the Wilderness was dedicated, Jim and I spoke. As we did, out of a
clear blue sky, raindrops mysteriously fell like silver tears. Jim said that
day was one of the happiest of his life. It was the last battlefield he ever


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