Battles in the East, Historical Homes

Belle Grove Plantation at Cedar Creek

Major Isaac Hite Jr.

Belle Grove Plantation, like many homesteads in the south during the Civil War, witnessed the horrors and devastation of battle. On the morning of October 19, 1864, the home would play a part in a drama that unfolded for a wounded general.

In 1783, Major Isaac Hite Jr – grandson of Shenandoah Valley Pioneer Jost Hite and veteran of the Revolutionary War – married Nelly Madison – the sister of President James Madison. His father gifted him 483 acres of their family’s land in the Shenandoah valley. The main house began construction in 1794 while Isaac and Nelly lived in a smaller cottage onsite, and was completed in 1797. The name “Belle Grove” came from Nelly’s grandmother’s home in Port Conway, Virginia, where she was born.

What visitors see today is a magnificent architectural blending of Tidewater and Classical revival styles, built of limestone quarried from the property itself. The interior demonstrates a transition from Georgian to Federal periods. The estate expanded to 7500 acres, growing wheat and raising livestock in the Shenandoah Valley. He also operated a large distillery and several mills on the property, all supported by the forced labor of 276 enslaved peoples between 1783 and 1851. Fifteen of this figure were part of a gift from James Madison Sr. They were: Jerry, Jemmy, Sally, Milley, Eliza and her five children: Joanna, Diana, Demas, Pendar, Webster, and Truelove and her four children: Peggy, Priscilla, Henry, and Katey. Eliza and Truelove’s families would be at Belle Grove for three generations. For more information about the enslaved at Belle Grove, visit https://www.bellegrove.org/about/enslaved.

The Hite family had three children, two of which lived to adulthood. After Nelly’s passing in 1802, Major Hite remarried Ann Tunstall Maury who gave him ten more children. An addition to the home, the west wing, became necessary for the growing family and was added in 1815. Major Hite would pass in 1836 and Ann followed in 1851, prompting the sale of Belle Grove in 1860 to the Cooley family upon the eve of Civil War.

The home itself was occupied several times during the war, but it’s most known for its involvement in the Battle of Cedar Creek on October 19, 1861. The home served as Union General Phillip Sheridan’s headquarters prior to the battle, but he was not present at the onset of the fighting, as he was making his way back from Washington and was in Winchester. On the morning of the 19th, the Union soldiers that had been pushed back from their initial position made a stubborn stand on the grounds of Belle Grove, but were eventually pushed back by the Confederates and toward Middletown to the northeast.

Major General Stephen Dodson Ramseur

One of the wounded from the fighting was 27-year-old Major General Stephen Dodson Ramseur of North Carolina, in command of one of Lt. Gen. Jubal Early’s infantry divisions. He had served in the Confederacy since the Peninsula Campaign and had become a hardened veteran of combat, being wounded a few times before arriving to the Valley. Two days prior to the battle, he had received a letter telling him that his wife, Ellen “Nellie” Richmond Ramseur had just given birth to their daughter, Mary. He wrote to his wife, effusive in his sentiments and eager for every little detail of the birth. He wrote, “may He soon reunite us in happiness & peace a joyful family.”

During the fighting at Cedar Creek, Ramseur was wounded again, shot in the right side, the bullet passing through both lungs and lodging in his left arm. The general was loaded into a Confederate ambulance wagon, only to be captured later that night by the Federals. When they realized who he was, Ramseur was immediately brought to Belle Grove, then serving as a hospital following the Union counterattack. They moved him first to the nursery, and received visitors, including George Custer, Wesley Merritt, and Henry DuPont. Ramseur passed on the morning of October 20th, having never met his infant daughter. Bryan Grimes, a fellow North Carolinian, would write about Ramseur’s passing as “not only a loss to this division but to his State and the country at large. No truer or nobler spirit has been sacrificed.”

In 1919, a memorial was erected to Ramseur on Belle Grove Road and sponsored by the North Carolina Historical Commission and the North Carolina Division United Daughters of the Confederacy. It stands approximately 800 yards from where Ramseur died. In attendance at the dedication was his daughter, Mary Dodson Ramseur and Dupont, his classmate from West Point who visited him in his final hours.

Ramseur Monument at Belle Grove

After the war, Belle Grove passed through the hands of several owners before it was possessed by the Brumback family in 1907, then Francis Welles Hunnewell in 1929. Both of these owners went to great lengths to preserve the historical integrity of the estate and home. It was later proclaimed a National Historic Landmark, a Virginia Historic Landmark, and a property of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It’s become a focal point of the Cedar Creek experience and is included in the Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historic Park as an education center with interpretive programing. Tours are given through the home and the property is still used for agricultural production. Copper Fox Distillery has even replicated a whiskey that was distilled by the Hites at Belle Grove.

To learn more of the fascination history of Belle Grove, including the ongoing efforts to tell the story of the enslaved and the graffiti in the attic, visit https://www.bellegrove.org/

View from the front porch of Belle Grove (author photo, 2019)

Hours: (Seasonal Hours) There is a limit of ten guests per tour and admission is sold on a first-come, first-served basis.      Tours will include indoor and outdoor portions.

March 20-October 31, 2021
Guided Tours: Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.ms. (last tour 3:15 p.m.) and Sunday 1-5 p.m. (last tour 4:15 p.m.) (No guided tours of the Manor House Mondays or Tuesdays March 20-May 31). On June 1, guided tours of the Manor House will be available Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.ms. (last tour 3:15 p.m.) and Sunday 1-5 p.m. (last tour 4:15 p.m.)

November 1-December 2, 2021
Guided Tours:  Saturday 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. (last tour 3:15 p.m.) and Sunday 1-5 p.m. (last tour 4:15 p.m.) and Friday, November 26, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

December 3-December 30, 2021
Guided Tours: Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m. (last tour 3:15 p.m.) and Sunday 1-5 p.m. (last tour 4:15 p.m.)
Christmas by Candlelight (self-guided tours): Friday and Saturday 4-8 p.m.
Closed for the season on December 30, 2021

December 31, 2021-March 18, 2022
Closed for the winter. Staff work Monday-Friday

Admission: $12 for Adults, $11 for Seniors, those with National Park Service Passes, and Military, $6 for Students (age 6-16) and under 5 years old are free.

Address: 336 Belle Grove Road, Middletown, VA 22645

Phone: 540-869-2028

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s