Most of the fighting at Mount Defiance was done by dismounted cavalry, like the men of the 1st Maine Cavalry in this Alfred Waud sketch. It was published in Harper’s Weekly, September, 5, 1863, and is part of the Morgan collection of Civil War drawings of the Library of Congress. Library of Congress

Over 150 years ago, 17 Maine men lost their lives in three Civil War battles in northern Virginia.

Long overshadowed by the heroics of Gen. Joshua Chamberlin at Gettysburg 10 days later, the efforts of the 1st Maine Cavalry are finally getting their due. Gray resident Steve Bunker made it his mission to make sure those men got recognition for their integral part in the fighting of 1863 that sparked momentum for the Union forces as they approached Gettybsurg.

Last month, Bunker, in a collaboration between the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War and the 1st Maine Cavalry Reenacting Organization, placed an approximately 5-foot tall, 3,000-pound Maine granite memorial inside Battlefield Park at Mount Defiance in Middleburg, Virginia. The spot marks the original 1st Maine Cavalry charge against Confederate forces 156 years ago in the battles of Aldie, Middleburg and Upperville in Virginia. 

“It’s sacred ground,” said Bunker. “The site itself should be remembered. I don’t know what may happen down the road … (but) you want to have that ground marked to let people know about it.” 

Steve Bunker, a founder of the 1st Maine Cavalry Reenacting Organization, stands next to a memorial erected in Middleburg, Virginia, in late June ceremony commemorating three important Civil War battles where the unit lost 17 men. Standing next to the memorial, created by David France of Forgotten Stoneworks in Manchester, is Caleb Horton, a member of the Maine Sons of Union Veterans. Photo courtesy of Steve Bunker

A ceremony unveiling the memorial included speakers from the Northern Regional Virginia Park Authority and historians from the area, readings from members of the Grand Army of the Republic and the 1st Maine Cavalry Reenacting Organization. A Maine honor guard was present, as well as the 1st of Maine flag. 

The 1st Maine Cavalry had a reputation as a strong unit, according to Clark Hall, the historian for the Battle of Brandy Station located in Virginia. In Middleburg, the Cavalry broke up the Confederate line of defense that shielded its infantry from Union forces. That in turn allowed the Union to discover Confederate plans to expand northward. The charge at Middleburg was pivotal, and without the 1st Maine Cavalry, the Confederate forces might have won the battle, according to Hall. 

Bunker, who founded the 1st Maine Cavalry Reenacting Organization in 1959 and is an active member of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, said he had several relatives in the 1st Maine Cavalry. He said he wanted to honor the Maine men with something historically important.  

“We like to go to events where we’re raising money for a historic site or doing some kind of preservation activity … something educational,” Bunker said. “We’re more concerned with saving historic sites and teaching history as it was.” 

He designed the memorial, which features the 17 names of the lost soldiers and the regimental insignia, with the help of David France, manager and head craftsman of Forgotten Stoneworks in Manchester, who did the stone work. Bunker said he raised about $5,000 to pay for the project by presenting to multiple historical societies and groups, mostly in Maine.

“I kept thinking ‘What can we do?’ ” to commemorate the unit, Bunker asked. “How is our best way to call attention? Well, stone – we have lots of stone … and where we need historical stones is where the battles were actually fought.”  

There are approximately 145 Civil war monuments in Maine, but only one battle – the battle of Portland Harbor – was fought here. According to the Maine Historical Society, about 70,000 Maine men served in the Civil War. 

Bunker said Middleburg was the best place for the memorial out of the three sites because of its location between Aldie and Upperville. In addition, the American Battlefield Trust had already bought and protected the field inside Battlefield park and, according to Bunker, they were looking for something to do with it. 

Jim Campi, chief policy and communications officer at ABT, wrote in an email that the organization bought the 5-acre property called Mount Defiance for $540,000. ABT then donated it to the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority in 2013. 

Hall said he agreed that the placement of the memorial was perfect. He said the area has a fair amount of traffic and the monument can be enjoyed by everyone. 

“People (in Middleburg) are very much into commemorating their history … I’m thrilled that the men of Maine put a monument at Mount Defiance,” Hall said. 


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