Inquiry ongoing: Authorities looking into suspicious device that halted Cedar Creek battle re-enact

The Warren Sentinel

MIDDLETOWN — Evidence collection continued this week at the Cedar Creek battlefield, where a device that may have been a bomb was found Saturday.

Using metal detectors, eight Frederick County Sheriffís Office deputies and two members of the Frederick County Fire Marshal's office examined an approximately 40-yard-long, 20-yard-wide area from about 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday. The area was where a vendor found the device in a vendor tent about 4 p.m. Saturday. It was detonated by state police.

The discovery prompted the evacuation of about 2,500 people Saturday. Sunday's scheduled events for the annual re-enactment were canceled, but a private re-enactment of the historic 1864 Confederate defeat at the Battle of Cedar Creek occurred Sunday morning.

Sheriff's Office spokesman Capt. Aleck Beeman said the additional search was done because there was too much metal from tent poles to use metal detectors while tents for the event were up.

"We're just making sure we did a good job of cleaning up the crime scene," Beeman said. "We want to make sure all the evidence is collected."

Dennette Rybiski, a spokeswoman at the FBI's Richmond field office, wouldn't say if an actual bomb was found.

"It's a device. We're not elaborating," she said. "I do understand that there's misinformation [out there]. However, this is an ongoing investigation for us, and we cannot divulge any investigative details."

The incident came after the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation said on its website last week that it had received a letter threatening "bodily harm" to participants. Rybiski wouldn't say if the FBI believes the letter and device are connected.

Despite the threat, attendance was normal for a year that doesn't fall on a five-year anniversary, foundation board member James Ott said. Some 20,000 people come on major anniversaries, such as the 150th anniversary of the battle in 2014, he said.

The foundation was started in 1988 to preserve the battlefield, and re-enactments have occurred since the early 1990s.

The incident comes at a time of pushback against honoring the Confederacy and Confederate symbols. As a Confederate flag flapped in the breeze from one of the few tents still standing Monday afternoon, Ott said the re-enactment is not honoring men who tried to violently overthrow the U.S. government to uphold slavery. He said it's about remembering history and educating the public about the battle.

"This is not about the North or the South," he said. "It's about history."

The event is also a big moneymaker for Middletown and Frederick County as thousands of people spend money at area hotels and restaurants and other local businesses. Middletown Mayor Charles Harbaugh IV said event participants spend at least $100,000 annually in Middletown, a town of some 1,300 people.

"The economic impact is tremendous," he said. "It's essential to the economy of Middletown."

Harbaugh, a re-enactor since about 2002, said the threat of violence inspired a spirit of unity among re-enactors and the public. Besides the private re-enactment Sunday, the annual lighting of luminarias for the combined 964 Confederate and Union soldiers killed in the battle was done on Main Street on Saturday night.

"We're not going to be deterred by these threats," Harbaugh said. "Middletown is full of tough, tough people."

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