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Civil War Enthusiast Pleads Guilty To Planting Bomb During Battle Reenactment

A Civil War reenactor and self-identified member of Antifa pleaded guilty Tuesday to planting a bomb at a Virginia battlefield and to mailing threatening letters.

Gerald Leonard Drake, of Winchester, Virginia, pleaded guilty to placing a pipe bomb at the Cedar Creek battlefield in Middletown, Virginia, back in 2017, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Virginia. According to investigators, Drake had placed a pipe bomb composed of metal nuts, a mercury switch, a battery, ball bearings, black and red wires, and powder at the battlefield during a reenactment.

“This defendant sought to intimidate and harm innocent people, and further, he tried to sow discontent by falsely claiming that the attempted bombing was politically motivated,” United States Attorney Christopher R. Kavanaugh said. “I am deeply grateful to the first responders for their work to quickly neutralize the bomb, as well as the special agents of the FBI and the federal prosecutors who – for years – tirelessly worked this case to identify Mr. Drake and bring him to justice.”

The DOJ said that Drake had claimed to be a member of Antifa in letters sent to newspapers and several individuals. In years past, Drake had participated in reenactments at Cedar Creek and had been a member of the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation (CCBF).

The CCBF is a nonprofit organization “dedicated to the acquisition, preservation, and protection of lands, artifacts, and writings” linked to the battle. They offer a history museum and manage about 350 acres of land.

One of the letters addressed to the “Cedar Creek Battlefield people” said that reenacting the battle “clearly celebrates the war to keep African-Americans in chains,” and that the Charlottesville riot would be like “a Sunday picnic” compared to havoc purportedly threatened from Antifa. The letters were emblazoned with the black and red flag logo associated with Antifia, according to court documents. 

A pipe bomb was discovered during the recognition of the 153rd anniversary of the battle in October 2017, which was organized by the CCBF. Although the bomb did not go off, it did result in the cancellation of the rest of the planned events. According to the DOJ, Drake said that the purpose of the bombs was to “instill fear and cause harm to those attending the reenactment.”

The battle of Cedar Creek took place on October 19, 1864, and saw Union forces under Major General Phil Sheridan face off against Confederate Major General Jubal Early. Union forces had 5,764 casualties and Confederate forces had 3,060 casualties. The battle involved over 50,000 men combined. Despite the casualty count, the battle is considered a Union victory as Sheridan was able to lead a successful counterattack that forced Early’s troops to retreat after Confederate forces surprised three Union corps at the beginning of the battle.

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According to the American Battlefield Trust, the battle helped to give President Abraham Lincoln some momentum in the lead-up to the 1864 election when he was facing stiff competition from George McClellan, a former Union general. It also effectively ended Confederate resistance to the Union in the Shenandoah Valley, a place where the Confederates had wracked up several victories under Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson earlier in the war.

Drake could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.



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