Category Archives: Preservation

Campaign 1776: Towards preservation of battlefields from other wars

Yesterday the Civil War Trust made a major change with their organizational focus.  Though the name does not change, the Trust’s efforts extend to preservation of Revolutionary War battlefields.  In the web announcement (on the Campaign 1776 web site), the Trust said:

Nearly 240 years after the “shot heard ‘round the world” signaled the beginning of the journey toward American independence, historians and preservationists gathered in Princeton, N.J., to launch the first-ever national initiative to protect and interpret the battlefields of the Revolutionary War. The new effort, titled ‘Campaign 1776,’ is a project of the Civil War Trust, the nation’s most successful battlefield preservation advocate. Campaign 1776 will employ the same proven strategy of harnessing public-private partnerships to permanently protect hallowed ground that has made the Civil War Trust one of the country’s top charitable land conservation organizations.

The efforts will soon extend to War of 1812 battlefields.

The first preservation target for Campaign 1776 is 4.6 acres at Princeton, New Jersey.  The Trust is calling for $25,000 in donations.  That’s a low jump for an organization which has preserved thousands of acres and routinely calls for millions of dollars for Civil War sites.  You will see from the campaign page, the Trust is taking its familiar and very successful format from Civil War projects and applying that to these new targets… with a little adaptation, of course.

Adaptation?  Yes, let me offer examples.  A one page summary of the American Revolution… but before you give me the rolling eyes treatment, thing about it.  We all know about the dearth of knowledge about history among the general American population.  I don’t need to play back some “in the street” interviews or a compilation of political gaffes to demonstrate that.  And lets face it, if one mentions “the war” in conversation here in the U.S., very likely that is one of two – the Civil War or World War II.  Those have gotten the most print and film play.  So in most cases, convincing someone that Revolutionary War battlefields are important enough to put money on, the discussion has to start with “what was that war about?”  How many out there will understand “Southern Campaign” outside of the context of Richard Nixon?  So, I’d not give the eye-roll to what you might think a “introductory-level” opening.

Adaptation?  Yes, for new allies.  The Trust has long worked with the National Park Service (through the American Battlefield Protection Program) and with other organizations in the ranks, such as National Trust for Historic Preservation and Journey Through Hallowed Ground at the national level. Likewise the Trust has partnered with local organizations, too many to list here, to bring the “small” preservation efforts to the fore.  There are some local organizations already focused on Revolutionary War and War of 1812 preservation.  Crossroads of the American Revolution (Revolutionary New Jersey) is one highlighted with the Princeton effort.  At the national level, while many of the “Civil War” allies apply, there are other organizations to bring into the conversation, such as the Society of the Cincinnati.  These new alliances will only add to and strengthen the conversation about preservation.

I see the Trust’s additions as a natural evolution towards a broader discussion of battlefield preservation. But I’m sure there are some out there who will voice concern that these battlefields from other wars will detract from the core mission focused on the Civil War … or maybe just be a token effort suffering in the shadows of those established preservation efforts.  If I may offer a counterpoint to that, consider this:

10 July 11 294

That Civil War Trails marker is located on the Yorktown Battlefield.  While everyone (we hope) would identify Yorktown as a Revolutionary War battle of great importance, few would pause for the Civil War events at the same location.  Certainly the same things that brought the colonists to the Peninsula, brought soldiers to Yorktown… again and again.  And that is just a handy example, as I could well cover several pages here on the blog with sites with some Revolutionary War and Civil War connections. It’s a common theme with history.  Our physical world has layers upon layers of history.  We just have to know how best to view that.  And it helps that, in the case of the site above, different organizations have preserved and interpreted.

At the same time, we in the Civil War-centered discussions need to recognize that “our” great chapter of the history book is but one chapter.  It is a part of this great story arc that is the American experience.  Unfortunately, in our progress driven existence, a lot of things get recycled.  Particularly places where history happened.  I think of it this way:  If some of my preservation budget goes to help a Revolutionary War site, then it is not just the “matching” donation I’m banking on, but rather in the longer sense the “matching” interest that such encourages.  The more people that are sensitive in the interest of historic preservation, the healthier our knowledge of history becomes.

Fleetwood Hill getting a make-over, restoration

I’ve gotten a lot of questions of late, for good reason, about Fleetwood Hill.  Last year, the Civil War Trust purchased a 56-acre section on the crest of the hill.  That property was not just any old part of the hill, but one of the most heavily contested 56-acres of the Civil War – in terms of number of engagements fought.  For modern visitors, this has been the view of that hill:
IMG_1386

Now the land is locked in as “preserved.” So when can you walk that most important Civil War site? The next step towards opening this very historic site up to the public is some “restoration” work.  The Trust posted a press release on this earlier in the week:

Civil War Trust’s Restoration of Fleetwood Hill at Brandy Station Underway

Site of the largest cavalry battle on American soil will return to its wartime appearance

(Brandy Station, Va.) – The Civil War Trust, America’s largest nonprofit battlefield preservation organization, has begun work to restore a 56-acre property on the crest of Fleetwood Hill at Brandy Station, to its wartime appearance. The project is among the Trust’s most ambitious restoration projects to date and focuses on land acquired in August 2013, following a $3.6 million fundraising campaign. The purchase was financed through private donations and matching grants from the federal Civil War Land Acquisition Grant Program (administered by the American Battlefield Protection Program) and the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Civil War Sites Preservation Fund. The Battle of Brandy Station, fought June 9, 1863, was the largest cavalry engagement of the Civil War. …

So this structure….

IMG_3111

And a few others have to come down.

The Trust goes on to provide some details of the project:

The demolition plan, approved by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, which holds a conservation easement on the property, begins with the removal of all modern structures on the property, including two houses, a detached garage, two in-ground pools and a pool house. The Trust worked closely with the seller, who vacated this summer after a negotiated period of tenancy, to find ways of reusing elements of the modern buildings where possible. An aluminum barn on the property, for example, has already been removed for use by the local 4-H club….

The site will be closed to the public during the demolition process, with details on future public access to be announced upon the project’s completion. The Trust is already in the process of developing a multi-stop interpretive walking trail on the property, augmenting our existing educational offerings elsewhere on the battlefield, with a probable installation date of Spring 2015. Longer term landscape restoration plans include the replanting of trees on the hill’s crest to resemble the wartime appearance. The agricultural plan for the property includes a five-year agricultural lease, excluding the visitor area on the crest of the hill.

Consider the fine points of that last paragraph.  I’ve heard some grumblings from Culpeper County (from the usual crowd, you might say) that the Trust didn’t have to go to all this trouble.  Some have suggested the house could have served as a museum… or a visitor center… or some other useful purpose.  Well first off, one structure on the property will be re-utilized, as noted, for a good cause.

But what about that big old mansion?  Let’s think on this for a bit.  When built, it was not setup for use as a museum.  To re-purpose the structure for such, the Trust would have to sink more money into the effort.  The people making such suggestions have no background in these matters.   And even if with great expenditure the house was transformed, there would still be a glaring problem – its location.  The same problem ultimately brought about the demise of the old Gettysburg Visitor Center and Cyclorama.  The same problem will bring about the relocation of the visitor center at Antietam at some point in the near future.   Putting a visitor center smack in the middle of a battlefield might have sounded fine in the 1960s.  But we have 50 years of hindsight that speak to the error of such thinking.  Retaining that mansion, even as some sort of visitor center, would be contradictory to the notion of preserving the ground.

And if that reasoning falls on deaf ears, consider the other part of that paragraph.  The Trust plans to open the hill up for all the public (not some super-exclusive set, as some organization I will not mention here proposed doing not too long ago).  If the public is going to roam that hill, then those structures pose a hazard.  Particularly that pool, but also the multi-story house.  It’s a safety issue and a liability.  Again, those are added costs pulling funds that would be better spent on other preservation efforts.

And when that hill is opened to the public (all the public), the view will please all. Up until now, we’ve had to interpret the final stages of Brandy Station from afar.  Soon we can stand at that ground and consider views such as this:

IMG_3119

And from here speak of Colonel Sir Percy Wyndham’s approach on June 8, 1863.

We will look to the north and consider the Confederate race from St. James Church to Fleetwood Hill.  And we will also be able to consider the vicious actions were the two sides fought over this spot of ground.

IMG_3115

And we will place those movements in the perspective of the terrain…. because we can walk it!

And… on a clear day… we can look far to the south and consider Pony Mountain in the distance and think about those long months in the winter of 1864, where the Army of the Potomac prepared for a campaign to end the war.

IMG_3123

Fleetwood Hill has many important stories to tell.  Activity in motion as you read this will allow, finally, that hill to tell its story.  Mind you, that story is not JUST limited to events 150 years ago. The newer pages in the book – those about preservation efforts at Brandy Station – are just as important.  Fifty years from now, Civil War Bicentennialists will be grateful our sesquicentennialist efforts didn’t stop down there at Flat Run.

Lessons for the learning at Rutherford’s Farm

Yesterday I attended the Rutherford’s Farm 150th tour, one of the Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park’s “150 Years Ago… On This Day” programs highlighting the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaigns.  This was, as with the Cool Spring tour on Friday, a convenient early evening two-hour tour.  After all, the battle was not that large – though it was significant in the scope of the campaign which followed.

The 150th tour was fairly well attended.  Not a large gathering, as seen at some other events.  But considering the subject, a few dozen attendees is about what one would expect.  Those of us attending were treated to a detailed discussion of the battle and a hands-on, in the ranks demonstration of tactical movements.  And this was an important aspect of the battle, as the Federal troops had to move from column to battle line at a critical juncture of the engagement.  Good for us to understand why “column of fours” was the march order and what it took to transform from that into a line of battle.

We were also treated to an object lesson in battlefield preservation… though probably not the type we preservationists would like to see.  The heart of the battlefield at Rutherford’s Farm is gone.  Well to be accurate, it is still there, but not in the sense of being an interpretable battlefield.  It’s a parking lot.

IMG_3047

There is a pull off beside the old turnpike (now US Highway 11, and a divided highway at that point).  There are some waysides and state markers.  But there’s just nothing that visitors might point to with respect to the battlefield.

IMG_3051

I tweeted, half-joking, that the 14th West Virginia rolled up the Confederate flanks, fighting through the woods where Target now stands.

IMG_3058

I thought about taking a photo from inside the store. But thought better of it.   (And I do wonder why all of the ghosts which allegedly haunt so many Civil War battlefields are at peace with a store selling everything from lingerie to alcoholic beverages.   Then again, maybe that’s proof contrary to the paranormal activity premise….)

What little “green” appears in the photos is not long to remain green.

IMG_3046

As the curb suggests, plans call for another store in this area.  Construction is ongoing to the south side of the road, which will completely blot out the heart of this battlefield.

Honestly, we must rate Rutherford’s Farm as a lost battlefield… a preservation failure.  It was just not to be.  The development potential of that ground, being so close to an interstate and bisected by a major highway, was too great for any idea of preservation to hold back the bulldozers.  And this happened in recent memory, as this photo I took in 2007 documents:

Winchester 14 Sept 001

I think, as related several times before, that we are the last generation which will even have the option to preserve Civil War (and other war’s) battlefields here in the United States.  The pace of development and practices of land use are simply forces too great for these sites to remain fallow if unprotected.  My son’s generation will be far more engaged over “view sheds” and defining complementary activity near battlefields.  They won’t have battlefields left to preserve.

We here at the 150ths of these events might look back at earlier times when the battlefields were intact.  That’s because we can, in many cases, actually remember what the fields looked like.  Fifty years from now, Civil War Bicentennialists will look back with envy upon us sesquicentennialists who walked some of these sites.  And they won’t have a memory of Rutherford’s Ford … or Rappahannock Station … or Chantilly… before the development.

“You can’t save it all” will be the response. But should that deter us from, fighting the good fight, saving all that we can?