Category Archives: Preservation

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:
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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….

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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:

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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?

 

Rappahannock Station – a significant part of the battlefield… GONE

Back last November, just a couple days after the 150th anniversary of the battle, I walked the ground, as part of a tour group, over the battlefield of Rappahannock Station.  The tour covered the Confederate defensive position, held on November 7, 1863, and  assailed by Federal troops that day.  Roughly one third of the Confederate line lays within protected lands – managed by Fauquier County’s Parks and Recreation, with support from community organizations such as the Remington Community Partnership, Piedmont Environmental Council, and, of course, Civil War Trust.

But a significant part of the Confederate line – and thus a significant part of the battlefield – lay within private property… worse yet, property targeted for development.  For years the developer teetered back and forth on the project.  The down economy being a factor.  There were several times when it seemed a large portion would be preserved.  And we had high hopes on November 9, 2013, when we walked that ground considering advance of the 6th Maine and 5th Wisconsin Infantry made up the rise of ground in the photo below:

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I’m glad we were able to walk that slope and appreciate the terrain.  Because, just a few months later, that ground is forever changed … altered.

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Soon to disappear under 71 new homes.

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A significant portion of the battlefield lost.

We will, unfortunately, have to log this as a “lost opportunity.”  I won’t name names at this point, but will say – figuratively and literally – a phone call went unanswered.  I’m not saying that’s all it would have taken.  But at least an attempt should have been made.  Better to have gone down swinging with a last minute effort, than to simply let a battlefield to go under the bulldozers without a word.

I know there are folks who will say we have enough preserved already.  Maybe this battlefield – being such a small action – was not worthy of setting aside.  That be the case, what have we gained with that sacrifice?  And how does that stack with the sacrifices given on November 7, 1863?  As my friend Mike Block is quick to point out, two Medals of Honor were awarded for action ON THAT GROUND.

Sadly, I believe we are, as we proceed through the last year of the sesquicentennial, the last generation which will have an opportunity to preserve these battlefields.  What started with five “military parks” in the late 19th century and grew to include hundreds of sites – federal, state, and local – is running out of time.  During the 150ths, we have been able to walk much of the ground over which the armies traveled and fought.  For the bicentennials, fifty years from now, the participants won’t be as lucky.  They won’t have all the same opportunities to “walk the ground.”  One of which – they won’t have the opportunity I, and my fellow visitors, had at Rappahannock Station.