Brandy Station Preservation Effort

Many of you have already received the latest letter from the Civil War Preservation Trust regarding Brandy Station.  If not, please take some time to look at the Trust’s Brandy Station 2010 page.

At first glance, I know many will respond, “But they’ve already *saved* Brandy Station, haven’t they?”   Well I would say that while significant, and outright impressive given the circumstances, acquisitions have been made there is still much work to do at Brandy Station.  Cavalry battlefields, which Brandy Station is one of largest, are wide-ranging affairs.  The act of maneuvering large bodies of horse soldiers consumes space.  And to properly study those maneuvers, understand the tactical considerations, and consider the magnitude of the events, preserving just the spot where sabers crossed is not enough.

The two parcels of land targeted by this latest were sites of maneuvers and also some of the bitterest fighting on June 9, 1863.  But beyond that 1863 battle, the Brandy Station witnessed activity throughout the war.  You cannot drop a tin cup without it landing on the footfall of some soldier, north or south, on the campaign trail.

There is one aspect of the 2010 preservation effort that may raise eyebrows.  The Trust is not asking for money to buy land.  Not directly at least.  In this case the donations go toward securing easements on the property.   At first that sounds like a Pyrrhic victory at best.   But first consider that for $67,000, which is a very low price for real estate in that section of Virginia, future development is locked out.  And yes, development is a threat at that location.  The US 15/29 corridor is among the most attractive and fastest growing in the country.

Another way to look at the easement approach is considering the history of battlefield preservation.  Recall during the “Golden Age” of preservation, when the veterans themselves were active to secure the five original National Military Parks, one method chosen was the “Antietam Plan.”  At Antietam, the War Department (proponent for the parks at the time), opted to purchase easements and right-of-ways to facilitate passage of visiting officers and other visitors.  Of course, that is why Antietam’s memorials and markers are “stripped” along the park roads.  Perhaps by intent, or perhaps inadvertently, later generations were able to add larger tracts of land to complete the park we see today.

In the 1890s authorities saw need for single lane roads to facilitate passage throughout the battlefield.  They didn’t consider cell towers, condos, strip malls, and office complexes.  In 2010, we now must consider those things.  Today we talk about line of sight and viewsheds.  Perhaps we could buy all the land around the James Madison Highway to preserve the line of sight, but that would cost far too much and in the end, likely create more friction than the preservation community would like.  On the other hand, historical easements offer a lower cost alternative for battlefield preservation where outright land purchase is not an option.

Please visit the Trust’s web site and consider donating to the Brandy Station 2010 effort.

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Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

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