Brandy Station: Fleetwood Hill Construction

Earlier this week a co-worker who lives in Culpeper, Virginia mentioned construction equipment on the Brandy Station battlefield.  After discussions with my c0-worker and a few emails around to fellow Civil War preservationists, we confirmed the location noted was on Fleetwood Hill.   Below is a view of that area in 2008:

Brandy Station Jan 5 08 048
Fleetwood Hill in 2008

More importantly, here is a view looking down the valley of Flat Run near Fleetwood Hill:

Brandy Station 13 Sept 002
Flat Run near Fleetwood Hill - Summer 2008

Here’s is a similar view today:

Brandy Station 001
Construction along Flat Run

Here’s a closer view:

Brandy Station 002
Depth of the Pond

Yes, those are bulldozers on the right by the trees.  What you can’t see is the depth of the cut.  It is a significant hole.  The new cut will effect drainage on the portion of the field currently owned by preservation groups.

This view from the nearby Brandy Station Battlefield overlook area shows the extent of the work:

Brandy Station 003
The Enlarged Pond

Fleetwood Hill is among the most contested acres in North America due to its location near important roads and railroads used by both sides in the Civil War.  One Confederate staff officer during the war noted, “This hill commanded the level country toward the Rappahannock and a force… must either carry the position or turn it.”  No less than 21 separate military engagements occurred on Fleetwood Hill during the Civil War.  The most important of which, of course, came on June 9, 1863 during the Battle of Brandy Station.

Without a doubt, this is hallowed ground.

Through the efforts of many organizations to include Civil War Trust (and its predecessors) and the Brandy Station Foundation, some of the ground around Fleetwood Hill is preserved today.  However the hill itself lies on private property.  A major highway passes just to the side of the hill.  And as seen in the photos above, a house sits on that private property.  So yes, there is development on the hill and it is not currently preserved ground.

However, Fleetwood Hill is in the middle of a battlefield defined by the American Battlefield Protection Program, part of the Brandy Station designated core battlefield area.   That means it is on “protected” ground.  Unlike perhaps the recent Gettysburg casino at the Eisenhower Conference Center, or the proposed Wal-Mart site at the Wilderness, Fleetwood Hill is within the bounds of a designated battlefield site.

So should preservationists halt the construction at at Fleetwood Hill?  Honestly, that is an issue for government agencies and perhaps the courts to decide.   Personally I don’t see a conflict here between property rights and preservation.  If you own property on a battlefield, there are some restrictions with regard to how your property is used.  (Much like living within an HOA, in some regards.)  You can go all “Peter Svenson”.  Or you can move to a neighborhood where nobody is concerned about upkeep of rail fences.

The role of a preservation organization here is to advocate for a solution that retains the integrity of the battlefield.  The organization should present the facts to government officials involved with the issue, in part to help “make the case” for preservation within current laws and regulations.  In the process, the preservation organization should seek to educate, inform and enlist the public.  Preservation must be a local movement.  Lasting solutions are only achieved when people local to the battlefield have internalized the notion of saving the ground.

However, the local preservation group – the Brandy Station Foundation – has not mentioned the construction in public.  Apparently the Foundation has known of the issue since April, when the subject came up in a board meeting (UPDATE:  See note below).  Many weeks have passed, and much ground torn up.  Yet not even a statement of concern.

Today I asked the current president of the Brandy Station Foundation, Joseph McKinney, what that organization planned to do.  He said the Foundation’s board is discussing a response, but is not ready to offer such to the public.  He did mention the intention of a long term plan to ensure the preservation of Fleetwood Hill and surrounding areas, with the interests of preservationists and land owners in mind.

Fair enough.  I understand the sensitivities in play.  And I want to give the foundation’s president and board the benefit of the doubt here.  But, it is my personal opinion that the Foundation needs to step up and make not only a statement, but alert the appropriate government entities.  And sooner rather than later.  That is the “good fight” and the right thing to do in this case.

Further, I think there is more at stake here than just some square footage of bottom-land.  What was once a premier preservation organization appears marginalized and ineffective in response to a threat which, by its own charter, it is required to address. With every movement of the bulldozers there at Flat Run, a little bit of the foundation’s reputation is eroded.

There are times to ring a bell, instead of worrying about who will hear it.  I submit this is such a time.

NOTE:  Full disclosure here.  I served as a board member of the Brandy Station Foundation from March 2010 to March 2011.  I stepped down due to personal commitments that prevented my full participation in that body.  I remain, as of this writing, a member of the foundation.

UPDATE:  The President of BSF, Joe McKinney, contacted me via email to clarify some points.  He stated that knowledge of the construction plans came to him on April 29 or 30.  The construction was discussed during a May 4 board meeting.  Thus the foundation had officially known of the situation for two weeks as of the time I wrote this post.

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

6 thoughts on “Brandy Station: Fleetwood Hill Construction

  1. Great post Craig. I agree and as a former BSF Board member for over 12 years and one of the original Directors that successfully battled the extensive developments proposed in the 1990s, I can tell you that if the BSF remains silent, the battlefield and Fleetwood Hill is doomed. Not just today with the problems with blatant destruction of Flat Run, but all future threats to this pristine battlefield. Only through strong vigilant stewardship can one protect historic lands. Not sure the current Board of the BSF is up to the task. We shall see….

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