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:
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.
Soon to disappear under 71 new homes.
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.