Raccoon Ford Solar Farm update: Victory along the Rapidan, but follow through needed to complete win

Let me pass along an update on the threat to the Rapidan Fords, mentioned earlier this month.

Cricket Solar, the project aimed at placing a large-scale solar farm in southern Culpeper County, formally withdrew their conditional use permit on August 26. Spokesperson for the project indicated Cricket Solar was taking the action in order to “ensure that any project proposed represents Cricket’s best effort to address community concerns.” Which in essence means the project could not reconcile their plan with valid concerns and objections. A sizable number of those concerns were the impact on historical resources. The irony in the case of this solar farm project is the main “pro” argument in its favor was to create renewable energy alternatives in order to preserve natural resources… yet the cost of developing that renewable energy option was the destruction of natural and historical resources!

Yes, this is a win for preservation. However, I think we need to apply some lessons learned from our study of the Civil War in this situation. A battle is won, to be sure. But that victory is but a fleeting moment in the campaign to reach an objective. How many Civil War generals won significant victories on the field, only to see that victory ring hollow due to delayed pursuit and failure to follow through toward the strategic goals?

The goal here, for me as a preservationist (and I trust you too, reader) is to ensure places like Raccoon Ford are not perpetually under threat of development. We should not need to queue up, year after year, the same discussion about preserving these places – Brandy Station, Cedar Mountain, Morton’s Ford, Hansbrough Ridge, and Raccoon Ford. These places should instead be recognized for the intrinsic value possessed … and thus preserved and entrusted to future generations.

But how to do that?

I submit that preservation efforts are much like those wartime campaigns we study. Each effort must have stages and phases leading ultimately that goal of preservation. And in that light, our next step forward should renewed calls to establish a state park in Culpeper County that covers, at minimum, the Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain battlefields.

Consider – the discussion of the Cricket Solar project brought the area’s Civil War history back to the fore. Specifically, we’ve seen localized discussion about what did happen “in my back yard.” Call it “renewed” interest… or in many cases a “newfound” interest (which is rewarding, for those of us engaged in the discussion). With that rise in interest, there is now a ready made foundation for follow on public discussion. Poll after poll taken indicated the citizenry of the county preferred to preserve these sites, be that motivated by interest in history or concern for the environmental impact. Those sentiments logically lead to renewed efforts for a state park. Then, ultimately, a seed for further preservation of the county’s important historic sites.

No, I’m not advocating for the entire county to be placed “under glass” or some other starry-eyed notion. Rather that attention be paid to those sites deserving preservation. We should, in this age, be able to recognize good stewardship techniques that balance and moderate development while protecting what needs to be preserved. In the case of Culpeper County, the best stewardship technique, in my opinion, takes the form of a state park.

We should follow up our victory this week with decisive action. Now is the time for the American Battlefield Trust and allies to renew the push for a Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain Battlefields state park. It is time to move this campaign forward!

Virginians! Time to make a call, for the Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain Battlefields

This post goes out to all readers in Virginia…. and to those who have relatives and friends in Virginia.

I bring to your attention a set of budget amendments – 363 #7s, 363 #8s, and
363 #12h – presently under consideration by the state legislature. Each of these carry the explanation:

This amendment directs DCR to make recommendations as to the potential suitability of Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain Battlefield as potential recreational areas or state or regional parks and report its findings to the House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees by October 1, 2019.

These are “budget neutral” amendments that would direct the state Department of Conservation and Recreation to review options to create a park comprising of the Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain battlefields. In short, this would prompt a study which gets the proverbial foot in the door towards the creation of a battlefield park. And that’s something you’ve heard me campaign towards for some time.

The American Battlefields Trust has made it easy for Virginians to reach their representatives to express thoughts about these amendments, as well as a few others related to preservation efforts in our state. As the Trust says, a couple of phone calls of support could go a long way – both to getting to our goal of a battlefield park, for those two important battlefield, and for funding other state preservation projects.

Culpeper Battlefields Park update – gaining acceptance, momentum

Since the start of July, several articles and editorials have appeared in area newspapers in regard to the Culpeper Civil War Battlefield Park proposal.  All voices are positive in regard to the initiative.  The Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star ran an editorial on July 15 which concluded:

At a time when the nation is reassessing how to view and understand the Civil War and its symbols, the stories of sacrifice of American lives cannot be forgotten. Opening historic sites to the public at Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain is the right thing to do.

Just this weekend, the Culpeper Star-Exponent quoted Civil War Trust Policy and Communications Director, Jim Campi:

“If you have a state battlefield park here in the center of Virginia, it would be like Sailor’s Creek on steroids,” Campi said, referring to the battlefield state park in Prince Edward County. “Culpeper really is the epicenter of the Civil War; so much happened here. Even when they weren’t fighting here, they were marching across Culpeper County… all the encampments and the battles. You really can’t tell the story of the Civil War without the story of what happened in Culpeper.”

These are strong statements indicative of the support the idea has received even with the public discussion at an early stage.  For those of us who have carried, for many years, this idea for a Brandy Station and Ceder Mountain park these articles are music to our ears.  Earlier when blogging about having public discussions about a park, I had low expectations.  But the response has exceeded those by yards if not miles.  Furthermore, though I’ve been quiet about this on the blogging side, I find myself every day engaged on the “Culpeper Front” in ways large and small.

When this park comes to be (and I don’t think it is an “if” at this point, but a “when”), we will once again see how public interpretation – specifically markers – have helped build interest, awareness, and support.  Much as the comparison made to Resaca back in May.  (And I would point out the release of the Brandy Station Battle App is a further advancement along that same avenue of approach but in a digital instead of physical format).

Indeed, the Culpeper Battlefields Park, when it comes to fruition, will inherit a wealth of interpretive exhibits, most of which were written by experts on the battle and produced by the professional Virginia Civil War Trails and Civil War Trust teams.  The current interpretive system (including the soon to be in place interpretation on Fleetwood Hill) will cover nearly every need the park might want.  Well, save perhaps a few subjects – such as the USCT crossing at Kelly’s Ford at the start of the Overland Campaign and the passage of Sherman’s troops at the end of the war.  It is a fine system that any park manager would boast of on the first day of operation.

One physical element currently missing, of course, is a formal visitor center.  There are some who have mentioned the use of the Graffiti House as a new park visitor center. That would be a mistake, in my opinion. The house is not in condition to support the foot traffic that will come into the park. It would need extensive, expensive structural work. Nor is it the  place that visitors need to begin their visit (being on the wrong side of the tracks, literally). Furthermore, the real treasure of the Graffiti House is the surviving markings from the war which deserve preservation.  Needed improvements to make a visitor center would detract from that preservation. Unless something akin to what was done for Blenheim in Fairfax – a visitor center  separate from the historic structure – is completed, the graffiti would be at risk.

And such a separate visitor center would essentially mean the Graffiti House would be an exhibit and not the visitor center proper.  At that point, why place a visitor center in a place where visitors will need to traverse a busy highway in order to see what most are looking for? There are many places which could better serve as a temporary visitor center, assuming the state would prefer, as done at other battlefield parks, to build a purpose build visitor center with museum at some point in the future.  Besides, we are getting way ahead of ourselves in planning where to park the buses.

One last point I’d make, which has been voiced in the articles to date is with the operations and maintenance of the proposed park.  As the Culpeper Star-Exponent article this week mentioned, “To expedite the proposal, the [Civil War Trust] is willing to continue to manage the properties for several years after the land transfer, enabling the state to focus its energies and resources on launching the park…”

Some have alluded to the cost of running a new park as a negative in the park effort.  Indeed the Virginia State Park system, as with many across the country, is at best “just” funded in terms of operations budget.  The gracious offer by the Trust will allow some time for the state to work out the particulars to ensure the park is properly staffed and supported.

Although there are a lot of details in the air and a lot of issues to be worked out, the notion of a Culpeper Battlefields Park has gained acceptance and picking up momentum.  The reality of such a park is not far away!

Now is the time for a Culpeper Battlefields Park – Brandy Station, Cedar Mountain, and others

Back in the 1990s, I would often transit Northern Georgia on weekends.  During those trips, I would make every effort to seek out the battlefields of 1863 and 1864.  At that time, the only waymarks one could work from were a handful of state and WPA markers located along the I-75 corridor.  So one had to “work” to get any feel for the battlefields and the flow of the major campaigns that played out across those hills and streams.  One example is this marker on the Resaca battlefield:

(Photo courtesy HMDB and David Seibert.)

Located on US 41, the marker references action that took place almost, not quite, a mile ( a MILE!) west of the reader… on the other side of Camp Creek AND on the other side of I-75. At that time in the 1990s, the location referenced was simply inaccessible to all but the most persistent visitor – willing to wait for one of the rare on-site activities or coordinate with a landowner for access.

Fast forward to 2015.  If you pick up the latest copy of Blue & Gray Magazine, you’ll see a teaser line on the cover – “New Georgia Battlefield Park!”  Under David Roth’s response is the announcement that the Resaca Battlefield Park, which had faced several “roadblocks” last fall, is soon to open.  This is long in coming.  The Friends of Resaca Battlefield started the effort in 1994.  With the help of Civil War Trust and others, there are some 1,100 acres of the battlefield preserved.  Soon, we will be able to just drive over to Camp Creek and SEE the area which that marker… a mile to the east… speaks of.  (Sorta makes the marker obsolete, doesn’t it?)

We like to hear those sort of success stories.  Preservation coming to full maturity, where visitors are able to walk the field, appreciate the primary resource that the terrain is, and thus gain better understanding of the events.

With the success (and hopeful of the tentative July grand opening) at Resaca, let me turn your attention to a location here in Virginia that I’ve written about often – the battlefields and sites of Culpeper County.  Starting in the 1990s, tracks of land around Brandy Station were purchased by preservation organizations. Likewise, the Friends of Cedar Mountain, and others, have brought substantial tracts of that battlefield into the “preserved” category.  Counting those two battlefields and Kelly’s Ford, the Civil War Trust tallies over 3000 acres preserved in Culpeper County.  Though much of that acreage is in preservation easement, a sizable amount is owned by the Trust or other preservation organizations.  And beyond those three, there are a substantial number of sites where activity occurred during the war – minor battles, skirmishes, troop movements, and… yes, I mentioned it the other day… encampments.

However, there is no central point of orientation in Culpeper County for visitors.  Furthermore, the preservation organizations which currently hold title to some of those lands are charged with the maintenance and upkeep – a detraction from other preservation efforts.  But the biggest problem I see is the lack of a “center of mass” which the local community views as “the battlefield” … and from which better recognition of the historical resource would emanate.

It is no big secret that many of us have advocated for a proper battlefield park to cover Brandy Station.  The acquisition of Fleetwood Hill in 2013 served to bring those ideas to a center of mass.  Now I hear there are efforts afoot to create a state park in Culpeper County which would encompass these Civil War sites.  Such would go a long way to accomplish the goals set forward in the 1980s – made in the face of hideous development projects.  This is not to say there are not “roadblocks,” but I am confident there will be a Culpeper Battlefields State Park in our future.  Let’s hope so.

Virginians, join me in calling upon our elected representatives to make this so!

Morton’s Ford Tour and Winter Encampment Symposium: Friends of Cedar Mountain

Tired of the snow and ice?

Looking forward the to the 1864/2014 Sesquicentennial season?

Well, the Friends of Cedar Mountain (FOCM) have announced several events guaranteed to provide a sesqui-fix:

8 February – Morton’s Ford

 On February 6, 1864, the Army of the Potomac Second Corps crossed the Rapidan River at Morton’s Ford in an effort to distract Confederate attention from a Federal effort on the Virginia Peninsula. This action lasted for about 36 hours and marked the largest military action between the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia.

 On February 8, 2014, FOCMB will host a driving tour of the Morton’s Ford Battlefield. The tour, led by noted historian Clark B. “Bud” Hall, will travel to both sides of the ford and into entrenchments in Orange County. This event will take place rain or shine.

 The tour will begin and end at the FOCMB Headquarters on 9465 General Winder’s Road, on the Cedar Mountain Battlefield. The tour will begin at 10 a.m. and will last no more than four hours. A donation of $10.00 is requested. For advance registration and payment, see below:

 For a registration form, click HERE

22 March – The Army of the Potomac Winter Encampment

 Germanna Community College Technical Center, Culpeper, VA

 8:00 A.M. – 4 P.M.

 This one day symposium will focus on the Army of the Potomac’s Winter Encampment. Scheduled to speak: Clark B “Bud” Hall, Angela Atkinson, Greg Mertz, Dr. Chris Stowe, Dr. Jim Davis, Eric Wittenberg. Symposium topics include: A Winter Encampment Overview, Intelligence during the Winter Encampment, the Overland Campaign Overview, The Relationship Between the Staffs of U.S. Grant and George Gordon Meade, Music During the Winter Encampment and The Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid.

 For a registration form, click HERE

5 April – 2014 Park Day

 FCMB will participate in the Civil War Trust’s Park Day 2014. On that day, FCMB members, friends, supporters and persons interested in Civil War preservation will gather at the site of Culpeper’s historic Cedar Mountain battle, where Route 15 meets General Winder Lane just a few miles south of Culpeper.

Volunteers will be welcomed and work will commence at 9 a.m. performing cleanup and facelift improvements throughout the 154 acre site. Volunteers should bring gloves and reflective vests, if they have them. The Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield will provide water and light snacks.

 Advance registration will enhance duty assignments that match each volunteer’s interest and ability. It also helps planners prepare necessary supplies and equipment. Call Dale Duvall (540)547-2373 to volunteer or send an email cdaleduvall@msn.com.

The FOCM also list an “in real time” tour set for the 152nd anniversary of the battle, led by historian Greg Mertz, Supervisory Historian at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park,  on August 9, 2014.

6 Acres at Cedar Mountain

Timed to the 150th anniversary of the battle, Civil War Trust announced a new preservation effort this week aimed at a six acre tract on the Cedar Mountain battlefield.   From the Trust’s press release:

Civil War Trust, Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield Announce National Campaign to Save Hallowed Battleground

To coincide with the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Cedar Mountain, the Civil War Trust is partnering with Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield on a national fundraising campaign to preserve 6 acres of hallowed ground on the storied battlefield.

“Our longtime partners with Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield have planned a tremendous program of events to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the bloodiest day in Culpeper history,” said Trust president James Ligththizer. “And the opportunity to protect additional land associated with that struggle will give this anniversary period an even deeper meaning.”

Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield president Diane Logan agreed, adding, “The property that will be preserved with this new effort is at the very heart of the Cedar Mountain Battlefield. Its protection will materially enhance our ability to understand and interpret the engagement for visitors — today and for many years to come.”

The Civil War Trust has committed to protecting remaining portions of historically significant battlefields, like Cedar Mountain, as a permanent and meaningful legacy of Civil War sesquicentennial commemoration. Campaign 150: Our Time, Our Legacy, one of the Trust’s most ambitious projects to date, kicked off last year, seeking to raise enough funds by 2015 to protect an additional 20,000 acres of hallowed ground. The Trust has previously worked with Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield to preserve 154 acres at this site.

The purchase price of the property, which is contiguous to the Trust’s other Cedar Mountain holdings, is $120,000. Toward this total, the Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield have pledged the first $10,000 contribution. While the Trust has applied matching funds from the Virginia Civil War Sites Preservation Fund and the Commonwealth’s transportation enhancement grant program, it anticipates needing to raise an additional $24,000 in private donations to complete this acquisition. More information about the fundraising campaign is available at www.civilwar.org/cedarmountain12. …

The Trust’s battle page for Cedar Mountain provides several resources for those unfamiliar with this battle, which signaled the start of the Northern Virginia (a.k.a. Second Manassas) campaign.

Gary Adelman’s superb photo interpretation once again allows those black and white images to speak, fifteen decades removed from the uncovered lens.

Towards Crittenden Gate - 1862

When considering preservation efforts, I’ve sometimes heard a line akin to – “Oh, but that was on the periphery of the battlefield… it isn’t that important.”  Well, there are the six targeted acres as they looked during the war.  Not hard to figure out how those six acres factored into the battle.

In addition to this preservation effort, there are several other sesquicentennial events in Culpeper to mark the battle of Cedar Mountain from August 3-12.  The stage adaptation of “Marching Through Culpeper” premiered on Friday, with shows running nightly.  There are walking tours of downtown Culpeper on August 4 and 11.  However the event I would most like to attend (but likely will be tied down at work) is the Cedar Mountain symposium at Germanna Community College on August 9.  Historians Todd Berkoff, Clark B. “Bud” Hall, Greg Mertz, Nicholas Picerno and Jeffry Wert  are speakers at this event.  For more details visit www.friendsofcedarmountain.org.