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!


Case-shot, shell, and canister at Kelly’s Ford: Ammunition analysis

Yesterday’s post about the employment of Pratt’s 4.5-inch Rifles at Kelly’s Ford ran a little long.  And there’s one more interesting angle to look at, given the records from the engagement. The participants provided a remarkably well detailed list of ammunition expended in the engagement.  While not a major battle, the action at Kelly’s Ford on November 7, 1863 is a good case for reviewing what ammunition the battery commanders and section commanders selected for the tactical requirements.

Captain George Randolph provided a list of ammunition expenditures, by type, in his report of the action.  Let us start with the 10th Massachusetts:

  • Schenkl case-shot, 3-inch – 300
  • Hotchkiss percussion shell, 3-inch – 40
  • Hotchkiss fuse shell , 3-inch – 50
  • Schenkl percussion shell, 3-inch – 10

The total given by Randolph – 400 rounds – does not match that reported by Captain J. Henry Sleeper – 459 rounds.  So either eight ammunition chests, with fifty rounds each, of 3-inch projectiles were used up.  Or a little over nine were used.  Of course the expenditure does not indicate any canister or bolts were fired.  So there were more than just eight or nine chests opened up.

And you are also thinking about Brigadier-General Henry Hunt’s concerns about mixing different rifled projectile types.  Sleeper had his Schenkl and Hotchkiss shells all mixed in.  Regardless, it was the case-shot Sleeper and his gun-chiefs selected most for their targets.  In his report, Sleeper mentions firing on a brick mill building where Confederate sharpshooters were posted.  He later replied to Confederate artillery attempting to drive his battery off.  After the Confederate artillery retired, Sleeper fired on Confederate infantry that attempted to reform on the hills beyond Kelly’s Ford.  Based on the wording of his report, and that of Randolph’s, the battery engaged those infantry targets for the longest period of the engagement.  So it is logical to presume that is when most of the Schenkl case-shot were fired -targeting infantry inside a wood line.

As mentioned yesterday, Captain Franklin Pratt’s Battery M, 1st Connecticut Artillery fired but 15 Schenkl shells with percussion fuses.  These were fired at brick buildings where the Confederate infantry sheltered and later on the Confederate battery.

Moving next to Lieutenant John Bucklyn’s Battery E, 1st Rhode Island artillery, Randolph indicated they fired a total of 181 shots from their 12-pdr Napoleons:

  • Solid shot, light 12-pdr – 80
  • Spherical case, light 12-pdr – 72
  • Shell, light 12-pdr – 24
  • Canister, light 12-pdr  – 5

Bucklyn’s guns went into battery about 300 yards from the ford itself.  Their first targets were the skirmishers on the distant bank.  When Captain John Massie’s Confederate guns opened upon Slepper’s battery, Bucklyn turned his Napoleons on that target. Likely most, if not all, of the solid shot fired were expended at those targets.

Later, when supporting the Federal infantry crossing at the ford, Bucklyn fired a few rounds of canister.  Again, let me pick at how, and how few of, the canister were used. Five rounds fired to cover the advance of the infantry.  Bucklyn’s guns fired those so close that he later lamented the death of one of the friendly infantry, “but they were so nearly between me and the enemy, the accident could not have been avoided.”  Or what we’d call today “Danger Close.”  Keep in mind the maximum effective range of the canister rounds was between 300 and 400 yards.  If Hunt’s earlier complaints were valid, then the canister was designed with engagements at that range in mind.  So let’s dispense with the notion canister was only a defensive projectile.   At Kelly’s Ford those canister rounds were useful in the offensive because of their “reach.”  But of course, with the crossing effected so quickly (as compared to say a crossing at the same point on March 17, 1863), only five canister were needed.

One other note about Bucklyn’s expenditure.  In his report he complained, “I found my fuses very unreliable; some shell did not burst at all, while others burst soon after leaving the gun. I could place no dependence on them.”  Those 12-pdr shells used Boremann fuses.  Randolph seemed perplexed by this issue, “for I have seldom known them to fail.”

Finally, and this is a bonus round, Captain Frederick Edgell’s 1st New Hampshire Battery fired sixty rounds during a separate action on November 8:

  • Schenkl case-shot, 3-inch – 20
  • Schenkl percussion shell, 3-inch – 10
  • Hotchkiss time fuse shell, 3-inch – 30

about a mile north of Brandy Station, a section of Edgell’s guns deployed and opened fire on a Confederate battery at the range of 2,000 yards.  After a few rounds, the Confederate battery fell back.  Edgell then moved up to the “left of and near Brandy Station.”  There at a range of 1,800 yards, Edgell’s 3-inch rifles traded shots with two 20-pdr Parrotts and two smaller rifles.  Edgell reported expending 56 rounds, while Randolph recorded an even 60.  The preference, Edgell’s 3-inch rifles firing in counter-battery mode, was shell, with some case-shot mixed in for good measure.

From the expenditure figures for these four batteries in two engagements, consider these preferences:

  • 3-inch rifle firing on troops in the woods – case shot.
  • 3-inch rifle firing counter-battery – shell
  • 12-pdr Napoleon firing counter-battery – solid shot, though the preference cannot be stated for a fact.
  • 12-pdr Napoleon firing in direct support of infantry advance – canister, within range limitations.
  • 4.5-inch Rifle – shell at anything.

There’s a lot more I could suggest or speculate towards.  But what I see with the artillery employment and ammunition expenditures is a lesson in how Civil War era armies effectively employed artillery in the offensive.  The guns firing over the Rappahannock on November 7, 1863 (and those later firing around Brandy Station on November 8) succeeded in pushing the opposing forces back and then kept them back.  That accomplished, the infantry was able to conduct their most important mission on the battlefield – occupy terrain.

(Sources, OR, Series I, Volume 29, Part I, Serial 49, pages 566-574.)

150 Years Ago: Kelly’s Ford

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the battle of Kelly’s Ford. I’ll be out on the battlefield most of today, involved with a couple of activities looking back at the battle. So treat this as a “live blogging” placeholder. I’ll post photos as time (and bandwidth) permits.

My pal Don has hinted at a St. Patrick’s Day post on his Regular Cavalry in the Civil War blog. So please check his site.

Looking at the ford site, 150 years ago to the morning:

Kelly's Ford 011

The markers that once stood on the “Yankee” side of the Rappahannock now stand on the southern end.  Not as easy to visualize the actions from this point, but safer to stop.

Kelly's Ford 014

Where the “Gallant” Pelham fell:

Kelly's Ford 021

The new interpretive site on the north end of the battlefield:

Kelly's Ford 022

Looking south towards Carter’s Run and the location of the closing actions of the battle:

Kelly's Ford 033

And we did have our coffee on hand to toast the men who fought in the battle:

Kelly's Ford 034

Kelly’s Ford Sesquicentennial and Interpretive Site Dedication

The 150th anniversary of the Battle of Kelly’s Ford is just a few days away.  And just in time for that date, a new interpretive site has gone up on ground preserved at the end of last year.  The site will be part of the Virginia Civil War Trails system.  The spot is just off Newby’s Shop Road, overlooking ground now covered by a preservation easement.

The event is scheduled for Sunday March 17 at 2:30-3:15 pm, roughly 150 years to the hour when the fighting occurred at the site.


While the focus of this event is to recall and consider the events that took place 150 years ago, it will also mark the formal opening of this new interpretive site.  The site came together with contributions from the land owner and several local businesses. The additional interpretation will aid those visiting the site, going a long way to aid understanding the 1863 battle.

At the event, the folks who organized and promoted the new interpretive site will recognize those donors who helped bring this to a reality.  A representative from the Civil War Trust will also speak.  In addition, I will be speaking about the closing stages of the battle and on the importance of Kelly’s Ford.

If you plan to attend, please contact me (comment or email is fine).  The event organizer needs a headcount, and I’ll make sure you are counted.

Oh… and bring some coffee with you!  We shall have our toast!

Preservation win at Kelly’s Ford

In mid October, Civil War Trust opened a three-pronged campaign to lock in acres at the Kelly’s Ford, Sailor’s Creek, and Appomattox battlefields. The opportunity at Kelly’s Ford stood out for several reasons. Not only could we, in one action, lock in the core of a battlefield, this would also be the largest preservation effort by the Trust in its 25 year history. With 964 acres, the Kelly’s Ford acquisition could be the largest accomplished by the modern preservation movement.

Well on Saturday, I received notice that the Trust had indeed reached their fund raising goals. Remarkably, within two months, we reached the $82,548 required. That section of yellow may now be moved over to the “preserved” column.

I propose we celebrate this victory…. not now, but on March 17, 2013. Let us enjoy a coffee at the location where General William Averell left a sack of coffee for General Fitz Lee. Now that would be a sesquicentennial moment, don’t you think?

Major presevation opportunity at Kelly’s Ford

The Civil War Trust has kept up the pace through this second year of the sesquicentennial. As we near the end of this campaign season, the Trust has three efforts for Virginia this fall. The first two of those target some important acres at Appomattox Court House and Sailor’s Creek. But the effort that has my full attention is an opportunity at Kelly’s Ford:

Preserve 964 acres at Kelly’s Ford (roughly 50% of the main battlefield), where on March 17, 1863, Union and Confederate horsemen clashed in one of the early large-scale cavalry fights of the war, one that set the stage for the battle at Brandy Station and the cavalry actions of the Gettysburg Campaign, and is where the rising young Confederate officer, the “Gallant” John Pelham, was mortally wounded.

Rarely does such an opportunity occur – the heart of this battlefield can be set aside as a preserved tract. Not just an easement or other “agreement” to bar development. Outright purchased for preservation. As seen on the Civil War Trust’s maps, this tract includes the ground over which the later half of the battle occurred, seen on the Google map below in yellow.

964 acres. Every square yard of it contested on March 17, 1863.

What’s more incredible is how this effort will use matching funds. The three battlefield efforts mentioned above (Appomattox, Sailor’s Creek, and Kelly’s Ford) require just over $4.6 million. But the Trust can cover all but $82,548 of that price through matching funds. For the Kelly’s Ford acreage, every dollar donated translates to $113 on the purchase.

That’s why this opportunity has my attention and my support!

Culpeper biosolids hearing today: Another threat to Brandy Station (and other battlefields)

UPDATE:  The Culpeper BOS voted down the biosolids facility, 5-1.

This issue has been on my radar for some time. From the looks of it, things will come to a head today. From the Culpeper Star-Exponent:

BOS to discuss biosolids, roads

The Culpeper County Board of Supervisors will hear remarks concerning a biosolids storage facility and will host a public hearing on the six-year secondary road plan during April’s meeting Tuesday.

At last month’s meeting, the BOS accepted a request by applicant Recyc Systems Inc. & Padlands LLC to delay voting on a permit to construct a storage yard for biosolids on 220 acres just West of the Rappahannock River in eastern Culpeper County.

The proposed storage facility has been met with rancor from the public and preservation groups, who point out the land proposed by Recyc Systems is where four core battlefields intersect.

Community members have circulated a petition asking the BOS to deny the permit.

“Everybody is really concerned about the quality of life,” local developer Bob Courier said recently. “This is so close to the river, this is so involved with the environment there. It’s the only place in the state of Virginia where four core battlefields overlap each other.”

The battles of Kelly’s Ford, Rappahannock Station one and two and Brandy Station took place on the land.

March marked the second time the BOS delayed a decision on the facility. In February they approved a motion by Recyc Systems to move a hearing on the biosolids facility until March.

Recyc Systems president Steve Foushee explained during a meeting in February that the facility will be properly contained and any odor would not permeate the air and that the facility was safe.

“Everything will be contained on the inside of the building,” said Foushee. He said that breathable screens on the open ends of the structure would help to mitigate the smell and prevent water or snow entering the facility. He conceded odors are strongest when the material is wet. Vice president, Susan Trumbo, emphasized that they followed stringent Department of Environmental Quality regulations, when designing…. (Read More)

In past months, the Culpeper BOS has, while tabling the issue, indicated reluctance to grant the permit. Most of the locals have come out against the facility. This should be a done deal and the threat to the battlefields… plural … averted. But until the votes are tallied, don’t assume anything. Thus far opponents of the biosolids facility have led with concerns about the smell and environmental hazards. But as seen from the article, those concerns may be easily dismissed. That leaves concerns for the historical integrity of the land as the main defense.

Troubling, but predictable, is the silence of Brandy Station Foundation (BSF) on this issue. Once again, if you browse the BSF website, there are all sorts of announcements about Graffiti House. Oh, and there is the annual dinner that several people you might know were un-invited from. Yet nothing on this threat to the battlefield (sorry… battlefields) which the foundation was organized to preserve. BSF’s president has attended the BOS meetings, and made a statement or two. But nothing bold enough to inspire closure to the issue. Then again, this is the same BSF board which believes “it is generally not productive to officially oppose common property improvements, particularly when those improvements are reversible.” In the past, BSF would be at the fore of issues like this. However in the wake of last year’s controversy at Fleetwood Hill, BSF’s reputation is tarnished.

A quick look at the ABPP study map shows why the area is so important, and sensitive.

Culpeper county Battlefields (Click to Enlarge)

Indeed, if Virginia was the “seat of the war” then Culpeper was right in the middle of that seat. The whole or parts of eight battles spanning from the summer of 1862 through the spring of 1864. Armies on five major campaigns traversed the county. The portions of the Army of Northern Virginia and Army of the Potomac camped on that ground – for prolonged periods of time. There are soldiers still buried on those fields.

Over the last two or three decades, preservationists have fought to prevent the construction of a race track, major office complexes, and several smaller developments from destroying that ground. Although potentially not as damaging compared to the race track, the biosolids facility is a threat to battlefield preservation. At some point, sooner or later, one of these development threats will slip through. Unless….

Well unless those battlefields are formally protected. Although several small parts, mostly structures, inside those study areas are on state or national historic registers, none of the battlefields are officially designated today. In the past, political resistance and other roadblocks have prevented official recognition. Brandy Station was actually accepted on the list for a short time in the 1990s, but political pressure forced its removal. Portions of these battlefields are considered “eligible” for the National Register, due to the ABPP studies and pending applications. But that legal status is tenuous at best.

So why don’t we change that? Let’s put those battlefields on the National Register.  Call it a sesquicentennial initiative! And one that would ensure no future biosolids facility or office complex or race track is built over the sites of those eight battlefields.