Category Archives: Preservation

“By fours, right about wheel” and a landscape lost: Loss of Hansbrough Ridge – 1863 and 2015

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working up to what Alonzo Gray called the “shock action” of cavalry when using the saber, and occasionally the revolver.  Before breaking down this shock action, as described by Gray, in more detail, allow me to pull up one of his examples… as it is timely to events occurring this very day in regard to preservation.

Readers know well the events of June 9, 1863.  Often our focus is, for good reason, on the fighting that took place from Beverly’s Ford to Fleetwood Hill.  That is the heart of the battlefield.  But the fighting around Stevensburg was no less violent or deadly.   On the morning of the battle, Colonel Alfred Duffié led the Second Cavalry Division, about 2,000 strong, from Kelly’s Ford towards Stevensburg. His orders were to cover the flank of Brigadier-General David M. Gregg’s main force.

Contesting Duffié’s advance was Colonel Mathew C. Butler, with the 2nd South Carolina Cavalry.  To protect the road to Culpeper (and hold the screen in front of Confederate infantry), Butler initially placed one squadron on Hansbrough Ridge.  When Duffié’s force arrived at the ridge, Butler rushed forward Lieutenant-Colonel Frank Hampton, brother of Brigadier-General Wade Hampton, and a detachment of troopers.  When arriving at Stevensburg, Frank Hampton pushed out and posted dismounted troopers across the ridge in front of Salubria, a colonial era plantation house which still stands today.

The presence of this dismounted line, reinforced later by the 4th Virginia Cavalry, under Colonel Williams Wickham, caused some delay of Duffié’s already painfully slow advance. In spite of the cautious stance, the troopers in Duffié’s First Brigade gained a lodgement on the ridge.  (This occuring about the same time that Gregg’s column was closing on Fleetwood Hill.)  To blunt this push, the Confederates were about to reset their lines.   However, just as a column was wheeling to form, the Federals charged down the road and over the ridge with devastating affect.  Major Henry B. McClellan later wrote, in The Life and Campaigns of Major General J.E.B. Stuart:

Lieutenant Broughton informed Adjutant Moore that he delivered a message from Colonel Hampton to Colonel Wickham to the effect that he (Hampton) would close back upon the 4th [Virginia] regiment so as to make a charge in solid column.  At this moment the rear of the 4th regiment was emerging upon the road from the woods, and the order “By fours, right about wheel,” was heard.  Whether this command was given by Colonel Hampton to execute the movement contemplated in the message delivered by Lieutenant Broughton, or whether it was given by some officer of the 4th regiment so as to bring the faces of his men toward the enemy, is entirely uncertain.  The result was most unfortunate.  Captain Chestnut and Lieutenant Rhett, at the head of Hamtpon’s men, remained facing the enemy, to conceal, if possible, a movement which they felt must bring an attack upon them at once. But the enemy saw the wheel, and instantly ordered the charge.  Colonel Hampton again ordered the right about wheel, and placed himself at the head of his men; but it was of no avail.  In a moment they were swept to the side of the road, and the full force of the charge fell upon the 4th Virginia.  Colonel Hampton, while engaging one of the enemy with his sabre, was shot through the body by another, and was mortally wounded.  He succeeded in reaching the house of John S. Barbour, west of Stevensburg, where he died that night.

I would submit this as the “vetted” Confederate version of events, carefully reconstructed by McClellan after the war.  Though I would point out that others, particularly Wade Hampton, had more pointed views of the actions that took place along the road over Hansbrough Ridge.

However, let us set aside for another day the blame for Frank Hampton’s death.  Instead, for our purposes of discussing cavalry tactics, let us take this as an example submitted by Alonzo Gray of “shock action” by cavalry.  In this case, a charge by the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry landed squarely upon the Confederates and opened the road to Stevensburg.  Such offered a great opportunity for Duffié, which he never picked up.  Duffié might have uncovered the presence of Confederate infantry.  Or he might have rushed to support the attacks on Fleetwood Hill.  Or both!  The battle… if not an entire military operation, which we would later know as “The Gettysburg Campaign”…  might have turned on actions taken at that moment at that ground where the road to Culpeper passed over Hansbrough Ridge.

But it didn’t.

And for us to really take into consideration the particulars – the opportunities and beyond to why those opportunities were left on the ground – we need to head to that ground.  Unfortunately, this is what we have to consider today:

VA3 widening1

This view looks down Virginia Highway 3, to the west towards Stevensburg, as it passes over Hansbrough Ridge.  The area where Frank Hampton was mortally wounded is just past the telephone pole.  The exposed earth is the result of widening efforts by Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).  I’ve mentioned (and complained) about this in earlier posts.  The widening was, unfortunately, pushed through.

And there is a serious problem with this operation.  Under a Memorandum of Agreement, of which I retain an unsigned copy, VDOT operates this project with several stipulations in place.  One of which is:

In the event that a previously unidentified archaeological resource is discovered during ground-disturbing activities associated with the construction of the Project, the VDOT, in accordance with Section 107.16(d) of the VDOT’s Road and Bridge Specifications, shall require the construction contractor to halt immediately all construction work involving subsurface disturbance in the area of the resource and in the surrounding areas where additional subsurface remains can be reasonably expected to occur.  Work in all other areas of the Project may continue.

I’ve visited this site a couple times in the last few weeks.  Others I know have visited the site.  And each of us have made the same comment – there are artifacts being exposed, dug-up, and disrupted by the work.  I also hear that now “relic hunters” are now scavenging the work area when the contractor is not on site.  For that reason, I’m not going to pass along details of what I’ve seen.

You might counter that neither myself or the “relic hunters” are authorities in regard to archaeological findings.  Well that’s my point.  Implied with the MOA there is supposed to be an authority to determine what, if anything, is being uncovered.  This road has seen human activity since colonial times (and likely even before then).  Significant activity, in addition to what I’ve mentioned for June 9, 1863, occurred at this spot during the Civil War.  Indeed, it would be impossible for no artifacts lay by this road.  It’s even possible that human remains lay beside this road.

So why isn’t there an observer on site during work hours to determine what exactly the spades and shovels are uncovering?

Fortification Friday: Let’s apply this stuff in the field – Star Fort, Winchester, Virginia

Over the last few weeks in this Fortification Series, I’ve discussed Dennis Hart Mahan’s teachings about field fortifications specific to the vertical plane – or specifically the fortification profile.  As way of a refresher, the profile defined the heights and depths of the fortification to include the parapet, ditch, and glacis.  Those terms and components in mind, let us go to the “field” to look at a real field fortification constructed during the Civil War.   A handy example, for me at least, is Star Fort in Winchester, Virginia.


The fort is, or should be, well known to students of the Eastern Theater.  It played a role in the Second and Third Winchesters.  Thankfully, in 2007 the site was set aside for preservation and interpretation.  And that interpretation ensures we know Mahan’s teachings were manifest in the layout of the fort:


The only plan of the fort I’ve seen is from a newspaper map from the Civil War.  But that is sufficient to provide the general outline of the fort:


We’ll get to the nature of these plans, looking at the fort on the horizontal plane, in later articles.  Certainly want to discuss the particulars of star forts, salients, and the like.  But for this installment, I’d like to focus on the fine points of the profile.  Working backwards on Mahan’s diagram, we find that Star Fort had no glacis.  Again, that component was optional.  As Star Fort was built as an artillery platform covering open ground around Winchester, a ring of rifle pits around the fort was sufficient. Though the rife pits didn’t perform the function to elevate the line off the parapet, those pits did function to provide a line of resistance some distance off the main ditch.

Star Fort does have a ditch and parapet.


The trail around the fort strides just to the oustide of the ditch.  We might speculate as to the depth of the ditch, as today erosion has filled part of it.  But what is preserved provides some indication of the profile.  Standing on the crest of the counterscarp, one cannot look past the parapet:


Imagine standing there with your musket, looking up at the muzzles of enemy muskets.  not a good spot to be in.  Trying to replicate the view of the defender at this point on the wall, my efforts were unsuccessful.  Standing at the edge of mowed grass, and thus off the parapet itself, I held the camera up at arms length to overlook.  Not a great view, but notice that we cannot see the ditch.


Nope, only the ground in front of the crest of the counterscarp.   If you examine this view – or at least while I was standing on the ground that day – the geometry is still very apparent, even for 150 years of erosion.  The angle of the superior slope of the parapet ensured the defenders could cover the crest of the counterscarp without being exposed to attackers.

The view out from the parapet is better illustrated on the other side of the fort:


Here the visitor looks past the parapet and beyond the tree line to see the houses.  Such demonstrates the ability of the fort to engage attacking targets within musket range.

The parapet’s profile is somewhat intact.  Remarkably for 150 years of wear:


Anther point in the fort that demonstrates the geometry of the parapet is over to the south side of the earthwork.  Today there is a trail cut through the works at a returning angle.  I’m not versed well enough in the fort’s history to know if this was the sally port or just a modern cut.  But the view serves well for our purposes here.


Notice to the left there is part of the fort’s wall.  The parapet has a saddle which appears to be a gun embrasure.  I was holding the camera at about 6 ½ feet above the ground.  And the location is at the crest of the counterscarp, or just outside the ditch.  The attacker at this point could not see over the parapet on the left.  In the center-right, where the wall is cut, we can see into the fort.  Compare those two lines.

Now from the inside looking out to where I stood:


Again the camera is about 6 ½ feet above the ground level, but in this case what would be the banquette.  What is in view?  The ground where I stood to take the first picture at this point of the line.  Clearly Star Fort’s parapet was laid out with all the functional requirements espoused by Mahan.

Closing, let me once again mention the importance of preservation of sites like Star Fort.  This is a primary source for those studying the Civil War activity around Winchester.  We are lucky to have such a well preserved example to reference.

Battlefield Preservation is not just a Civil War thing: Princeton location under threat

Let me take a break from Civil War topics here and shift back “four score and seven years” further back in time and 150 miles east (from Gettysburg).

The place is Princeton, New Jersey.  General George Washington lead the Continental Army to victory there on January 3, 1777.  A victory for the Americans, it was a key point in the Revolutionary War.  Not familiar with the battle?  Let me direct you to the Campaign 1776 site for more details about the battle of Princeton.

Why I bring it up? Well, Princeton is in the news this summer.  On September 16, the Princeton Battlefield State Park officially grows by 4.6 acres, putting some important ground within the park boundary.   Campaign 1776 helped facilitate this preservation project, in conjunction with the Princeton Battlefield Society and others.  An early victory, if you will, in that worthy campaign.  The article goes on to state, “The Princeton Battlefield Society plans to use National Park Service grants to conduct an archaeological investigation in cooperation with and supervision by the state Park Service.”  So not only is this just adding more ground that you and I can walk over, this is ground that will be examined – properly examined – to help tease out more details on events that took place 238 some odd years ago.  In other words, the preserved resources will further our understanding of history.

Not to downplay that positive note, but there are still portions of the battlefield at Princeton that are not preserved, can be preserved, and in need of attention.  Another portion of the battlefield which has been in the news this summer is eyed for development.  The Institute for Advanced Study owns property adjacent to the state park and has plans to build a set of townhouses.  The ground is not simply near the battlefield, but actually the location of some significant fighting.  Indeed, 663 artifacts, 10 of which related to the action, were collected on the 7 acre tract. In July, the courts upheld a temporary injunction requested by the Princeton Battlefield Society to halt development.  There was another hearing on September 3.  But I have not seen any details on that.

This is a similar story line we hear in regard to Civil War sites.  And in part why I am bringing this up is to demonstrate that preservationists are not narrowly focused on one era or period or genre.  In that regard, we can take lessons from one effort to apply to others.  At Princeton, the battlefield society has ably and rightly called out the presence of artifacts intact on the field.  Quoting Kip Cherry, Vice-President of the society:

“What were the troop movements? How did the battle progress? The Battle of Princeton was a critical turning point, so it is an important battle to understand.”

Now some will say as a counter to this that we have written accounts, maps, books, and over two centuries of study to help us understand the battle.  Why do we need the land and those artifacts?  Well I would respond that we simply don’t know what we don’t know.  And what we do know is not enough.

Now history tells us that on January 3, 1777, Washington’s command was an underdog. Chances of Washington winning a campaign, much less the rebellion, carried long odds.  Yet, here we are.  The story of what happened at Princeton, and earlier at Trenton, that winter are classical cases where a military commander turned the odds around.  How those odds got turned around is the heart of the Princeton story.  And precious details to that lay in the ground and with the land itself.  Plotting where artifacts lay will in some cases shape the understanding of the battle lines – affirming what has already been written or introducing new data that might change those notions.  Detailed study of the lay of the land offers insight into factors that faced the soldiers on that cold winter day.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating – battlefield land is a primary resource. That’s why I champion preservation of battlefields from any era.

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!

Sesquicentennial Observation: The last great surge for Civil War battlefield preservation… why?

During the last four years, as I “walked and talked” the Civil War sesquicentennial, there were many observations which I rolled about at the pace of my footsteps.  A post-sesquicentennial objective of mine is to fill some of those out and share here as blog posts.  One of those is already up.  Today I’ll continue that thread with another observation “from the field,” if you will – we are experiencing the last great opportunity for Civil War battlefield preservation.

Yes, we are witnessing the last great chance for preservation of Civil War battlefields… any additional battlefields.   I say that within the context of a comment from NPS historian John Hennessy:

For the moment, let’s focus on the 2/2 part of that tweet conversation (we’ll circle back to the first part later).  Americans have preserved MORE acres Civil War battlefield than any other nation has preserved for any other war in all of history.  An impressive statistic.  Civil War Trust lists 40,000 acres of battlefield among their accomplishments – preserved in whole or in part by that organization.  Add to that federal (small “f” as in national, not the opposite of Confederate!), state, and local parks on battlefields.  And also mention lands preserved by other means, to include the initiative of the land owners.  More land than for any other war in human history.  Let that simmer at the fore.

Why is that?

Let me offer my answer to that in “Craig Swain” fashion… as in starting with the “nuts and bolts.”  The first part to consider is how – legally and administratively – all that land went onto the “preserved” side of the sheet.  Preservation didn’t happen all at once.  It took time and came in waves.  The first great wave of preservation was by the generation which witnessed the Civil War, and driven by those veterans in the population.  Timothy B. Smith called this the “Golden Age of Battlefield Preservation.”  Very apt title, coming at the later half of the Gilded Age and conducted by veterans reaching their “golden years.”  This period produced five battlefield parks, under government management (Chickamauga-Chattanooga, Shiloh, Gettysburg, Antietam, and Vicksburg).  More important, this period provided the blueprints for additional preservation.  We talk of the “Gettysburg plan” vs. “Antietam plan” because of methods used.  And beyond that, the blueprint incorporated plans for public use.  The practical, surface use was interpretation of the battle (notably, justified as an open air classroom for military officers).  Less practical, but very much at the fore, was public use for commemoration.

The blueprint established – for both the means and uses – the next big period of preservation was also pushed from the federal level.  And it resembled that “golden age”… except for less participation of the veterans, who were passing away by that time.  Parks established from 1915 to 1938 included Richmond, Fredericksburg-Spotsylvania, Petersburg, Stones River, and Brices Cross Roads.  Also in the list of fields preserved during that period are Revolutionary War sites such as Cowpens, Moore’s Creek, and Kings Mountain.  Such indicates “federal directed” preservation had moved beyond the urgings of Civil War veterans to a broader goal embracing the wider context of American history.   Sort of a function of the period, if I may.  Though I want to steer clear of the obvious rabbit hole there, for the sake of brevity.

The preservation of these major battlefields setup the Centennial of the Civil War.  There were places for those observances to occur.  But – and let me be clear that I cannot say this from the stance of a participant – those observances seemed confined.  The Centennial period, from the perspective of preservation, comes across as entrenchment.  The focus was more toward interpretation of what was in place – those wonderful, dated guidebooks and orientation movies that have only recently been updated.   In terms of land, bookend achievements at Manassas and Monocacy epitomize the efforts of that era – small, timid efforts that appear, in hindsight, fraught with missed opportunities.

But some of those missed opportunities setup the next period of Civil War battlefield preservation.  For the first 100 years after the Civil War, major development threats to battlefields were few and far between.  Remoteness insulated many fields from disruption.  That changed in the 1970s as the vectors producing “sprawl” brought direct and indirect changes to these battlefields.  And the “uncovered” battlefield lands were often thrown into the middle of a public discussion which pitted perceived “progress” against preservation.  Typical of these episodes, Manassas battlefield faced major developments on ground which arguably should have been included in the original park’s boundaries.  Another example came from Brandy Station, where preservationists contested major development projects which would have obliterated an otherwise pristine battlefield.  While both of those sites may be listed as “successful,” other places, such as Chantilly and so many of the Atlanta Campaign sites, were not so.  This was a contentious period for preservation, to say the least.  This “contentious” period saw private individuals and advocacy groups at the fore of the dialog.  In many places, the advocates for preservation came to terms with “preserve what you can” compromises. While federal and state officials were there, it was the preservation advocates doing most of the push.  Instead of “top down” driven goals, what emerged were “grass roots” preservation advocates.

Into the 21st Century and approaching the Sesquicentennial, preservation efforts continued along the lines of the last quarter of the previous century.  Opportunities came (and still come) with the alert, “targeted ares need protection NOW before something happens.”  And these are not “the sky is falling” pleas.  The nature of the sprawling development, indicative of this age, leaves no quarter.  Such renders the old Antietam plans obsolete.  Missed opportunities from the 1960s have translated to obliterated fields.  Though at some quarters, such as at Franklin, preservationists have turned to options rehabilitating portions of the battlefield – an extreme of “preserve what you can.” The preservationists through the Sesquicentennial are faced with the question “if not now, when?”

So we see through these five periods, preservation of all that battlefield land was not governed by a single guiding strategy or movement.  Rather the preservation efforts were a function of each generation’s initiative.  However, at the same time we can say through all the periods, the efforts focused on the land for those two core reasons – interpretation and commemoration.  Interpretation, through these periods, remained somewhat rigid for its application (in terms of how we process information, the signage of the 1890s is not far removed from the smart-phone app geo-tag of today) even while the content of the message remained fluid.  On the other hand, commemoration has defied any fixed characterization over the decades, ranging from celebration to reflection to introspection.  While we all approach the battlefields from the context of history, gaining perspective from the interpretation, what we carry away from them – the commemorative aspect – varies by individual.

And there in lies the answer to the question.  The reason we have so much Civil War battlefield space preserved is because that war was a broad, almost limitless, subject from which so much defies concrete definition.  We might start the discussion around “facts” or “sources” or such. But in the end, all devolves into “opinions” based on our own perspectives.  And the best place to reach any authoritative perspective is standing with both feet planted firmly on the ground.

We have not, as a nation, come to terms with the Civil War after 150 years.  So we should not be surprised that we have such an attachment to the ground over which it was fought.  Perhaps, the country needs those acres to serve as an unhealed wound.

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!

Campaign 1776: Towards preservation of battlefields from other wars

Yesterday the Civil War Trust made a major change with their organizational focus.  Though the name does not change, the Trust’s efforts extend to preservation of Revolutionary War battlefields.  In the web announcement (on the Campaign 1776 web site), the Trust said:

Nearly 240 years after the “shot heard ‘round the world” signaled the beginning of the journey toward American independence, historians and preservationists gathered in Princeton, N.J., to launch the first-ever national initiative to protect and interpret the battlefields of the Revolutionary War. The new effort, titled ‘Campaign 1776,’ is a project of the Civil War Trust, the nation’s most successful battlefield preservation advocate. Campaign 1776 will employ the same proven strategy of harnessing public-private partnerships to permanently protect hallowed ground that has made the Civil War Trust one of the country’s top charitable land conservation organizations.

The efforts will soon extend to War of 1812 battlefields.

The first preservation target for Campaign 1776 is 4.6 acres at Princeton, New Jersey.  The Trust is calling for $25,000 in donations.  That’s a low jump for an organization which has preserved thousands of acres and routinely calls for millions of dollars for Civil War sites.  You will see from the campaign page, the Trust is taking its familiar and very successful format from Civil War projects and applying that to these new targets… with a little adaptation, of course.

Adaptation?  Yes, let me offer examples.  A one page summary of the American Revolution… but before you give me the rolling eyes treatment, thing about it.  We all know about the dearth of knowledge about history among the general American population.  I don’t need to play back some “in the street” interviews or a compilation of political gaffes to demonstrate that.  And lets face it, if one mentions “the war” in conversation here in the U.S., very likely that is one of two – the Civil War or World War II.  Those have gotten the most print and film play.  So in most cases, convincing someone that Revolutionary War battlefields are important enough to put money on, the discussion has to start with “what was that war about?”  How many out there will understand “Southern Campaign” outside of the context of Richard Nixon?  So, I’d not give the eye-roll to what you might think a “introductory-level” opening.

Adaptation?  Yes, for new allies.  The Trust has long worked with the National Park Service (through the American Battlefield Protection Program) and with other organizations in the ranks, such as National Trust for Historic Preservation and Journey Through Hallowed Ground at the national level. Likewise the Trust has partnered with local organizations, too many to list here, to bring the “small” preservation efforts to the fore.  There are some local organizations already focused on Revolutionary War and War of 1812 preservation.  Crossroads of the American Revolution (Revolutionary New Jersey) is one highlighted with the Princeton effort.  At the national level, while many of the “Civil War” allies apply, there are other organizations to bring into the conversation, such as the Society of the Cincinnati.  These new alliances will only add to and strengthen the conversation about preservation.

I see the Trust’s additions as a natural evolution towards a broader discussion of battlefield preservation. But I’m sure there are some out there who will voice concern that these battlefields from other wars will detract from the core mission focused on the Civil War … or maybe just be a token effort suffering in the shadows of those established preservation efforts.  If I may offer a counterpoint to that, consider this:

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That Civil War Trails marker is located on the Yorktown Battlefield.  While everyone (we hope) would identify Yorktown as a Revolutionary War battle of great importance, few would pause for the Civil War events at the same location.  Certainly the same things that brought the colonists to the Peninsula, brought soldiers to Yorktown… again and again.  And that is just a handy example, as I could well cover several pages here on the blog with sites with some Revolutionary War and Civil War connections. It’s a common theme with history.  Our physical world has layers upon layers of history.  We just have to know how best to view that.  And it helps that, in the case of the site above, different organizations have preserved and interpreted.

At the same time, we in the Civil War-centered discussions need to recognize that “our” great chapter of the history book is but one chapter.  It is a part of this great story arc that is the American experience.  Unfortunately, in our progress driven existence, a lot of things get recycled.  Particularly places where history happened.  I think of it this way:  If some of my preservation budget goes to help a Revolutionary War site, then it is not just the “matching” donation I’m banking on, but rather in the longer sense the “matching” interest that such encourages.  The more people that are sensitive in the interest of historic preservation, the healthier our knowledge of history becomes.