A threat to the Rapidan Fords

Over the last five years a new threat to the Culpeper County battlefields emerged. While there are similarities to earlier threats to preservation, it’s the place names that some readers may find new in the discussion. Preservationists have long heard the names Brandy Station, Cedar Mountain, and, mostly in the last decade, Hansbrough Ridge, in relation to efforts to preserve and protect the Civil War battlefields. Morton’s Ford is another we see mention on occasion. And with Morton’s we must also mention several other adjacent fords on the Rapidan River. The most important of those is Raccoon Ford. In addition to pressing across the Rapidan at Morton’s Ford, Federals also demonstrated at Raccoon Ford on February 6-7, 1864. And for that reason, Raccoon Ford is included within the “Core Battlefield Area” and the potential area for “National Registry Boundary” of the battlefield, as defined by the American Battlefield Protection Program (ABPP):

That in yellow is the potential National Registry Boundary, matching to the battlefield study area, more or less. It’s the area enclosed within red that we need to focus upon here – that’s the defined Battlefield Core Area. As in, “this is where fighting took place”… a key distinction of note, as many will try to “tell” us where a battle was or was not fought. This is the “official” designation of the battlefield, the product of accurate and detailed study. Morton’s Ford is within the “bulge” to the right. Raccoon Ford is on the left, covering both banks of the Rapidan… because its a FORD. The designation as “core area” is sound. If one wishes to dispute that, then evidence is required…. lots and lots of evidence… and that cannot be prefaced with “I think….”

Now beyond just the established fact that Raccoon Ford is within a core battlefield, we can go on to mention how often that site was used during the Civil War by the belligerents as they maneuvered through central Virginia. Every major campaign from 1862 on to 1864 passed by or through Raccoon Ford. One runs out of fingers and toes counting the number of skirmishes or other actions that took place there. If one wishes to tally the generals who crossed there, it would look like a “Who’s Who” of the Civil War. And we might go on to mention the significance this ford played in other chapters of American history – Colonial, Revolutionary, and right up to the present.

Again, more “established” facts that point to the historical pedigree of this site. There’s no way one can dispute or deny Raccoon Ford has a place in the history books.

But… as happens all too often in the discussion of historical sites… there are those who discount those facts and thus devalue our history. Raccoon Ford is now at the center of a planned solar farm development project. The project has not yet been approved, but has been the subject of long running discussions. Consider this map drawn to indicate the areas considered for solar farm development:

Highlighted in blue hashes and outlined in light blue is the “Core Battlefield Area. The actual “Raccoon Ford Area of Historic Interest” is in purple hashed highlight. And the designated “Battlefield Study Area” is in light green. It is the areas outlined in red that we preservationists need to be concerned about. That is the area on where the solar facilities would go. Not only would the area be dominated by solar panels, facilities, buildings, and power lines, but the ACTUAL battlefield itself would be covered.

There are certainly dozens of other considerations to think about here – environmental being perhaps the one that should weigh even more than the historical aspects. However, this is “to the Sound of the Guns” blog, and not the “Engineering Disasters Where People Build in a Flood Plain” blog…. so we shall focus on the history here.

What happens to a battlefield when it is covered with solar panels? This:

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This is just outside Godwin, North Carolina, and within the study area for the Averasboro battlefield. Students of Sherman’s March know that battle well. It is upon these fields that Hardee’s command delayed the Federal Left Wing to set up the battle of Bentonville. Was “that” battle fought right there? I can make the case that skirmishing occurred there. Depending on the “jury,” I believe a good lawyer could make that case. At a minimum, the ABPP indicated there were tactical troop movements here worthy of study.

And study? Yes. You will hear me often contend that the land – the actual physical ground itself – is a primary source for historians studying a battlefield. Quite often it is our only tangible link between the present and the past, from which we can properly understand the accounts and recollections of those who fought.

Up until the last decade, here’s what that field looked like:

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To the uninitiated, this is but your standard North Carolina farm field. But to a trained eye, there are nuances in the ground that need be considered and examined. (A lesson that struck home for me many years ago when studying the Belmont battlefield, where a slight rise of less than a foot – inches, mind you – indicated the location of a “ridge” which commanders mentioned and veterans later recalled. Inches high, it was just slightly above the wet, muddy bottom lands, and worth fighting over that day in November 1861.) Sadly, historians will no longer be able to study those nuances. Today history is blockaded by a locked gate:

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Raccoon Ford should not suffer this fate.

Later this month, the Culpeper County Board of Supervisors will renew discussion on this solar farm proposal. Local citizens have already brought up their concerns and expressed opposition. And YOU can help by signing their petition to stop this development. I ask you to consider signing that petition, helping those who are at the front line of this preservation battle.

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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.

“Ransack a Historic Site” Weekened is what I call it

Ransacking.  What does that mean?

ran·sack
ˈranˌsak/
verb
past tense: ransacked; past participle: ransacked
  1. go hurriedly through (a place) stealing things and causing damage.

I say that word aptly fits a caption for photo:

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The photo was taken on November 14 of last year.  The location is on the Brandy Station battlefield, at a site which I will not disclose.  The site is owned by a preservation organization and is not open to relic hunting or other similar activity.  The holes were left by a “digger” who felt the need to step onto posted, marked, and preserved land in order to “get a piece of history” to hold in their hand.

Coincidentally, on the same day at another place on the Brandy Station battlefield, I took this photo:

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I normally try to “frame out” people when taking photos of Civil War battlefields, for functional reasons (as those make better illustrations for blog posts).  But in this case, the subject was the individuals in the photo.  These were participants in the Diggin’ In Virginia (DIV) XXXII, held on November 13-15, 2015.  And as you can see in the foreground, the ground was giving up many long held secrets that day.

I cannot state for a fact that the individual who dug the preserved, posted area was involved with the DIV event. But the timing is far too coincidental for this to be random happenstance.  Furthermore it is not the first time that myself or others have noticed this sort of coincidental occurrence. Since many of the DIV participants look for “bragging rights” about their finds, there is some desire to show some exciting items retrieved from the ground.  So clearly there is motivation for some to go “off the reservation”, if I may, and loot areas that are not part of the event… not to mention legally off-limits.  But the nature of the event and the hobby is that those offenses are covered up (… perhaps the ONLY thing these people are likely to leave buried, ironically…).  Nobody wants to discuss the illegal aspects of the hobby.  Just much shouting about “nectar” retrieved where the machine registers a beep.

Earlier this winter, I was contacted by an individual asking for a “provenance” assessment on some artifacts.  The items included friction primers and a rifled projectile fragment of a particular type.  The individual didn’t want to disclose the exact location.  But the contact asked if I could confirm that a particular battery had a particular type of projectile at the battle of Brandy Station.  The writer was very excited at “the prospect of having a piece of history that could tell the story of the battle!”

With measured words, I responded. Because of the nature of the removal, those artifacts ceased to be artifacts at the moment of removal.  Period.  No matter how great and wonderful the item might be, it is no longer an artifact when its archaeological context is disturbed. Only if surveyed, documented, and analyzed in-situ, does it remain an artifact.  Anyone with a Archaeology 101 class behind them, or more than an hour watching “Oak Island” on the History Channel, knows this well.  Thus the story, which might have been teased out of those items when they were artifacts, was forever lost.  Irretrievably lost.  Any value of the items was as scrap metal, unless the owner attempt to “snake oil” a prospective buyer.

The other aspect of this, which has impact beyond just the value of what is now essentially scrap metal, is that the site itself was injured due to the ransacking.  The artifacts in the ground were components of the history that occurred on that ground.  When those of us mindful of history go to those sites with a mind to designate and preserve, we use those artifacts as the source material which validates other research.  All too often we are confronted with a conundrum… we know the site was important in an event such as a battle, but to prove such beyond doubt one needs to tie artifacts specifically to the event.  Otherwise, one might well say the battle happened over at … say… that fence row… or maybe at the other one.  Those sort of suppositions are best supported by documented archaeological surveys.  Unfortunately, without the artifacts, there is no story.  And without the benefit of supporting artifacts as sources, things such as National Register nominations, which would help secure matching grants for preservation, tend to go flat.

I bring all this up today for consideration for a reason.  In a couple of weeks, another DIV event will be held on the Brandy Station battlefield.  As before, the event is on private property (if you didn’t know, these events play on the margins in the legality of easements and such… but I’ll save that for another day).  While I cannot speak strongly enough about the damage the DIV events have done to ransack the history of Culpeper County, I also have to say there’s little I can do about it but complain.

But I would call upon the organizers and the leaders of the hobby to do more to police their own.  Scenes such as this should not occur:

RansackingBS2

That’s our shared history and heritage being ransacked (and in this particular case looting and trespassing to boot!).  The “hobby” should identify the individuals who perpetrate acts such as this and make very public examples of them.  But I’m not holding my breath… the is a hobby predicted on taking, no matter what the implications.  All I can say to those who participate in such is, “then please go prove me wrong.”  Name names.  Demonstrate where some punitive action is taken. Or provide evidence that will lead to prosecution where a crime occurs.

Better still, why not help preservation of these sites instead of ransacking … and thus sabotaging efforts those of us who want the stories to be told.

(Photos courtesy of Clark “Bud” Hall.)

“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.

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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!