Category Archives: Preservation

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.

Fleetwood Hill getting a make-over, restoration

I’ve gotten a lot of questions of late, for good reason, about Fleetwood Hill.  Last year, the Civil War Trust purchased a 56-acre section on the crest of the hill.  That property was not just any old part of the hill, but one of the most heavily contested 56-acres of the Civil War – in terms of number of engagements fought.  For modern visitors, this has been the view of that hill:
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Now the land is locked in as “preserved.” So when can you walk that most important Civil War site? The next step towards opening this very historic site up to the public is some “restoration” work.  The Trust posted a press release on this earlier in the week:

Civil War Trust’s Restoration of Fleetwood Hill at Brandy Station Underway

Site of the largest cavalry battle on American soil will return to its wartime appearance

(Brandy Station, Va.) – The Civil War Trust, America’s largest nonprofit battlefield preservation organization, has begun work to restore a 56-acre property on the crest of Fleetwood Hill at Brandy Station, to its wartime appearance. The project is among the Trust’s most ambitious restoration projects to date and focuses on land acquired in August 2013, following a $3.6 million fundraising campaign. The purchase was financed through private donations and matching grants from the federal Civil War Land Acquisition Grant Program (administered by the American Battlefield Protection Program) and the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Civil War Sites Preservation Fund. The Battle of Brandy Station, fought June 9, 1863, was the largest cavalry engagement of the Civil War. …

So this structure….

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And a few others have to come down.

The Trust goes on to provide some details of the project:

The demolition plan, approved by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, which holds a conservation easement on the property, begins with the removal of all modern structures on the property, including two houses, a detached garage, two in-ground pools and a pool house. The Trust worked closely with the seller, who vacated this summer after a negotiated period of tenancy, to find ways of reusing elements of the modern buildings where possible. An aluminum barn on the property, for example, has already been removed for use by the local 4-H club….

The site will be closed to the public during the demolition process, with details on future public access to be announced upon the project’s completion. The Trust is already in the process of developing a multi-stop interpretive walking trail on the property, augmenting our existing educational offerings elsewhere on the battlefield, with a probable installation date of Spring 2015. Longer term landscape restoration plans include the replanting of trees on the hill’s crest to resemble the wartime appearance. The agricultural plan for the property includes a five-year agricultural lease, excluding the visitor area on the crest of the hill.

Consider the fine points of that last paragraph.  I’ve heard some grumblings from Culpeper County (from the usual crowd, you might say) that the Trust didn’t have to go to all this trouble.  Some have suggested the house could have served as a museum… or a visitor center… or some other useful purpose.  Well first off, one structure on the property will be re-utilized, as noted, for a good cause.

But what about that big old mansion?  Let’s think on this for a bit.  When built, it was not setup for use as a museum.  To re-purpose the structure for such, the Trust would have to sink more money into the effort.  The people making such suggestions have no background in these matters.   And even if with great expenditure the house was transformed, there would still be a glaring problem – its location.  The same problem ultimately brought about the demise of the old Gettysburg Visitor Center and Cyclorama.  The same problem will bring about the relocation of the visitor center at Antietam at some point in the near future.   Putting a visitor center smack in the middle of a battlefield might have sounded fine in the 1960s.  But we have 50 years of hindsight that speak to the error of such thinking.  Retaining that mansion, even as some sort of visitor center, would be contradictory to the notion of preserving the ground.

And if that reasoning falls on deaf ears, consider the other part of that paragraph.  The Trust plans to open the hill up for all the public (not some super-exclusive set, as some organization I will not mention here proposed doing not too long ago).  If the public is going to roam that hill, then those structures pose a hazard.  Particularly that pool, but also the multi-story house.  It’s a safety issue and a liability.  Again, those are added costs pulling funds that would be better spent on other preservation efforts.

And when that hill is opened to the public (all the public), the view will please all. Up until now, we’ve had to interpret the final stages of Brandy Station from afar.  Soon we can stand at that ground and consider views such as this:

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And from here speak of Colonel Sir Percy Wyndham’s approach on June 8, 1863.

We will look to the north and consider the Confederate race from St. James Church to Fleetwood Hill.  And we will also be able to consider the vicious actions were the two sides fought over this spot of ground.

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And we will place those movements in the perspective of the terrain…. because we can walk it!

And… on a clear day… we can look far to the south and consider Pony Mountain in the distance and think about those long months in the winter of 1864, where the Army of the Potomac prepared for a campaign to end the war.

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Fleetwood Hill has many important stories to tell.  Activity in motion as you read this will allow, finally, that hill to tell its story.  Mind you, that story is not JUST limited to events 150 years ago. The newer pages in the book – those about preservation efforts at Brandy Station – are just as important.  Fifty years from now, Civil War Bicentennialists will be grateful our sesquicentennialist efforts didn’t stop down there at Flat Run.