Sunbright, site of the Third Corps Ball, Winter of 1864

Historian and friend Clark B. Hall passed along this comment regarding the Third Corps Ball, mentioned in today’s post:


The 3rd Corps Ball referred to took place in the big, beautiful home of Dr. Daniel Kennedy, “Sunbright.” This home sat on a prominent knoll near the Orange & Alexandria Railroad tracks about two miles south of Brandy Station. Serving as the Divisional HQ of General Joseph Carr, the home faced east, away from the tracks, and the image I am sending you by separate cover depicts Sunbright in March 1864, just a month or so after the 3rd Corps Ball.

A developer bought this house in 1988, and a week after I visited and photographed the house with the permission of the tenant, the house mysteriously burned down. You can  draw your own conclusions regarding that “coincidence.”

Sunbright was one of Culpeper County’s magnificent homes.. But, its sad fate placed Sunbright squarely within the gunsights of “progress.”

Here is the March 1864 photograph mentioned:


Indeed a wonderful home in all respects.  And a home that, if it were around today, would have many stories to tell. Perhaps just obscured only by a few layers of paint?

Speaking of graffiti under paint, there’s something else that comes to mind here.  Just a few decades ago, within our collective memory, Culpeper boasted numerous structures – beautiful homes – which stood witness to the war, each with a history and stories to tell.  Many of those are lost.  Likewise, some of the topographical features that played a prominent role in the war are grossly altered without regard to significance.  And what remains is at risk.  Just over a year ago another important site with respect to the Winter Encampment – Glen Ella, where General Gouverneur K. Warren spent the winter – was leveled to make way for a modern home.  And in just recent months, a large house went atop Cole’s Hill, marring the profile of a hillside which up until that time remained very close to what the soldiers called “cold mountain.”

Winter Encampment 097

This discarding, and in some ways destruction, of our history and heritage will continue so long as those in positions of leadership remain aloof to the problem. The Brandy Station Foundation should be at the fore of these issues.  But it is not.  Ever since the president of that organization, Joseph McKinney, pushed out a policy not to “oppose common property improvements,” the Foundation has remained quiet.  While the position of the Foundation spoke of “reversible change,” a proper definition of such (if there could be) was lacking.  The statement appears now, just as it did to preservationists in 2011, as just bunting.  Leadership in the foundation has not uttered a single word in regard to these irreversible damages seen to the county’s historical resources.  With that comes a shortfall towards the organization’s stated reason for being.  An organization chartered for preservation should, in fact, be an agent favoring preservation – not enabling destruction  – of those resources. The policy, crafted to allow the Brandy Station Foundation to save face, all the while turning a blind eye to what happened on the battlefield, has in effect been a “camel’s nose under the tent” which allowed this irreversible change.

It is impossible to reverse what was done over the last few years.  But to save what is left, it is time the Brandy Station Foundation recognizes the damage done by its policy of non-intervention in preservation matters.  It’s time for the Foundation to renounce its policy.  There is much still at risk and much preservation work to be done.

A time for action! Preserve Fleetwood Hill!


Clark “Bud” Hall describes the hill you see in the panoramic view above as “…without question the most fought over, camped upon and marched over real estate in the entire United States.”

In the article I’ve pulled that quote from, posted to Eric Wittenburg’s blog, Hall detailed the fighting, campaigning, and soldiering that took place on that hill between 1862 and 1864. I’m sure he would add to that list of events a long chronology of “fights” that have taken place in more recent years – not with guns, cannons, or sabers, but rather with court orders, national registry nominations, and newspaper articles. I’ve discussed some of those “fights” over the last couple of years here on this blog. And I’ve fired off my share of those heated exchanges.

Now the land owner has put the property up for sale. Eric offered up details on Sunday – fifty acres of the most important ground in the most important cavalry battle fought in the Civil War. Now’s the time for the Civil War Trust to call out the troops. This is an opportunity we won’t see again. It is time to act.

Let’s do some “grass roots” work to secure the high ground.