Civil War Trails: Abingdon, Virginia

Tucked far into Southwest Virginia is the town of Abingdon. If you’ve ever traveled down Interstate 81 there is no doubt you’ve seen the signs, maybe even the Civil War Trails directional sign, enticing you take the exit ramp. If you’ve not already visited Abingdon you are missing out.

For starters, there are two Civil War Trails sites in town. Most visitors usually start their visit by following our signs to the Fields-Penn House. If you are lucky enough to catch the farmers market located in the rear of the building you are in for a real treat. If you are planning a trip be sure to write ahead of the Fields-Penn House as they are open normally by appointment. In the corner of their yard our sign helps introduce you to just some of the events you’ll run across as you walk town. Yes, I said – walk.

Park your car at the Fields-Penn House and if you’re hungry make a left up W. Main Street and pop into Bonfire Smokehouse. This former hardware store is not only dishing out some tasty smoked meats but in the spirit of Southwest Virginia will often have some live music to accompany your meal. Further down W. Main Street, on Colonial Road is the site of the historic “Abingdon Muster Grounds.” It was near this point that Virginia Militiamen and likely levies left Abingdon on their way south on a Campaign which would culminate with the Battle of King’s Mountain, South Carolina in October of 1780. Today, the Keller Interpretive Center is located on the site and helps interpret this period of the town’s history.

Photo of Drew Gruber in the ‘Love Booth,’ Courtesy Dr. Sarah McCartney, c. March 2018

As you head north on Main Street, passing by the Fields-Penn House you are following roughly in the footsteps of Stoneman’s troopers when they arrived in Abingdon on December 15th, 1864. Having left from Knoxville almost two weeks before, their objective was simple. Destroy iron, lead and salt- all essential to the Confederate was effort. Besides destroying the printing press of the Abingdon-Virginian newspaper Stoneman’s troops blew through town quickly.

Again, we recommend proceeding on foot and as you head north you’ll notice the architecture change and the street narrows as you head past the Martha Washington Inn & Spa. On the left is the historic Barter Theater. The Barter is the one of if not the coolest venue in the entire Commonwealth. It opened in 1933 and retains much of its original character. If you are lucky enough to catch a show while you are in town you won’t be disappointed.

Passing the site of Black’s Fort near Main and Pecan Streets, you’ll slowly head uphill, no doubt enjoying the tree-lined sidewalks and in another block the Washington County Courthouse will appear on your left. One of Stoneman’s rogue troopers did major damage here during his visit, and the current structure was erected in 1868. The monument in the lawn was erected in 1907 to commemorate the men who served from the surrounding area and unique attributes and details not found on similar statuary.

Make a right and head down Court Street. By now, it is very likely you are thirsty. Never fear. Make a left on Park Street and within another two blocks you’ll stumble into Wolf Hills Brewing Co. This old ice house is now home to one of our favorite breweries in Virginia. The atmosphere is relaxed, live music is a common attribute and their beers are worth writing home about (or posting on Untapped). The tracks alongside the brewery are laid in the same bed which carried Longstreet’s men out of their East Tennessee winter camps in the spring of 1864.

Photo of Landon Boyd’s grave stone, Courtesy Brian Palmer, c. July 2015

Across the railroad tracks from ‘Wolf Hills’ is a suburban neighborhood, which follows the rise in the landscape. Just over the rise was a plantation called “Mary’s Meadows” or “The Meadows.” The building and the plantation in the antebellum period was a stately structure owned by Virginia Governor Wyndham Robertson, Robertson’s plantation employed many slaves including young Landon Boyd. Some evidence suggests that Boyd made his way to Union lines and served with the United States Colored Troops and returned to the Richmond area where he served on the jury which was established to try former Confederate President Jefferson Davis for treason. By 1870, Boyd was serving as the Vice President of the Colored National Labor Union and after a failed bid to win a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates he would serve as an Assistant Assessor for the U.S. Internal Revenue.

Buried in a nearby cemetery, Boyd’s legacy is still alive and it is not hard to imagine as you walk the streets of Abingdon. He is buried a few blocks away in ‘Sinking Spring Cemetery.’ Having left Wolf Hills Brewing, and looking up towards the heights where Boyd’s wife, Kate, taught school you will make your way south again, this time along Park Street. At the intersection of Park and Pecan, turn left and head over to the Virginia Creeper Trail Welcome Center.

This is the Abingdon terminus of the Trail which is a 34.3 mile rail-to-trail which passes through two counties. From Abingdon, you can head over to nearby Damascus by bike. If you and yours are avid cyclists the opportunity to peddle this trail is not to be missed. However, today you will be on foot, so be sure to snap a photo in the phone booth and then head back up Pecan Street.

By now you are likely hungry again so we highly recommend 128 Pecan. Further down Park Street are two of the most quaint historic structures you’d ever want to check out and lo! You can not only check them out but you can spend a night here in either the Black Dog Inn or the Tailors Lodging. If you are planning a road-trip with your partner and you are feeling a bit romantic look no further. Both are within easy walking distance to all these sites and amenities I’ve mentioned herein and then some.

If this little walking tour-guide of downtown Abingdon has excited you (as it should have) and you want to plan a weekend getaway, please don’t hesitate to send an email through the Civil War Trails website and we can help plan your trip. Additionally, check out our friends at the Abingdon Convention and Visitors Bureau  for a full list of all the incredible things to do this in picture-perfect town.

Civil War Trails: Visiting Kinston, North Carolina

Nestled in the heart of eastern North Carolina, lies the small town of Kinston. This small town tucked away far from the interstate, is well worth the drive and will charm you with more than just its storied past. There are three Trails sites as well as a myriad of other points not to be missed in and around town.

Photo of CSS Neuse Civil War Interpretive Center, Courtesy Civil War Trails, Circa 4/6/18

We recommend beginning your visit at our site at Harriet’s Chapel, located at 1400 U.S. 258 in Kinston. Both the Trails sign here as well as the expansive site itself will give you a great sense of the military action that took place here in the winter of 1862, once you have gotten the chance to walk around and explore the grounds at Harriet’s Chapel, hop back in your car and take Queen Street north into town.

Upon arriving in downtown Kinston, find a place to park your car for the afternoon, and enjoy exploring the town on foot. One of the first must-see’s is the CSS Neuse II , a recreation of the famed ironclad built nearby during the war. If you are coming to Kinston on a Saturday, make sure to take full advantage of the ability to explore the recreated ship (if coming another day, be sure to call ahead). Once you have taken a close look at the Neuse II head north a block and take a break at Sugar Hill Pizzeria, which is sure to give you the energy to continue exploring this vibrant old downtown.

Photo of CSS Neuse II, Courtesy CSS Neuse Foundation

Once you’ve gotten your fill, take a short walk south on Queen Street to one of the coolest things we found in Kinston, the CSS Neuse Civil War Interpretive Center home to the recovered hull of the Confederate Ironclad. Take time to explore this incredible museum, built around the immense hull of the 158 foot ship, recovered from the bend of the river in town. This museum has a fantastic collection of artifacts recovered from the Neuse as well as a unique approach to interpreting the parts of the ship that have disappeared over the years. Once this truly fascinating place has gotten your imagination and curiosity going, it is time to take another walk up Queen Street to find a place to discuss what you have seen. For this, we recommend, Mother Earth Brewing a uniquely Kinston establishment and well worth any time you can spend there. If you still have time left after all of this, we recommend that you strike out into the countryside around Kinston, to the many historic sites and locations that discuss the events and stories that unfolded all around Kinston.

Photo of Mother Earth Brewery, Courtesy Civil War Trails, Circa 4/6/18

Hopefully this taste of Kinston will be enough to encourage you to turn off of the interstate and take the time to explore all that this beautiful, unique, and historic place has to offer. If you do decide to visit feel free to reach out through the Civil War Trails website for any further advice, or contact our friends in the Kinston-Lenoir Chamber of Commerce  for a full rundown of what there is to do in town.

Victory for Virginia Preservation Organizations and Civil War Trust

VIRGINIA PRESERVATION ORGANIZATIONS AND CIVIL WAR TRUST
SAVE UNIQUE CIVIL WAR SITE IN CULPEPER COUNTY

Foundation, state agency and national nonprofit work together to protect Hansbrough’s Ridge, an unparalleled historic and natural treasure in Virginia’s picturesque Piedmont region

(Brandy Station, Va.) – The Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF) and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources join the Civil War Trust today in announcing the preservation of a lofty, scenic ridge where 800 Confederate soldiers barred a Union cavalry division from the main fight at Brandy Station, the opening battle of the Civil War’s Gettysburg Campaign.

The 400-foot-high, mile-long ridge in Culpeper County, Virginia, whose profile one soldier said resembles “a giant sleeping,” sheltered more than 10,000 Union troops for five months during the winter of 1863-1864, before they began the war’s shocking, fiery Wilderness Campaign. It was part of the Union Army of the Potomac’s 120,000-soldier winter encampment, which dominated Culpeper County; Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia camped across the Rapidan River in Orange County.

The two organizations’ announcement culminates nearly two years of fundraising and decades of preservation activism for the 174-acre site, which historians say is unique in its landscape, significance and quality.

VOF, a public foundation, and the Virginia Board of Historic Resources accepted two conservation easements to forever protect the ridge east of the historic village of Stevensburg.  The property stretches from State Route 3 north to near Cole’s Hill, which is privately owned. The Foundation will hold one easement. The Board will hold the other, administered by staff at the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

“We are proud to have helped save this rare place, which was both a pivotal battleground and a secure refuge where thousands of soldiers recuperated from the trials of the war’s Mine Run, Gettysburg, Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg campaigns,” Civil War Trust President James Lighthizer said. “There is nothing comparable to it anywhere in the nation. The site remains nearly as it was when the Yankees broke camp and marched east to cross the Rapidan River and battle Lee’s Confederates.”

VOF contributed $250,000 to help preserve the property, a $900,000 acquisition also funded by a $450,000 grant from the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program, a $150,000 noncash donation by the seller, and $50,000 in contributions by Trust members and private donors.

“Our easement not only protects this landmark from development, but also creates permanent public access for future generations to be able to visit and learn from the property,” VOF Executive Director Brett Glymph said.

“The Virginia Department of Historic Resources is pleased to partner with VOF in ensuring the perpetual preservation of this site so that it can be protected and interpreted for current and future Virginians and visitors to the state,” said Julie V. Langan, the department’s director.

Members of the 18th Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment pose in their camp, with horse saddles and newly built winter huts, in February 1864 on Hansbrough’s Ridge east of Stevensburg in Culpeper County, Virginia. That month, Union Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick led the 3rd Cavalry Division—which included the 18th Regiment—on the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid of Richmond, a controversial and ill-fated attempt to rescue Union prisoners of war. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

The ridge was home not only to infantry and cavalry troops but also to soldiers’ visiting family members and large hospitals where doctors, nurses and volunteers treated sick and wounded men. Their many letters paint vivid pictures of daily life in camp. But one example, written by Pvt. George Storrs Youngs of Waterloo, N.Y., describes what they saw.

“The view from our camp is magnificent,” Youngs, with the 126th New York Infantry Regiment, wrote his sister Louisa on Jan. 1, 1864. “We are on the top of an exceeding high hill from whence we can look down upon the canvas cities of the Army of the Potomac on almost every side. Off to the west, nestling among the hills, the city of Culpepper can be seen—its bright spires looking still brighter against the dark background of the Blue Ridge whose towering peaks and cliffs are now covered with snow.”

The site’s importance was recognized in 1991 when the Department of Historic Resources listed the Hansborough Ridge Winter Encampment District on the Virginia Landmarks Register, making it eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. It was later incorporated into the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area, a federally-designated 175-mile corridor that interprets and conserves nationally significant historic sites in Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

“As a Civil War site, Hansbrough’s Ridge is unique,” Lighthizer said. “It offers commanding views of the landscape in all directions, which made it the Confederate defensive line and the scene of hard fighting in the Battle of Brandy Station’s Stevensburg phase.”

Developers saw a chance to market the ridge’s views in 2015, when they bought the property, intent on subdividing it into residential lots. Reacting quickly, the Trust negotiated the land’s purchase before development occurred. A noncash donation from the landowner put the purchase price within reach.

The ridge’s conservation easements complement the preservation of other Civil War battlefield sites in Culpeper County.

Ultimately, an alliance of officials, conservationists and local residents aim to incorporate already-saved acres on the Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain battlefields into a new state park that enhances their tourism, recreational and educational potential. The Virginia General Assembly is considering legislation that would direct the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation to study the suitability of preserved properties at these two battlefields for inclusion in the state park system.

The sweeping views and soldiers’ stories from Hansbrough’s Ridge will add different perspectives unequaled at other Mid-Atlantic historic sites. “From the top of the ridge, people will be able to read about the events of that period and survey the terrain as the soldiers did,” Lighthizer said. “It will be an amazing way to understand the history of this place.”

The Virginia Outdoors Foundation protects more than 800,000 acres in 107 counties and cities. A public foundation created by the General Assembly in 1966, VOF leads the commonwealth in land conservation.

The Department of Historic Resources encourages and supports the stewardship and use of Virginia’s significant architectural, archaeological and historic resources as valuable assets for the economic, educational, social and cultural benefit of citizens and communities. It administers interwoven and interdependent state and federal programs aimed at identifying, evaluating, recognizing and preserving Virginia’s rich historic heritage.

The Civil War Trust is a national nonprofit land preservation organization devoted to the protection of America’s hallowed battlegrounds. It preserves the battlefields of the Civil War, the Revolutionary War and War of 1812, and educates the public about their importance in forging the nation we are today. To date, the Trust has preserved more than 48,000 acres of battlefield land in 24 states.  Learn more at Civilwar.org.

Race Outta Richmond: Meadow Bridge Battle Map

This past weekend I tried following the path of the Union cavalry raid on Richmond during the Overland Campaign. I forgot that the Richmond Raceway was hosting the Toyota Owners 400 Nascar race and found myself stuck in traffic on Meadow Bridge Road for quite awhile. The Union troopers found themselves similarly penned in on May 12, 1864, but managed to break out of the trap set for them in between the Chickahominy River and the Richmond defenses.

At the early stage of the fighting at Spotsylvania, Phil Sheridan took his cavalry on a raid toward Richmond and its railroad connections. On May 11th, the Union troopers defeated their Confederate counterparts at Yellow Tavern. Private John A. Huff mortally wounded Jeb Stuart in the latter stages of that battle. Overnight, Sheridan continued south on the Brook Turnpike toward the Richmond defenses. The troopers easily overran the thinly held outer line of earthworks near Emanuel Church. Despite the temptation of continuing toward the capital, Sheridan wisely chose not to test the intermediate line the next morning. He attempted to skirt in between the Chickahominy River and the intermediate defenses to reach a safe rendezvous on the James River but found that route blocked near the Mechanicsville Turnpike.

James Gordon’s North Carolina cavalry brigade followed Sheridan down the Brook Turnpike and attacked David Gregg’s rear guard from the west. Two Confederate infantry brigades plus an assortment of local defense troops meanwhile ventured forward from the intermediate line to lend their support. Gregg and James Wilson’s divisions kept these attacks at bay but Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry meanwhile attempted to block Sheridan’s only exit at Meadow Bridge on the Chickahominy River. The Virginia Central Railroad paralleled the road and also crossed the swampy Chickahominy near its confluence with Brook Run.

George Custer’s brigade successfully forced their way across and repaired the destroyed bridge. This allowed the rest of the cavalry to safely continue their journey outside Richmond’s network of defenses. This earlier post by Dan Davis discusses the fighting at Meadow Bridge on May 12th that allowed Sheridan’s expedition to continue onward to the James.

The impact of Sheridan’s raid is still debated. Though the Union cavalry were tactically victorious at both Yellow Tavern and Meadow Bridge, they did not necessarily achieve their strategic goals. It perhaps was a morale booster for the north, due to Jeb Stuart’s mortal wounding at Yellow Tavern and the ability of the Union cavalry to match up against their Confederate counterparts. Riding within three miles of downtown Richmond only to have to scamper away may have had the opposite effect. The lack of cavalry around Spotsylvania certainly limited Union opportunity during that phase of the Overland Campaign.

Most of the Meadow Bridge battlefield is now developed. The raceway is located on the position of Wilson’s division. Several portions of the outer line of Confederate earthworks are preserved and interpreted, notably near the Mechanicsville Turnpike and Emanuel Church. Modern-day Laburnum Road roughly follows the Confederate intermediate defenses. The battle is featured on a Civil War Trails wayside exhibit near the modern Meadowbridge Road river crossing.

Special Announcement: Chance to Win Two Tickets to “Beneath the Paint: Civil War Graffiti Symposium”

In partnership with our great friends at Civil War Trails, we are pleased to announce a special giveaway for the upcoming “Beneath the Paint: Civil War Graffiti Symposium”. To enter, just snap a selfie at any Civil War Trails sign in Fairfax, Virginia, and post it to the Symposium’s Facebook page. The event will be held on May 19, 2018. You may find more details on the attached picture and on the event’s Facebook page by clicking here.

“Battlefields Mean Business: Economic Benefits of Battlefield Preservation”

Many of our readers are familiar with heritage tourism. In fact many of us would say we are heritage tourists! Historic sites and the communities they reside in can mutually benefit from the visitors that they receive. The Civil War Trust recently released a detailed report of the benefits for these communities as they play host to our nation’s history and the many visitors that come to see it each year.  

The Civil War Trust released a report detailing the economic benefits that battlefield preservation can provide to U.S. communities. After investigating geographically diverse locations across the United States, the study found that historic sites support jobs, attract visitors, create opportunities for local business, and contribute to state and local coffers. Revealing what enhances the economic benefits of battlefields tourism, the report demonstrates that when more land is preserved, sites can become an even more powerful economic engine.