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.

Preservation Victory at Goose Creek Bridge!

For those of you familiar with the Gettysburg Campaign, Little Round Top was not the first time the famous 20th Maine or Vincent’s Brigade saw combat during the events leading up to the battle. The Civil War Trust and NOVA Parks recently announced a preservation victory at Goose Creek Bridge where these units, along with JEB Stuart’s cavalry squared off almost 155 years ago. Find out more about this success by reading below.

“Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe Announces Preservation Victory at Historic Goose Creek Bridge

The Civil War Trust and NOVA Parks recently hosted a news conference in scenic Loudoun County, Virginia, to announce the preservation of 20 acres associated with the Battle of Upperville—a small but significant early engagement of the momentous Gettysburg Campaign. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a longtime champion of battlefield preservation in the Old Dominion, served as keynote speaker. Thanks to four decades of work by the Fauquier and Loudoun Garden Club, the historic Goose Creek Bridge and its adjacent hallowed grounds will become Northern Virginia’s newest regional historic park.”

Check out the full story here.

Historic Scottsville, Virginia

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Downtown ScottsvilleCivil War Trails recently spent an afternoon in Central Virginia, including time in historic Scottsville. We can’t recommend spending an afternoon in this historic downtown enough. 

Scottsville MuseumSome sites we enjoyed include the Scottsville Museum, and the Hatton Ferry, which is the last pole-operated ferry in America.

Scottsville isn’t just about history though, the James River Brewery and several local outfitters make sure there is something here for everyone.

Scottsville is just one of the many charming and unique towns that we’ll bring you to if you chose to follow Civil War Trails.