Shaping Chancellorsville: Pre-park preservation efforts

part three in a series

While the Jackson Monument represents the first effort to set aside property at Chancellorsville, efforts were soon underway to preserve far more of the battlefield. By 1891, a group of northern and southern veterans formed the Chancellorsville Battlefield Association (CBA) “to acquire and hold for posterity the most important points on the various battlefields of the battle-scarred county [Spotsylvania], making Chancellorsville the radiating point from which to reach them all.”[1]

CBA-CvilleMap-sm

“[O]ther of the grandest events of all wars occurred almost upon this same ground,” the Association said in that same letter, citing the battles of Fredericksburg, the Wilderness, and Spotsylvania, where the CBA had acquired land around the Bloody Angle.[2]

“The intention of your company in buying the Chancellorsville tract,” wrote former Virginia Lieutenant Governor John L. Marye, a resident of Fredericksburg…

which lies admirably for the purpose, to improve and embellish it with parks, avenues, museums and hotel; the mark with permanent memorials the lines held by the contending forces; to erect monuments to the conspicuous soldiers whose valor and skill were displayed in that great battle, and to make it an attractive rendezvous where the veterans of the Gray and the Blue may meet in cordial fraternity, and the visitors for all coming ages may find convenient access to all the memorable historic spots in Spotsylvania, is a praiseworthy enterprise which will commend itself to the intelligence and patriotism of soldiers and citizens in all parts of our country.[3]

Marye’s endorsement of the plan as a prominent local resident and respected Virginian politician was especially useful because the Association’s board of directors consisted largely of Northerners, although membership consisted of veterans from both sides. Note that his discussion of the battle avoided any discussion of tactics but, instead, struck upon themes of valor common to the reconciliation memory.

The Association, in its promotional materials, likewise avoided mention of victory or defeat, focusing, too, on mutual sacrifice and reconciliation. “Gettysburg, with its one battle, is visited by thousands every week, sometimes every day. This Virginia greater plain of sacrifice will, in the future, call hither even greater crowds of people,” the Association wrote in a flier to its sales agents.[4] Already, the race for investment and tourism dollars was underway. By framing their efforts against the battlefield at Gettysburg, the Association implicitly acknowledged Gettysburg’s standing at the head of the pack—and acknowledged the usefulness of Gettysburg’s name-recognition value, as well.[5]

CBA-CvilleProperty-sm

The Association first acquired 943 acres surrounding the Chancellorsville intersection itself, remodeling the Chancellor House and equipping it to serve guests to the battlefield. Improvements were also made to clear flora away from earthworks and to prepare for the subdivision of property. “[C]omprehensive plans have been made for the future, which include quick railroad communication with the North, a comfortable hotel, summer cottages, and special attractions for sportsmen,” said planners, who also promoted the health benefits of a spa. They asked supporters to chip in “the trifle of 410 each” for lots measuring 25×100 feet.[6]

Ultimately, the Association’s efforts fizzled, and the land they had put their down payment on reverted back to the previous owners. Thus ended the Chancellorsville Battlefield Association.

But efforts to preserve the Chancellorsville Battlefield continued….


[1] “Chancellorsville Battlefield Association.” Letter to supporters. 1 October 1892.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Marye, John L. Letter to Rufus B. Merchant. 31 August 1891.

[4] Redington, J. C. O. Letter to agents. 3 May 1892.

[5] Again, see Desjardin’s This Hallowed Ground for an excellent examination of Gettysburg’s ascension to the top spot as a tourist destination.

[6] “Chancellorsville Battlefield Association.” Letter to supporters. 1 October 1892.

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