Civil War Trust Preserving More of “The Most Fought Over Ground in America” at Brandy Station

Fleetwood Hill (photo by Chris Mackowski)
Fleetwood Hill (photo by Chris Mackowski)

After a major year in preservation, the Civil War Trust has offered Brandy Station Battlefield a new conservation opportunity.

This project consists of the acquisition and preservation of 33 square acres of land at the most critical point of the battlefield, Fleetwood Hill.

Specifically, 28 acres of the north-facing slope of Fleetwood Hill—overlooking the Rappahannock River—and another 5 acres on the southern slope, are the subject of the fundraising campaign. Through consistent fundraising and generous donations, $555,000 has been raised for this effort, and the possibility of an official state park seems closer than ever.

Despite these advancements, there is still a great deal of unprotected, core battlefield ground that needs to be preserved—and the efforts to do so remain imperative.

“This has been a nearly thirty-year fight, and it’s been a fight almost every step of the way,” said cavalry historian Eric Wittenberg, who has been deeply involved in the preservation efforts. “Very little of this is done easily and very little of this is done without having a lot of stress and a lot of conflict.”

Fleetwood Hill, the most fought over piece of land in the United States, was originally the site of four major cavalry battles. Adding to its significance, George Meade had his headquarters on the grounds during the winter of 1863-64.

A local family acquired the land in the 1970’s. While the patriarch of the family was dedicated to preserving land, his son fell short in his concern for preservation— constructing a 7,000 foot “McMansion” at the crest of Fleetwood Hill. Soon after, the property owner decided to build a recreational pond at the base of the hill— damming up a small creek called Flat Run, which is a perennial tributary to the Rappahannock River. Hence, the property is subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“The landowner did so without obtaining the proper permits from the Army Corps of Engineers or the State of Virginia’s Department of Natural Resources,” Wittenberg explained. “It cost him three quarters of a million dollars to repair the damage that he did.” Luckily for the Trust, the homeowner was prompted to sell the land due to fear of federal prosecution.

“The property was purchased by the Trust last year,” said Wittenberg. “A particular donor stepped forward and donated $65,000 just for the removal of the McMansion and a nearby ranch house. Last fall, both the McMansion and the ranch house were torn down, and the ground has been restored to its pre-McMansion appearance.”

The transformation of this 52-acre parcel was no simple endeavor, though. The full restoration consisted of removing trees around the property, as well as a swimming pool, and restoring the terrain to its original topographic configuration.

There are two main driving forces for the preservation efforts. The first priority is to provide the public with an accurate portrayal of these landscapes in their prime. Second, the three-decade long preservation fight, led by the efforts of historian Clark B. Hall—one of the original founders of the Civil War Trust—has been motivated by dreams of Brandy Station not only being fully preserved, but also by the hope that it would eventually become a state or national park. “We hope, and there seems to be some interest in this, that the commonwealth of Virginia will step up and take title to the land and create a state park for the battlefield,” said Wittenberg.

Defining himself as a “self-appointed gadfly,” Wittenberg hopes to “bring attention to malfeasants and misfeasance and nonfeasance, while also helping the Trust with its interpretation efforts and helping the trust in its efforts to raise money.”

At the completion of this project, the Trust will have obtained over 1,900 acres of the battlefield.

Efforts such as Hall’s, the dedication of preservationists, and the cultivation of long-lasting relationships with local Civil War landowners, seem to illuminate the possibility of an official park. “The primary thing is the feet on the ground and the personal relationships,” said Wittenberg.

Going forward with the most recent 33-acre opportunity, the main priority is to tie up pieces of the land—ensuring that the Trust has acquired every bit of land necessary for a state park. The more parcels of this historic landscape that can be obtained, the closer the Trust finds itself to obtaining its ultimate goal—Brandy Station State Park.

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