ECW Weekender: In the Steps of Lee to Gettysburg—Culpeper

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Culpeper, ca. 1863. The building to the left of the locomotive is the current location of the Museum of Culpeper History. Library of Congress

The town of Culpeper is one of central Virginia’s most historic towns.  The area around Culpeper saw more marching, fighting and camping during the Civil War than any other area in the nation.  Its location south of the Rappahannock River (considered by many as the dividing line between northern and southern military areas in Virginia) as well as its location on the strategic Orange and Alexandria Railroad, made it central to many campaigns of both north and south.

Today, Culpeper has become a bedroom suburb of Washington, DC, and Charlottesville. Up to recently, Culpeper was a quiet country town but now there is a good mix of chain restaurants and stores as well as local eateries and stores in its historic downtown. When visiting Culpeper, start at the Museum of Culpeper History. The museum is located in the ca. 1904 train station (the current train station, meanwhile, is on the location of the war-time station). The museum interprets the history of Culpeper and contains significant information on the Civil War history of the area. In June 1863, Culpeper was vital to Lee as a jumping-off point for his movement north. The town was strategically located along the Orange and Alexandria Railroad and near mountain gaps that led toward the Shenandoah Valley. The museum is located at 113 S Commerce Street, Culpeper, Virginia 22701.


Also located nearby is the boyhood home of Confederate General A.P. Hill at the corner of Davis Street and Main Street.  There is a small interpretive marker on the side of the building. Another site in town worth visiting is the Culpeper National Cemetery.  Created in 1867 as a place for Civil War dead to be reinterred from temporary graves from nearby battlefields and encampment sites. The cemetery is still active today, but contains hundreds of Civil War burials and Civil War related monuments.

A little known site east of town is the site of the “Grand Reviews” held by Confederate General JEB Stuart in the spring of 1863. The area today is the location of a Virginia State Police office. To reach the site (from the intersection of Main St and Davis St.) take a right (north). Main Street will become Brandy Road. Travel for 4.3 miles and you will see a Virginia State Police office on the left. Turn in and pull into the first parking lot on the left. It is in this vicinity near the railroad that Stuart hosted his grand reviews. The fields behind the police station (where modern day Rt. 29 runs) are where the reviews took place. At the time of the war, this farm was owned by notable Unionist John Minor Botts, whose home still stands on Auburn Road (private property). There is no interpretive marker located here.

Finally, Culpeper is home to several Civil War battlefields.  These include Cedar Mountain, Rappahannock Station, Morton’s Ford and several battles fought at Brandy Station. The June 9, 1863 Battle of Brandy Station is seen as the jumping off point of the Gettysburg Campaign. Through the efforts of many organizations and historians, much of the Brandy Station battlefield is now preserved.  These now tranquil fields were once under serious threat (industrial park, Formula One Racetrack amongst others). The Civil War Trust has installed several interpretive trails at various points on the battlefield. These included:

Beverly Ford action:  GPS: N 38.531475 W 77.858334

St. James Church action:  GPS: N 38.521686 W 77.865943

Fleetwood Hill action: N 38.509609 W 77.879459

Staff from Civil War Trust and Civil War Trails work with Brandy Station historian/preservationist Clark “Bud” Hall to lay out the Fleetwood Hill trail.

Fleetwood Hill was the center piece for the action on June 9th and is one of the greatest preservation success stories. A modern, large house once sat on top of this important landmark and many believed the land was lost forever. But hard work paid off and the Civil War Trust was able to purchase the property, remove the house and install an interpretive trail. This is one of the most fought over pieces of ground in America.

Finally, nearby is the Graffiti House, owned and operated by the Brandy Station Foundation. The house is home to a large collection of graffiti left by Civil War soldiers from both sides. To check on the hours of the house, visit:

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