Guest author Mike Block shares about a new preservation development in Virginia:
Recently, the Friends of Culpeper Battlefields (FCB) was established with the purpose to serve as a unifying organization supporting battlefield-focused preservation, stewardship, and heritage tourism across the historic Culpeper region. The group builds on the efforts of the Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain Park Alliance.
Many Civil War battles took place in Culpeper County, Virginia, including Cedar Mountain, Rappahannock Station, Kelly’s Ford, Brandy Station, Culpeper Court House, Rappahannock Station, and Morton’s Ford. The county “hosted” the Army of the Potomac during the winter of 1863/1864. Scores of small skirmishes, raids, and military transits through the country also brought the way to the doorsteps of the residents. Additionally, the Gettysburg and Overland Campaigns started from Culpeper County, and in preparation for the latter campaign, United States Colored Troops joined the Army of the Potomac for the first time in May 1864.
In an effort preserve and spotlight this history, FCB has been formed and includes representatives from the American Battlefield Trust (ABT), the Brandy Station Foundation, the Culpeper Department of Tourism, the Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield, the Museum of Culpeper History, and the Piedmont Environmental Council. Camilla Strongin of Cedar Mountain Farm is leading the new group.
Since 2015, the ABT and its partners in the Culpeper region have worked with the support of the Brandy Station & Cedar Mountain State Park Alliance, successfully building an effort to establish a new state park in Culpeper among local government officials and other community leaders. This year the Virginia General Assembly has directed the Commonwealth’s Department of Conservation and Recreation—which oversees Virginia State Parks—to consider the “management,” “potential user activities at,” and “operation of” the proposed Culpeper-based park and report back to the legislature with its recommendations.[i]
The future state park would encompass lands saved by the ABT at Cedar Mountain, Brandy Station, Kelly’s Ford and Rappahannock Station. In addition to highlighting the region’s Civil War history, the park would provide camping (traditional, Glam, and ‘winter encampment’ settings are envisioned), horse trails, nature trails, and canoe and raft access along the Rappahannock River.
The launch of the Friends of Culpeper Battlefields comes as the result of this progress, which has revealed the desire and underscored the need for a permanent, locally-led and locally-rooted successor organization to the Trust-driven Alliance. The new group will feature a wider lens and longer vision, as all of Culpeper’s battlefields—inclusive of significant sites like Morton’s Ford, Rappahannock Station and other locations. It will require organized advocates on many fronts, both until and long after a Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain State Park is formally established.
“Our region possesses so many pristine links to our country’s past,” noted Diane Logan, President of the Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield. “Through our leadership on the Brandy Station & Cedar Mountain State Park Alliance—and, now, on the Friends of Culpeper Battlefields—those of us at the Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield have been and remain dedicated to working hand in hand with our partners to help ensure that all of Culpeper’s historic jewels continue to shine bright.”
William Truitt, president of the Brandy Station Foundation, likewise praised the new group’s promise for creating a groundswell of support for historic resources. “What happened at Brandy Station and throughout Culpeper during the Civil War was a critical part of an altogether pivotal chapter in our American story,” he said. “The work of the Friends of Culpeper Battlefields is essential to telling that story today.”[ii]
The FCB will not replace the existing groups in Culpeper, but serve as a support and coordination with and between the organizations. They will organize and promote battlefield activities, build relationships with local landowners and community leaders, and counter development threats to battlefield lands. This work is currently being accomplished by the individual organizations, but now with the FCB, coordinated efforts will be centralized. Key to that strategy will be increasing visitor spending as new audiences come to explore the region’s battlefields, the group said.
“Culpeper’s battlefields are each one-of-a-kind,” said Paige Read, the town of Culpeper’s director of tourism and economic development. “The heroism, the sacrifice and history that these landscapes witnessed happened here alone. We cannot replace them if they are lost—which is what makes them authentic and worthwhile destinations.”
Morgan Pierce, executive director of the Museum of Culpeper History, agreed. With heritage tourism, success begets success,” Pierce said. “In Culpeper, our museum, our battlefields and our other historic sites are all complementary. The more we support one other, the more successful we across the board.”[iii]
[i] American Battlefield Trust press release, April 28, 2020. https://www.battlefields.org/news/new-umbrella-group-forms-advocate-behalf-all-culpeper-county-battlefield-sites?ms=youttube
[ii] American Battlefield Trust press release, April 28, 2020. https://www.battlefields.org/news/new-umbrella-group-forms-advocate-behalf-all-culpeper-county-battlefield-sites?ms=youttube
[iii] Local Partners form group to advocate for, save Culpeper battlefields, Culpeper Star Exponent, April 29, 2020.