ECW Weekender: Montpelier Civil War Trail

Last weekend while there was still snow on the ground and trails, it seemed like the perfect wintry day to explore another Civil War camp in Central Virginia.

Located just across from the entrance to James Madison’s Montpelier and about four and half miles outside of Orange, Virginia are the preserved remains of a Confederate winter camp from 1863-1864. But there are two intersecting accounts told and preserved through this site. The history of the Gilmore family is an important chapter of Black history in that community with Civil War and Reconstruction Era connections. The trail’s loop allows visitors to explore the Civil War history and then continue the story by exploring the Gilmore farm.

During the winter of 1863-64, Confederate soldiers from McGowan’s Brigade camped at this location and modern archaeological studies have revealed the “footprints” of their cabins, a fairly typical winter camp set-up with company streets, and a few artifacts. At one point away from the archaeological study site, re-enactors have constructed replica winter huts based on the research and evidence found at the camp site.

The Gilmore farm interprets the history of George Gilmore and his family. Born into slavery at Montpelier (the plantation owned by fourth president James Madison), Gilmore lived in bondage until the Civil War, Emancipation, and the 13th Amendment brought freedom. After the war, he owned land and was a farmer by profession. Interestingly, he built his family’s cabin on the site and using material from the abandoned Confederate camp. Gilmore and his wife are buried a short distance from their cabin in marked graves.

The path to explore these sites is part of the Montpelier trail network, but is accessible year round. There are signs for the parking area and for the trailhead which is directly across from the Montpelier train station/post office and just before the gated entrance to Montpelier, along Route 20 (Constitution Highway).

The trail is a 1 mile loop and there are nice interpretively panels at different points along the way. The trail is easy to follow, but it’s also well blazed with “cabin signs” and directional arrows at the intersections. It is fairly flat, with just one major slope down and then up from a bridged creek.

I’m looking forward to going back once the snow has melted to see the features which were covered in white, but getting to the see the old road traces and other features in the land while snow-covered made an interesting experience. It was nice to walk in the snowy woods and think about the layers of history on pieces of preserved land and how this site has done an excellent job of looking at the Civil War history and the post-conflict story of the location.

Montpelier Civil War Trail –

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