A sweet victory for preservation
The heart of America’s most storied cavalry battlefield is back in one piece.
Fleetwood Hill, focus of the swirling, sprawling Battle of Brandy Station, has been bought by the Civil War Trust after a fast-paced national fundraising effort to preserve the most iconic spot on the battleground.
It’s as if Gettysburg regained Cemetery Hill after a long absence or Fredericksburg’s Sunken Road, if privately owned, was reunited with Marye’s Heights.
History-minded folks have hoped for this news for decades, and fought hard to hear it.
The 55,000-member trust and its allies now own the south end of Fleetwood Hill where Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart camped before the unexpected fighting of June 9, 1863, that sorely tested his troopers.
“Fleetwood Hill is the crown jewel of the Brandy Station battlefield,” Jim Campi, the trust’s policy director, said Saturday. “Our members knew this property just had to be preserved. They stepped up in a big way, giving generously in the past three months.”
Donations poured in to the trust’s website and Washington headquarters for a $3.6 million campaign to preserve 56 acres of the best-known piece of the battlefield.
The hill’s purchase caps a decadeslong effort to protect the site of the Western Hemisphere’s biggest cavalry battle from piecemeal encroachment and large-scale development.
Since 1984, preservationists have fended off a California developer who planned a huge subdivision, and another who wanted a Formula One racetrack. They were less successful in constraining expansion of the Culpeper County airport or preventing a local resident from building what some call a “McMansion” on the Fleetwood Hill crest that Stuart made his headquarters.
The trust closed about a week ago on purchase of the latter property, owned by Tony Troilo, a philanthropist who supports the Brandy Station Volunteer Fire Department and the county’s Soap Box Derby.
Troilo ran afoul of the Army Corps of Engineers in 2011 when, without a permit, he dammed Flat Run and moved tons of earth for a lake in the stream valley below his house.
After the corps cited him with violating the federal Clean Water Act and activists criticized his actions, Troilo decided to relocate, the Civil War News reported.
Clark B. Hall, the Northern Neck historian at the forefront of the Brandy Station preservation movement, said it is ironic that the lake controversy prompted Troilo to sell to the trust, whose previous offer to buy his land he had rejected.
“The satisfaction one derives from this makes 25 years of preservation work worthwhile,” Hall said. “For us to own this part of Fleetwood Hill is precious in the extreme.”
From 1862 through 1864, more armies passed by, camped or fought upon it than any other spot in the Eastern or Western theaters of the war, he said.
“Fleetwood Hill is, without question, the most fought-over single piece of ground in the American Civil War,” Clark said in an interview. “And for Civil War cavalry actions, it is Mount Olympus, it is ground zero.”
Though Fleetwood Hill figured in many engagements, it is most famed for the 1863 battle that opened the Gettysburg campaign and proved that Union cavalry were nearly the equal of J.E.B. Stuart’s horsemen. A spur of Fleetwood Hill, not part of the Civil War Trust’s purchase, served as headquarters for Union Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade, the victor of Gettysburg, as he and Ulysses S. Grant planned their Overland Campaign in the winter of 1863–64.
“It’s a tremendous accomplishment, and I congratulate all of the parties involved for a successful outcome,” Joe McKinney, president of the Brandy Station Foundation, a local group, said of the Troilo tract’s purchase. “The Civil War Trust and the landowner deserve great credit for pursuing this and making it happen.”
The final sum needed to make the fundraising drive succeed came Thursday when Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell announced $2.25 million in state grants for battlefield preservation. They include $700,000 for acquisition of Fleetwood Hill. The Central Virginia Battlefields Trust, based in Fredericksburg, applied for that grant.
“This is the first time that CVBT has ventured into Culpeper County, and we are quite excited to assist in the preservation of ‘the missing link’ at Brandy Station,” Jerry Brent, the trust’s executive director, said Saturday afternoon.
Nor would the purchase have been possible without matching grants from Virginia and the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program, Campi said.
He credited CVBT, the Journey Through Hallowed Ground and the Brandy Station Foundation for their active involvement in the preservation effort.
“The next step is to fully restore Fleetwood Hill to its wartime appearance and open it up for public visitation,” Campi said. “We are looking forward to transforming the property into a living memorial for the soldiers who struggled there.”
WEB: Why Fleetwood Hill matters, by Clark B. Hall, atPast is Prologue: bit.ly/pip57
Clint Schemmer: 540/368-5029