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Prince William County Dedicates Bristoe Station Heritage Park

By John F. De Pue

- (December 2007) PRINCE WILLIAM County, Va. - Prince William County officials, preservationists, historians and reenactors gathered on Oct. 12 to celebrate the grand opening of the Bristoe Station Battlefield Heritage Park and commemorate the 144th anniversary of the battle.

The ceremony marked the conclusion of an effort, spanning a decade and a half, to preserve the site of the Oct. 14, 1863, battle which effectively terminated Robert E. Lee's effort to flank the Union Army of the Potomac out of its position north of the Rapidan River, force its withdrawal, and provoke it to attack the Army of Northern Virginia.

The portion of the battlefield now managed by the Prince William County Department of Public works is located along County Route 619 between Route 28 and the Southern Railway track line. The property was the site of Col. John R. Cook's North Carolina Brigade assault on elements of G.K. Warren's Second Corps concealed in the railroad cut. It resulted in the repulse of Cook's command and the subsequent seizure of five pieces of Confederate artillery belonging to McIntosh's Artillery Battalion.

In addition to the Bristoe Battlefield, the county tract includes portions of the Aug. 27, 1862, Kettle Run battlefield - part of the Second Manassas Campaign - as well as Mississippi and Alabama regimental cemeteries dating to the Confederate occupation of the area during the late summer and fall of 1861.

Acquisition of the Bristoe Battlefield property - once the proposed site of a county landfill - was the result of a cooperative effort involving an enlightened developer, elected officials of Prince William County, its planning staff and the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT).

In 2002, Centex Corp. based in Dallas, Texas, contracted to purchase a 341-acre tract embracing much of the battlefield for residential development. After learning of the property's historical significance and the presence of the Confederate graveyards, Centex reached an agreement with Prince William County - brokered by CWPT - under which it would deed 127 acres, embracing the core battlefield and the cemeteries, to CWPT.

In exchange, the county supervisors would support Centex's application for a rezoning of its remaining property that would permit construction of high-density housing. After that transaction was consummated, CWPT's efforts resulted in the purchase of an additional five acres of key battlefield terrain, all of which CWPT then conveyed to Prince William County.

Prior to beginning site development, Centex authorized the Sons of the Confederate Veterans, under the leadership of Robert "Red" Barber, then president of the Fincastle Rifles Camp, to search its remaining property for Confederate graves resulting from field burials following the 1862 and 1863 battles.

Efforts by professional and amateur archeologists, relic hunters, members of the Bull Run Civil War Round Table, a dowser, helicopter-borne thermal imaging, ground-penetrating radar and a heavy equipment operator, however, failed to confirm the presence of such graves.

Nonetheless, the profusion of artillery shell fragments and small arms projectiles, which the effort unearthed, attest to the intensity of the fighting that had occurred on the property.

The county has improved its portion of the battlefield by the construction of a paved parking lot, two-and-a-half miles of walking trails, and the removal of several postwar farm buildings.

County authorities plan to install interpretive markers along the trails and transform a circa 1950 bungalow on the property into a visitor's center. They also hope eventually to acquire the sites of several Federal artillery batteries that played key roles in the October 1863 action.

Grand opening festivities began on Friday afternoon, Oct. 12, with remarks by County Supervisor Chairman Corey Stewart, Brentsville District Supervisor Wally Covington, County Executive Craig Gerhart, Centex Director of Community Development Dave Rettew and CWPT President Jim Lighthizer.

Lighthizer and the county officials were effusive in praising Centex for its enlightened stewardship and expressed hope that its efforts would serve as an example of civic responsibility for other developers.

Events during the weekend included discussions of the battles and walking tours conducted by members of the Bull Run Civil War Roundtable, historian Mike Miller, battlefield interpreter Dan Purkey, and Jim Burgess, a Manassas Battlefield Park Ranger and member of the Prince William County Historical Commission.

Red Barber, whose early efforts to preserve the Confederate cemeteries was the catalyst for saving the entire battlefield property, discussed his experiences and led a tour of the cemetery grounds.

Throughout the weekend, reenactment units demonstrated musketry, small unit tactics and the treatment of battlefield casualties. Participants included: the Princess Ann Guards, Mike Hendricks commanding; the Potomac Legion, James Owens commanding; a Union Field Hospital supervised by Chuck Rhoulle and Robert Urban; as well as other Federal forces from Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey and Confederate forces from North Carolina and New York.

Although, the Bristoe Station Heritage Park is not presently staffed, it is open and accessible to visitors daily. To reach the park from the vicinity of Manassas, take Route 28 south, turn left at the light onto Route 619 and travel approximately a half mile. The park entrance is on the right.

Alternatively, travel south from Washington, D.C., on US Route 95. Turn right at exit 152 onto Route 234 going toward Manassas. Proceed approximately nine miles to the village of Independent Hill. There, proceed west on Route 619 to the hamlet of Bristow and cross the Southern Railway tracks. The park entrance is on the left, approximately one mile beyond the tracks.

John F. De Pue is Vice President of the Bull Run Civil War Round Table

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