Saving Brandy Station
By Clark B. Hall
Clark B. Hall is a founder and board member of the Brandy Station
Foundation and the recognized authority on the Battle of Brandy
Almost 13 years ago, a small group of citizens came together
over coffee in a little home situated just south of the Rappahannock
River in eastern Culpeper County, Virginia. This modest but
diverse caucus of 10 regular folk included Culpeper landowners,
an octogenarian farm wife, a music teacher, a firefighter, a
cook, an FBI Agent, a utilities manager and a local publisher.
Now after all these years this same group (absent our revered
farmer's wife) continues to sustain the core of the Brandy Station
Foundation, an organization formed over a kitchen table "to
protect the rural historic character of Culpeper County, Virginia."
Of course none of us knew back in 1988 the turmoil looming ahead
for our little assemblage, but it is a brutal fact in 2001 that
the Foundation has experienced in these intervening years some
truly bad wars (and bad blood).
Indeed, the Brandy Station Foundation has waged hot battles
in countless public hearings and in court proceedings against
avaricious developers and misguided zoning officials who in
unholy alliance conspired to build successively a "Corporate
Office Park," warehouses, a golf course and a Formula 1
race track smack atop the Brandy Station Battlefield.
But now an eternity later (it seems so), the "angel of
peace" hovers at last over the upper Rappahannock watershed.
The once-contentious lawsuit papers have now faded yellow and
are filed alongside other court decrees forging the sweet and
swift justice of developer bankruptcies.
The horrific specter of screeching hotrods careening about pristine
fields where war horses once collided is no longer conceivable
or possible, and zoning officials who previously opposed our
every respectful request now tout the economic fruits of "heritage
tourism." (To wit, if your county boasts a battlefield,
visitors will come.) And persevering through it all, the Brandy
Station Foundation - bloodied in battle and briefly ripped by
internal strife, now happily resolved - still serves "to
protect the rural historic character of Culpeper County."
And how did it come to pass that this bantam group and its steadfast
supporters prevailed against a myriad of formidable moneyed
and political interests? To be sure, several reasons are identifiable
underpinning this achievement, but a true story might reveal
one such answer.
A land developer - their species is wonderfully tenacious at
ignoring historical facts - once asked this writer during a
heated public exchange, "What is it that you people want?
What are you after? What is your agenda?"
The quick repartee: "To beat you. To send you back to California,
and to save our battlefield."
One may have also informed this befuddled moneychanger that
the Foundation was not comprised of people who would ever yield
to an ilk that viewed American battlefields as a perishable
Our resolve at Brandy Station to prevail whatever the personal
cost is echoed in a declaration Churchill shot back to a naysayer
in the dark hours of early World War II: "We have not come
this far because we are made of sugar candy." And like
our own great Washington, we kept our army in the field. We
never gave up.
Although it is certainly true that the Brandy Station Foundation
served at ground zero during repeated frontal assaults fueled
by commercial greed, we were by no means alone in this fight.
If the truth be known - and we wish it to be proclaimed - our
supporters and benefactors kept us in the field with their letters,
money and legal support.
For example, it is a fact that the Brandy Station Foundation's
first income (to pay for our incorporation) originated from
the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites Inc.
- now the Civil War Preservation Trust. Indeed, this incomparable
organization, its distinguished Board and President Jim Lighthizer,
continues to stand behind the Foundation as we work together
to protect not only what has already been saved but to also
endeavor to procure additional threatened battlefield property
at Brandy Station.
Please indulge this update on a couple of rousing projects now
underway at Brandy.
The American Battlefield Protection Program of the National
Park Service has commissioned the creation of a professional
study detailing the interpretive framework by which the public
can visit Brandy Station and enjoy self-guided tours via walking
trails and historic roadways.
This wonderful plan has undergone historic review by the Civil
War Preservation Trust and will soon be implemented and paid
for by the Trust and its members. (The Trust has already bought
and fully paid for almost 1000 acres at Brandy Station.)
In the near future, roadside interpretive markers will be erected
and brochures will be available onsite, thereby allowing visitors
to experience for themselves this magnificent battlefield. But
putting aside momentarily this exciting interpretive initiative,
Civil War News readers should also be aware that another
potential acquisition at Brandy is now within the grasp of preservationists
- vital acreage packing such a historic appellation that any
Civil War student will quickly recognize it: Fleetwood Hill.
Fleetwood Hill not only was Gen. Jeb Stuart's Headquarters during
the Battle of Brandy Station - the largest cavalry fight of
the war - but Fleetwood is also the most fought upon, marched
upon and camped upon piece of ground in American history. Indeed,
throughout four years of war this "famous plateau"
(as Major Heros von Borcke termed it) fronting the Rappahannock
proved to be the most significant topographical feature in Virginia's
Highlighting Fleetwood's military significance, a Confederate
officer proclaimed, "There was no movement of troops across
the borders of Culpeper that artillery did not blaze from its
summit and charging squadrons did not contend for supremacy."
Jeb Stuart used the hill so often as a command post, in fact,
that he simply referred to the ridge in written orders as the
Also comprehending Fleetwood's prominence, Gen. George Meade,
Commander of the Army of the Potomac, established his headquarters
atop Fleetwood during the Army of the Potomac's winter encampment
Vital ground indeed, but has the crest or slopes of this historic
hilltop ever been available for sale to preservationists? In
the past, the lamentable answer has been no. But now, the happy
answer is a resounding yes!
About two years ago, the Brandy Station Foundation and its supporters
(including the esteemed Capital District Civil War Round Table
of Albany, N.Y.) acquired 14 acres located on Fleetwood's southern
approach. This acquisition proved threshold in that we became
instant neighbors to Fleetwood's owners thereby giving us a
foot in the door toward a larger purchase of more critical ground
on top of Fleetwood itself.
Now the entire Fleetwood Hill property comprising the crest
and slopes of Fleetwood is for sale (more than a hundred acres),
and it has been offered to the Civil War Preservation Trust
and to the Foundation. Both the Trust and the Foundation are
engaged in preliminary negotiations with two separate families
that retain ownership of Fleetwood Hill, and now this working
partnership needs your urgent assistance to help us secure Jeb
Stuart's "Fleetwood Front."
It goes without saying that acquisition of the "famous
plateau" will successfully culminate a preservation battle
at Brandy Station now spanning over more than a decade. And
once we secure Fleetwood Hill - and we will - all of you who
have supported one of this country's longest-running preservation
struggles can rest assured that you have done your part to forever
protect America's greatest Civil War cavalry battlefield.
Furthermore, you will retain the heartfelt gratitude of those
of us who continue "to protect the rural historic character
of Culpeper County, Virginia."
Please call with your offers of assistance to President Jim
Lighthizer at the Civil War Preservation Trust, (202) 367-1861;
or the Brandy Station Foundation and its Executive Director
Art Larson at (703) 403-1910.
The Foundation can also be reached by mail at P.O. Box 165,
Brandy Station, VA 22714 or via its website, www.brandystation.org.
Or you can all me at (703) 770-1816.
See you on Fleetwood.