Civil War News
For People With An Active Interest in the Civil War Today

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 Station.

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 commodity.

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 Piedmont.

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 "Fleetwood Front."

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 in 1863-1864.
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.

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