Yesterday was the 152nd anniversary of the Battle of Morton’s Ford, fought on February 6, 1864. I had wanted to get something posted yesterday, but I was presenting at a symposium and then had a 7.5 hour drive today to get home. So, unfortunately, this is a day late. Let’s hope it’s not a dollar short. 🙂
“A Curious Affair:” The Battle of Morton’s Ford, February 6, 1864 Proceeding south on Batna Road (Rt. 663), one observes an isolated hillock to the west. Called “Stony Point” in the Civil War, this knoll was home during the winter encampment of the Army of the Potomac to 2,000 soldiers of the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Division of the 2nd Army Corps. In early February 1864, little did these peacefully reposed troops realize they would soon help initiate one of the strangest and least known of all military actions occurring in and about Culpeper County.
In order to support a planned cavalry-infantry raid on Richmond, Union strategists in Washington instructed the Army of the Potomac to initiate a diversionary attack against entrenched Confederates south of the Rapidan. Although stoutly opposed to the impending assault against the enemy’s “strongly entrenched line,” Federal commander Gen. John Sedgwick selected Morton’s Ford as the avenue of attack.
On the morning of February 6, 8,000 soldiers of the 3rd Division secretly amassed north of Stony Point. Once his ranks were formed, Gen. Alexander Hays ordered his division to move out quickly toward Morton’s Ford, located just over a mile south. As it turned out, this stealthy advance would be the only positive thing the Yankees accomplished for the remainder of a
long and bloody day.
Crossing in front of Powhatan Robinson’s house, Struan, the 3rd Division rushed toward Morton’s Ford. Near the head of the assaulting force rode General Hays, who “had added two or three extra fingers to his morning dram.” Actually, this was a polite way of revealing that General Hays was stone drunk. As his advancing soldiers leaped into the icy river, General Hays followed closely behind swinging an ax high over his head at tree branches while shouting, ‘We will cast then down as I do this brush!”
Ignoring Rebel musket fire, Hays’ men dived for cover to escape their “reckless and incoherent” commander’s wildly heaving blade. With inebriated leadership at the fore, the dubious operation kicked off. Over on the Southern side, one artillerist described a “rather sudden transition from peace to war.” Undaunted, the famed Richmond Howitzers opened up on the Yankees now pouring across the river. Riding up quickly, Gen. Richard Ewell asked in amazement, “What on earth is the matter here?” Convinced his corps was under attack, General Ewell focused the plunging fire of his big command on the soon outnumbered attackers. “We crossed the river to feel the enemy, “one bluecoat wrote, “and we got the feel badly.” Another Yank pointed out the obvious, “The enemy was not badly scared.” Under direct fire from Rebel works located a mile back of the ford, the courageous but poorly led Federals withered and their “attack” ground to a halt. One Federal officer theorized the “purpose of our attack was to draw a force of enemy to our front.” The Federals achieved that objective as the cool Southerners responded “in a deadly focus of fire.” Northerners fell dead by the dozens.
Late in the day, things only got worse for the besieged Federals as the Confederates initiated a bold counterattack. One Union officer—obviously a future politician—artfully described this Rebel thrust as the “enemy retreating toward us.” Disingenuous semantics aside, the Yankees withdrew after dark over the river, losing near 300 casualties in the process while Dick Ewell’s corps incurred about 55 casualties. R.E. Lee’s great biographer accurately termed the daylong battle a “curious affair.” And also stupid in the extreme, one might offer, as this pointless action accomplished nothing but death and misery.
Following the battle, General Sedgwick complained bitterly that Washington authorities should not have initiated orders resulting in the disastrous Battle of Morton’s Ford. But with General Sedgwick’s castigations of higher-ups noted, this debacle on the Rapidan would not represent the last time American warriors entered a battle with an ill-defined mission, while engaged in an action counseled against by generals in the field, and also fighting in a locale wherein they were not wanted to begin with.
Both photos are by Clark B. Hall.
The Battle of Morton’s Ford, although a small engagement in terms of numbers involved, was an important engagement that had strategic implications for the coming campaign seasons, and which was remembered by the soldiers who fought there. Let’s remember their sacrifices there. Hopefully, some or all of this pristine battlefield will be preserved some day.
The following editorial in support of the creation of the Culpeper County Civil War Battlefield State Park appears in today’s edition of the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star:
Editorial: A state park fitting for Culpeper Civil War sites
BY THE EDITORIAL PAGE STAFF OF THE FREE LANCE-STAR
Over the years, the green rolling Piedmont hills around Brandy Station in Culpeper County have engendered visions of hundreds of houses and condominiums, a multiplex theater, a water park, an equestrian center, a hotel and even a Formula One race track.
Each of the proposals generated high-profile struggles between the would-be developers and preservationists because these fields were the place where the largest cavalry engagement of the Civil War occurred.
Today, it appears the historic battles of Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain will be the key to the future of the rural tracts—if they become part of the Virginia State Park system.
Fighting at Brandy Station on June 9, 1863, is considered the beginning of the Gettysburg Campaign and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s last effort to take the fight north. The lesser-known battle of Cedar Mountain occurred about a year earlier. Here, Confederate Maj. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson repelled Union forces, which had marched into Culpeper County with plans to capture the rail junction at Gordonsville.
Though the state park discussions are preliminary, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation officials and some county officials are speaking favorably about plans to spotlight Culpeper’s two most significant battlefields.
It makes a lot of sense for this to happen. Much of this beautiful, bucolic place where Union and Confederate horsemen clashed around Brandy Station off U.S. 29 will never be developed. Some of the land has been purchased by preservation groups and other parts are protected by conservation easements.
The Brandy Station Foundation, a nonprofit group that owns 38 acres at Fleetwood Hill—the heart of the cavalry battlefield—supports the idea. So does the Civil War Trust, which owns more than 1,000 acres of the Brandy Station battleground and another 164 acres at Cedar Mountain off U.S. 15. Altogether, 4,822 acres of the two battlefields are protected from development, which offers visitors a way to step back in time.
Members of the Culpeper Board of Supervisors, who in the past have backed modern-day development plans at Brandy Station, now say the park plan is worth pursuing. They like the idea of the state boosting tourism and helping to support businesses such wineries, distilleries, hotels and restaurants that thrive on visitors to Culpeper.
It would be the first state park in Culpeper County, and would fill a geographical gap in Virginia’s top-notch system. There are no state parks between Sky Meadows in northern Fauquier County and Lake Anna in western Spotsylvania County. The state and the Civil War Trust have worked together to open up historic sites at locations such as Sailor’s Creek Battlefield Park and High Bridge Trail, both near Farmville.
At a time when the nation is reassessing how to view and understand the Civil War and its symbols, the stories of sacrifice of American lives cannot be forgotten. Opening historic sites to the public at Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain is the right thing to do.
Preservation-minded residents and historians have spent countless hours and much treasure to preserve the land there. The Civil War Sites Advisory Commission, established by Congress years ago to pinpoint America’s most important unprotected sites, classified both battlefields as “principal strategic operations of the war.”
Now it’s up to Gov. Terry McAuliffe, the Virginia General Assembly and Culpeper officials to see that all the efforts will bear fruit for all to hear the stories of Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain. It would be a fitting way to celebrate next year’s 80th anniversary of the Virginia State Park system.
Let’s hope that this happens. It should. The Commonwealth of Virginia is the best possible steward of these battlefields, and can oversee the expansion of them as time passes.Scridb filter
From today’s edition of the Culpeper Times regarding the state park initiative in Culpeper County that would include the Brandy Station, Kelly’s Ford, and Cedar Mountain battlefields:
Civil War Trust offering land for battlefield parks in Culpeper
By Wally Bunker
© Culpeper Times
Several weeks ago, Jim Campi, Civil War Trust (CWT) policy communications director called Clyde Cristman, director of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), with a proposal to turn CWT-owned battlefield property at the Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain into state parks.
“Yes, we would be interested,” Cristman said he told Campi. “Yes, it is consistent with our mission.”
However, Cristman told Campi that he needed to float the idea to some members the Virginia General Assembly, which determines appropriations and priorities within DCR.
Establishing new state parks hasn’t fared well recently in the General Assembly.
Del. Ed Scott (R-30th), who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, said what appears to be a simple idea is actually very complex.
“I have been working with my colleagues to increase funding for our existing state parks,” Scott said in an email. “Virginia currently has land that has been donated, but parks have not opened, because we don’t have the funding to establish roads, trails or even primitive facilities.”
Culpeper’s two major battlefields could add to that undeveloped inventory.
Cristman and Campi stressed that the discussion with Campi was “very preliminary.”
“All conversations have been very preliminary, since many details would need to be considered and addressed,” Campi said in an email.
However, Cristman said establishing a Civil War battlefield park in Culpeper County would fill a void of state parks in close proximity. Looking at the DCR website of existing state parks, Culpeper County sits in the middle of a large blank spot, with no nearby state parks.
“This would be unique in that it would be a new state park,” said Cristman about CWT’s overture for Culpeper state parks.
CWT purchased property before adjacent to existing preserved battlefields and donated the land to the federal government and the state.
“We haven’t discussed the mechanism for transferring the lands to the state,” Campi wrote. “Likely, it would be similar to the land transfers we have undertaken at Sailor’s Creek Battlefield and High Bridge Trail State Park.”
Some of those transfers were donated and some sold to the state, according to Campi, with sales proceeds plowed back into preservation efforts elsewhere in Virginia. About 73 percent of the Sailor’s Creek Battlefield was preserved by CWT.
If the General Assembly agreed to establish another Civil War-focused battlefield state park, it would be years away. The state would have to conduct federal and state mandated studies.
At the Brandy Station Battlefield, some of the core battlefield still remains privately owned, creating a patchwork of preserved land versus privately owned land. Several significant private tracts abut Fleetwood Hill, which was purchased and preserved by CWT. The Trust owns 1,901 of the Brandy Station Battlefield.
The Brandy Station Foundation owns 38 acres at the foot of Fleetwood Hill, along with the Graffiti House that served as a hospital during the Civil War. Troops from both sides scribbled names and drew pictures on the walls, which has been uncovered and preserved.
“Regardless of whether the state park idea has any legs, the Trust remains committed to preserving battlefield land at Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain,” Campi wrote.
Campi said CWT continues to “have quiet conversations with private landowners” about preserving additional properties
DCR Director Cristman said a number of issues must be considered before determining the funding needed, such as how and where it would operate.
If the General Assembly liked and funded the idea, it could take years for a Civil War park to open in Culpeper. Before a new park opens, DCR partners with local government and the community to determine how the park operates and services offered.
“Localities really benefit,” said Culpeper Tourism Director Paige Read, who volunteered to lead the local effort should DCR consider CWT’s offer. “There is nothing but positives here.”
Read believes the creation of a state park would be a boon to tourism in the county. Plus, she added, Virginia nationally markets its park system.
State parks experienced almost 9 million visitors last year, an increase of 1.4 percent from 2013, said Read.
“State parks are tremendous,” said Read, noting Virginia maintains 36 state parks.
She said that every dollar spent by the general fund generates $12 for the local economy.
Noted local Brandy Station Battlefield historian and a founding member of the Brandy Station Foundation Bud Hall is optimistic that the historic cavalry battlefield will become a state park.
“I hope it happens,” said Hall. “I think one day this is going to be a state park.”
Wally Bunker is a freelance contributor with the Culpeper Times. You may reach him at email@example.com
There’s an old cliche that says that those with weak stomachs should never watch either sausage or legislation being made, because neither is a very pretty sight. The process of creating this state battlefield park will neither be quick nor will it be pretty. But it needs to happen, and we need your support in order to help to ensure that it happens. If you support this initiative, please write to the newspaper editors to express your support, and please write to the Virginia assemblymen to express your support.
Thank you for supporting our efforts to preserve these battlefields.Scridb filter
On May 28, I posted here that the time had come for the creation of a Virginia state Civil War battlefield park in Culpeper County. The idea is catching on, and we need your help to make it happen.
This article by Clint Schemmer appeared in the June 12, 2015 edition of the Fredericksburg Free Lance Star newspaper:
Virginia considers creating state park at Brandy Station, Cedar Mountain battlefields
By Clint Schemmer
Friday, June 12, 2015 12:00 am
Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star
If the stars align, Culpeper County could be the home of a new state park.
State and local officials are tossing around the idea of creating a park to preserve and spotlight Culpeper’s two most significant Civil War battlefields—Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain.
Clyde Cristman, director of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, confirmed this week that there have been “very preliminary” discussions about the proposal.
To become a reality, a park “would have to have support from the local government, local General Assembly members and a majority of the assembly,” Cristman said in an interview.
His department already runs parks focused on Civil War sites at Sailor’s Creek, High Bridge and Staunton River.
“We have experience in operating and managing these kinds of parks,” Cristman said. “Should the General Assembly and the governor decide it’s appropriate, that is definitely within our mission.”
Joe McKinney, president of the Brandy Station Foundation, said he has heard that Gov. Terry McAuliffe is interested in the idea.
“The state park system has the resources to protect these battlefields here in Culpeper and draw more people interested in history to come see them,” McKinney said in an interview.
The foundation, a nonprofit group that owns 38 acres near Fleetwood Hill—heart of the 1863 cavalry battlefield—supports the idea, though McKinney noted that there will be many nuts-and-bolts details to sort out.
He said he thinks the foundation’s Graffiti House, an antebellum home in the village of Brandy Station, could serve as a visitor center for the park.
The foundation and another nonprofit, Friends of Cedar Mountain, maintain battlefield land as living memorials to the men who fought and died there.
The Civil War Sites Advisory Commission, established by Congress to pinpoint America’s most important Civil War sites, classified the Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain battlefields as representative of “the principal strategic operations of the war.”
Culpeper Supervisor Steve Walker, who operates Fountain Hall bed-and-breakfast, supports the park notion.
“I think it would be a very positive thing for Culpeper, definitely helping to develop more tourism opportunities,” Walker said. “My only concern is when the state got involved, whether it would restrict farmers or hunters.
“But from a personal perspective, I think it’s a great idea. It would draw more people to enjoy our multiple, different tourism sites in the county—wineries, distilleries, Civil War and Revolutionary War sites, and great restaurants.”
Culpeper Supervisor Bill Chase also favors the idea.
“At first blush, it sounds good for the state to hold the land and make it more of a tourist attraction than it is now,” Chase said. “I’d much rather have it under the state than the way it is now.”
But he added: “The devil is in the details, and I’d have to see them before I would wholeheartedly support it.”
The Civil War Trust, which preserves 1,901 acres of the Brandy Station battlefield and 164 acres at Cedar Mountain, likes the state-park thought.
“The trust believes that a Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain state park is an idea worth pursuing,” Jim Campi, the trust’s director of policy and communications, said in an interview. “It would be beneficial to have a state park in the region to memorialize the two battles as well as encourage tourism.”
Campi declined to comment on the national nonprofit group’s discussions with state officials, other than to describe them as preliminary and productive.
Glenn Stach, a preservation landscape architect in Warrenton, said the Virginia Outdoors Plan, a long-range planning document, identifies the region between Sky Meadows State Park in Fauquier County and the Rapidan and Rappahannock rivers as one without a state park.
“It’s been on the radar for quite some time as an opportunity, with an underserved population in the vicinity,” Stach said.
The McAuliffe administration is identifying places to create new parks for the 80th anniversary of the state park system next year, Stach said.
Diane Logan, president of the Friends of Cedar Mountain, said the Culpeper nonprofit strongly supports the concept of a state park and sees it as a economic development opportunity.
“Heritage tourism is clean development that does not require huge infrastructure costs to the local citizens,” Logan said. “Heritage tourists typically stay longer at a destination, spending more money at local businesses, including on meals and lodging.”
If the park happens, the Cedar Mountain battlefield would be promoted in state literature and its tourism efforts, she said.
Virginia historian Clark B. Hall, who has spent decades working to preserve Brandy Station from development threats, said the park would focus national attention on Culpeper.
“This country doesn’t have a park dedicated to cavalry, that hugely important offensive and defensive component of Civil War warfare,” Hall said. “This would be the place.”
Fought on June 9, 1863, the Battle of Brandy Station opened Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Gettysburg Campaign and proved the mettle of Union cavalry.
“There’s no other spot like it,” Hall said. “This is supremely beautiful battlefield land and to see it become a state park, that would be the cat’s meow.”
Paul Hawke, chief of the National Park Service’s American Battlefields Protection Program, was also enthusiastic.
“This is an excellent opportunity to save, and open to the public, two important Civil War battlefields that have long been overlooked,” he said.
The park idea has been talked of by some local residents for a long time, since at least 2000.
But a keystone fell into place in 2013 when the Civil War Trust bought the southern crest of Fleetwood Hill, site of Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart’s headquarters before the battle, and several other properties associated with the famous ridge, Campi said.
“We needed to have Fleetwood Hill because it was the epicenter of the battle, the jewel of Brandy Station,” he said.
We need your help to make this happen! If you support this initiative, please write letters of support to the editor of the Free Lance Star and to legislators in Virginia. Now is the time.
To horse!Scridb filter
A nifty gift just arrived in the mail from my friends at the Civil War Trust. It’s a brick. And I’m thrilled to have it.
You might ask, why? What’s so exciting about a brick?
This brick comes from Tony Troilo’s McMansion that blighted Fleetwood Hill for far too long. When the house was demolished, I asked that the Trust save me a single brick from the house as a souvenir of the fight to save Fleetwood Hill, and this is that brick. I have the perfect place for it in my home office, and every time that I look at it, I will smile, because of what it means. Its presence in my home office means that the McMansion no longer blights Fleetwood Hill, and that the view from Fleetwood Hill is once more unfettered.
So, you see, this is not just some ordinary brick. It’s a very special brick, bought and paid for by the blood of the soldiers who fought, bled, and died on Fleetwood Hill, and by the folks who donated the money to make the acquisition and demolition of the McMansion on Fleetwood Hill possible. And because it’s a very special brick, it will forever occupy a special place in my heart and in my home office.Scridb filter
With many thanks to Clark B. “Bud” Hall, who not only provided me with these two images, Bud was also the one who identified the historic image as being of Fleetwood Hill when it had been mislabeled for years as being a camp in other locales.
The view is north, and this is the attack perspective of the 1st Maryland Cavalry as Wyndham’s Brigade attacked Fleetwood on June 9.
The house was “Fleetwood,” built in the 1700’s by John Strode, and was in 1863 the tenant home of farmer Henry Miller. The fruit orchard visible in the ’63 image was destroyed (for firewood) during the winter encampment of the Army of the Potomac, 63-64. During that winter, the Miller home would be the headquarters of Maj. Gen. William French, 3rd Corps.
The road in the center of the ’63 image is easily discernible today as it leads to Brandy Station Station, a half mile away, and behind the photographer.
The modern image was taken on June 1, and is exactly the same view and perspective. The small structure that looks like a gazebo is the historic well on the crest of Fleetwood Hill, which is enclosed to prevent folks from falling in.
It bears repeating that the view of Fleetwood Hill, unfettered by the McMansion on the hill, is a thing of beauty to be treasured.
To see larger versions of either of these two images, please click on them.Scridb filter
Here is how Fleetwood Hill looks today, June 1, 2015. This view is taken from the Flat Run Valley, to the south of where Lake Troilo once sat. Thank you to all of you who made this view possible–and especially to Bud Hall, the Civil War Trust, and those of you who made large donations to make it possible, and thank you to Tony Troilo for deciding to violate federal law. No thanks are appropriate for, nor should they be given to, Useless Joe McKinney and the Board of Appeasers, who idly sat by and let it happen in the hope of not offending Useless Joe’s pal, Mr. Troilo.
Fleetwood Hill–the single most fought-over piece of ground in North America–is once more unfettered.
For a full-sized view, click on the image. Thanks to Clark B. “Bud” Hall for sending it along.Scridb filter
My friend Craig Swain has a very thought-provoking post on his blog indicating that the time has come for the founding of a state battlefield park in Culpeper County, Virginia. I commend it to you.
One would be hard-pressed to find a place with more significant Civil War sites than Culpeper County, Virginia: Cedar Mountain, Kelly’s Ford, Freeman’s Ford, Rappahannock Station, Stevensburg, the winter encampment of the Army of the Potomac, the Battle of Culpeper, and, of course, the crown jewel: the four battles fought at Brandy Station. There are advocacy groups for some of these battle sites such as the Friends of Cedar Mountain, who do a great job at their battlefield. Then there’s Useless Joe and the Board of Appeasers of the Brandy Station Foundation who pretend to care about preservation but really couldn’t care less. The Civil War Trust has very extensive land holdings in Culpeper County. Other parcels are owned by other groups.
It’s time for these parcels to be merged into a state park so that the Commonwealth of Virginia can become the steward of this land and can advance its interpretation. The Commonwealth already has a number of very well done state battlefield parks, such as the one at the Staunton River Bridge, or the terrific battlefield park at Sailor’s Creek State Battlefield Park. With its gorgeous views and beautiful rolling plains, a Culpeper County State Civil War Park encompassing the many sites in the county could truly become the Commonwealth of Virginia’s crown jewel when it comes to the state’s Civil War heritage.
Those of you who are Virginia residents: this is an idea whose time has clearly come. Please do what you can to encourage your state legislators to support this outstanding idea.Scridb filter
Some clown named Donnie Johnston (who can take someone named Donnie seriously anyway? It raises memories of Donny Osmond….) writes a regular column for the Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star newspaper. He was born and raised in Culpeper County, Virginia, where numerous major engagements occurred, and where the Army of the Potomac spent the winter of 1863-1864. This unenlightened troglodyte also is a fierce opponent of battlefield preservation. He has a long track record of it.
On December 29, 2001, he declared his enmity to battlefield preservation in his column:
Avoid getting bogged down in swamp or historic land
Posted: Saturday, December 29, 2001 2:30 am | Updated: 8:47 pm, Fri Jan 30, 2015.
“Possible Civil War battlefield site,” it said.
I suppose the owner figured that this was a valid selling point, but knowing that a Civil War battle might have been fought on that property would surely have dissuaded me from investigating further.
In this day and time, there are two types of acreage the average working man should avoid like the plague–historic land and swamp land. Either can wind up costing you money and causing you grief.
Now your old pappy may have warned you to stay away from deals that involve swamp land, but I doubt that men of his generation would have put historic land in the same category.
My, how things have changed.
We live in an area so Civil War conscious that sometimes it is hard to make people believe that we actually have history that predates that conflict.
Many act as if some mysterious land bridge magically appeared in 1861 and civilization began when men wearing blue uniforms walked down from the North to confront men in gray uniforms walking up from the South.
What happened after that is considered so sacred that one historic preservation group has declared that nothing so seemingly innocent as a game of softball should be played on the hallowed Civil War battlefield ground it owns.
That’s fine for big preservation groups, but, increasingly, government wants to restrict how small landowners use their historic property, too. And a man who has his life savings invested in a few acres of ground that are declared historically significant can suddenly find himself behind the eight ball.
Now I have nothing against preserving our history, but every site on which a Civil War soldier slept cannot be kept inviolate forever.
Given the thousands of soldiers that marched through Central Virginia, there is hardly a square foot of ground between Richmond and Washington that didn’t figure in the Civil War in some way.
And every acre between the Blue Ridge Mountains and Fredericksburg was most certainly used by either one army or the other between 1861 and 1865.
It can’t all be declared hallowed ground–not if we want our children and grandchildren to build homes and continue to live in this area.
But as open land dwindles, no one can be certain which parcels will be preserved and which will not.
And if you happen to own land on which a Civil War battle was fought, you just might get caught in a costly squeeze someday and your property rights severely restricted.
Increasingly, historic land is more of a liability than an asset–especially for persons who are not wealthy.
The same holds true for swamp land, which has become an even greater liability than historic land.
No one seems to know what you CAN do with swamp land, but there are two things that you almost universally CAN’T do with it.
You can’t use it and you can’t clean it up.
And if you can’t do either of those two things, a swamp is about as useless as a pregnant chad on a Florida ballot.
So why own it? Why pay taxes on land that is absolutely no good to you?
If you are buying land that has a swamp on it, ask the seller to deduct that acreage from the parcel.
And if you own swamp land, consider deeding it to the government so you won’t be taxed on that part of your property.
Even if the government owns your swamp, you can still enjoy the beavers that flood it and the ducks that swim in it. But you won’t be responsible for that land and you won’t have to pay taxes on it.
Let the government figure out what to do with it!
A donation of “valuable wetlands” to the government should even earn you a big tax break.
If you’re rich, you might not worry about owning a few acres of unusable swamp or a battlefield site whose use might be severely restricted one day.
But if you’re just an old working Joe, you might want to look the other way when someone tries to sell you land that is either swampy or historic in nature.
And if someone tries to interest you in a marsh where a Civil War battle was fought, run for your life!
The government probably wouldn’t even let you look at property that sacred–let alone use it!
DONNIE JOHNSTON is a staff writer with The Free Lance-Star. He can be contacted by mail at The Free Lance-Star, 616 Amelia St., Fredericksburg, Va. 22401; by fax at 373-8455; or by e-mail marked to his attention at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note that he updated his angry rant on January 30 of this year, more than 13 years later.
Then, on February 21, 2015, he fired this unenlightened cheap shot.
Nothing ‘hallowed’ about war
Posted: Saturday, February 21, 2015 12:00 am
BY DONNIE JOHNSTON/THE FREE LANCE-STAR | 6 comments
Posted on Feb 21, 2015by Donnie Johnston
I am so sick of hearing people cry about “hallowed ground” I could scream.
Everywhere a Union or Confederate soldier set his chamber pot is now declared “hallowed ground.”
You can’t build a store because there may be a Minié ball somewhere in the ground. Housing developments get axed because some farmer once plowed up a rusty bayonet in that field. You can’t construct a road because some soldier once fired a cannon from that spot.
This is all getting absurd.
Yes, the Civil War figures prominently in our country’s history, but the surrender at Appomattox was 150 years ago. Get over it and let’s get on with life.
Why people are so adamant about glorifying war—any war—is beyond me. Ask anybody who ever fought in one and they will tell you that war is indeed hell.
People kill other people in wars. They blow their heads off—literally. They disembowel fathers and sons and brothers with cannons and mortars.
Soldiers lose their arms, their legs, their feet and their hands in wars. You want to glorify that?
I’m not a fan of war and I certainly don’t celebrate killing. As Jimmy Stewart once said, the only people who win wars are the undertakers.
We talk of the soldiers who fought the Civil War as if they were holy vessels sent down by the Almighty to purify the Earth. These were people like you and me—some good, some bad.
Few fought because there was some holy cause involved. Most of the Confederates fought mostly because they resented being invaded by the Yankees. Most of the Federals fought because they wanted to teach Johnny Reb a lesson.
The Civil War began because big landowners in the South wanted to keep black people enslaved. You can sugarcoat it all you want, but slavery was what that conflict was all about. You want to glorify slavery?
Those big landowners—the aristocracy—were the political leaders of the South and they developed political policy. The average guy who had never owned a slave just got caught up in the excitement and the politics of the day.
Yes, the slaves were freed as a result of the Civil War. But then America proceeded to treat black people like dirt for another 100 years. It was only after the Civil War centennial that black children were even allowed to sit next to white children in many public schools.
Civil War soldiers killed, looted, stole and burned homes and outbuildings. If you see glory in that, you’ve got better vision than I.
Six miles from where I live, a wounded Union soldier was executed in the bed where he was convalescing—shot in the head at point-blank range—as a means of revenge. You want to glorify that?
My great-grandfather went off to war on a lark, leaving his wife and children to almost starve to death. He came home and wasted away with dysentery. That was some glorious death.
Now we want to save every inch of ground trod upon by every Federal and Confederate. Why? Well, partly so that re-enactors can line up, fire blank shells and show us what the war was like.
If these people want to show us what the war was like, let them fire real bullets and cannon and then accept only the type of medical help that was available during the Civil War.
Let us watch a few limbs being amputated with hacksaws and without anesthesia or antibiotics. Let’s see how romantic that is.
Enough is enough. We don’t glorify World War I or World War II or even the Revolutionary War, where we won our independence. It is only the Civil War that seems to excite us.
Yes, we should honor our history, but we can’t save every inch of soil that was part of the Civil War. If we did, most of Virginia would be an empty field.
As for this “hallowed ground” business, no war is a holy war. War is an atrocity, no matter which side is in the right.
We can respect the men who fought in the Civil War without stripping landowners of their rights 150 years after the fact. The re-enactors can still play soldier and have a high old time, but let the people have homes and let the roads pass.
Like we do with most everything else, Americans take history and run it into the [hallowed] ground.
The Civil War is over. Let’s move on. The good earth was put here for us to use, not to glorify because one man killed another man at some particular spot.
Donnie Johnston: email@example.com
This ignoramus clearly doesn’t get it. Which is a tragedy.
Mike Stevens, president of the Central Virginia Battlefield Trust, which does a magnificent job of stewarding battlefield land in and around Fredericksburg, wrote this excellent letter to the editor of the Free-Lance Star that rebuts the ignoramus:
To the Editor:
Donnie Johnston’s recent column, “War shouldn’t be hallowed,” made clear his antipathy toward, and opposition to, preserving our remaining Civil War battlefields. He was direct, forthright, and pulled no punches.
I am President of our local preservation group, Central Virginia Battlefields Trust (CVBT), and would like to respond. (For a more complete picture of why we preservationists do what we do, please check the paper’s archives for my past op-ed articles.)
–We of CVBT don’t wish to preserve the ground of a Civil War battlefield in order to glorify war or to enable reenactors to “play soldier and have a high old time.” Rather, we do so in order to commemorate this most important and defining event in the history of our country, to preserve the memory and meaning of what took place on that ground, and to remember and honor the men in both blue and gray who fought and fell there, to ponder what they did and why they did it. There are lessons to be learned by having such special ground to walk upon.
–We of CVBT do not attempt to save every inch of battlefield ground where “there may be a Minie ball somewhere in the ground” or where “some farmer once plowed up a rusty bayonet in that field.” Rather, we consider the ground sanctified by the blood and bravery of thousands of Americans (ground almost certainly still containing the remains of many of those men) to be consecrated and special, to be as worthy of respect and preservation as is the consecrated and special ground of any existing cemetery.
–We of CVBT are not “stripping landowners of their rights.” We understand that a man’s property is his own, and we support this as a fundamental right of citizenship, as long as the corresponding responsibility to respect the historical stewardship of that property is taken into serious account.
–Finally, some of us might wonder about his comment that “the good earth was put here for us to use, not to glorify because one man killed another man at some particular spot.” It might be more respectful and honest to say that we are called upon to be good stewards of God’s created order, to use what we have been given not exclusively for personal profit and gain but with the acknowledgment that there are places touched by such suffering and sacrifice that they become special and Spirit-filled, worthy of being preserved forever. To us of CVBT, a Civil War battlefield is just such a place.
Clark B. Hall, who has done more to preserve battlefield land in and around Johnston’s home, Culpeper County, writes:
There are many who are both shocked and surprised at Mr. Donnie Johnston’s provocative column asserting battlefield preservation is “absurd,” but as one who has labored three decades to help save Civil War battlefields in Culpeper County—from where Mr. Johnston hails—I am neither shocked nor surprised as his cynical insensitivity toward preservation is well known in Culpeper.
Back in the mid-80’s, a California developer arrived in Culpeper and deigned to build a commercial office park on the Brandy Station Battlefield. A group of local citizens—not including Mr. Johnston—directly aided by the Fredericksburg-based, Association of the Preservation of Civil War Sites, Inc. (today’s Civil War Trust)—opposed that proposal and the developer declared bankruptcy. Another developer successively purposed to build an automobile racetrack on the battlefield, but he was also beaten back by preservation advocates.
And today—directly supported by enlightened Culpeper citizens—the Civil War Trust owns, and has placed in easement, thousands of acres of historic landscape in Culpeper County. This protected, “Hallowed Ground”—a poignant term scorned by the censorious Mr. Johnston—incorporates portions of the Brandy Station, Cedar Mountain and Kelly’s Ford Battlefields.
It is a fact none of these Culpeper County battlefields would have been saved absent the direct support of Culpeper citizens. It is also a fact Culpeper County officials have inserted battlefield preservation in their “Comprehensive Plan” as a vital element the county must consider when rendering planning decisions.
And, by the way, Culpeper County now experiences a heavy visitor experience on its battlefields and Culpeper’s hotels, restaurants and stores can easily confirm “heritage tourism” directly conveys cultural and economic benefits. We can confirm, however, Mr. Johnston does not today join Culpeper student groups out on the battlefields while these young charges learn valuable lessons about the tragedy of war, along with the attendant components of courage, ultimate sacrifice, and the importance of tending our collective historical memory.
And please know battlefields now saved in Culpeper County are today protected despite the acerbic obstinacy of Mr. Donnie Johnston.
Clark B. Hall
My wise old father used to say, “opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one.” Mr. Johnston apparently has two, both of which are dead wrong.Scridb filter
An article on the Graffiti House appeared in Saturday, January 24’s edition of the Culpeper Star Exponent.
The article discusses the fact that more soldier graffiti has been found at the Graffiti House. If you read the article, you will note that our old pal, Useless Joe McKinney, the president of the Friends of the Graffiti House–this should be the name of the organization, not the Brandy Station Foundation–never once mentions preserving the battlefield at Brandy Station. His sole focus is on the Graffiti House.
Please don’t get me wrong: the Graffiti House is an important artifact, and so is the writing on the walls. But this organization’s charter says that its purpose is: “The Foundation is organized exclusively for charitable and educational purposes, with the primary purpose of protecting the historic rural character of the Brandy Station area of Culpeper County, Virginia, as set forth in the Articles of Incorporation dated March 6, 1989.” That’s all well and good, but the reason why the BSF was founded was to serve as the steward of the Brandy Station battlefield. The Brandy Station Foundation was once a proud battlefield preservation organization that played an integral role in saving the battlefield. However, under Useless Joe’s tenure as president, the BSF went from being the primary battlefield preservation organization in the area to appeasing those who want to destroy the battlefield.
It is a fact that the BSF stepped aside and allowed a local landowner to begin to develop critical battlefield into an illegal pond. When the bulldozers began moving earth to dam up Flat Run, the BSF stood by and did nothing. Instead, it took concerted action by former board members–who are now not even permitted to join the organization as members–to take it upon themselves to save Fleetwood Hill. It is a fact that the BSF issued this loathsome statement when that happened:
The strategic goals of the Brandy Station Foundation include “Preserv[ing] and protect[ing] the Brandy Station and Kelly’s Ford Battlefields and related sites of historical significance for the appreciation and education of future generations.”
The Foundation does not support commercial or residential development on historic battlefield property, and in the past has opposed developers before governmental agencies and in the courts. This last occurred in 2005 when Golden Oaks, a development company, purchased eighteen acres on the western approach to Fleetwood Hill with the intent of subdividing the land and building a dozen dwellings. In that endeavor the Foundation was successful and the Golden Oaks tract is now protected.
However, in pursuing our goals, we are mindful that landowners have certain rights with regard to the property that they own. As a result, we believe that it is generally not productive to officially oppose common property improvements, particularly when those improvements are reversible. Also, we do not oppose landowners who conduct agricultural activities on battlefield property. We freely acknowledge that such improvements and agricultural actions may be contrary to the personal views of some of our members and supporters.
Frequently landowners are required to obtain permits before making improvements or undertaking certain agricultural activities. We view the permit process primarily as an issue between the landowner and the governmental agency exercising legal or regulatory authority over the matter. However, the Board of Directors is prepared to consider each matter individually, and to provide the Brandy Station Foundation’s official position to the appropriate governmental agency if warranted.
We of the Brandy Station Foundation believe that all people, even those whose opinions or actions we may disagree with, should be treated with courtesy and respect.
In other words, it’s more important to make nice-nice with those who choose to destroy the battlefield–so long as the damage done is “reversible”–than it is to protect the battlefield that the organization admittedly was charged with stewarding. And since that time, its primary focus has been on the Graffiti House, on ghost hunting, and on relic hunting on the battlefield and not on preserving the battlefield proper. Why not just change the name of your organization to what it should be: Friends of the Graffiti House, stop pretending to be a battlefield stewardship organization, and leave preservation of the battlefield to those who actually care about it?
The Don Troiani painting, “The Gray Comanches”, depicted above (to see a larger version, click on the image), represents the pivotal charge of the 35th Battalion Virginia Cavalry against the 6th New York Light Independent Battery that took place in Flat Run Valley, a battle venue that would have been destroyed by the planned recreational lake. In the background is Mount Pony, to the south, and the church steeple identifies the hamlet of Brandy Station. In other words, if the former board members had not stepped in–when BSF did not–this battleground would have been destroyed.
Is saving graffiti more important than saving real battlefield?
It is also a fact that the thwarting of the development of the illegal pond directly led to the purchase of the crest of Fleetwood Hill by the Civil War Preservation Trust last year. The BSF played no role in those events, other than by committing some of the very worst abrogation of its duty of stewardship imaginable. Instead, it felt that appeasing a wealthy landowner was more important than preserving the battlefield. For shame–the organization has gone from being the model battlefield preservation organization to the Friends of the Graffiti House with no interest at all in the battlefield it is supposed to protect.
How this corrupt organization still has any credibility at all is a complete mystery.
We’re still watching you, Useless Joe and the Board of Appeasers. We haven’t gone away.Scridb filter