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Battlefield preservation

After posting his discussion of the battle of Darbytown and New Market Road, I asked Chuck Bowery to prepare a second article for me, this time on his preservation vision for this battlefield. Below is that write-up.

Darbytown Road Proposal

The main goal is to preserve the remaining tracts of the Darbytown Road Battlefield before the land is developed and lost forever. 80+ acres are currently for sale and will likely be sold before the end of the year, if not within the next few months. Immediate action needs to take place. My end goal is to see the land absorbed into the Richmond National Battlefield Park System.

Current Status of the Battlefield – For Sale

The battlefield remains largely rural with scattered houses fronting the main roads. The area where the battle began, 18.5 acres, is in the greatest danger of destruction. This land sits on the corner of Charles City and Monahan Roads bordering the newly constructed Airport Connector. This parcel is in an area attractive to developers as it sits within sight of Richmond International Airport. This particular parcel saw action during all three battles of Darbytown Road and is the only currently available parcel for which that can be said. Losing this piece of land would be a huge blow to preserving the battlefield. Unfortunately, it is likely to be the most expensive parcel due to its location.

Two additional parcels (one at 30 acres and the other at 25 acres) are further east along Charles City Road. These two parcels saw action during the October 7th battle as the 7th South Carolina Cavalry pushed the 5th Pennsylvania Cavalry east toward White’s Tavern and then south toward Darbytown Road. The best way to envision how the land is parceled along Charles City Road is to think of the battlefield as a pie with Darbytown Road in the center. Each individual house is seated along the crust. Visually remove one slice of the pie and you can see what happens to the battlefield when each large parcel is sold. The parcels along Charles City Road need to be purchased because they travel deep into the battlefield close to Darbytown Road. For example, the 30-acre parcel stretches all the way to my Grandfather’s farm. The 25-acre parcel is very close to White’s Tavern and almost stretches to the farm. The land would have seen action on October 7, 1864 and during the cavalry battle on Charles City Road known as the Battle of White’s Tavern. That battle, which took place on August 16th, 1864, was part of the larger Battle of Second Deep Bottom. The cavalry engagement is considered to be one of the most severe of the war.

Current Status of the Battlefield – Sold/In Danger

One 9-acre portion of the battlefield was recently sold to a real estate company for less than 50% of its asking price. This has been a bitter pill to swallow as the land is visible from Lt. Robert M. Hall’s position on October 7, 1864 and there is a 1880s farm house on the site. While the house is not historic to the battle, it is architecturally accurate for the area during the battle.

Huckleberry Knob Farm, my grandfather’s farm, is now split in two by the Pocahontas Parkway. While the parkway is not an ideal addition to the battlefield, it does not prevent walking from one end of the battlefield to the other. Trees planted along the road’s earthen embankment are maturing nicely and almost completely block the road from sight from spring into early autumn.

The northern half of the farm is a mix of farmland and forest. The family who purchased the farm from my grandfather still owns the property today and rents the land each year to a local farmer. The slave burial ground for the Duke Family is on this parcel of land. This is also the land where Confederates attempted to reach the position of Battery B, 1st United States Artillery and the 4th Wisconsin. Pocahontas Parkway was built on top of the hill the Confederates had to climb. While the northern slope exists as the northern side of the parkway, a southern slope was created to raise the road into the air to carry it across the farm. Only the western side of the hill remains in its original state. Alabamians and Georgians, having wiped the 3rd New York Cavalry off the field, would have approached the 4th Wisconsin from the western side of the hill.

Unfortunately, this section of the battlefield is slated to be the future site of a gravel mine. This is one of the most historic pieces of the battlefield. I have spoken with the lawyer for the company that owns the land and he has not ruled out preservation. However, it will require an organization with clout to convince the company as to why the land should be preserved. It is very possible that this needs to occur before the end of the summer as they rent the land out to a local farmer on a yearly basis.

The situation on the northern side of Darbytown Road is very similar to the situation on the southern side of Charles City Road. However, the preservation need is not as urgent here. The houses front Darbytown Road with significant land parcels behind them jutting into the battlefield. The most pristine section of land is a 16-acre parcel and a 3-acre parcel where Four Mile Creek crosses Darbytown Road. None of the land here is currently for sale, but that will change within the next ten years.

The Afternoon Battle

After the Confederates pushed Kautz’s Division off Darbytown Road. Lee moved his men southward across Darbytown Road to Terry’s Division on New Market Road. What had begun as a Confederate victory ended in defeat as Terry was able to call upon reinforcements and push Lee back to Darbytown Road and then across the Outer Defensive Line. Kautz’s Division regained its position on Darbytown Road. Lee never led another offensive north of the James River.

A large chunk of the Battlefield, including Dr. Johnson’s Farm (Kautz’s Headquarters) has been preserved as part of Dorey Park. However, there is no interpretation on the site except for one Civil War Trails marker along Darbytown Road. The park is geared towards recreation, so baseball and soccer fields dot the entrance to the park. Peripheral portions of the Battlefield have been lost to massive housing developments. The one major parcel which will need to be saved in the future is the site of Confederate General John Gregg’s mortal wounding. That site remains farmland.

Future Preservation

Eastern Henrico County is paradise for any student of the Civil War. From west to east the three Darbytown Road Battles, the Battle of Second Deep Bottom, and the New Market Heights Battlefield border one another. From north to south the Battlefields of White Oak Swamp, Glendale, Malvern Hill, and First Deep Bottom border each other with Second Deep Bottom and New Market Heights bordering those Battlefields to the west. When combined with the Darbytown Road Battlefields and the Battlefield of Chaffin’s Farm, all 10 form one massive continuous Battlefield, roughly 15+ miles in length east to west.

Glendale and Malvern Hill are largely saved. A sizeable portion of First Deep Bottom has been saved by the Civil War Trust, and additional parcels could be saved in the future. Given its natural state, White Oak Swamp is not in danger of development though the northern half of the battlefield closest to Glendale has seen light development. The Richmond Battlefield Association has saved roughly 50 acres of the Second Deep Bottom Battlefield. If you are familiar with the battle, this is land associated with the fighting around Fussell’s Mill. New Market Heights has been identified by the Civil War Trust as one of the most endangered battlefields in the country.

The only part of the story lacking support is the chapters on the Darbytown Road Battlefields. Preserving the land I have brought to your attention makes sense because the October 1864 battles are, essentially, the end of the story of the Civil War in Eastern Henrico County. There were no other large-scale land battles in the immediate Richmond area following the October 27th Battle of Fair Oaks and Darbytown Road. That battle was a lop-sided disaster for the Federals resulting in over 1,600 casualties to the Confederates 100. When you tell a story, do you only tell the beginning and middle?

As I have stated, there is precious little time to save the land associated with the October 7, 1864 Battle of Darbytown and New Market Roads, the October 13, 1864 Battle of Darbytown Road, and the October 27, 1864 Battle of Fair Oaks and Darbytown Road, also known as Second Fair Oaks. The land currently for sale will not be on the market long.

I hope that all of you will consider doing whatever you can to assist with the preservation of this small but nearly unknown battlefield.

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Below is an article that was written by Charles Bowery, who grew up on the battlefield described in his article. This action, which was a part of the jockeying around Petersburg during the fall of 1864, is an often overlooked and little-known engagement. Frankly, I knew next to nothing about it when Chuck contacted me to inquire as to help.

Please read Chuck’s account of the battle, which occurred on October 7, 1864. Tomorrow, more information will follow about the current state of efforts to preserve this mostly pristine battlefield.

Thanks to Chuck for contacting me and for providing this information about the battle.

When I was younger, relic hunters would often visit my grandfather’s farm. From time to time my grandfather and father found bullets and arrowheads whenever they plowed the fields. There were long standing stories of a battle on the farm during the Civil War, but no one seemed to know much about it. My father and grandfather saw no harm in allowing the relic hunters to walk the fields. All of that changed one day when a relic hunter unearthed the belt buckles of soldiers along a hillside not far from my parent’s house. My father told me if anyone asked if they could relic hunt on the farm, I was to tell them no, he did not want anyone digging anymore.

From that day forward, I knew there was something special about the place. It was a feeling I would get as I walked the fields or rode my bike down the old country path maintained by my grandfather, or as I drove our four-wheeler along the many trails my grandfather and father made through the woods. It was a magical place, a sanctuary, lush and peaceful. The woods were filled with little alcoves tucked away inside the dense forest. Many of those spots were jammed with huckleberry bushes, some up to six feet high. Those bushes gave the place its name, Huckleberry Knob Farm.

While we were free to roam around, there were places my sisters and I were not allowed to play. One was at the bottom of the northwestern slope of the hill. That spot was a slave burial ground. My grandfather wanted to make sure we left the cemetery alone, to “give those poor people their deserved rest.” If we rode our bikes too close, my grandfather always seemed to know.

The other place was one of the trails in the woods. The main trail wrapped around the southern end of a moderately sized pond and then ran along the southeastern edge of the property before heading deep into the woods where it branched off into additional trails. The first of these spur branches was along the eastern edge of the pond. My father told me never to go down that trail on the four-wheeler. I was to always use the main trail to ride into the woods. There were so many trail options, I did not give it a second thought and since I never walked in the woods, I did not venture down the trail.

Sadly, in 1988, my grandfather put the farm up for sale. My father pleaded with my grandfather to sell him 10 acres. He refused, fearing his other children would also ask for ten acres each, leaving him little to sell. The land did not remain on the market long and the family who purchased the farm said we could continue using the land as we always had. Eventually my grandfather moved and passed away a couple of years later.

Ten years after he sold it, the family that purchased the farm sold 40 acres to a construction firm so they could build the Pocahontas Parkway. The road obliterated the northern slope of the hill, leaving only the western slope. During construction, my father diligently directed the construction crew to the slave burial ground ensuring they did not build the roadway overtop of the bodies. The coffins were reburied a short distance from their original place of rest. During the same time, my father was diagnosed with lung cancer.

I stayed at home for a few years after graduating college, but never roamed the farm as I had when I was younger. Eventually, I moved away, but a year later, my mother called and asked if I would move back. My father had less than a year to live and she said she could not care for him alone. It was a tough decision, but I knew I could not say no. I moved home, and thirteen months later, he passed away. I stayed, knowing my mother would need help.

During that time, I began to develop an interest in the Civil War. Living a few miles from Malvern Hill and the Fort Harrison Unit of Richmond National Battlefield Park, I visited them often. The paths in those parks reminded me of the ones around Huckleberry Knob Farm. I began to feel nostalgic for the days when I ran around the farm as if it were my own park. One day, I decided to take a walk in the woods behind my parent’s house. It had been almost fifteen years since I had been beyond the pond and I wanted to see how much of the trail system remained.

I found the trails to be in remarkably good condition considering no one used them anymore. There was some overgrowth, but they could be easily followed. I walked the trail around the edge of the pond and when I came to a fork in the trail I stopped, and heard my father’s voice reminding me that I was not to go down the trail along the eastern edge of the pond. Considering I was not on the four-wheeler and he was no longer around to scold me, curiosity took over and I continued along the path. It was bumpy and it took irregular dips as it descended down the backside of a small hill. When the ground leveled out, the trail took a hard left into the woods. A short distance later, I discovered why my father did not want me going down the trail.

In front of me were two rows of earthworks, close together. They were largely overgrown but easily discernable. I could not believe what I was seeing. I walked up to them, and a shiver ran through me. Memories about the relic hunters and how the farm had been a battlefield populated my mind. I sat down on the ground before the earthworks and began to cry. My father understood that this was hallowed ground and he wanted to respect those who fought and died here, which was why my sisters and I were not allowed to drive the four-wheeler down that particular trail. As I gazed at the neat rows of raised earth, I wondered who made them and why. What had happened here on the farm?

A few years of difficult and frustrating research has given me the answers. On October 7th 1864, during the Richmond/Petersburg Campaign, General Robert E. Lee launched the last offensive he personally led north of the James River, the Battle of Darbytown and New Market Roads. It was his attempt to regain ground lost during the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm. The assault upon the Federal Cavalry on Darbytown Road was a success, but when the battle shifted to New Market Road, the Federals had gained the upper hand. The battle gave birth to two further fights over much of the same ground, the Battle of Darbytown Road on October 13th and the Battle of Fair Oaks and Darbytown Road, sometimes referred to as Second Fair Oaks, on October 27th.

Huckleberry Knob Farm, known as the Duke Farm during the war, was situated across Darbytown Road from Dr. Johnson’s Farm and behind Pioneer Baptist Church. General August V. Kautz selected this area to serve as his headquarters because it provided perfect observation of the Confederate Outer Defensive Line about a mile to the west. In early October of 1864, the Confederates were busy constructing a new line, the Alexander Line (named for General Edward Porter Alexander) west of the original Outer Defensive Line across Darbytown Road, which they had abandoned after the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm.

On the Duke Farm, Kautz ordered Lieutenant Colonel Robert M. Hall of Battery B, 1st United States Light Artillery to construct earthworks for his Battery. Hall identified the perfect spot, north of the Baptist Church between two branches of Four Mile Creek. On that ground he constructed two lines of earthworks, close together. These were the earthworks I had discovered. Members of the X Corps, Army of the James, would remark that they were the strongest works on the field. Battery B took their place in the works with the 4th Wisconsin Battery (Horse Artillery) to their left stretching to and across the Darbytown Road.

Around 2am on October 7th, General Edward Porter Alexander met General Robert E. Lee a few miles from Darbytown Road. Though Alexander thought he was early, Lee was certain he had told the young General to meet him at 1am. Alexander later remarked that at no point in the war had he seen Lee so hostile and agitated. Lee’s bad mood would last until they reached Darbytown Road.

The battle was to begin in two parts. The 7th South Carolina Cavalry of Gary’s Brigade, led by Lt. Col. Alexander Cheves Haskell, was to lead Law’s Brigade down Charles City Road and push the 5th Pennsylvania Cavalry back to their Headquarters at White’s Tavern then south into Kautz’s Right Flank. Law’s Brigade was to immediately turn south once the action was underway and attack the rest of the Right Flank. The combined actions would cause the Flank to collapse on itself. At the same time, Anderson’s and Bratton’s Brigades on Darbytown Road were to attack the Federal Cavalry, specifically the 3rd New York on Darbytown Road and push them back onto Kautz’s Left Flank where the 1st New York Mounted Rifles were positioned.

On the morning of October 7th, the 7th South Carolina Cavalry burst forward in a silent charge, a few moments later, Law’s Brigade turned south, not long thereafter a bugle call could be heard. The Confederates along Darbytown Road had begun their attack and with it, the Rebels unleashed the dreaded Rebel Yell up and down their line of attack. One portion of the 5th Pennsylvania Cavalry turned south towards the position of the 3rd New York Cavalry. The other portion broke into a run towards their Headquarters at White’s Tavern, and then turned south. All was going to plan.

Battery B, 1st U.S Light Artillery and the 4th Wisconsin were in the best position. A hill to their north blocked them from view and each time the Confederates from Alabama and Georgia attempted to reach the top of the hill, they were blasted by artillery. Unfortunately for the Federals, the 3rd New York Cavalry, who were in front of their position, had been wiped off the field. Nothing except the artillery of Battery B and the 4th Wisconsin was preventing the Confederates from reaching their line.

Suddenly, the 4th Wisconsin had to retire their artillery and leave the field. Hall, believing he could hold off the Rebels, remained, unaware of what had occurred to the 3rd New York. Their absence from the field quickly became apparent and after having fired over 300 rounds, he realized he could no longer hold his line. Hall ordered the Battery to move their artillery out. They were the last remaining Federal position on the field.

As the 4th Wisconsin attempted to leave, their artillery and horses became stuck in a creek and when Battery B attempted to retreat, they crashed into the 4th Wisconsin causing their artillery to become stuck as well. The jam left them and other retreating Federals exposed to the approaching Confederates. At this point, the 7th South Carolina Cavalry had caught up with Law’s Brigade and with sabers drawn, they poured down upon the men capturing eight pieces of artillery. Lt. Col. Haskell said the attack was a perfect example of what makes a cavalry charge a thing of beauty. Lt. Hall and one of his officers barely escaped with their lives, managing to flee into the woods as the cavalry decimated the Federals.

Having successfully pushed Kautz off Darbytown Road, Lee had his men line up along the road facing south. They were to march through the thick brush and attacked General Terry’s position along New Market Road. Unfortunately for Lee, Terry had learned of the attack on Kautz’s position and called for reinforcements. The Rebel attack, which had begun so promising, became a miserable defeat as the Federals forced the Confederates back across Darbytown Road and behind their lines. When the day ended, Kautz had regained his position on Darbytown Road. Both sides suffered a combined 1,158 casualties. Among the killed was Confederate Brig. Gen. John Gregg. Members of the Texas Brigade remarked that the battle was the worst fighting they had seen since The Wilderness. By the end of the month, over 3,000 men on both sides would fall.

Today, the battlefield remains mostly rural. In fact, you can walk the entire length of the battlefield from beginning to end, from various angles, with minimal modern intrusion. However, situated closer to Richmond than Glendale and Malvern Hill, the battlefield is in a desperate fight for survival. Nearly 80 acres are currently for sale including the area where the battle first began and where the 7th South Carolina Cavalry gave chase to the 5th Pennsylvania Cavalry on Charles City Road. Fifty-five acres where the two Cavalry divisions turned south is also for sale. That land also served as the starting location for an extraordinary cavalry battle led by “Rooney” Lee on August 16, 1864, during the Battle of Second Deep Bottom.

The good news is that portions of the second half of the battle have been saved as part of Dorey Park. However, the park has no interpretation of the battle and baseball and soccer fields grace a sizeable portion of the field. Sadly, the farm where I grew up, including the surviving earthworks of Battery B, 1st U.S. Light Artillery, the strongest and last remaining Federal position on the field, is targeted to become a gravel mine. The company that owns the land has not ruled out preserving it. However, they will not do it just for me.

All three battles of Darbytown Road have been listed by the American Battlefield Protection Program (ABPP) as worthy of protection. Not only do Lt. Hall’s earthworks remain, but near the farm is an original portion of Darbytown Road that crosses Four Mile Creek. The old road remains in very good condition. This portion of the road was utilized by General Longstreet and his men in 1862 to reach the Battles of Glendale and Malvern Hill. Edwin Jemison walked along the road days before he was killed at Malvern Hill.

I am reaching out to anyone who will listen and help me get the word out and save what remains of the Darbytown and New Market Roads Battlefield. Acting now will essentially save the entire battlefield. At the same time, inroads can be made in preserving the battlefield of Second Deep Bottom, which is sometimes referred to as the Second Seven Days. The same opportunities that exist today, will not exist a year from now. Like Lt. Hall, I refuse to leave the field until I am forced off of it.

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The following article appears in the current issue of Civil War News. It tells some, but not all, of the Lake Troilo story:

Agreement Reached On Restoration Of Hill At Brandy Station
By Scott C. Boyd
(January 2012 Civil War News)

EDITOR’S NOTE: The resignation of nine Brandy Station Foundation directors over concerns with the leadership was featured on the July issue front page and in that issue’s Preservation News column by G. Michael Green. One of the issues was the board’s lack of response to the construction of the illegal pond discussed in the following story.

BRANDY STATION, Va. — A memorandum of agreement (MOA) removes an illegally-dug pond, restores the land and conserves 3.1 acres on private property on Fleetwood Hill at the Brandy Station Battlefield in Culpeper County. The pond construction violated state and federal law, according to the MOA.

The document, signed by the parties from August through October, resolves an issue that arose in May when landowner Tony Troilo Jr. “conducted earthmoving activities by bulldozer in and adjacent to approximately 666 linear feet of a perennial stream known as Flat Run in order to construct a private pond on his approximately 60-acre property.”

Troilo dammed the free-flowing stream to create a new pond, “an unmitigated disaster” for battlefield preservation, according to Clark B. “Bud” Hall, the former Brandy Station Foundation (BSF) president. He notified the Piedmont Environmental Council which then notified the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of Troilo’s activities.

Flat Run is a Rappahannock River tributary protected by the federal Clean Water Act. Corps permission must be obtained prior to altering such a body of water.

Additionally, the work was done in an area eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Properties. Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act requires that the Corps consult with the Virginia State Historic Preservation Office before issuing a permit in such circumstances.

Troilo did not notify the Corps prior to beginning construction of the pond, according to the memorandum. However, the Corps “found no evidence of deliberate intent to circumvent the Section 106 process.”

Troilo told Civil War News he was surprised by the trouble he got into, “after going to the county and having a permit and permission to do it all, and trying to improve the property.”

Culpeper County Director of Development John Egertson said he did not speak with Troilo about the pond and was not aware that Troilo spoke with anyone in his office about the matter.

Hal Wiggins, with the Fredericksburg office of the Army Corps of Engineers, said that Troilo voluntarily agreed to remove the pond and restore the stream “and more importantly, worked with the Brandy Station Foundation and Virginia Department of Historic Resources to develop the memorandum of agreement where he donates 3.1 acres of land to the Foundation.”

“We put a lot of emphasis on voluntary compliance,” Wiggins said. “This way there are no fines if Mr. Troilo works with us on the final restoration plan.”

Wiggins said he was very confident that it will be resolved in a satisfactory manner given Troilo’s track record since he was informed that he was in violation of the Clean Water Act.

The 3.1 acres Troilo is donating is land where fill dirt was deposited from the pond construction and is adjacent to Brandy Station Foundation land.

The MOA also notes that Troilo deposited fill dirt on two small pieces of the BSF’s 18.9 acres on Fleetwood Hill along the banks of Flat Run. The parcels total less than one-third of an acre.

The Virginia Board of Historic Resources holds a historic preservation easement on the BSF land. “The easement specifically states that material changes to the easement property must be subject to prior review and written approval of the Board,” according to the MOA.

The memorandum says the fill was deposited without authorization and “therefore may constitute a violation of the terms of the easement.”

The MOA stipulates that Troilo undertake a stream banks restoration project, as approved by the Corps of Engineers, with an archeologist present during the fill dirt reclamation process “to ensure that the original grass root mat in the reclamation area remains undisturbed.”

Within 60 days of stream banks restoration completion, Troilo is to convey the 3.1 acres to the BSF. Troilo said completion depends on the weather. It recently has been too wet to do much work.

The impact of Troilo’s pond construction on the battlefield is uncertain. Wiggins said the excavated area was “obliterated,” therefore what of archeological significance might have been lost can never be known.

The memorandum of agreement quotes a disturbance assessment prepared by the James River Institute for Archeology as determining that “the pond construction likely had an adverse effect on prehistoric Native American and Civil War era archeological resources.”

Here are a few observations regarding this article, in no particular order:

1. Despite Appeaser in Chief Joseph McKinney’s ridiculous and indefensible claims that the damage caused by the construction of Lake Troilo could somehow be “reversed”, as he has claimed numerous times, it is abundantly clear that the area where this pond was created–critical core battlefield land that was heavily fought over–was devastated. That Hal Wiggins used as strong a word as “obliterated” to describe the harm done amply demonstrates just how wrong-headed and ill-advised the policy of appeasement pursued by McKinney and his board of appeasers truly is.

2. According to Craig Swain, Joseph McKinney admitted to Craig that he knew that Troilo was going to build this illegal pond prior to the beginning of the excavation work, and he did NOTHING about it. McKinney evidently did nothing to verify whether a permit to devastate a critical portion of the battlefield had actually been issued; had he done so, John Egertson of Culpeper County would have told him that no permit had been issued. He did nothing to notify the Civil War Trust that this core battlefield land was being obliterated. McKinney evidently did not do anything to notify the board of the BSF until after the boat began being rocked by Bud Hall. As Craig Swain points out, “McKinney advised foundation members (including me) not to make the construction an issue.” Shockingly, McKinney was not outraged that there were bulldozers tearing up critical battlefield land, which astonishes me. For someone who is supposed to be the head of a battlefield preservation advocacy organization, McKinney’s lack leadership and apparent lack of concern about a crisis is shocking, sickening, and sad, all at the same time.

In short, instead of leading the way in fighting this outrage, Joseph McKinney completely and totally abrogated his duty to protect this battlefield. In so doing, he has trivialized and made the BSF irrelevant. One can only hope that the damage he and his board of appeasers have caused can be undone.

3. Tony Troilo flagrantly lied about getting permission from Culpeper County, as noted in the article. That he continues to lie flagrantly about it demonstrates quite clearly that he was well aware of what he was doing.

I strongly encourage all of you to read Craig Swain’s recent post on this situation, and I also encourage you to read Mike Block’s very brave and principled explanation of why he resigned from the board of the BSF, which can be found here.

Once again, I call on Joseph McKinney and the Board of Appeasers to do the right thing and resign. NOW.

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On this Thanksgiving Day, when we all have to much to be thankful for, I want to share this, Brian Pohanka’s final interview, wherein he talks about the importance of battlefield preservation. It is haunting and bittersweet to see his image and to hear his voice again so many years after his untimely death, but it’s critical that we continue his work. I miss his wise counsel.

Here is a link to the interview.

And to all, a happy Thanksgiving. Be grateful for what you have. I know that I am. I am grateful to everyone who takes the time to visit this blog, and I am grateful to everyone who takes the time and spends their hard-earned money to read my books.

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My friend Mike Block used to be a member of the board of trustees of the Brandy Station Foundation. Mike resigned that position in protest over the complete abrogation of the BSF’s duties as stewards of the battlefield. He has now posted his version of these events on his blog, and for those interested in this issue, it’s riveting but appalling reading.

A few thoughts, in no particular order:

1. Joseph McKinney was receiving flak from you, the readers of this blog, about his inactivity regarding this disaster. That pressure not only did not impact him or the board’s decision-making, it seems to have encouraged him to go the other way. He even mocks Bud Hall’s quite accurate description of this problem as “an unmitigated disaster.”

2. McKinney expressly admits that he failed to show leadership in this crisis, and, in fact, stated quite clearly that he didn’t want to spend much time on the greatest crisis faced by this battlefield since the development threats that led to the original land acquisitions.

3. From McKinney’s own words it is quite clear that they view this whole fiasco as nothing but a public opinion problem that needs to be quieted and dealt with and not as a preservation crisis. In other words, the spin is more important than doing their duty as stewards of the land. I find that absolutely incomprehensible and appalling all at the same time.

4. All of this makes it abundantly clear that neither the BSF board nor Joseph McKinney care a whit about preserving this battlefield, and that they have no business being at the helm of the organization tasked with preserving this hallowed ground.

Resign. Now.

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As promised, here is the fully executed Memorandum of Agreement pertaining to the Lake Troilo debacle at Brandy Station. For those concerned, this is a matter of public record, and the document is a public document, so I am not betraying anyone’s confidentiality or trust by posting it here.

A review of this agreement should demonstrate precisely how reprehensible the attempts at spin-doctoring by the do-nothing board of trustees of the Brandy Station Foundation truly are. Here are a few thoughts about the agreement, in no particular order.

First, and foremost, the MOA plainly and unambiguously demonstrates that the prior statements of BSF president Joseph McKinney that BSF property was not impacted by the construction of Lake Troilo were a flagrant lie. It’s quite clear from reading the MOA that BSF property was significantly impacted, and that any attempt to downplay that is disingenuous and a distortion of the truth.

Second, the work that was done by Tony Troilo in constructing Lake Troilo was clearly illegal and clearly in violation of multiple laws. From the beginning of this fiasco, and until the “stop work” order was issued, the BSF board and officers steadfastly insisted that it was none of their concern, that BSF property was not impacted, and that the BSF should take no steps to interfere. Had Bud Hall not intervened, this would have continued unabated with further, irreparable destruction being caused to core battlefield land.

Third, BSF president Joseph McKinney–who is clearly NOT a preservationist–stated repeatedly that the damage was reversible. How does one reverse such damage? The very thought is laughable. Once the ground is disturbed, it is forever disturbed. The artifacts are turned up. And so are the human remains reportedly found in the area. Once that bell is rung, it can never be unrung, Joe McKinney’s fantasy world notwithstanding.

Fourth, the 3.1 acres to be conveyed by Troilo–the basis for the BSF’s claim of a preservation “victory”–is the ground damaged–torn up–by the construction of Lake Troilo. This is no longer pristine ground, and has been forever damaged and tainted. If this is a victory for the BSF–and I don’t believe it is–it is at best a Pyrrhic victory.

Finally, and most important, the execution of this MOA demonstrates beyond doubt that the ill-advised and wrongheaded policy of appeasement pursued by the BSF officers and board will never do anything to protect the battlefield at Brandy Station. Only constant vigilance and constant communication with the authorities responsible for enforcing the laws will do so. Appeasing landowners who are friends will not. And if that means that feathers get ruffled from time to time, then so be it.

Fleetwood Hill MOA and Supporting Docs

I again repeat my call for Joseph McKinney and the rest of the BSF board to resign immediately in the wake of their disgraceful performance with respect to this episode, instead of bragging about it on the BSF website as they have. It is critical to note that other important preservation organizations have given up on and written the BSF off as a legitimate preservation organization because of this episode, and unless the board and McKinney do the right thing, not only will the organization be crippled, it will be doomed, as nobody will ever trust it as a steward of the land again. As it is, the other leading preservation organizations no longer take the BSF seriously, as its officers and board do nothing to engender confidence in them that they take the duty to preserve this land seriously.

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There are few things that irritate me more than people claiming credit for things for which they are not entitled to claim credit at all. That conduct strikes me as being disingenuous and as also trying to justify poor or inappropriate conduct by intentionally distorting the factual record and then saying, “Look at me! Look what I did!”

That has happened with the Brandy Station Foundation and with the resolution of the Lake Troilo fiasco. For those who don’t remember, the BSF published a policy that stated that it would not interfere with landowner rights on battlefield property. It published that policy to justify its complete and total inaction–indeed its abandonment of its sacred duty to protect the battlefield–with respect to the desecration of the core of the battlefield by landowner Tony Troilo. That abandonment of the organization’s mission to battlefield preservation horrified me and most other who care about battlefield preservation.

This week, the BSF has published its spin-doctoring attempt to justify its malfeasance with respect to this fiasco. It published this pack of lies:

In early spring Mr. Tony Troilo, who owns the property on Fleetwood Hill that saw the most intense fighting on June 9,1863, began work to expand his pond along Flat Run just to the west of Fleetwood Hill. Before starting work, Mr. Troilo checked with the Culpeper County Office of Planning and Zoning and was informed that no additional permits would be required. That information was incorrect.

Under the Clean Water Act, a permit is required from the US Army Corps of Engineers before a free-flowing stream can be dammed. Additionally, Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act requires the Corps of Engineers to assess the effects of a project on historical resources when considering a request for permit.

On May 13, the Corps of Engineers issued a stop-work order to Mr. Troilo. After learning that he had not received the necessary permits, Mr. Troilo voluntarily agreed to remove the pond and restore Flat Run and its wetlands to pre-construction conditions. Additionally, during archeological monitoring of site stabilization measures at the work site, fill dirt several inches deep was moved onto roughly three-tenths of an acre of property owned by the BSF and under protective easement with the Virginia Department of Historical Resources. Mr. Troilo offered to either remove the fill or, if preferred, leave the fill in place and seed it with grass.

On July 26, representatives of the BSF, the Corps of Engineers, and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources met with Mr. Troilo in Richmond to discuss remediation measures for adverse affects on the historic property—the site of a major Civil War Battle—and the encroachment on the BSF land. At the meeting, Mr. Troilo offered to convey to the BSF approximately 3.1 acres of his property lying to the west of Flat Run, thereby making the stream the property line between Mr. Troilo and the BSF. The Corps of Engineers and VDHR representatives considered the offer most generous, as did the BSF, and we agreed to accept the conveyance. Finally, the consensus among attendees was that attempts to remove the fill on the encroached property would risk damage to the underlying soil, and it was therefore better to leave the fill in place and seed it. These steps and a plan for restoring the stream bed have since been formally agreed upon by all the affected parties.

Once Mr. Troilo has restored Flat Run, the new property line can be surveyed and the 3.1 acres conveyed to our organization, an event that should be completed within the next few months. This will increase our ownership of land on the avenue of approach used by Sir Percy Wyndham on the morning of June 9 to 36 acres. Acquiring this property is in keeping with the BSF’s strategic goal of preserving key battlefield land and opening it to the public. We credit this positive outcome to two factors: Mr. Troilo’s positive approach to fully resolving issues associated with his pond; and, the decision by the board of the BSF to maintain a professional and cooperative relationship with Mr. Troilo throughout the process.

We are very pleased that this unfortunate situation was brought to an amicable resolution, and we are very grateful to Mr. Tony Troilo for his generous offer. We trust that you share our views.

There are so many lies in this attempt to spin the malfeasance of the BSF board that one hardly knows where to begin.

First, and foremost, but for the quick intervention of BSF founder and former president Clark B. “Bud” Hall to notify the authorities, Troilo’s desecration of the battlefield would have continued unhindered, because the board of the BSF surely wasn’t going to do anything to stop it. That’s how the Corps of Engineers became involved. The BSF spin is incredibly disingenuous, because BSF president Joseph McKinney saw this devastation before Bud Hall did, but elected not to do anything in order to avoid ruffling the feathers of his wife’s good friend Tony Troilo.

Second, it is a flagrant lie to describe Troilo’s actions as expanding an existing pond. In fact, the existing pond is not the result of damming of Flat Run and is a hundred yards or so away from the where the damming of Flat Run was done. The existing pond has been there since at least 1961. The damming of Flat Run was done with the specific and explicit intent to build a second pond. The BSF board is lying in a dishonest attempt to justify its actions.

Third, Culpeper County specifically and explicitly denies that its representatives EVER told Tony Troilo that he would not need a permit. This is another flagrant lie.

Fourth, Joseph McKinney and the BSF board specifically denied that BSF property was in any way affected by the damming of Flat Run, but they have finally admitted that BSF property was, indeed, affected, and significantly affected. In spite of the board’s claims to the contrary, the harm done CANNOT be undone or restored. The land was disturbed. That bell cannot be unrung. Now that it suits them to do so in order to justify their inaction, they now admit that BSF property was damaged by the damming of Flat Run.

Finally, nothing that Tony Troilo did was out of the goodness of his heart, as the BSF suggests. It was done in an attempt to mitigate the penalty that he is going to incur as a consequence of his flagrant violations of the law. Nothing more, and nothing less. Instead, the BSF pats itself on the back for allowing Troilo to get away with damaging trust land in the hope that it might not ruffle his feathers. And then, its obsequious tone and approach does little but suck up to Troilo.

I am out of town at the moment, but when I get home on Sunday, I will post the entire Memorandum of Agreement between Mr. Troilo and the authorities here, and you can read it for yourselves. You will see the scope of his violations of the law, as well as the severity of the sanctions imposed upon him as a consequence of his violations of the law.

In the meantime, I could not permit the lies and intentional distorting of the factual record by Joseph McKinney and the rest of his cronies on the BSF Board of Appeasement stand unrebutted.

More to follow…..

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Nick Redding of the Civil War Trust called me last week to bring me up to speed about a couple of things, and when he did, he mentioned to me that the Trust was working with some folks to introduce legislation in Pennsylvania that would forever prevent a casino from being placed within a radius of 10 miles of either the Gettysburg National Military Park or the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville. Nick indicated that he expected that legislation to be introduced shortly.

That legislation, now known as HB 2005, has now been introduced in the Pennsylvania General Assembly. If passed and signed by Governor Corbett, the threat to bring a casino to Gettysburg will end forever. Please check out this website, which provides further details and also indicates how you can become involved.

For those of you who are Pennsylvania residents, please write to your legislators and to Governor Corbett to express your support for HB2005, and for those of you who are not, please write to Governor Corbett and let him know that the rest of the country is not only watching but that it supports the passage of HB2005.

Thank you for your support. Let’s do all we can to ensure the passage of HB2005 and remove the threat to the Gettysburg battlefield for good!

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This past weekend was one of my favorite events, the annual Middleburg Conference on the Art of Command in the Civil War, hosted by the Mosby Heritage Area Association. This was the 14th annual conference, and my fourth as a presenter. More than 90 attended, meaning that this year’s conference was the largest yet for the MHAA, which is a tribute to Childs Burden (the man who is responsible for the conference and the president of the MHAA) and the rest of his officers and board, all of whom do a great job. All proceeds benefit the good work interpreting the area being done by the MHAA.

This year’s program was titled “Cavalry to the Field!” and dealt with mounted operations in the Eastern Theater. The best thing about it was the gathering of the cavalry guys, as I like to call our merry little band of brothers. It’s been something like 14 years since we were all together at a conference last, and I really enjoyed having the opportunity to get caught up with all of them. On the program were old friends Bud Hall, Horace Mewborn, Bob O’Neill, Marshall Krolick, Bruce Venter, and Bob Trout. A number of the attendees, including Jim Morgan, Jim Nolan, and a handful of others, are also old friends, and it was also great to see them. Also on the program was J.E.B. Stuart, IV, who gave a really interesting talk on his great-grandfather’s service in the west during his years in the Regular Army before the Civil War.

I did a talk based on our book Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart’s Controversial Ride to Gettysburg. I’ve done that talk dozens of times, but this was the first time that I’ve ever given it with someone actually named Jeb Stuart in the room, and let me tell you, it was a little intimidating to do so. Luckily, I had chatted with Colonel Stuart, who is not only a former Regular Army officer, but also a true gentleman, and knew that he didn’t disagree with my interpretation of those events. Nevertheless, it was intimidating.

This photo is of the panel discussion at the end of the day on Saturday. Bud Hall is beside me, and because I was leaning forward to answer a question, he can’t be seen there. From left to right: Horace Mewborn, Bob Trout, Marshall Krolick, Jeb Stuart, IV, Bob O’Neill, me, Bud Hall (although you can’t see him next to me), Bruce Venter, and the fellow at the lectern is Childs Burden. If you want to see this photo (or the other two) in a larger version, just click on the photo.

Sunday featured a full-day tour of the Brandy Station battlefield. Naturally, Bud Hall led the tour, but a number of us helped. I had responsibility for one of the buses, and Mike Block, a former member of the board of trustees of the Brandy Station Foundation, was with me. Mike and I have led several tours of the battlefield previously, and we work well together. Bruce Venter, who is the world’s only known fan of Judson Kilpatrick, also pitched in when we visited Rose Hill, the Stevensburg house that served as Kilpatrick’s headquarters during the winter encampment of the Army of the Potomac in 1863-1864. There were about 75 people on the tour, and we needed an extra bus to accommodate the entire crowd.

Bud asked me to discuss the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry’s heroic charge into the teeth of the Confederate horse artillery on the St. James Church plateau during the morning phase of the fighting on the Beverly Ford road. That’s me describing the action at St. James Church.

This was my first visit to the Brandy Station battlefield since May, when Lake Troilo was at its worst. I knew that some efforts have been undertaken to begin to try to correct the terrible harm done to the battlefield by Tony Troilo, but I hadn’t seen the state of things again until yesterday. The good news is that the dams of Flat Run have been removed and that the pond seems to have pretty well drained. However, the draining of the pond doesn’t restore the earth that was turned in order to build the dams and dig the pond, nor can it ever. While Troilo is under orders to restore things, we will never know how many artifacts and final resting places of dead soldiers were disturbed by this process.

The final stop of the tour was on a parcel of land owned by the Brandy Station Foundation and which overlooks Lake Troilo and the southern face of Fleetwood Hill. While we were there, Bud told the whole sordid tale of the construction of Lake Troilo and the complete and utter abandonment of its duty to protect the battlefield by the president and board of directors of the Brandy Station Foundation. The attendees–many of whom are well-heeled major donors to battlefield preservation efforts–were as horrified to learn of the betrayal by the BSF of its duty to protect the battlefield as we were when it first happened.

At the end of the day, it seems like the only people who think that the BSF’s non-handling of this situation is appropriate and acceptable are the ones who betrayed the trust reposed in them to serve as stewards of the battlefield. That speaks volumes. However, the ones responsible not only refuse to do the right thing by resigning, they refuse to acknowledge that they were wrong about this situation. I guess the next time a developer comes along, the BSF will welcome him or her with open if the check has enough zeroes after it, like what happened with the Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association and the casino promoters.

Nevertheless, the conference was an overwhelming success, and I was honored to have played a small role in it. I look forward to being invited again soon. And for those who have never attended this excellent program, please consider doing so, as you will not be disappointed.

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Fleetwood Hill, located near the hamlet of Brandy Station, a few miles from Culpeper, Virginia, is probably THE single most historically significant piece of ground in the American Civil War. No piece of ground was fought over more often, and no armies traversed a piece of ground more often, than Fleetwood Hill. It’s important to understand why Fleetwood Hill was so important in order to understand why those of us who care about the Brandy Station battlefield were so upset this spring when the Brandy Station Foundation sat on its hands and permitted a chunk of the battlefield to be destroyed.

Bud Hall, who has devoted much of his adult life to saving this ground, has written an excellent piece of the significance of Fleetwood, and has given me permission to park it here as a permanent page on this blog. The article can be found here, and I commend it to you.

The numbers in bracket are to the end notes, which can be found at the bottom of the article.

Thanks to Bud for his generosity in sharing it with us and for allowing me to host it here.

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