Battlefield preservation

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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The new issue of Blue & Gray magazine, which is one of the sponsors of this blog is out. It includes a guest editorial written by former Brandy Station Foundation board member and spokesman Mike Green and me, and addresses the Lake Troilo debacle and the complete and total abrogation of the duty to preserve and protect the Brandy Station battlefield by the current president and his board of appeasers:

Guest Editorial

Battlefield Preservation
Is A Duty to Take Seriously

by G. Michael Green and
Eric J. Wittenberg

As Americans, we have a sacred duty to preserve our past. The preservation of our Civil War battlefields is a sacred trust. Once those battlefields are destroyed, they can never be recovered. Agreeing to serve as a steward of one of those battlefields is not only a responsibility, it is a privilege. Don’t agree to do so unless you really intend to fulfill that obligation.

The Brandy Station battlefield in Virginia is a model of battlefield preservation at work. Saved from destruction twice, much of the battlefield has been saved through hard work by dedicated volunteers. Unfortunately, the new board of trustees and new president of the Brandy Station Foundation (BSF), charged with preserving that battlefield for posterity, do not take their responsibilities to preserve that battlefield seriously, and, unfortunately, have abrogated that duty in the interest of appeasing a property owner.

In the past few weeks, bulldozers appeared on the scene at Brandy Station and quickly began to severely despoil a key tract on the battlefield—southern Fleetwood Hill, a prominent ridge that witnessed the heaviest fighting in the entire battle.

In early May, a local landowner began excavating this historic acreage for the purpose of building a recreational pond. His bulldozers scraped, dug, and pushed this historic ground for several days—creating a large pond and damming up Flat Run, a perennial stream that feeds vigorously into the Rappahannock River.

Noting the destruction to Fleetwood Hill, the former president of the Brandy Station Foundation, Clark B. “Bud” Hall, notified federal, state and local authorities about the devastating construction on this battlefield property—acreage that comprises a battlefield deemed eligible by federal authorities for the National Register of Historic Places. Responding quickly, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers issued an immediate “cease and desist” order, while finding that the non-permitted construction violated the Clean Water Act. In response, the landowner apologized and acknowledged he would work with the Corps to restore the site.

However, the BSF board and president chose not to act. Instead, they enacted a policy that suggests that the BSF should not interfere with a landowner’s private property rights. In short, they have abandoned the battlefield.

Simply put, we believe the current BSF leadership cannot be trusted to preserve and protect this hallowed battlefield. Their appeasement—if not outright support—of the landowner’s misplaced “property rights;” and his efforts to destroy a key part of Fleetwood Hill should reverberate throughout the historic preservation community. The battlefield itself, the memories of the men who struggled and died there, and our heritage all deserve MUCH better from the so-called stewards of this hallowed ground. We should not tolerate it.

G. Michael Green is a former Director and chief spokesperson for the Brandy Station Foundation. He is a federal executive and resides in northern Virginia.

Eric J. Wittenberg is a Columbus, Ohio attorney who serves as the vice president of the Buffington Island Battlefield Preservation Foundation and has been deeply involved in battlefield preservation for years.

Interested parties can contact BSF:

For updates on this matter:

Other than constant vigilance, there’s not much more than can be said other than that interested members of the BSF should call for the resignation of the president and board of trustees, and if they won’t do the right thing, then VOTE THEM OUT OF OFFICE and permit the BSF to fulfill its obligation to preserve and protect the battlefield.

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Former Brandy Station Foundation board member and spokesman G. Michael Green has written an excellent op-ed piece of the Lake Troilo disaster–as well as the wrong-headed and ill-advised policy that it has promulgated–in the current issue of The Civil War News, which I commend to you:

A New “Threat” To Brandy Station Battlefield
By G. Michael Green
(July 2011 Civil War News – Preservation Column)

As our Civil War Sesquicentennial begins, we Americans are freshly focused as to how this disastrous internecine conflict transformed our nation. And quite predictably, the 150th anniversary of our private war has fostered renewed attention to the precarious nature of threatened Civil War battlefields.

One such battlefield rests outside a small Virginia hamlet in Culpeper County, and it is a fact that the largest and bloodiest cavalry engagement of the war occurred on June 9, 1863, at Brandy Station upon pristine fields that remain largely unchanged today.

Over the past 20 years, the Brandy Station battlefield has faced nearly constant threat by commercial and residential developers. At the forefront of each battle has been the local Brandy Station Foundation (BSF).

In the past two decades, the BSF and its partner, the Civil War Trust, have successfully preserved nearly 2,000 acres of battlefield lands at Brandy Station

In the past few weeks, bulldozers again appeared on the scene at Brandy Station and quickly began to severely despoil a key tract on the battlefield — southern Fleetwood Hill, a prominent ridge that witnessed the heaviest fighting in the entire battle.

In early May, a local landowner began excavating this historic acreage for the purpose of building a recreational pond. His bulldozers scraped, dug and pushed this historic ground for several days – creating a large pond and damming up Flat Run, a perennial stream that feeds vigorously into the Rappahannock River.

Noting the destruction to Fleetwood Hill, Clark B. Hall, the former president of the Brandy Station Foundation, notified federal, state and local authorities about the devastating construction on this battlefield property — acreage that comprises a battlefield deemed eligible by federal authorities for the National Register of Historic Places.

Responding quickly, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued an immediate “cease and desist” order, while finding that the non-permitted construction violated the Clean Water Act. In response, the landowner apologized and acknowledged he would work with the Corps to restore the site.

With excavation on Fleetwood Hill now halted, one is left with a disturbing question.

Where was the Brandy Station Foundation when it became evident the battlefield was in peril? Several BSF supporters contacted the newly-installed BSF President asking for assistance and support in stopping the excavation — only to be met with obfuscation and bizarre defensiveness.

The BSF president’s curious reaction included assertions that this issue has been blown out of proportion, and that BSF could not interfere with a landowner’s private property rights.

He also disclosed knowledge of the excavation plans since late April, but yet did nothing to prevent the destruction or alert others as to its potential impact.

I visited the site on May 15 and was appalled at the destruction. How could the destruction these bulldozers inflicted on this historic hillside not sicken anyone, much less the leader of a distinguished, highly successful 20-year-old preservation organization?

In a personal communication to the president, I urged aggressive action by the BSF, but BSF did absolutely nothing.

BSF finally issued, however, a confusing and illogical statement on May 19, days after the Corps “cease and desist” order.

The statement reads: “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.”

After reviewing BSF’s strange statement, here is how a preservation authority responded: “While anyone may choose to view the permit process as an issue between the landowner and the agency, the law in play here — Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act — views it VERY differently.

“The law REQUIRES the permitting agency (in this case the Corps) to seek the input of the public in its review of projects. The law is written to encourage precisely the sort of public input that BSF has apparently eschewed.

“Preservation groups have very few legal tools at hand to accomplish preservation; Section 106 is by far the most useful. The idea that a preservation organization would publicly proclaim its intent NOT to use the major legal tool at its disposal might well be unprecedented.”

And by the way, how is bulldozing historic property and building a large pond on historic battlefield property reversible? Once completed, who would reverse the damage and at what additional costs? To my knowledge, this landowner is certainly not engaged in “agricultural activities.”

Simply put, I believe the current BSF leadership cannot be trusted to preserve and protect this hallowed battlefield. The BSF’s weeks of silence and ill-conceived statement on this issue convey a level of complicity in the destructive excavation on historic Fleetwood Hill.

Nine directors have resigned from the BSF board as a protest against the current president’s anti-preservation policies. The BSF’s appeasement — if not outright support — of the landowner’s misplaced “property rights” and his efforts to destroy a key part of Fleetwood Hill should reverberate throughout the historic preservation community. And, we should not tolerate it.

Mr. Green is, of course, absolutely correct about this. Once more, I call upon Joseph McKinney, who is apparently too proud and too stubborn to do the right thing, to resign as president of the Brandy Station Foundation, so that the organization can return to its mission, PRESERVATION of the Brandy Station battlefield, not supporting its destruction.

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Scott Boyd has written an insightful article on the epic failure of Joseph McKinney and the board of the Brandy Station Foundation to fulfill the BSF’s mission of preserving battlefield land. The article appears in the July issue of Civil War News.

9 Brandy Station Board Members Resign
Over Preservation Concerns
By Scott C. Boyd
(July2011 Civil War News)

BRANDY STATION, Va. – Disappointment with the leadership of the Brandy Station Foundation (BSF) recently led to nine members of the board of directors resigning.

Seven of them left immediately before or after new president Joseph W. McKinney was elected at the group’s April 8 annual meeting.

The eighth resigned on May 19 after the board released a position statement titled “Landowner Improvements and Agricultural Activities.” It is online at

This member told Civil War News he saw the statement as “reneging on” the BSF strategic goals of preserving the historic rural character of Culpeper County and protecting the Brandy Station and Kelly’s Ford battlefields.

The ninth member resigned on June 1 over philosophical differences with the direction the board was taking.

McKinney’s selection by the BSF Nominating Committee as its preferred candidate for president was announced at the board’s March 5 meeting.

His nomination became controversial after a newspaper photo submitted by McKinney, and published on April 1, was interpreted by some to indicate he supported relic hunting — a major taboo in some preservationist circles.

Next, background research on McKinney by skeptics turned up some seemingly anti-preservation sentiments in a 2009 op-ed.

The concern some had about McKinney reached a fever pitch after construction of a pond on a privately owned part of the battlefield.

Relic Hunt Photo

The “Diggin’ in Virginia” 17th annual relic hunt was held at the Beauregard Farm on March 31-April 2. It is privately owned land on the Brandy Station Battlefield.

McKinney’s photo, which was published in the Culpeper Star-Exponent, showed a boy receiving instructions on how to fire a cannon to signal the start of the event.

“This was merely my effort to document an 11-year-old boy having the biggest day of his life,” McKinney said.

McKinney said he was not there in any official capacity, nor did he participate in the relic hunt. He said his sole interest was the original cannon, which was at Brandy Station Battlefield in 1863.

He convinced the owner to bring it from Michigan for the event and asked him to return for the 150th battle anniversary.

The photo struck a raw nerve with some preservationists. A former BSF president wrote McKinney: “BSF must never be seen as supporters of relic hunting. People choose to do it on private property and that’s okay for them. But preservationists abhor the practice.”

Eric Wittenberg’s “Rantings of a Civil War Historian” blog on April 11 claimed McKinney “participated in a relic hunt on the Beauregard farm.”

A board member who resigned said his resignation was “a direct result of Joe McKinney’s involvement in the relic-hunting on hallowed ground,” and one other issue.

McKinney agreed with the suggestion that there may be a “cultural clash” in the BSF between those who oppose relic hunting on privately owned battlefield land and those who don’t.

The Op-Ed

McKinney’s critics often cite an Aug. 6, 2009, op-ed in The Washington Post. In it he observed that in place of the aborted Walt Disney Company plan of 1993 for a historical theme park near Manassas Battlefield there is now a great deal of commercial and residential development.

“Instead of tourists, the roads — including those running through the Manassas battlefield — are choked with commuters,” he wrote. “Sometimes, as I sit in traffic on the way to Leesburg, I think we might have been better off with the theme park instead of the houses.”

“That leads me to wonder: If Wal-Mart is not acceptable near the Wilderness battlefield, what is? Is a strip mall better than a Wal-Mart? What about 500 single-family dwellings?” he wrote.

McKinney’s op-ed was seen in some quarters as a slap in the face to preservationists, according to background interviews and emails shared with Civil War News.

Pond Excavation

Tony Troilo owns land on Fleetwood Hill, scene of some of the fiercest fighting during the battle. Until recently, three generations of the Troilo family lived in the mansion on the hill, built in 2007.

In early May, Troilo had bulldozers dig some of his land to put in a pond. He also dammed Flat Run to redirect the water.

The bulldozers and water diversion on Fleetwood Hill caused alarm among some in the preservation community.

While this was going on, Troilo’s father, Joe, who lived in the mansion, died on May 6 and his funeral was May 12.

The BSF, then led by McKinney, did not make any public statement about what Troilo was doing. This brought the scorn of many in the preservation community, including BSF members.

The blog “To the Sound of the Guns” on May 16 posted: “In my view, this should have been a no-brainer. The foundation HAD to say something when the president first gained knowledge of the situation. At a minimum the foundation should have issued a statement of concern and called public attention to the matter. That is what the organization was formed to do.”

Blog author Craig Swain is a retired BSF board member who ended up renouncing his BSF membership altogether on May 18.

McKinney said in an interview, “At some point, I’d probably talk to Tony about the pond. But I wasn’t going to go up to his house and talk to him about the pond on the week that he’s burying his dad.”

Former BSF president Clark “Bud” Hall, however, immediately complained to authorities about what was happening on Fleetwood Hill.

“I think this was not a good thing to happen from a public relations or community relations perspective — or a common decency perspective,” McKinney said about the timing of the complaint. “I’ve been told by people in the community they were not happy about that.”

After responding to the complaint and visiting the site on May 11, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sent Troilo a cease-and-desist letter dated May 13 informing him that damming Flat Run violated Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.

The same letter also stated that the Virginia Department of Historic Resources said that the unauthorized work occurred in the Brandy Station Historic District, a property eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. It said that federal regulations prohibit work being done in U.S. waters without following procedures to protect historic properties like that.

A May 19 letter from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality informed Troilo that his unauthorized work may have violated State Water Control Law and Regulations, and could be subject to civil penalties of up to $32,500 per day of each violation, in addition to other possible fines.

A May 23 Corps letter to Troilo mentioned that he voluntarily agreed on May 16 to develop a “restoration plan” for his disturbance of Flat Run. He seemed very willing to cooperate with the state and federal authorities to correct the problem.

McKinney said Troilo told him that before starting the pond work, he asked Culpeper County officials what permits he needed and was told no additional permits were required.

“Are we supposed to jump in and say, ‘Me, too’?” McKinney said of now denouncing what Troilo did on Fleetwood Hill. “Is that going to accomplish anything substantive? Probably not. The controversy over the pond is already over.”

He acknowledges, “Some people look at this as a destruction of Fleetwood Hill, as despoiling historic property.”

“The other way of looking at that is, a property owner has certain rights for his own property. I think we as preservationists have to be very thoughtful when we approach landowners about issues that are really within the purview of the property owner,” he said.

“In fact, if this were not a Clean Water Act issue, the pond would be there right now,” according to McKinney.

Work Ahead

McKinney said upcoming issues for the Brandy Station Foundation include commemorating the battle’s 150th anniversary, participating on the Culpeper Sesquicentennial Committee, commemorating the Union Army’s six-month winter encampment nearby and “putting things in place so one day we can buy Fleetwood Hill.”

He also lists getting an easement from Troilo so visitors can walk from BSF to Civil War Trust (CWT) property, using an $80,000 federal grant before it expires on Sept. 30, and qualifying the BSF for participation in the Combined Federal Campaign where federal workers can annually select it for a charitable contribution.

In terms of preservation, McKinney said, “Other than Fleetwood Hill, the Brandy Station Battlefield is pretty much protected right now.”

Jim Campi, Civil War Trust Policy and Communications Director, commented: “It is critical for the future of Brandy Station that it have a vibrant and active advocacy group. Much of the battlefield remains unprotected and, as we have seen with the Troilo pond incident and Route 3 widening proposal, vigilance is necessary to ensure that preserved lands remain preserved.”

He added, “The recent flurry of resignations from the BSF board have many foundation friends concerned about the organization’s future.”

McKinney said he thinks that with the exception of Bud Hall, those who resigned “didn’t have any understanding or knowledge of me, and it’s not like I haven’t been working for the BSF for a number of years.”

That he doesn’t understand that the battlefield is NOT pretty much preserved now is an absolutely ignorant and appalling thing for the president of the BSF to say. While the effort to preserve the battlefield remains ongoing and has already accomplished a lot, there are still THOUSANDS of acres of battlefield land there that remain unprotected in any fashion and in private hands. It’s absolutely appalling that he would make such an inane and ignorant statement.

What’s not to understand, Mr. McKinney? Your record of not caring a whit about preserving the battlefield and your conflict of interest have already been made abundantly clear. Actually, I think we quite have the measure of you…..

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