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August, 2009

On Thursday, I accepted an invitation that I was honored to receive. I have been invited to be the keynote presenter at the 20th anniversary picnic commemorating the founding of the Brandy Station Foundation, which will be on September 13, 2009, at Berry Hill Farm in lovely Culpeper County, Virginia. The event begins at 1:00, and I will be speaking between 2:30 and 3 on a subject that is near and dear to my heart, “Preservation and the Brandy Station Battlefield.

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In response to yesterday’s post, my friend Bud Hall has weighed in on the loss of the southern end of Fleetwood Hill. This was originally a comment to the post, but it is important enough that I decided to feature it as a main post here.

Back in 1984, I was transferred to FBI Headquarters in Washington, and soon bought a home in Virginia. Growing up in Mississippi on a cotton farm–and descended from a 13th Mississippi infantryman–I of course retained in my genes a compelling interest in the Civil War.

My very first weekend trips took me (and my maps) to Brandy Station. Map and primary source analysis, as well as discussions with land owners, convinced me that the entirety of this immense battlefield was nearly as untouched and as pristine as it was when fought over so savagely on June 9,1863.

Now fast forward to 1987 when a California developer arrived at Brandy Station with intent to insert a mammoth, corporate office park directly upon the battlefield… I do not herein purport to convey a history of the long, hard-fought preservation struggle at Brandy Station, but those who are interested in revisiting that sad–but largely successful–chapter of Brandy Station’s “modern” history can “Google” the names, “Clark B. Hall, and Brandy Station.”

By far, the most prominent, fought-over and militarily-vital topographical feature on the entire battlefield is Fleetwood Hill, a two-mile long ridge, that fronts the Rappahannock River, to the north. And on Fleetwood itself, the southern terminus is the ground upon which most of the truly-significant fighting took place.

Demonstrating incredible sensitivity to Brandy Station’s most significant battlefield feature, The Civil War Preservation Trust and the Brandy Station Foundation have purchased (for huge sums) highly significant, invaluable battlefield acreage on the northern and southern slopes of Fleetwood–for which both organizations are to be highly commended. It is a fact that major portions of Fleetwood are now protected, in perpetuity.

But it is also a fact that the most important part of Fleetwood is now “commanded” by an offensive, monolithic structure purported to be a family home, but which is in fact a startling monument to gross, historical insensitivity, and in-your-face, “architectural” extravagance, writ blasphemously obscene.

Now, better than anybody–except the “home’s” owner, and one other person–I know exactly what happened, the consequence of which resulted in the tragic construction of this home smack dab on top of Fleetwood Hill. Suffice it to say: There were private discussions between the landowner, another party and myself, and these discussions broke down hard and bitterly–to my utter dismay…

The outcome of this preservation disaster is there today for anybody to see, and I blame myself as much as the home’s owner, simply because I could not re-start the negotiations that could have saved all of Fleetwood. In the end, it is a fact that good intentions do not trump the reality that spiteful arrogance does often carry the day.

So one day–after my Battle of Brandy Station book manuscript is finally published–I will write a long, truthful account of what we achieved at Brandy Station–and that which we lost.

In the end, thanks to CWPT and BSF, we have saved much of the battlefield for future generations, and I am here today informing you that more acreage will soon be secured at Brandy Station. The preservation of this momentous battlefield is my life’s work, and this labor will not cease until I am finally placed in the ground next to my dear, darling wife, Deborah Whittier Fitts–also a devoted champion of America’s greatest cavalry battlefield.

But also in the end, we should utter the harsh truth, as much as it hurts to admit it: The southern terminus of Fleetwood–the most important geographical icon at Brandy Station–is now forevermore “lost to history.”

And don’t let anybody else tell you otherwise.

Veritas

There are lessons to be learned, particularly when ego gets in the way of accomplishing an overarching objective. Here, the overarching objective was the preservation of the southern–and most visible–portion of Fleetwood Hill, and its loss is a real tragedy. Let us hope that by bringing these issues to the forefront, we can have a dialogue about them, learn those lessons, and hope that we can prevent something like this from happening again in the future.

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