February, 2012

Today, I received the following letter in the mail from the Brandy Station Foundation:

Dear Mr. Wittenberg,

It is my responsibility to inform you that the Board of Directors has voted against accepting your application for membership in the Brandy Station Foundation. The basis for that decision is Article 2, Section 3, of the Brandy Station Foundation’s by laws.

I am returning your application form.


Margaret L. Misch, Secretary
Brandy Station Foundation

I had submitted my membership application, along with the annual dues of $25, plus an additional $25. And, as you can see, it was rejected.

The provision of the by-laws cited as the justification for refusing us membership states: “Termination of Membership. A member may resign at any time. The Board of Directors may request the resignation, or terminate the membership, of a member for any act or omission deemed to be inconsistent with or harmful to the goals of the Foundation.” The 2009 Annual Report for the BSF establishes the following as the strategic goals of the organization:

The Board of Directors has identified four strategic goals which focus all the activities of the BSF. These are:
(1) Conserve, protect and nurture the historic rural character of the Brandy Station area;
(2) Preserve and protect the Brandy Station Battlefield and related sites of historical significance for the appreciation and education of future generations;
(3) Recognize the courage and dedication of soldiers who fought and served here; and
(4) Advance the knowledge and understanding of the history of the battles, the region and its environment.

It bears noting that most of the former members of the board who resigned over the Lake Troilo fiasco have received identical rejections, including Clark B. Hall, the founder and former president of the organization. Let me see if I’ve got this right: the founder of the organization and the man most responsible for saving the battlefield is considered detrimental to that organization by the current board. I cannot think of a bigger slap in the face.

I cannot see where our actions to hold McKinney and the Board of Appeasers accountable for their malfeasance runs afoul of these stated goals or justifies a refusal to permit us to be members, but they seem to think it does. In fact, we’re trying to force them to do precisely what they’ve been charged to do: preserving and protecting the battlefield. Therefore, it seems that our actions are precisely in compliance with the goals and objectives of the organization.

There can be only one explanation for this outcome: Joseph McKinney–the non-preservationist in charge of the BSF–and his Board of Appeasers are afraid that those of us who actually care about preserving the battlefield will mount a campaign at the annual meeting of the BSF in April and vote them out of office, thereby (a) rejecting their appeasement policy and (b) ending their little fiesta of self-aggrandizement at the expense of the preservation of the battlefield.

Apparently, exercising one’s First Amendment right to the freedom of speech makes one a trouble-maker who can not be a member of the BSF. So, McKinney and the rest of the Board of Appeasers have now determined that they’re empowered to dictate whether members of the organization have the right to criticize an idiotic policy at the threat of terminating their memberships. The last time I checked–and I did graduate from law school 25 years ago–we Americans have the right to freely speak our minds–even in an offensive fashion–without fear of retribution. Either I’m wrong, or, more likely, McKinney and the Board of Appeasers have determined that they’re above the law, and able to dictate to their members what those members say, think, or do.

The problem with that approach is that the BSF is a 501(c)(3) organization. In order to maintain that status, it is required to comply with the law. One of the primary rules pertaining to 501(c)(3) organizations is that they are not permitted to discriminate against potential members, and that they are required to accept anyone qualified as a member. Refusing membership because someone has exercised his or her First Amendment right to free speech does not fall within the legal definition of grounds for disqualifying someone from membership. This means that McKinney and the Board of Appeasers have made yet another terrible decision in the exercise of their own self-interest: in refusing us membership to save their own positions, they have now jeopardized the 501(c)(3) status of the organization. Legal counsel is presently investigating this, and if I am correct about this, I intend to report them to the IRS.

Perhaps then, these morons will realize that they’re not bigger than, nor above, the law.

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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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I apologize for the protracted silence, but my job has gotten in the way of my hobby, which I just hate. I’m involved in some very complicated litigation arising out of the foreclosure crisis that has caused me to make four separate trips to Los Angeles since the first of December. I’ve been in Los Angeles for a combined total of nearly three weeks since then, and it has dramatically impacted my ability to do anything that’s not job-related.

The craziness seems to have settled down for now, so it looks like I will have more time to devote to blogging. I have an interesting guest post that will follow yet tonight. In the meantime, I hope you will forgive my protracted but unwanted absence from this blog.

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