15 June 2009 by Published in: Battlefield stomping 16 comments

Yesterday finally ended three weeks of insanity.

On Friday morning, I hit the road for Virginia, headed for Culpeper. It’s nearly 435 miles each way, and it’s a LONG drive. I reached the Graffiti House at Brandy Station about 3:30, and then spent the next 90 minutes laying out a driving tour for my Brandy Station book, including shooting GPS coordinates for the stops on the tour (I ended up shooting 36 of them). I then went and checked into my hotel, had dinner in the hotel restaurant, and spent the evening watching the Pens beat the big, bad Red Wings to bring Lord Stanley’s Cup home to Pittsburgh. It was really pretty remarkable.

Last summer, I auctioned off a two-day tour as a fundraiser for battlefield preservation, and this weekend was time to deliver the goods. That’s why I made the trip. Saturday, with the help of Mike Block, who is a member of the board of trustees of the Brandy Station Foundation, who came along to help me lead the tour, we covered the Battles of Kelly’s Ford and Brandy Station in detail. We finished at the National Cemetery in Culpeper. This is now the second time that Mike and I have done this dog-and-pony show, and we really work together well. I really enjoy doing tours with him.

I was also fortunate enough to have Prof. Chris Stowe, who teaches at the Army Command and General Staff College’s branch campus at Fort Lee in Petersburg, VA, along. Chris is working on George Gordon Meade’s papers, and he is extremely knowledgeable. Finally, I had the opportunity to have Tim Ferry and Lance Williams along, and we had a great day. After a long, hot day, I then had dinner with old friend Melissa Delcour at a terrific Italian place in Culpeper called Luigi’s that I highly recommend.

The Brandy Station battlefield looks great, with the exception of the hideous McMansion that was built on the crest of Fleetwood Hill. We saw pretty much the whole field, although we didn’t hike out to the stone wall on the Cunningham farm. The ground was too soggy, and there would have been too many snakes and too many mosquitoes out there, and I made the command decision not to expose ourselves to it.

On Sunday, I took Chris, Tim, and the four fellows who won the tour to Trevilian Station. We drove the 45 miles down, toured the battlefield–none had been there previously–and then I took Tim and one of the others back to the Graffiti House, where they had left their cars. While I didn’t go off into the woods to look at the property–no time for that–I was able to confirm that the parcel of property that is going to be the subject of the CWPT’s next fundraising campaign is a key parcel because it connects the first and second days’ battlefields with a pristine parcel to make that link. It’s a pristine, 250-acre parcel that was part of the farm that was a major portion of the second day’s battlefield that was called the Gentry farm in 1864.

I then had to drive home. I left at 3:00, and got home at nearly 9:45. With the trip to Trevilians, I drove about 550 miles yesterday while making the banzai run. By the time I got home, I was completely exhausted, and I am still tired now, even after a decent night’s sleep in my own bed last night.

There’s nothing I love more than battlefield stomping, but after three straight weekends of leading tours and too much driving, I am worn out. I’m thrilled at the prospect of actually being home this weekend for a change. I also haven’t had a chance to see stuff I want to see because I’ve been leading tours non-stop. It would be nice to see something new while having someone else lead the tour for a change.

Anyway, that’s it for the banzai runs for now. I have a talk to the Western Pennsylvania Civil War Roundtable on Wednesday night, and then nothing again until October. It’s going to be a nice break. In the meantime, if any of my readers are in the Pittsburgh area, I hope you can make the talk on Wednesday night.

Scridb filter


  1. The Generals Wife
    Mon 15th Jun 2009 at 8:03 pm

    “It would be nice to see something new while having someone else lead the tour for a change.”

    I am afraid that The General will never be able to see new things on a battlefield. Unless, of course, the new things relate to the Western Theater, and involves only the Infantry and/or the Navy.


  2. JE
    Mon 15th Jun 2009 at 8:26 pm


    Would it be possible for you to bring along a copy of ‘Protecting the Flank’ to the meeting? It has been on my ‘to buy’ list for a few months. I’m looking forward to your talk…thanks for coming to our neck of the woods!

  3. Tue 16th Jun 2009 at 3:52 pm

    Wish I could come Eric. We just had all the relatives from the ‘Burg down to VA last weekend and I think we’d be sick of each other if I came back to the Motherland so soon. Have a great talk. (BTW: The edited YS manuscript will be arriving in the coming week. Our beloved proofer just finished the worst players section.)

  4. Joseph McKinney
    Tue 16th Jun 2009 at 4:29 pm

    Living here in Brandy Station, I have some knowledge of local events.

    I understand that the new house on Fleetwood was built to accommodate the landowner’s extended family, not to spite preservationists. In fact, the landowner has been most gracious in allowing visitors on BSF tours to tramp through his yard.

    Further, I doubt that many, if any, here in Culpeper County share your view that the landowner is a “jerk.” He is a highly respected business owner and is very involved in supporting the community.

  5. Jeff Mancini
    Tue 16th Jun 2009 at 10:53 pm

    I think any time a respected businessman purchases an historically important piece of land that one should research its importance and put into context just what may be altered should one choose to alter the natural topography. We are talking about the essence of the Battle of Brandy Station when we speak of Fleetwood Hill. It is where the inflection point of this epic Cavalry clash occurred. Now to put into focus Eric’s comment’s: I have read his rants regularly for over three years. Sometimes I think I know him. I understand his passions and yes I admire his hard work on the subject. He usually speaks from the heart and mind. If one overlaps the other he deserves a pass. Sometimes I feel I am stealing when I read his rants albeit at no charge and full of thoroughly researched material. The land on the Brandy Station Battle field has special meaning to him and to other Civil War Cavalry purists. Its one of the holygrounds of the Civil War when it comes to the Cavalry branch. Opinions vary I back the big guy on this. Its just too darn important to see Fleetwood Hill obstructed in any way, shape or form. You in Culpepper County know that but you let him build on it anyway. Shame on you allowing that permit to go forward. Eric is speaking on behalf of a lot of us. We admire his blunt assessment as probably a little closer to the truth than you might lead on to. Yeah its a free country but it was kept free in part by the men who perished on that hill. So you can understand where some of us are coming from and thats our 1st amendment right. Its Ok to support the community its another thing to destroy an important view of history.

  6. Eric McDannell
    Wed 17th Jun 2009 at 7:14 pm

    Eric, it’s nice to see we have something else in common besides a love of the civil war – the Penguins!!
    What a win.

  7. Joseph McKinney
    Thu 18th Jun 2009 at 7:15 pm

    I was not going to respond to Mr. Mancini, but my wife — also a retired army lieutenant colonel — urged me to do so. First some facts. There has been a house on the site of the so called “spite house” for all but 7 or 8 of the last 150 years. The Millers built in 1859. That house burned in the 1880s and the then-owners — the Millers were long gone — rebuilt. The 2nd house stood until 1999 or 2000 when — derelict, termite ridden, and overgrown — the present landowner tore it down. By the way, currently there are four houses on the land that was fought-over by the troopers in Percy Wyndham’s and Grumble Jones’ brigades on June 9, 1863.

    I reject the implication that we in Culpeper were somehow remiss when we “let [the landowner] build anyway.” The house is in compliance with long-standing zoning and land use restrictions and meets building codes. I doubt that many county officials anywhere in this country would find much fault with a property owner wanting to build a personal residence on a parcel he has owned for 20 or 30 years. This is hardly equivalent to Wal-Mart in the Wilderness or Disney’s America in Haymarket.

    I don’t take issue with anyone’s opinion that Fleetwood ought to be preserved. Nor do I take issue with those who feel that the view of Fleetwood was more esthetically pleasing in the period between when the 1880s house came down and the present house went up. In my previous post, I simply took exception to the assertion that the house was built to spite preservationists, and to the characterization of the landowner as a “jerk.” I continue to stand by those comments.

    Mr. Mancini, If you are interested in learning about Fleetwood Hill, be at the Graffiti House in Brandy Station at 10:00 am next Saturday, June 27. I’ll be leading a 2-hour tour of Fleetwood as a volunteer for the Brandy Station Foundation. The BSF fee is $10. Hope to see you there!

  8. Jeff Mancini
    Thu 18th Jun 2009 at 9:55 pm

    Mr. McKinney: Thank you for your enlightened response to my post and please extend my personal good wishes and respects to your wife as well. I did not intend to personalize my post and I regret if it was interpreted that way. The salient points of both of your posts are duly noted and I stand corrected if my angle is misconstrued or taken out of context. However I rationalize that protecting Civil War battlegrounds can often be interpreted as impediments to economic development and expansion and that their existence impedes progress. For most people in Culpeper County I suspect that the Brandy Station battlefield is considered a viable and acceptable attraction to many and that in its present form it probably is extremely representative of the battlefield minus the obstructed view at Fleetwood Hill. I live in Las Vegas Nevada but intend to visit Brandy Station one day.Too bad the view is obstructed. I mean if someone were to have built a McMansion at Antietam at say Burnside’s Bridge or at Gettysburg on Cemetary Ridge there would be a much larger backlash than the McMansion of Fleetwood Hill. As a BSF volunteer you completely understand the battlefield like Trevilian Station and Yellow Tavern as the three main monuments of Eastern Theatre cavalry operations in Virginia that are at least preserved enough to interpret and understand the essence of that branches clashes in the Civil War. Rather than clash with you and sermonize the issue I thank you for your support of the BSF and your role in articulating both sides of the desire to maintain some balance on this issue. Cool clear heads should prevail and I suspect that Eric’s passion on the topic was the true focus of the discussion. He has and will push the envelope on this and other topics. Trust me he needs no introduction or in hockey parlance (an interest we both share) me being the third man in. He is quite capable of fighting his battles. I simply backed him on the issue that Fleetwood Hill is somewhat marginalized as a site by the building of a McMansion.Extend the appreciation to the owner over his allowing preservationists and historians to approach the area to learn about Brandy Station. Responding with utmost respect. JM

  9. Joseph McKinney
    Thu 18th Jun 2009 at 10:21 pm

    Dear Mr. Mancini,

    Sorry that you won’t be able to make it to the tour next weekend, but since you live in Nevada, I completely understand.

    If you can get back this way in the future, please contact me. I’m in the phone book, or can be reached through the contacts on the BSF website.

    Since I’m retired, I’m pretty flexible, and would be happy to take a few hours to show you the Brandy Station battlefield. We’re fortunate that between the BSF and the CWPT much of the battlefield land is protected. We are also fortunate that because of the support of local landowners, we have access to privately owned portions of the battlefield. Unlike many battlefields, Brandy Station looks today much like it did in 1863.

    I look forward to hearing from you in the — hopefully — not too distant future.


    Joseph McKinney

  10. Jeff Mancini
    Thu 18th Jun 2009 at 10:42 pm

    Mr. McKinney: Thank you for the quick response. It was articulated like the fine Virginia gentleman that I suspect you are. The BSF is well regarded for its great stewardship that protects this land. Civil War historians constantly reach out to one another and implore others to understand the need to preserve and maintain the symbols of a struggle that pitted us against each other. That our passions and beliefs were genuine and worth fighting for and that in the end worth reconciling over for a better future. Hope to see you soon and thanks again to you and the others in Culpeper for your allowing others to have a glimpse at this landmark.

  11. Jeff Mancini
    Thu 18th Jun 2009 at 11:07 pm

    I just wanted to share with all of you one other point about battlefield preservation. Me being out here in Las Vegas might not be the most appropriate type of angle but let me explain. I have lived, grown up and prospered in Las Vegas since 1968. Basically my father got into the gaming business when I was at a young age. I have lived to see my city grow into this incredible modern metropolis in the middle of the Mojave desert. In 1968 a number of Las Vegas Hotel/Casino’s like today lined the Las Vegas Strip: Properties such as the Sahara, the Riviera, the Flamingo and the Tropicana still exist in some form like they did in 1968. However most of the other properties that stood here much like in the well known movies Ocean’s 11 and Diamonds are Forever no longer exist. Legendary resorts like the Thunderbird, the Stardust, the Desert Inn, the Landmark, the Sands, the Dunes, the Aladdin,the Castaways, the Silver Slipper, the Hacienda and others are no longer in existence. Simply put the progressive thinking of the hotel casino owners in their zeal to compete and outdo each other building state of the art luxurious palaces packed with every amenity imaginable simply hire crews to empty and gut the perceived obsolete properties, fill them with dynamite, stage elaborate implosions of their shells, blade off the remainder and procede to build a brand new state of the art for its time new colossal hotel casinos.I’ve seen this scenario occur time after time after time. Now imagine if a Civil War battlefield were in the midst of the Las Vegas Strip and one can imagine how if and when change can occur and at what consequence. We bulldoze our historical landmarks. Back in Civil War country its not that simple. Just a thought. Did not want to hijack this thread and if I did I apologize.

  12. Christ Liebegott
    Sat 20th Jun 2009 at 3:18 pm

    Did you ever make it to Edgworth? I was going to try to get to your presentation, but when I saw some old guy building an ark, I thought better of it.

  13. Jim
    Tue 04th Aug 2009 at 12:14 pm

    I first visited the Graffiti House during the 145th Anniversary of the Battle of Brandy Station, and found a few “cuzzins” that were on the field that day, and, likely, in the building at one time or another.

    On a subsequent visit I snapped a photo and added the Graffiti House as a subject of replicas that I produce. I believe they have one on display there. I make a donation to the Battlefield Foundation from every Graffiti House replica that is sold ( although we’ve only sold a few so far). … just my way of contributing to save our hallowed ground.

    (I’ve done the Pritchard House in Kernstown as well). I need to post the Graffiti House replica online on our website … http://www.SundanceReplicas.com.

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