31 July 2009 by Published in: Battlefield preservation 6 comments

My friend Clark “Bud” Hall wrote the following piece for his former column that appeared in the Culpeper Star-Exponent newspaper:

Fleetwood Hill: The Famous Plateau

“The Most Marched Upon, Camped Upon, Fought Upon, Fought Over Piece of Real Estate in American History.”

As one enters Culpeper County on U.S. Highway 29 from the northeast, your vehicle proceeds about four miles and soon passes a little knoll on the right. Scooped from the flood plain of the Rappahannock River, this grassy, gentle hillock marks the southern terminus of a two and a half mile ridge that witnessed more fighting, more often, than any other piece of ground in this country—in any war.

Fleetwood Hill—geologically the beach of a primeval sea—overlooks a broad, flat, Triassic plateau that sweeps all the way to the river. “This hill commands the finest country for cavalry fighting I ever saw or fought upon,” avowed an experienced colonel.

A military commander bent on advancing his troops for attack toward Culpeper Court House from Fauquier must first ford the Rappahannock and then deploy his command on a broad front as he moves for attack. Unfortunately for the would-be attacker, this is the precise point where a serious obstacle presents itself because the aggressor soon learns (the hard way) his advance is threatened by artillery, infantry and flanking cavalry on Fleetwood Hill to his front.

A Confederate staff officer described the attacker’s dilemma: “This hill commanded the level country toward the Rappahannock and a force…must either carry the position or turn it.” A Southern horseman—he a son of Culpeper—also observed, “There was no movement of troops across the borders of Culpeper that artillery did not blaze from its summits and charging squadrons, on its slopes and around its base, did not contend for supremacy.”

Immortally characterizing Fleetwood Hill as “the famous plateau,” Jeb Stuart’s Chief of Staff penned colorful accounts of the Battle of Brandy Station. This huge cavalry action was highlighted by massive, decisive charges, concluding finally when Federal attackers were driven off Fleetwood on June 9, 1863. In fact, there were 21 separate military actions on Fleetwood Hill during the Civil War—far more than any other battle venue in this country.

Increasing its strategic import for military commanders, Fleetwood hovers above the village of Brandy Station, just a half mile away. Significantly, the ridge—and artillery thereupon—overlooks five converging road junctions in the hamlet. (An early name for the village was in fact “Crossroads.”) Of further consequence, the vital Orange & Alexandria Railroad sliced past the southern base of the hill and the village was a transport station.

The famous Carolina Road (Rt. 685), the major north-south thoroughfare of the Colonial and Civil War eras, bisects the southern terminus of the ridge—a roadway utilized dozens of times by both marching armies to shift artillery and wagons. For the convenience of passing or camping troops, “a remarkable spring,” Herring’s Spring, flowed strong and clear from the base of the hill on the north side (still does) and Flat Run marks the bottom of the southern slope.

During the winter encampment of the Army of the Potomac in 1863-1864, the entirety of the length of Fleetwood was used as a well-drained camping platform by thousands of troops. Gen. George Meade selected a spur of Fleetwood as his headquarters site and it is on Fleetwood that Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Gen. Meade planned the Overland Campaign.

So the next time you are headed out on Highway 29 past Brandy Station, kindly glance up at the little knoll just west of the road and note that this unpretentious little ridge has seen more military action than any other piece of ground in American history. And you will also then smugly conclude that “Fleetwood Hill: The Famous Plateau,” provides yet another momentous historical distinction for our own Culpeper County.

Bud’s point is well-taken. There is probably no other piece of ground anywhere in North America that saw more determined fighting than did Fleetwood Hill, which was the site of FOUR different major cavalry battles between August 1862 and October 1863, and which also served as a major portion of the winter encampment of the Army of the Potomac during the winter of 1863-64.

Troilo House
Bud will be contributing more regarding the failure to preserve Fleetwood Hill and the McMansion that blights that historic ground today. Stay tuned. Thanks to Craig Swain for the picture of that hideous McMansion, which ruins the sight lines on the hill.

Scridb filter

Comments

  1. Clark Hall
    Fri 31st Jul 2009 at 11:34 am

    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

  2. Fri 31st Jul 2009 at 11:38 am

    Thank you for chiming in on this important issue, Bud. I really appreciate it, and tomorrow, I will take your comment and turn it into a main post in the hope that it will generate some discussion and debate. There are lessons to be learned from this episode, and my hope is that by bringing this issue to the forefront, we can spur dialogue that will help to insure that those difficult lessons are learned.

    Eric

  3. J. Scott
    Tue 26th Apr 2011 at 8:17 pm

    Bob Shachohis wrote a wonderful short story called, Where Pelham Fell about this plot of land. It is my favorite short story not written by Norman Maclean.

  4. Ira Houck
    Thu 06th Jun 2013 at 5:22 pm

    Did Mr. Hall ever write/ publish a book about Brandy Station?

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