31 August 2009 by Published in: Battlefield preservation 5 comments

From today’s edition of the on-line version of the Culpeper Star-Exponent newspaper:

Watching history march by

JEFF SAY, JSAY@STAREXPONENT.COM , (540) 825-0771 EXT. 115
Published: August 31, 2009

BRANDY STATION
Behind a winding country road sits a historic house.Many would never give the little sign off Carrico’s Mills Road a second glance, and that would be a mistake. Because if you follow that road far enough, you will find a home that witnessed thousands of Union and Confederate troops marching along its property.

Very few members of the public have had an opportunity to tour Berry Hill Farm, which sits close to Stoney Ford, on Mountain Run, one of the most heavily traversed fords in the county.

Thanks to the Brandy Station Foundation’s 20th anniversary fall celebration, the public will have an opportunity to tour the home, owned by Geraldine Schneider and her late husband Jorge.

The celebration, slated for Sept. 13 from 1 to 4 p.m., will give a glimpse at the home and its surroundings while offering a speech from award-winning Civil War historian and author Eric J. Wittenberg.

The centerpiece of the celebration, however, will be the opportunity to receive a tour of the house, courtesy Mrs. Schneider.

History of the home
Alexander Thom settled the property in 1762 when he bought 300 acres from Tom Slaughter.

After his death, his son John Triplett Thom bought the property next door, already named Berry Hill, which added 1,200 acres. The home was a grand Georgian house of large proportions, sitting on a ridge with commanding views of the mountains.

By the time of the Civil War, the house had been abandoned and was left in a ruinous, neglected state.

It became a headquarters in 1862 for Confederate Gen. Dick Ewell, though both sides camped on the property at different times.

“I can’t emphasize how historic the house is,” Brandy Station Foundation board member and noted historian Clark “Bud” Hall said. “There is a real tactical significance to Berry Hill. After all, Stoney Ford, the most heavily traveled military ford on Mountain Run, is practically in the front yard of this house.”

Like many homes in Culpeper County, Berry Hill was a victim of war, as Federal troops were ordered to burn it to the ground in December 1863.

“They literally carried straw into the house, the Union army did,” BSF board member Helen Geisler said. Only the foundation stones were left.

According to the book “My Dear Brother” by Catherine Thom Bartlett, granddaughter of Pembroke Thom, the stones were carted off to build chimneys and other structures for the Union encampment.

In March 1864, William Ross purchased the property and rebuilt the home in 1865.

“The house does justice to its historic setting simply because it’s situated precisely upon its historic footprint,” Hall said.

The home changed hands several times before the Schneiders bought it 59 years ago.

Sharing history
The Schneiders were living in New York City in 1950, but were looking for a home for Geraldine’s mother, originally from Georgia.

Because of her husband’s work as an engineer for the Brazilian government, they didn’t want to find a home in Georgia because it would be too far away to visit on a frequent basis. So, Virginia was decided on by compromise.

Geraldine found the property at Brandy Station, almost by accident, simply by browsing the real estate section of the New York Times.

She remembers her first encounter with the property being an adventure.

“There wasn’t any road to get directly to the house,” Schneider said. “There was a road from Route 675 that came from Curtis’, but that was a right of way. I had to get out of the car and walk all the way up to here.”

When they made it to the house, they found it in disrepair. The paint was chipping, the mantles, doors and door moldings were all stored in the barn.

With a little love and a skilled carpenter’s help, the Schneiders restored the home to its past brilliance.

Before moving in, the Schneiders were unaware of the history attached to Berry Hill. But as they grew acclimated to the community, it was hard not to realize its importance.

“You can’t avoid it in Culpeper history,” Schneider said. “We enjoyed doing things with the museum. We became involved, and then we began to receive visitors.

“One distant relative came from California, the woman who wrote ‘My Dear Brother.’ She came several times, she wrote the book, and we ordered several copies of it. That started mother and I off. We traveled into town and tried to trace the history back. The one book, the one we really wanted, back to the 1700s was carried off by the Northern soldiers as souvenirs.”

The home is full of stories for Schneider and her family. She points to the cottage next to the nearly 200-year-old barn and tells of its creation.

“The Catholic Charities were brining people over from Europe after the war, and were looking for homes for them to stay,” Schneider recalled. “At that time we weren’t using the downstairs and my mother was staying here.”

Wanting to keep her mother company while she and her husband were away, the Schneiders housed a man and his family in the cellar.

“He said, ‘Mrs. Schneider, I was sent to Siberia and we had to build our own houses,’” she remembered. “‘If you let me cut some trees, I can build something here.’ Oh, my husband was delighted. He got a sawmill for him. He chose his trees, cut them into boards. We went over to Mr. Prince’s on the other side of Alanthus (Road), and that’s the log cabin over by the barn.”

In the 1900s the farm was the home to Berry Hill Dyspepsia Water, advertised as “for dyspepsia, indigestion, constipation and all forms of stomach disorders. Remedy of great merit for kidney diseases, acid, diathesis, stone, gravel, rheumatism, and dropsical affections.”

The spring from which the water came is still on the property, but is now only used as a conversation piece for visitors.

The Schneiders first decided to share their home with visitors after joining the Culpeper Historic Society years ago, but were away for several years before returning permanently about two years ago.

Since then, more people have come asking to see the home, prompting her to allow it be opened for the BSF fall celebration.

“I thought, I don’t mind sharing what I’ve been enjoying all my life,” Schneider said.

Celebrating 20 years
The fall celebration also serves as an opportunity for the board to honor all of its members for 20 years of service to the battlefield.

Geisler said 66 members have been invited to attend, and they will receive a special recognition at the luncheon.

Wittenberg’s speech will likely be a highlight for those attending, but just being invited was a highlight for the writer, Hall said.

“He’s a terrific cavalry scholar,” Hall said. “He’s written prolifically on cavalry actions during the Civil War. He’s a close personal friend, and I called him and told him to get his rear out here from Ohio.

“He views this particular invitation as one of the crowning achievements of his career.”

For the volunteers of the Brandy Station Foundation, making 20 years as an organization has to be a crowning achievement as well.

Hall recalled the early days and how the BSF was looked upon as “outsiders trying to stop development.” Now, they are seen as responsible neighbors.

“The important thing about battlefield preservation is that this is community service at its least selfish,” Hall said. “People come forth, give of their own time and resources to aid the cause of America’s greatest cavalry battlefield. This is the most generous token of human kindness that can be considered.

“That is important. No one gets paid here. And, it takes real human courage to serve in a then-unpopular but just cause.”

This just cause has helped save hundreds of acres of pristine battlefield, and has given the foundation a chance to showcase wonderful pieces of living history like Berry Hill.

“Not a lot of people have visited this house because of its remote location,” Hall said. “This is an opportunity to see one of Culpeper’s most historic homes that most people in this county have not seen.”

Want to go?
What: Brandy Station Foundation’s 20th anniversary fall
celebration
When: Sept. 13, 1 to 4 p.m.
Where: Berry Hill Farm, 22544 Carrico Mills Road, Brandy Station
RSVP: Reservations must be received by Sept. 6. Call Helen Geisler at 399-1637 or e-mail director@brandystationfoundation.com .
Directions: From Culpeper, on U.S. 29 at Brandy Station light, turn right onto Ailanthus Road, go left at the stop sign and follow the road to the right as it crosses the railroad tracks. Continue straight, as you are now on Carrico Mills Road. Travel 2.8 miles to a stone-pillared driveway marked Berry Hill Farm Drive. Be aware, it is a long driveway.

Original member of BSF recalls struggles
It’s hard for Clark “Bud” Hall to believe it’s been 20 years since the Brandy Station Foundation was formed.

Hall, a driving force behind the genesis of the local battlefield preservation group, recently recalled some of the struggles endured in those early years.

In the mid-1980s, Hall moved to Virginia while working for the FBI. Immensely interested in the tactical strategies of the Civil War, he was drawn to Brandy Station in an attempt to understand the movements of JEB Stuart’s cavalry division on June 9, 1863.

Through the courtesy of generous landowners, Hall was welcomed onto their property, where he was in awe of the vast scope of the huge and magnificent battlefield.

“It became clear to me that heretofore the battlefield had never been properly documented,” Hall said. “It had never been mapped. There were accounts written about the battle of Brandy Station, but none were at the tactical level.”

A Marine infantryman in the Vietnam War, Hall was familiar with terrain, specifically how it affects leadership. His original plan was simply to visit the battlefield and put together a photographic narrative of the battle.

Fate soon intervened.

While visiting the farms of Bob Button, Fred Gordon, Whitney Pound, Aubrey Foster, Bill Spillman Cita Ward, the Strauss family and many others, Hall became aware that the battlefield was dangerously exposed to development.

“That shocked me as a first-time visitor to Brandy Station, that none of the battlefield was protected,” Hall said.

Geographically and numerically, the largest battlefield in America, Brandy Station was in for yet another skirmish.

Battling development
At the time, Hall was a board member of the Association of the Preservation of Civil War Sites, now the Civil War Preservation Trust.

In the late 1980s, developer Lee Sammis from California secured several farms, encompassing nearly 5,000 acres of critical battlefield land.

Alarmed that the Brandy Station battlefield might be lost, Hall suggested to APCWS that a local group be formed to help preserve the land.

The board agreed, and put Hall in charge of helping to form the organization. A wide array of supporters was quickly assembled — preservation lawyers, landowners, neighbors, teachers and housewives all sat on the original Brandy Station Foundation board.

Culpeper County rezoned the land for an industrial office park, which sparked the foundation into action. They subsequently filed a lawsuit against the county and Sammis for the violation of the county’s comprehensive plan.

“People ask me today, ‘Did we do the right thing in filing lawsuits?’” Hall said. “Well, nobody likes litigation, least of all me, but the battlefield is still there and still undeveloped.”

While fighting the development, the foundation got the reputation of being anti-job, of being outsiders.

“And all we were trying to do was to save principal areas of the battlefield where the fighting occurred,” Hall said.

Sammis then went into bankruptcy. However, another developer, James Lazor, came into the picture. A portion of the land Sammis owned was sold to Lazor, who planned a Formula 1 racetrack on the battlefield.

“I was explaining the battlefield to him (Lazor), just he and I,” Hall recalled. “I said ‘Right here where you want to put your concession stands, is where the commanding general of the federal cavalry stood directing his troops in the low ground beneath us, where you want to build your track.’

“I said, ‘The race-track plan you have slated for this land is completely inappropriate.’ He turned to me and said, ‘You might not like it, but I’m going to build my racetrack here.’

“I turned to him and responded, ‘I’ll take that action; you’ll never build your racetrack here.’ And he never did.”

After Lazor’s initiative folded, the AWCPS bought that land.

Twenty years later, how did the BSF succeed in its mission of saving the battlefield?

“George Washington was once asked, ‘To what do you owe your success, general?’ And he said, ‘That’s a fair question. I kept my army in the field.’ And we kept our army in the field. We never gave up,” Hall said. “We were relentless.”

“In the end, it all worked out, thank God. Now, the Brandy Station Foundation isn’t looked upon as ugly ogres anymore. We’re looked upon as responsible neighbors — which is exactly what we are.”

“In the beginning, and in the end, we were proved right,” Hall said. “What we were looking to do was to prevail for a battlefield that couldn’t speak for itself.

“Now, most of the Brandy Station Battlefield is forever protected. I wish for that accomplishment to serve as a personal legacy. And oh, by the way, we’re not finished yet. In fact, preservation efforts continue today at Brandy Station. We’ll never stop trying to save the entire battlefield.”

Bud Hall, more than anyone else, embodies the struggle to save the battlefield at Brandy Station, and I am personally grateful to him, both for his efforts, and for inviting me to come and speak at such an important event. It’s my honor to do so, and I hope to see some of you there.

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Comments

  1. Mon 31st Aug 2009 at 11:09 am

    Eric, Indeed Berry Hill Farm is a historian’s dream. Lots of history surrounding the site, and lots of the story to be told! Looking forward to the event.

  2. Barry Dusel
    Mon 31st Aug 2009 at 3:16 pm

    As the descandant of a trooper from the 6th PA who shed his blood on this field . I too say “Thank You Bud” . Words can’t express my gratitude.

  3. brenda johnson
    Wed 14th Oct 2009 at 5:05 pm

    i have the book,my dear brother,a confederate chronicle by catherine thom bartlett1952,gaven to me by my sister.is very interesting indeed.

  4. Robin Rudy Carrico
    Mon 24th Oct 2016 at 7:31 pm

    Was the road always called Carrico Mill even during the Civil War?

  5. Mon 24th Oct 2016 at 8:13 pm

    Correct–the road was named Carrico Mill Road in 1863.

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