20 February 2012 by Published in: Battlefield preservation 9 comments

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.

Scridb filter

Comments

  1. Todd Berkoff
    Tue 21st Feb 2012 at 8:42 pm

    Eric/Chuck –

    Has The Civil War Trust or Richmond Battlefields Association been contacted about the property? The CWT recently protected 227 acres of the cavalry action area of the First Deep Bottom Campaign of July 1864. I would think they would be interested in this property.

    http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/first-deep-bottom.html

    Todd Berkoff

  2. Chuck Bowery
    Tue 21st Feb 2012 at 11:37 pm

    Eric,

    Thank you for posting my articles, I greatly appreciate your generosity. Time is definitely running out on those few properties and the Battlefield itself.

    Todd,

    I contacted the Richmond Battlefield Association (RBA) a year ago. They walked around the farm with me, but unfortunately at the time, neither they nor I had complete information on the battle except for the basics. The information they had indicated a battle taking place south of Darbytown Road, which is only true for the second half of the battle. Their group has very limited funds and declined involvement in favor of Cold Harbor and Gaines’ Mill. 

    Since their visit, I have discovered a plethora of information, the strongest being Lt. Robert M. Hall’s Report, detailing the action north of Darbytown Road which I described in my article. 

    While I am not opposed to approaching the RBA again, the group’s members have been clear as to where they want to dedicate their money. While I wish the group had been more willing to step in, I have to respect their decision. Sadly, there is no other group in Richmond (to my knowledge) dedicated to protecting battlefields. 

    With Eric’s advice, I am going to look into establishing a Foundation for the Battlefield. However, the time involved in such an endeavor will not save the large parcels (the start of the battle) available now. I firmly believe that, currently, only the Civil War Trust can immediately step in and protect those parcels.

    Remember what I said in the first article. Edward Porter Alexander said he never saw Robert E. Lee agitated or hostile at any other point during the war, except on the morning of the Battle of Darbytown and New Market Roads. This battle obviously meant something to Lee. 

    The way it stands now, a huge swath of the Battlefield can be saved over time, starting with those available parcels. Saving the Darbytown Road Battlefield will give the story of the Civil War in Richmond an ending. Visitors could begin their Battlefield tour in Richmond with the Seven Days sites and then continue on to the Richmond/Petersburg sites ending their visit by walking virtually all of the Darbytown Road Battlefield, Lee’s last stand outside of Richmond.

    Chuck

  3. Wed 22nd Feb 2012 at 12:23 pm

    Richmond Battlefields Association is following the blog string on the Charles City Road/Darbytown Road/New Market Road battlefield with interest. Chuck Bowery contacted us about the availability of his grandfather’s former farm last year and several board members met him at the site for a tour. The area of combat stretches from Richmond International Airport on the north, across the airport expressway and Darbytown Road, and continues south to Route 5/New Market Road. The area is already impacted by the airport and its surrounding commercial activity, strips of residential development along the roads that cross the area, and finally by the expressway that bisects it all. The parcel Mr. Bowery showed us was about midway between Charles City Road and Darbytown Road, bordering the airport expressway. Mr. Bowery’s vision of a park that would encompass the wide expanse of this running cavalry fight is an attractive one and we would love to see it made real, but in the end the RBA board differed with Mr. Bowery over the prospect for meaningful preservation of this battlefield. His quest is a noble one and we wish him every success, but with our limited resources committed to initiatives at Gaines’ Mill, Cold Harbor and Fussell’s Mill, and in an area with dozens of historic sites competing for attention and funding, we made the difficult decision that we could not commit to Mr. Bowery’s project. We would love to hear your thoughts at http://www.saverichmondbattlefields.org. For those of you who have some ability with GPS programs the coordinates of the farm are Latitude 37°28’33.57″N, Longitude 77°19’52.66″W. Take a look at an aerial of the surroundings on a program like Google Earth and then let us know what you think. In the meantime we salute Chuck for his hard work and dedication to the tough slog of battlefield preservation.

    Ben Brockenbrough
    Chairman, Properties Committee

  4. Meredith Stout
    Wed 22nd Feb 2012 at 5:44 pm

    This area is worth preserving in my opinion if not for the sheer fact it is a piece of history but also because it is a beautiful and picturesque. I understand that there are many historic areas that we would all love to preserve and there may not be enough money to save them all, but this one should by no means “out of the running.” It deserves a second, third and fourth look. To lose this place would be a loss for all of us.

  5. Chuck Bowery
    Wed 22nd Feb 2012 at 7:34 pm

    I invite people to use Google Earth and view the land I am trying to save. Look for Richmond International Airport. Then look for the area framed by Charles City Road to the north, Britton Road to the east, Darbytown Road to the south and Miller Road to west. Will you see some development? Yes. You will also see a whole lot of green.

    Now, for comparison sake, I would like people to find the Beaver Dam Creek Unit of Richmond National Battlefield Park on Google Earth. Look for the intersection of Route 360 and Route 156 in Mechanicsville, then follow Route 156 a little to the east. What you will find is a park choked by housing developments. Compare that to the area I am trying to save. If you have visited the park, then you know how small it is. You can fit the walkable area at Beaver Dam Creek inside the entire potential preservable area of the Darbytown Road Battlefield 300 times over and that is not an exaggeration. Does that prevent the National Park Service from operating a Battlefield Park unit there?

    If you have been to Cold Harbor, does the section of the extended trail requiring you to cross a home owner’s driveway, or the section of the extended trail near the first audio station, which essentially dumps you into someone’s front yard, make that battlefield any less worthy of a visit or preserving? There are housing developments bordering the protected land at Glendale. How about the Fort Harrison Unit of Richmond National Battlefield Park? If Mr. Brockenbrough would like to make the argument that residential developments render a battlefield unfit for protection, I cannot think of a better example. There are houses in front of, behind, beside, within, and around the sections of the park like Forts Gilmer, Gregg, Hoke, Johnson and Brady. Sometimes when I visit Fort Gilmer, I wave at the home owner whose house practically sits on the earthworks.

    If Mr. Brockenbrough wants to complain that the Pocahontas Parkway is an intrusion on the Darbytown Road Battlefield, then he is free to do so. But aren’t there other battlefields where the exact same complaint can be made? The land the Civil War Trust is saving at Gaines’ Mill has I-295 as a neighbor and you can see the land from the interstate.

    Do not even get me started on the airport. In the past six months, I have heard planes flying over Malvern Hill more often than the Darbytown Road Battlefield and I live on it!

    The fact of the matter is, finding a perfect battlefield given development over the last 150 years is rare. That does not mean we all throw our hands up in the air and take our toys home. It means we do what previous generations did not, protect what remains.

    In all honesty, I do not know what Mr. Brockenbrough and his organization has against the Darbytown Road Battlefield. I will admit that when I approached his group, I did not have a lot of information, and some of the information I had at the time was incorrect. I wish that had not been the case. However, as any student of the Richmond/Petersburg Campaign will tell you, aside from Fort Stedman and the Crater, information on the 20+ battles in that campaign can be hard to find. Since his group visited, I have found a mountain of evidence which has allowed me to, not only correct my information, but substantially add to it. When I last communicated with Mr. Brockenbrough, he wanted me believe that what occurred on my Grandfather’s farm was nothing more than troop movement. Luckily, living and having grown up on the property, I know better than that and investigated further. I found two books, Richard Sommers’ “Richmond Redeemed” and Louis Manarin’s “Henrico County: Field of Honor” as well as Lt. Robert M. Hall’s own report on the battle indicating that what occurred on the farm was far more than troop movement, it was a battle.

    Despite how it may appear, I do not have anything against Mr. Brockenbrough and if the RBA came to me tomorrow saying they would like to help, then I would welcome them with open arms as allies to the bigger fight. All I am trying to do is what is right and what so many of us believe should be done.

    Chuck

  6. Todd Berkoff
    Wed 22nd Feb 2012 at 10:16 pm

    Mr. Bowery,

    I salute you for your efforts, but Mr. Brockenbrough’s response was polite, professional, and well-argued. Your response back to Mr. Brockenbrough seemed argumentative and accusatory. I defer to our esteemed webmaster on protocol, but I would suggest keeping the debate academic and civil.

    Todd Berkoff

  7. Meredith Stout
    Wed 22nd Feb 2012 at 10:57 pm

    I believe Mr. Bowery is a very passionate person and I think sometimes passion can come across as argumentative. Mr. Brockenbrough makes valid points to his side and so does Mr. Bowery. I think the only fair thing to do for both parties is to take another look. I speak as someone who thinks losing a living piece history would be a tragedy.

  8. Katherine Poarch
    Wed 22nd Feb 2012 at 11:54 pm

    I feel like the Civil War has been a part of my life as long as I can remember since my father did his Master’s Thesis on an unknown Confederate soldier found in what is now Confederate Hills Golf Course in Highland Springs.
    But that was many years ago, so I am glad to see some active discussion now about preserving these battlefields. I remember him telling me about how he walked the routes many times when preparing his thesis trying to track his unknown soldier’s footsteps. If I’m not mistaken (and please don’t let my father ever know if I am – hahaha), isn’t the battle Mr. Bowery is referencing the last battle Gen. Lee led north of the James River? If so, wouldn’t that raise its importance some due to the fact that interested parties could see the full picture of the Richmond battles?
    I think the main thing to keep in mind is that clearly Mr. Brokenbrough and Mr. Bowery are very passionate and intelligent individuals. I applaud both of them for taking a stand when I’m fairly certain these economic times have lowered saving historical sites even further on the political priority list.
    We all have come upon the limited resources barrier in various areas of our lives…. but I’m certain these two gentlemen have encountered it far more often relating to saving battlefields.
    I will say that Mr. Bowery’s point about these parcels being available currently does make that a more immediate concern than Mr. Brokenbrough’s point of areas that are not currently up for sale.
    I daresay that if these two could join together, they would be quite formidable.

  9. Sun 23rd Mar 2014 at 12:22 am

    Hello all,

    I was wondering if I could make contact with Chick Bowery or any of you other fellows that are familiar with the portion of the battlefield near White’s a Tavern, where the 5th PA Cavalry and 7th SC Cavalry fought on October 7, 1864. I live in Tulsa, OK but I’m an aircraft dealer and I fly over the country quite a bit picking up planes. I and a couple of my family members would like to stop in and visit sometime and see what history is detailed on the battle and where it all occurred.

    My great great grandfather, Robert Howard was a member of the 5th PA Cavalry, Co. F, and he was wounded in this battle on Oct 7, 1864 and lost a leg but survived.

    I would even try my best to help in the preservation efforts if possible. Would love to meet and shake the hands of you gentlemen that are wanting to preserve these sacred grounds.

    I can be reached at 918-260-7728 or via email at Dan@HowardAircraft.com

    PS: I have a hand drawn map of the battlefield between New Market Road and Charles City Road. I think it was in Chuck Bowery’s articles.

    Many thanks in advance!

    Dan W. Howard
    Tulsa, OK

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