Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Preservation Victories

Given the recent news on the fate of the Wilderness Battlefield, I thought some good news from the perservation front might be in order. I received a notice from CWPT President Jim Lighthizer today announcing the succesful acquisition of development rights to land at the center of the Port Republic battlefield in the Shenandoah Valley. Jackon's Valley Campaign is one of my favorites and CWPT previously preserved and interpreted land at both Port Republic and Cross Keys. Congratulations to CWPT, the Shenandoah Valley Battefields Foundation, and all who contributed to this worthy endeavor. On a more personal note, I visited numerous battlefields this past weekend on my annual Civil War battlefield tour. The tour included several sites that represent major victories for battlefield preservation.

I last visited most the eastern and western front sites at Petersburg many years ago. The area around the Crater seemed much improved. Parking has been relocated to a less intrusive spot, and the overall viewshed was more open than I remember. As we toured the area, park work crews removed trees, opening the viewshed from Fort Morton and the fourteen gun battery toward the Crater. Visitors will soon be able to view the scene from the perspective of Ambrose Burnside. Forts Fisher, Wadsworth, and Gregg on the western front are in an excellent state of preservation and well maintained. Sadly, the brochure boxes at the latter two sites were empty, so be sure to check at the visitors center beforehand for a copy of these guides. We detoured five miles south from Fort Wadsworth to visit Reams Station, a site preserved largely by the efforts of CWPT. Though a bit overgrown, the core of the battlefield is preserved. Here visitors can stand in the apex of Hancock's earthworks along the old Weldon Railroad (current Halifax Rd.) in the very position where Mahone's forces captured a 12 pounder that now resides in the visitors center.

From Petersburg we raced north, running out of daylight, toward the North Anna battlefield in Hanover County. This park exists mainly through cooperation by CWPT, Hanover County, and a local quarrying company. You may have read about the earthworks here. I was a bit underwhelmed at first, comparing them to the massive earthworks of Petersburg. Nevertheless, as my friend pointed out, these are temporary infantry works. With that understood, they truly are remarkable examples of the fortifications used by the armies in the Overland Campaign. As the interpetive signs indicate, the works here along the western face of Lee's famous inverted 'V' position demonstrate varying methods of construction and placement of traverses, not to mention positions to the rear constructed for a brigade commander and his staff. Definitely worth a visit, and a great success story of cooperation and compromise between competing interests.

Casting the war behind fortifications aside, we ventured to Trevilian Station and Brandy Station the following day. Both of these battlefields exist through the cooperation of dedicated local preservationists and CWPT, along with the Civil War Trails program. The Ogg Farm, which saw heavy fighting on the second day of Trevilian Station, remains largely undisturbed, and recent Civil War Trails markers detail the action there. Brandy Station is simply one of the most beautiful places I have visited in Virginia. I could have been developed into a racetrack. Admittedly, Fleetwood Hill has been partly lost to a mcmansion, but the successes are substantial. The area around St. James Church features excellent viewsheds and an interpretive trail covering Buford's advance from Beverly Ford. The Graffiti House, home of the Brandy Station Foundation, offers a quick orientation film, guided battlefield tours during the Summer, and interesting examples of Civil War graffiti lining the walls of the house. The house was scheduled to be burned down when the former owner discovered the graffiti beneath the existing wallpaper. For the rest of the story, I encourage you to visit.

Last up on our weekend tour were the battlefields at Manassas. Many of you are aware of the recent landscape restoration efforts of the park. I recall walking along the Deep Cut years ago and the difficulty of understanding the fighting that occurred there due to the tree growth in the area since the Civil War. The slope from Featherbed Lane to the Deep Cut is now open ground, and the clearing has been completed almost to the Brawner Farm area, opening a viewshed that did not exist previously. While this land was preserved long ago, I am excited by the landscape restorations completed by the NPS both here and at Gettysburg (I'm sure there are other projects in the works as well). Let's hope these efforts, and the funding to support them, continue.

I'll be posting more about my tour within the next few weeks. In the meantime, I hope this provides a tonic for those of you, like myself, who were disappointed in the recent news about the Wilderness Battlefield.

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