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New fund will preserve history
Governor announces new resources to preserve key Civil War parcels; public gets tour of one of them, the recently protected Wagner tract in Spotsylvania

 Jim Vitaletti carries Kaitlyn Hickey, 5, during a tour of the 85-acre Wagner Tract near Chancellorsville.
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Date published: 4/21/2010


They gathered under a crisp blue sky on a small Spotsylvania County farm to remember what happened on the spot 147 years ago, and to ensure that no one ever forgets.

About 200 people, including Gov. Bob McDonnell and House Speaker Bill Howell, R-Stafford, were there to celebrate the protection of the Wagner farm, and pave the way for the preservation of other hallowed ground still left in Virginia.

The occasion was an out-door bill signing east of Wilderness Baptist Church on State Route 3 where Confederate Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's daring May 1863 flank attack gave the South one of its greatest victories.

"In Virginia, we're blessed with so many incredible natural resources --oceans, mountains, history, battlefields from the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War so many foundational moments in our history happened right here," McDonnell said.

"Today is about not only historic preservation, but also about land conservation, environmental protection and a step toward my goal of creating 400,000 acres of open space protected during my administration."

The visit was one stop on McDonnell's Earth Week tour around the state commemorating conservation efforts and Earth Day.

Seated next to McDonnell were State Sen. Edd Houck, D-Spotsylvania, and Del. Chris Peace, R-Hanover, sponsors of Senate Bill 614 and House Bill 717. The bills, passed unanimously by the General Assembly, permanently authorize the Virginia Civil War Sites Preservation Fund.

A grant from the fund helped the Civil War Preservation Trust purchase the Spotsylvania farm from Frank Wagner, a Fredericksburg veterinarian, and his wife, Margot. The couple continue to live on the property under a lease-back agreement.

The Wagners moved to the land in 1985. At the time, Wagner said, he wasn't fully aware of the significance of the land, which sits inside the Chancellorsville battlefield national park boundary.

"We've learned a lot more about it since then. It's pretty neat. It's nice to see the land preserved."

The Washington, D.C.-based CWPT paid $2.1 million for the property. The state grant was augmented by a federal transportation grant, and donations.

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The Battle of Chancellorsville began May 1, 1863, and lasted almost three days. It was considered Gen. Robert E. Lee's greatest victory.

Lee divided his army in the face of superior Union forces, sending Lt. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson on a 12-mile flanking march around the Army of the Potomac.

National Park Service historian Frank O'Reilly led a tour on the Wagner Tract yesterday.

Here's his description of some of the key action, with the Confederates unexpectedly swinging in from the West to deliver a staggering blow to the unsuspecting Union Army:

"Five p.m., May 2. Gunfire erupts out in front of you." Within minutes, "the union line dissolves. One Union soldier said the Confederates struck like an avalanche. Another likened them to being a bolt of thunder on

a clear day."

"Twenty-thousand screaming Confederates struck the Union flank and destroyed their defenses. Confusion led to panic, and panic led to a rout."