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Conservation efforts add luster to Culpeper County's scenic landscape

 Union cavalry assaults the St. James Church area between Rooney Lee's knoll and the Gyory tract--now preserved.
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Date published: 7/26/2010


Three years ago, before the real estate market deflated, the Gyory property was proposed for a development eclipsing Fredericksburg's 2.2-million-square-foot Central Park. The biggest venture in Culpeper history, 3.4-million-square-foot Willow Run called for 300 condominiums, a 2,500-seat multiplex, a lighted golf course, a water park, a four-story hotel, offices and an equestrian center.

To help save the two tracts' open space, the Civil War Preservation Trust was asked to pay some of the landowners' closing costs, about $67,000.

At $85 per acre, CWPT President Jim Lighthizer called it "one of the better and more innovative bargains we have ever struck." The trust must often pay $5,000 to $10,000 per acre to buy land outright.

On the open market, the properties would be worth in the millions of dollars.

Now, to recoup its investment, the CWPT has mounted a fundraising campaign for Brandy Station.

Willow Run would have gravely compromised the integrity of the 1,014 acres the trust had already saved there, Lighthizer said.

"Can you imagine the destruction that might have been inflicted upon Brandy Station had this gargantuan development come to pass?" he said. "Can you imagine what we would have had to pour into the battle to try and stop it? Now, however, the outlook is much brighter."

Hall, president of the Brandy Station Foundation, said the Gyory tract is "one of the most marched-upon pieces of ground in American history." Federal and Confederate forces crisscrossed it as they tried to seize Fleetwood Hill for most of that 12-hour day.

"Securing this ground goes a long way toward protecting the historic viewshed from Fleetwood Hill toward the Rappahannock," he said. "It represents the plains of Brandy Station, the reason that this place became 'cavalry central' in 1863."

The northern parcel, he said, provided the crucial defense for the Confederate commander confronting Brig. Gen. John Buford, later one of the Northern heroes of Gettysburg. They stared at each other from atop hills 1,200 yards apart.

"Rooney Lee saves the Confederate bacon from this piece of ground," Hall said. "He held it for six hours, from 4:30 a.m. until 10:30 on June 9, and if he hadn't, the Federals would have rolled up the Confederate line and won the Battle of Brandy Station."

The tract, adjoining the CWPT's land, includes a low stone wall behind which Lee's 1,500 troopers deployed. In the series of Union attacks on these four regiments, many Union men were killed and wounded in front of the wall, which is still there, Hall said.

"Today, you can stand on John Buford's knoll or Rooney Lee's knoll and you don't see anything but the landscape as it existed in June 1863. You don't see aT-shirt stand, you don't see a Sno Cone stand, or even a monument. And that's a remarkable achievement."

Map, video, photos and historian interviews: bit.ly/brandycwpt brandystationfoundation.com

Clint Schemmer: 540/368-5029
Email: cschemmer@freelancestar.com

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LOCATION: Brandy Station in Culpeper County

DATE: June 9, 1863

CAMPAIGN: Gettysburg Campaign (June-August 1863)

PRINCIPAL COMMANDERS: Union Maj. Gen. Pleasonton; Confederate Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart



DESCRIPTION: At dawn June 9, the Union cavalry corps under Maj. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton launched a surprise attack on Stuart's cavalry at Brandy Station. After an all-day fight in which fortunes changed repeatedly, the Federals retired without discovering Lee's infantry camped near Culpeper. This battle marked the apogee of the Confederate cavalry in the East. From this point in the war, the Federal cavalry gained strength and confidence. Brandy Station was the largest cavalry battle of the war and the opening engagement of the Gettysburg Campaign.

--federal Civil War Sites Advisory Commission