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July 26, 2010 12:35 am


Union cavalry assaults the St. James Church area between Rooney Lee's knoll and the Gyory tract--now preserved. 0726BrandyStationYEW.jpg

Part of the battlefield as seen from north Fleetwood Hill.


Property owners and preservationists are stringing together two new gems on the necklace that is Culpeper County's Brandy Station battlefield.

Soon, the only thing that will be left to do is pay for the jeweler's setting.

The two conservation easements on the sprawling battleground--site of the world's largest cavalry engagement--add 782 acres to the 1,000 acres preserved there since 1987.

"It's quite extraordinary. This helps us in a very dramatic way to better interpret the battlefield," historian Clark B. Hall said of the landowners' donations of development rights for the two tracts.

The deals, arranged by the Civil War Preservation Trust and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, save two quite different Civil War landscapes--each with interesting stories to tell, Hall said in an interview yesterday.

Together, they form the biggest preservation victory at Brandy Station in years.

The 349-acre northern tract, which includes nearly a mile of Hazel River frontage, is where Union Brig. Gen. John Buford's cavalry fought Confederate troopers led by W.H.F. "Rooney" Lee, Robert E. Lee's middle son. Its easement was donated by Beauregard Farms LP.

The southern tract, comprising 433 acres southwest of Culpeper Regional Airport, includes land where Union Col. Thomas Devin's Federal cavalry repeatedly clashed with Confederates led by Gen. Wade Hampton. Its easement was donated by brothers Chuck and Pete Gyory.

Hall and Kathleen Kilpatrick, director of the Department of Historic Resources, praised the landowners for their gifts to the state.

"This new opportunity would add enormously to the great conservation and battlefield-preservation successes the commonwealth has recently experienced," Kilpatrick said. "These are just phenomenal properties. To have this much land in one area placed voluntarily under easement is really heartening."

Not counting the newest Brandy Station deal, Kilpatrick said, owners have recently donated more than 1,500 acres in Culpeper County and around the Rappahannock Station battlefield in western Fauquier.

When a landowner donates an easement, he retains his property but forfeits development rights in return for tax credits. Future owners are bound by the rules.

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:

Clint Schemmer: 540/368-5029

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

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