The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Stafford Civil War park to open in fall
By RUSTY DENNEN
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
Civil War soldiers in Union blue transformed the Stafford County landscape nearly 150 years ago during their yearlong stay—cutting trees and roads and setting up vast camps, a harbor and fortifications.
This week, troops in Army green were at work at a 41-acre site where some of their Civil War counterparts once stayed.
Due largely to those efforts, the area’s newest Civil War park could open as early as this fall on the rolling swath of woodland off Mount Hope Church Road.
About 80 soldiers with the Powhatan-based 180th Engineer Company, 276th Engineer Battalion, 91st Troop Command are clearing trees and brush and building roads in a two-week project that began Sunday. The Guard and a local nonprofit, Friends of Stafford County Civil War Sites, which is overseeing the project, on Thursday showed progress at the tract to county officials and Bill Howell, speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates.
Much of the effort was focused on Howard Avenue, one of the park’s new internal roads. Gen. Oliver Otis Howard commanded the mostly German troops who served here. His 11th Corps soldiers were among 135,000 Union troops who regrouped in Stafford after the December 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg.
“We’re combat construction, anything to do with roads, clearing brush, ditching,” said Capt. Jesse Kopczynski of the 180th Engineer Company. “The main focus is to train our guys for their combat mission.”
The troops get valuable experience on heavy equipment in a real-world setting, “and we’re doing something for the community,” he said.
The National Guard is doing the work—at no cost to the county or FSCWS—under its Innovative Readiness Training program. IRT allows soldiers to work on worthy civilian projects approved by the National Guard Bureau.
The 203rd Red Horse Squadron of the Virginia Air National Guard, based in Virginia Beach, will pave the roads and shoulders once the engineers finish work later this month.
“This is a great opportunity for the [Guard], and we can help communities do some neat things,” said Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Long Jr., Virginia’s adjutant general.
Along with helping out during natural disasters and other state crises, Long said, “Most of the men and women you see here have deployed” overseas. “Some of them six or seven times.”
Long, who visited the site on Thursday, commands the Virginia National Guard. He hails from Stafford.
And some of them are doing amazing things that you have no idea they’ve done.”
Overseeing work along one section of the road, Staff Sgt. Michael Quinn of Fredericksburg said it’s going well. “This is a great opportunity to teach a lot of [soldiers] on equipment they normally don’t get to operate.”
Quinn said he plans to stop by with his family when the park is done, “to show them what I did.”
Glenn Trimmer, FSCWS executive director, praised the Guard for its work, saying the park would have been impossible without its help.
“On Day One, they were up at 5:30 in the morning to work,” he said, and wrapped up after 9:30 p.m., fueling trucks. The troops have put in 10- and 12-hour days.
The soldiers “do two days of work in what a lot of firms would do in one day.”
He said there’s a connection between the soldiers working on the property now and those who served during the Civil War.
The 276th Engineer Battalion, Trimmer said, dates to the Confederacy’s 1st Virginia Regiment, which fought the Union 11th Corps on multiple battlefields.
So, the modern descendants of the Confederate force are working to preserve a Union Army site for posterity.
“It’s a neat story. It’s about a transformation,” Trimmer said. “It’s not about the past or blue versus gray. It’s about the descendants. It really shows how far we’ve come as a country.”
He added, “Everyone here has been working their butt off because they know this project is about honoring soldiers, and that’s the way it should be.”
This is the second time the Guard has worked on the property. Last summer, it did the initial clearing.
Roads and infrastructure are the most expensive part of developing the property for visitors. The Guard’s work will save FSCWS an estimated $1 million in development costs.
The county recently pitched in nearly $50,000 for paving, and has covered some other costs.
Trimmer said that after the roads are finished, trails, signs and other items will be installed. If all goes well, the park could be open by October.
The land, situated on the R–Board’s Eskimo Hill landfill, is owned by Stafford County and Fredericksburg.
Tim Baroody, Stafford’s deputy county administrator, said that when the work is done, the tract will become a county park.
“I think it has amazing potential for heritage tourism. People are looking for an experience these days. We know that from lots of study, and we want to take advantage of that,” he said.
“This is an opportunity to pay tribute to folks who gave their lives for the nation. That’s a critical piece of this, and also for Stafford County to highlight its heritage to the traveling public who have gone to traditional [Civil War] sites” in Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County. “Now they can see another perspective.”
The park has the remnants of three Union gun batteries, a winter camp, some unusual zigzag trenching, a limestone quarry and wartime “corduroy” roads that soldiers paved with tree branches and timbers so the army could move wagons and supplies.
Howell, a Republican delegate from Stafford who was an early supporter of the park, helped broker some details with the Guard and the Virginia Department of Transportation.
“It’s been incredible, and I think it will give Stafford something to be proud of,” he said.
Friends of Stafford Civil War Sites: fscws.org
Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431