Building comes down for battlefield restoration
Usually, people try to restore castles.
But in Spotsylvania County, the “castle”—as some call a local fixture on State Route 3—is being demolished.
The Central Virginia Battlefields Trust is razing the old “Stars and Bars” military surplus store on the Chancellorsville battlefield.
The massively built structure—with twin turrets, battlements and a façade of brick and block—stands in the way of restoring the land to its May 1863 appearance.
That’s when it was overrun by Confederate Lt. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s stunning sneak attack, an against-all-odds surprise that rolled up the Union army’s exposed right flank.
CVBT’s demolition project, which began last week, drew honks and waves from motorists as its contractor—J.K. Wolfrey of Spotsylvania—struck the first blows against the east turret in the castle’s 60-yard-long front.
The work will cost the nonprofit group, based in Fredericksburg $30,000 it hadn’t anticipated.
Last year, the trust paid $475,000 for the 13 acres between Route 3 (the Orange Turnpike, historically) and Orange Plank Road, just west of Wilderness Baptist Church. The acreage fronts on both roads near their intersection, and includes commercially zoned land.
“We were able to get federal and state grants to help buy the property, but the demolition is all coming out of our own pocket,” CVBT Executive Director Jerry H. Brent said Thursday as the “castle” began to come down. “So we’re asking people to please send money to help beautify the flank attack.”
Once the 8,000-square-foot Stars and Bars building is gone, the land will start to complement the National Park Service acreage on the north side of Route 3—a frequent destination of visitors to Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.
What CVBT calls the Partain Tract, after its previous owner, will tell part of the Chancellorsville story most people don’t understand—that Jackson’s men swept down the turnpike, and on both sides of the road, as they crushed the Army of the Potomac’s unsuspecting 11th Corps.
Until now, there was no opportunity for public access to the flank-attack area on the south side of Route 3.
Arranging safe access is a hope of the trust, but more clearing and restoration must be done first. The site’s location, in a dip with sight–distance issues on the busy highway, may prove a challenge, Brent said.
The Partain Tract is one pearl in a necklace of contiguous properties that CVBT and the Civil War Trust have strung together south of Route 3, creating a 77-acre wedge west of State Route 621. Civil War historian Robert K. Krick has called the tract’s purchase “a spectacular preservation achievement,” CVBT’s most important exploit in years.
Krick, a prolific author who lives in Fredericksburg, recently filmed a YouTube video for CVBT explaining the demolition project.
“Just about exactly 150 years ago, the attention of the whole world was focused on this corner of Spotsylvania County, where about 200,000 men fought one of the crucial battles of the Civil War,” he says to the camera, standing on the oak-topped knoll opposite the old curio shop.
Krick, who serves on CVBT’S board, explains how Confederate Brig. Gen. George P. Doles’ Georgia Brigade attacked across the Talley farm, down onto the land that CVBT sometimes calls the Rodes–Dole Tract.
Twenty years ago, he noted, none of the flank-attack area along Route 3 was preserved.
But now, the National Park Service, Central Virginia Battlefields Trust and the Civil War Trust—partnering with the commonwealth of Virginia—are working to save acreage there that will enable visitors to better understand and appreciate what Jackson and his troops did.
“We’re saving this land, we’re removing intrusions, and we intend to leave it for posterity as hallowed ground,” Krick said.
Nationally, Civil War battlefield landscape restoration is rare. It has happened most notably in Franklin, Tenn., and Gettysburg, Pa., and locally at the Wilderness in Orange County and the First Day at Chancellorsville battlefield preserved 10 years ago after a fierce fight by the Civil War Trust.
“We don’t have the opportunity to do this very often,” said Jim Campi, policy director of the 55,000-member trust. “But restoring battlefield landscapes is an essential element of our mission.”
Clint Schemmer: 540/368-5029