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Chancellorsville battlefield eyed for subdivision

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RELATED: Battle of Chancellorsville 150th anniversary

The Silver Cos. is proposing a 249-home subdivision on part of the Chancellorsville battlefield in Spotsylvania County.

Tonight, the developer plans to hold a community meeting at St. Michael the Archangel High School in Spotsylvania about its project.

Chancellorsville Investment Co. LLC is applying to rezone 1,152 acres that border Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park on the north side of State Route 3. The Binns Tract is just east of Black Meadow Road, west of Golden Oaks Drive, and south of Flint Hill Court and Hunting Run Reservoir. The land lies between the reservoir and the park.

It wraps around the national park’s Stonewall Flank Attack parcel on Route 3, which is open to park visitors, and the Wagner Tract, acquired by the Washington-based Civil War Trust in 2009. Wilderness Church, where Jackson’s men first encountered Union troops, is due south.

The Binns Tract is part of the land across which Confederate Lt. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson and his troops surprised Union forces on the Battle of Chancellorsville’s second day, routing Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker’s unwary 11th Corps and driving it hurriedly to the east.

Jackson’s troops advanced on both sides of Route 3, with a front that was initially two miles wide. Today, only pieces of the battlefield are preserved by the park.

During the Confederates’ pursuit, which continued into the evening of May 2, 1863, Jackson was mortally wounded by “friendly fire” from his own troops on a moonlit road between Route 3 and the Bullock Road, well east of the Binns property.

The southern half of the Binns Tract is “core battlefield” land, or hallowed ground, often the first priority for preservation, according to the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission appointed by Congress to identify the nation’s most significant Civil War sites. Chancellorsville is a Priority I site—the highest designation.

Chancellorsville Investment Co. is asking to rezone the acreage from rural to planned rural residential to create 249 lots, according to a Jan. 31 letter that Rachel Lowman, the Silver Cos.’ land entitlements administrator, mailed to neighboring landowners.

Lowman invited those landowners to the community meeting at the church to hear presentation on the development and ask questions.

Some 44 acres of the property lie within the national park’s congressional designated boundary, land that Congress said ought to be incorporated into it if the National Park Service can acquire the property.

The Park Service hopes that’s what will happen with the Silver development, said John Hennessy, the park’s chief historian and chief of interpretation.

“We remain hopeful that the land within the boundary—land in the midst of the area of Jackson’s famous flank attack—will in the end be preserved,” Hennessy said late Friday.

A Silver Cos. executive did not return Free Lance–Star requests for comment on its project.

The nonprofit Central Virginia Battlefields Trust, based in Fredericksburg, is trying to save all the land it can in the path of Jackson’s most famed assault, the best-known part of the battle hailed as Robert E. Lee’s greatest victory.

The nonprofit group has worked for years to preserve land in the Flank Attack area, including directly across Route 3 from the Binns boundary. Its 9-acre Stonewall Brigade Tract, bought in 2012, is the first land on the south side of Plank Road to be preserved from Wilderness Church east to the park’s Chancellorsville Visitor Center.

“We … understand the significance of the hallowed ground of Jackson’s Flank Attack and what its loss would mean to our community and to our country,” said Mike Stevens, the regional trust’s president. “Its preservation is very important to us and is worth our best efforts to see through to fruition.”

He indicated that the trust, while cautious, hopes for a win–win deal with the developer.

“We have always approached proposals such as this with a positive attitude, in a spirit of comity and cooperation, compromise and mutual concern,” Stevens said. “Thus, we stand ready to work as partners with the owners and with others in the local and preservation communities to see to it that everything works out for the best for all concerned.”

“We have had discussions with the Silver Companies, and are intrigued by the preservation elements we have seen so far,” said Jim Campi, policy director at the Civil War Trust, the nation’s leading battlefield preservation group.

Spotsylvania Supervisor Timothy J. McLaughlin, whose Chancellor District includes the tract, said he was shown a preliminary plan by Silver and has received emails and phone calls from residents, whom he said have “mixed feelings” about the proposal.

McLaughlin said he is neutral about the development, as he waits to see what Silver proffers to sweeten its rezoning request.

“I’d rather get some information first,” he said. “I really don’t know enough about it. I want to hear more from residents and from the Silver Cos.”

The Binns Tract is not within the area that the county’s land-use plan designates for large-scale residential development.

Monday’s community meeting will be held from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in the gymnasium at St. Michael the Archangel High School, 6301 Campus Drive, off Five Mile Road north of Route 3.

Public hearings would be scheduled before the county Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors, after a rezoning request is filed.



Clint Schemmer: 540/374-5424