Past is Prologue

Clint Schemmer writes about history, heritage preservation and the American Civil War.  On Facebook: Past is Prologue  On Twitter: @prologuepast  ContactEmail Clint or call 540/374-5424.

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Chancellorsville: Terror in the Union Ranks

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'Jackson's Flank Attack,' by artist Don Troiani /

No beating around the bush here: I think that today brings great news for anyone who cares about American heritage, scenic vistas, and the power of place.

The Central Virginia Battlefields Trust — which perhaps should be known henceforth as The Little Engine That Could — just went into debt again. The small, nonprofit group of volunteers and history buffs has nailed down another piece in the puzzle that is the best-known part of the Chancellorsville battlefield: the 13-acre “Stars and Bars” tract along State Route 3 near its juncture with Orange Plank Road.

Saturday’s story in The Free Lance-Star lays out some of the particulars.

In gathering string for that newspaper report, I’ve learned a few things that I’ll try to share with you in coming days. (Not all the good bits can make it into a print story, even with editors as generous as the ones I enjoy.)

As the story mentions, the May 2, 1983, flank attack by Confederate Lt. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s men covered both sides of the Orange Turnpike (today’s Route 3), to a width of a mile to the north and a mile to the south.

No wonder the bluecoats ran like the rabbits, deer and other critters that were flushed out of the woods by the initial advance of Jackson’s corps. (I had kinfolk on both sides, so I’m not casting any sectional aspersions here.)

Civil War historian Robert K. Krick, author of the “The Smoothbore Volley That Doomed the Confederacy” and many other works, put in this way in Friday’s interview:

“The Federals aligned in the road were facing south. When Jackson struck and they turned to face him, the bravest Yankee ever born had an enemy a mile to his right and left, advancing rapidly into his rear. That made their position utterly untenable, and they were obliged to flee.

“By making that wide line, Jackson had ‘Crossed the T,’ in naval parlance. Federals turning west could not fire because their friends were in front of them; yet every Confederate could fire at them, and quickly they could do so from behind them. Troops didn’t — don’t — stand for that.”

Dashing east, the Confederates gradually clustered closer together toward the turnpike, Krick said.

“By the time they reached Wilderness Church, the two miles had narrowed markedly, but still covered both sides of the road with a wide margin,” he said.

Wilderness Church, a later version of which still welcomes worshipers today, is just east of the Partain Tract — the site acquired Friday by CVBT from Spotsylvania County resident Brenda Partain.

And now, about paying off that bank note for this new puzzle piece …