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Helpers defy rain, plant trees at battle site
Volunteers brave weather to plant trees on Civil War battlefield in Spotsylvania

 Devan Kelley, 12, of Spotsylvania helped plant seedlings to re-create the tree line seen by soldiers in the Battle of Chancellorsville.
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Date published: 4/3/2005

By GEORGE WHITEHURST

Faithful volunteers trudged across rolling farmland in Spotsylvania County yesterday to pay tribute to a piece of American heritage.

A stiff wind sent sullen rain clouds scurrying across the sky and whipped the tiny orange flags that dotted the ground.

Breaking into two-member teams, the volunteers grabbed digging tools and bundles of tiny oak and pine seedlings.

They set out across the field--shoes squishing the soft red clay--and began to plant the tiny trees.

With plenty of rain, sunshine and a little luck, the seedlings will re-create the tree line seen by Union and Confederate forces during the 1863 Battle of Chancellorsville.

Eric Woznick, who returned two weeks ago from a tour of duty in Iraq, brought his entire family along--wife Merritt, daughter Karissa and son Kyle.

Woznick, who battled the insurgency in Fallujah and elsewhere with fellow Navy Seabees, was drawn to yesterday's task.

"Being in a war myself, I felt like I could pay back a little something to the guys who fell in Virginia," he said.

The lush hillsides provided a welcome contrast to the flat desert Woznick stared at for months.

"It's beautiful," he said. "It's so great to see horizons and green."

Yesterday's event was sponsored by the Civil War Preservation Trust, which now owns 140 acres along State Route 3. The tract of land--often dubbed the Mullins Farm--was the site of fierce fighting on the first day of the Battle of Chancellorsville.

The Trust acquired the property in December through a complicated deal with then-owner John Mullins and Spotsylvania-based developer Tricord Inc.

Tricord purchased about 227 acres from Mullins, and then sold 140 acres of it to the trust at a below-market price.

In return, the Board of Supervisors rezoned 87 acres of the farm to allow construction of the Retreat at Chancellorsville--an age-restricted community containing nearly 300 homes. Tricord also will build an assisted-living home and a church on adjacent property.

The trust has set up a permanent 1,000-foot preservation buffer across its acreage. The organization plans to use the land as a tool to teach the public about Civil War heritage.

"This [tree planting] is the first step in our long-term plan to interpret the site and encourage history buffs and others to visit it," said Jim Campi, a spokesman for the CWPT. "It's also a great opportunity for a lot of the volunteersto actually see the site they were fighting to preserve."

The trust leadership had hoped to plant 2,000 seedlings yesterday. Campi estimated they planted between 1,000 and 1,200 trees before rain forced the group to stop.

He hopes the remainder can be planted on Saturday.

To reach GEORGE WHITEHURST: 540/374-5438 gwhitehurst@freelancestar.com