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Battlefields get some tender loving care
Volunteers help clean up battlefields across the state, including Wilderness and Brandy Station

 Donna Stanton (left) and Libby Kridler of Orange County pick up trash along State Route 20 at the Wilderness battlefield yesterday.
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Date published: 4/5/2009


By tomorrow, visitors to the Wilderness battlefield off State Route 20 should get a clearer view of what Confederate soldiers saw on May 5, 1864, as Union forces rushed them from a dip in the hillside.

Bob Johnson, one of four men sawing brush and hauling dead trees to clear the viewshed, said yesterday that their work will help bring alive the Civil War experience at the National Park Service's battlefield in Orange and Spotsylvania counties.

"The goal is to cut out all this underbrush so you can see what they saw," Johnson said, standing near trenches in west of the exhibit shelter on Route 20 in Orange. "They were shooting point blank at each other."

Johnson said tour guides often stop at these Confederate earthworks to show visitors the site of a skirmish between Union forces and Confederate Gen. Richard S. Ewell's men. He said the fight was so intense that the field caught fire and some soldiers burned to death.

The Battle of the Wilderness was the first clash between Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. The fighting took place May 5 and May 6, 1864.

But yesterday dead trees and brush obstructed the view, including the dip in the hillside that provided cover to Union forces.

Johnson was one of almost 50 people who gathered in the battlefield park as part of "Park Day," a nationwide cleanup and restoration event sponsored by the Civil War Preservation Trust and supported by local groups such as the Friends of the Wilderness Battlefield.

Locally, a similar event was held at the Brandy Station battlefield in Culpeper County.

In Orange, volunteers helped pick up trash and brush that lined the roads in and around the 2,700-acre park, the largest part of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.

One man came all the way from Inverness, Ill., to volunteer--something Craig Rains, a member of the Friends of Wilderness Battlefield, said is not uncommon.

He said a woman from California comes to the battlefield annually because her ancestors fought there.

"She'll talk about the battle and start crying," he said.

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