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Marking battlefield's 'heart and soul'

July 7, 2009 12:35 am


Jason Shaffer of the Civil War Trails program levels an interpretive sign he and David Cumbea put at Slaughter Pen. lo0707slaughterpen1.jpg

David Cumbea (left) and Jason Shaffer of the Civil War Trails program dig holes yesterday for an interpretive sign at Slaughter Pen Farm.


Every battlefield visitor benefits from having a good guide.

What's been called the "heart and soul" of the Fredericksburg battlefield just gained a dozen of them, albeit not the flesh-and-blood kind.

The first historical markers of any sort were placed yesterday at the Slaughter Pen, the Spotsylvania County farm where Union troops briefly broke through Confederate defenses on Dec. 13, 1862.

They're part of a 1¾-mile-long walking trail being built for visitors to the battlefield along State Route 2 and U.S. 17, three miles east of Fredericksburg's Lafayette Boulevard.

The markers describe the fierce fighting at the farm, where two Union divisions of about 8,000 troops attacked about 10,000 Confederates.

"Union troops had some initial success, breaking through the Confederate lines but--for lack of reinforcements and lack of ammunition--couldn't hold those gains, and ultimately fell back with rather heavy losses," said Garry E. Adelman, senior historian at History Associates Inc. of Rockville, Md. "Here, they lost their one chance of really winning this battle--capturing Prospect Hill, the key to the Confederate right."

History Associates wrote the scripts and chose artwork for the historic markers, which the Civil War Trails program designed and installed.

Slaughter Pen is the 946th site in the five-state Civil War Trails program, which includes Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and Tennessee.

"We'll fold this site into our tourism marketing program with Fredericksburg-area localities, the Virginia Tourism Corp. and all the other states," said Mitch Bowman, executive director of Civil War Trails. "There are really complementary efforts going on here."

Within a few days, Slaughter Pen will be included on the program's Web site and Google Maps will guide visitors to the farm, Bowman said.

Made of weatherproof aluminum and resin, the 12 signs will tell visitors about the area's four Civil War battlefields, the whole Battle of Fredericksburg, and provide details of the fighting that gave the site its name.

Four markers in front of Slaughter Pen's farmhouse will orient arriving visitors. Yet to come there is a 6-foot-tall, four-sided kiosk that will list major donors to the $12 million campaign to preserve the battlefield, now about halfway to its goal. The Civil War Preservation Trust bought the 205-acre farm, its most expensive single effort to date, in 2005 with help from local partners and a grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The remaining eight markers, set between the farmhouse and the railroad behind which Confederate troops were massed, will lead visitors on a loop trail.

One marker points out the farm's historic "ditch fence," a wide trough that Union soldiers had difficulty crossing as they advanced across open fields toward the Southern defenders.

The loop trail traverses the part of the battlefield nearest the railroad, where the courageous actions of four Union soldiers earned them the Medal of Honor. Five such medals were awarded to soldiers at Slaughter Pen--one indication of the intensity of the conflict there, Adelman said.

The Slaughter Pen markers follow by a few months the installation of similar signs at another site owned by the Preservation Trust, Chancellorsville's "First Day" battlefield along State Route 3 west of Fredericksburg, said Mary Goundrey Koik, CWPT's deputy communications director.

"Ideally, visitors can go out on a battlefield with a wonderful historian. But given people's time constraints, that's not feasible for everybody," Koik said. "This way, you can just go out there, at your own pace, and gain a greater appreciation of what happened there."

Given safety concerns because of the adjacent railroad tracks, people who wish to visit Slaughter Pen Farm are asked to call the Preservation Trust ahead of time at 800/298-7878.


Clint Schemmer: 540/368-5029

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