The Virginia Outdoors Foundation and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources joined the Civil War Trust Thursday in announcing the preservation of a scenic ridge in Culpeper County that played a role in the turning point of the Civil War.
The 400-foot-high, mile-long Hansbrough Ridge is where 800 Confederate soldiers barred a Union cavalry division from the main fight at Brandy Station, a massive cavalry battle in June 1863 in which Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee Jr. launched his Gettysburg campaign.
After the Union’s war-altering victory in Gettysburg, the ridge would then shelter more than 10,000 federal troops for five months during the bitter winter of 1863-64. Once rested, those troops would join thousands of others under Gen. U.S. Grant in the Wilderness Campaign and a relentless march south that would eventually force Lee’s surrender.
Thursday’s announcement culminates nearly two years of fundraising and decades of efforts to preserve the 174-acre site, which historians say is unique in its landscape, significance and quality.
VOF, a public foundation, and the Virginia Board of Historic Resources accepted two conservation easements to forever protect the ridge east of the historic village of Stevensburg. The property stretches from State Route 3 north to near Cole’s Hill, which is privately owned.
The foundation will hold one easement. The board will hold the other, administered by staff at the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
“We are proud to have helped save this rare place, which was both a pivotal battleground and a secure refuge where thousands of soldiers recuperated from the trials of the war’s Mine Run, Gettysburg, Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg campaigns,” Civil War Trust President James Lighthizer said in a news release. “There is nothing comparable to it anywhere in the nation. The site remains nearly as it was when the Yankees broke camp and marched east to cross the Rapidan River and battle Lee’s Confederates.”
VOF contributed $250,000 to help preserve the property, a $900,000 acquisition also funded by a $450,000 grant from the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program, a $150,000 non-cash donation by the seller and $50,000 in contributions by Trust members and private donors.
“Our easement not only protects this landmark from development, but also creates permanent public access for future generations to be able to visit and learn from the property,” VOF Executive Director Brett Glymph said.
The scenic ridge was home not only to infantry and cavalry troops, but also to soldiers’ visiting family members and large hospitals where doctors, nurses and volunteers treated sick and wounded men.
“The view from our camp is magnificent,” Pvt. George Storrs Youngs of the 126th New York Infantry Regiment wrote his sister Louisa on Jan. 1, 1864. “We are on the top of an exceeding high hill from whence we can look down upon the canvas cities of the Army of the Potomac on almost every side. Off to the west, nestling among the hills, the city of Culpepper can be seen—its bright spires looking still brighter against the dark background of the Blue Ridge whose towering peaks and cliffs are now covered with snow.”
The site’s importance was recognized in 1991 when it was listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register, making it eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. It was later incorporated into the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area, a federally-designated 175-mile corridor that interprets and conserves nationally significant historic sites in Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Developers bought the property in 2015, intent on subdividing it into residential lots. But the Civil War Trust negotiated the land’s purchase before development occurred.
The ridge’s conservation easements complement the already-saved Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain battlefields, which officials hope to turn into a new state park. The Virginia General Assembly is considering legislation that would direct the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation to study that possibility.