The Central Virginia Battlefields Trust has acquired more than 73 acres where local men fought for control of a hill during the 1864 battle of Spotsylvania Court House.
The trust this week announced the purchase of Myer’s Hill for $450,000. The tract lies between the Ni River and Massaponax Church Road southeast of Plantation Forest Drive.
“We also have much work to do on the property,” Thomas Van Winkle, president of the trust, said in a news release. “CVBT will need to raise $460,000 to cover our immediate costs.”
He said the acquisition “is an increasingly rare opportunity to preserve an almost completely intact battlefield—one that history has paid little attention to, nevertheless is so important to the entire story.”
The tract pushes the total Civil War land purchased this year in the Spotsylvania Courthouse area to more than 87 acres, according to the trust. The trust has preserved nearly 1,300 acres total on the area's four major Civil War battlefields.
“Myer’s Hill counts as one of CVBT’s larger preservation efforts in the 22 years we have been saving our history,” Van Winkle said.
Two historians talked in the news release about the importance of the fighting in the county and on the property.
“Spotsylvania is one of the seismic battles of the Civil War,” said former chief historian for the National Park Service Ed Bearss. “At Myer’s Hill, [Union Gen. Ulysses S.] Grant was checked, but he goes back and takes it. The fighting for the hill results in a crucial two-day delay for his army.”
Chris Mackowski, who has written about the battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, said the “story of the second week of fighting at Spotsylvania Courthouse often gets overlooked in favor of the dramatic story at the Mule Shoe Salient, but there is a tremendous amount we can learn from that second week."
In the May 14, 1864, fighting for Myer’s Hill, Union Brig. Gen. Emory Upton’s men faced the Confederate troops under Maj. Gen. Jubal Early, known as Gen. Robert E. Lee’s “Old Bald Man,” according to the trust’s background on the fighting.
The skirmishes started when Lee, interested in learning what the Federals were up to, ordered Early to retake the hill from Union troops. The two sides battled and traded command of the hill before Lee withdrew. The Federals held the hill for the remainder of the battle.
Myer's Hill is named for John Henry Myer, who lived on farm there and also fought in the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House.
According to research compiled by local historian John F. Cummings II, Myer left Germany and settled in Fredericksburg in 1846, working first as a saddler and then as a baker and confectioner on William Street. The Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862 forced him to relocate his family to a farm near Spotsylvania Courthouse and two years later, after the draft age was raised to 45, Myer was conscripted into the 40th Virginia Infantry.
He fought first at the Wilderness, then ended up stationed near the hill that bore his name. The fighting forced his wife and three children to flee their home there, leaving it to the whims of Union troops.
In a brief biography of Myers, Cummings described what happened next:
"In their absence, Union troops burned the home and outbuildings the next day, May 15, after the Myers’ caretaker recklessly fired on retreating Union troops during a second, late-day scuffle on May 14," Cummings wrote. "Undoubtedly, Myer, entrenched still with his regiment less than two miles away, could observe the pillar of black smoke emitting from his home site."
Myer was captured a week later and was held as a prisoner of war before swearing an oath of allegiance to the United States and being released to return home. He revived his business and later served as a member of the Fredericksburg Common Council.