Deal will save Civil War land

By CLINT SCHEMMER | The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Va. | Published: July 26, 2014

The Civil War Trust and the Silver Cos., a Fredericksburg developer, have agreed to save a crucial part of the Chancellorsville battlefield.

Land across which Confederate Lt. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson and his men advanced against surprised Union troops on May 2, 1863, will be set aside as Silver builds a 218-house subdivision on its 1,152-acre Binns Tract in Spotsylvania County.

The subdivision off State Route 3 would be named Legends of Chancellorsville.

The developer has promised to convey about 479 acres of its property to preservationists if the Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors rezones the tract to allow the luxury, single-family-home project. The rezoning would increase residential density on land to be developed.

That donation would be one of the largest of battlefield lands made in the Fredericksburg area, said Chris Hornung, Silver’s vice president for planning and engineering.

“From the beginning, our goal has been to find a balance between creating an attractive and marketable residential community and protecting the county’s cultural, environmental and financial resources,” he said. “We believe our plan achieves this balance.”

Silver and the national nonprofit trust have been discussing preservation issues involving the site since Silver acquired it in 2007, said Hornung and Jim Campi, the trust’s policy and communications director.

“Protecting the Jackson Flank Attack area is our top preservation priority at Chancellorsville,” Campi said in an interview this week. “We’re very supportive of this agreement. This is a genuine win for all parties involved.”

Forty-four acres of the property lie within the authorized boundary of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park as set by Congress. The trust would buy the acreage, which isn’t part of Silver’s rezoning request, for $495,000, Campi said.

Silver would donate about 435 acres to the trust. That land ultimately would be owned and managed by a local partner, the Fredericksburg-based Central Virginia Battlefields Trust.

One hope is that, in time, walking trails will link that CVBT land—and other preserved acreage—with the national park’s Chancellorsville Visitor Center so visitors and Spotsylvania residents can better sense the size and sweep of Jackson’s famous attack, Campi said.

He praised Silver for agreeing to build the entrance road to its development on the southwest side of the Binns Tract, rather than through the historically sensitive part of the property within the Park Service boundary.

Silver’s plan would convey 42 percent of its property to the trust, limiting development to the half of the Binns Tract that is north of Jones Run, Hornung said.

Park superintendent Lucy Lawliss said the National Park Service has three main concerns about the project:

Conserving land south of Jones Run to Route 3 on which troops maneuvered during the Battle of Chancellorsville.

Leaving as much of the landscape undisturbed by development as possible.

Having fewer subdivision residents use congested Elys Ford Road.

“It appears that our primary concerns have been addressed . . . in the proposed layout submitted to the Spotsylvania County Planning Commission,” Lawliss said. “It is now up to the community and the county to determine the future of this property.”

The tract’s southern half was traversed by Jackson’s soldiers, who stunned resting Yankees with their evening attack, pushing the bluecoats east on either side of the Fredericksburg-to-Orange road. The Confederate front was initially 2 miles wide.

Fredericksburg historian Robert K. Krick, author of “Chancellorsville: Lee’s Greatest Victory” and other works, said the land is very important.

“The portion of the Binns property that abuts the historic Orange Plank Road constitutes a priceless historic resource, being at the heart of the site of Stonewall Jackson’s famous Flank Attack—the high-water mark of the renowned Army of Northern Virginia, and the final chapter of Jackson’s career,” said Krick, former chief historian of the national military park. “Near the tract’s western edge, the Union Army of the Potomac made a desperate stand in the face of the onslaught, along what came to be called ‘The Buschbeck Line.’”

In an unpublished memoir that just came to light last week, Krick said an officer commanding Jackson’s front line—who had been born on Caroline Street in Fredericksburg—described the attack:

“With a yell we rushed in, and such a rout ensued as I have never seen ... our men seizing something to eat from the full fleshpots followed in pursuit. This we kept up until darkness put a stop to it.”

All of the land to be preserved is designated “core battlefield” by the American Civil War Sites Advisory Commission, which was congressionally chartered to determine what sites are most worthy of preservation.

The Silver acreage, which is north of Route 3, adjoins an 85-acre battlefield parcel, known as the Wagner Tract, that the Civil War Trust and the commonwealth of Virginia protected in 2010. It is the site of the Buschbeck Line, the Union army’s desperate attempt to hold back Jackson’s onrushing troops.

Dr. Mike Stevens, president of the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust, said preservation of the Binns Tract’s battlefield acreage is “very important for our community and country.”

He praised the 55,000-member national trust for stepping up to take the lead on the effort.

“We of CVBT are proud to be an active participant,” Stevens said. “When and if this deal is completed, it will be a perfect example of the fact that political and preservation organizations can work together to make good and important things happen.”

The Spotsylvania Planning Commission is scheduled to hear public comment on the proposal at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 6, in the county’s Holbert Building at 9104 Courthouse Road.


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