Civil War site in danger of developing

By Karen Chaffraix

It was June 9, 1863 when 4.000 troops fought savagely upon the knolls of Fleetwood in Brandy Station, just over the Culpeper County line. The Union defeat marked the beginning of Robert E. Lee’s Gettysburg campaign.

Casualties were heavy and men were buried where they fell. A century and a half later, their bones could be churned up to build a subdivision.

Protesters gathered in dripping heat and humidity last Wednesday morning at the site. They wanted to raise awareness: One of the country’s most important Civil War sites is slated to be developed, they say.

Golden Oaks Construction, Inc., a Northern Virginia Builders Association company, plans 18 units on 18.9 acres. The county has already approved the subdivision plat but will soon consider an appeal filed by the Brandy Station Foundation.

Speakers at the demonstration included Sons of Confederate Veterans, historical author Virginia Morton ("Marching Through Culpeper"), Civil War Trust representatives, and film director Ron Maxwell ("Gods and Generals," "Gettysburg"), who delivered an impassioned plea for preserving the land.

"I was more candid than usual," said Maxwell, who later in the week found himself defending his use of the word "carpet-bagger" to describe the developers.

Maxwell has made historical films for 25 years and moved recently from California to Rappahannock county. He is adamant that the Culpeper area is rich not just in Civil War history, but in colonial, revolutionary and reconstruction history, and must not be paved over.

"I was standing on the battlefield, soaking wet, and I could hear the sabers rattling, the guns going off," he said. "It’s not an abstraction for me. It’s visceral. The whole crucible of the Civil War is very personal for me.

"They (the developers) must understand," he continued, "that many people are profoundly disturbed about what’s happening. They are worried about our heritage and cultural history, about what we are going to leave for future generations."

Sponsoring the event was the Brandy Station Foundation, formed in the 1980s to protect the Brandy Station Battlefield. Foundation president Bob Luddy said 20,000 cavalry men fought around Brandy Station. While some of the land has been acquired by historical conservators, he said, there is no zoning precluding development.

Golden Oaks Construction, Inc. turned down two Brandy Station Foundation offers, exceeding their purchase price. The company purchased the land for $450,000 in April, according to Luddy. Golden Oaks attorney Randy Parks did not return phone calls.

Sitting at the Graffiti House, a quarter-mile from Fleetwood, Luddy, retired from NASA, dispensed battlefield maps and conducted tours of Brandy Station battlefields.

Seventy-one pieces of readable graffiti, 32 names and 18 drawings were discovered under wallpaper in the Graffiti house, a confederate field hospital after the battle, Luddy explained. The foundation purchased the house in 2002 to preserve it.

"We have no problem with developing in the county," said Luddy. "But rather than build houses right here, the county could marshal its forces emphasizing the Civil War attractions."

He said the sites, potential tourist magnets, would bring business into downtown Culpeper.

Culpeper County Planning Director John Egertson said the Board of Zoning Appeals would meet this Thursday, and a date for considering the appeal would be set.