Flank-attack Land Acquisition ‘Spectacular Preservation Achievement’, Clint Schemmer, Fredericksburg.com April 3, 2012
A Virginia nonprofit has just acquired a pivotal piece of the Chancellorsville battlefield where Confederate Lt. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson gained his greatest fame. The Central Virginia Battlefields Trust closed Friday on purchase of what people locally call “the Castle” or “Stars and Bars,” after the castle-shaped curio shop that has stood for decades beside State Route 3. Civil War historian Robert K. Krick said its acquisition is “a spectacular preservation achievement—the most important CVBT accomplishment in many years.”
The 13 acres bought from Spotsylvania County resident Brenda Partain lie between Route 3 (the Orange Turnpike, historically) and Orange Plank Road, near the center of the flank-attack area. It fronts on both roads near their intersection, and includes commercially zoned land. The CVBT has agreed to pay $475,000 for the land. That includes a 8,000-square-foot building that formerly housed the family’s military surplus and Civil War relic business, which will be demolished, said CVBT president Mike Stevens of Fredericksburg. The tract is assessed at about $650,000. Preservation of the site, in the midst of the Jackson flank-attack area, will do much to ensure survival of the battle’s historic setting, Krick said. “Future generations will find the scene much as it looked in 1863, rather than covered with asphalt, nacho stands and petroleum pumps,” he said.
Krick, an author who was chief historian of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park for 31 years, serves on the CVBT board of directors. “Because of its crucial historical nature, and the extent of its road frontage on a prominent thoroughfare, the Partain Tract surely is one of the half-dozen most important preservation targets on the battlefields around Fredericksburg,” he said.
Jackson’s flank attack—which Krick and other historians say was Gen. Robert E. Lee’s greatest victory—swept the Union army from both sides of the turnpike. Racing east, his Confederates used the road to form their units and advance, Krick said. Today, the best-known part of the flank-attack area is an open, 80-acre sweep owned by the National Park Service north of Route 3 just to the west of the Partain site. Park visitors regularly seek out that land, and park historians lead public tours there. But historically, the south side of the turnpike is just as important as the north side, Krick said. Jackson’s troops advanced on both sides of the road, with a front that was initially two miles wide. “That’s what made it—together, of course, with surprise—so devastating and successful,” Krick said in an interview Friday.
But “precious little” land has been saved on the south side of Route 3, Krick said. The Partain Tract is just east of the site of the Talley House, a battle landmark. A few hundreds yards to the west, Krick said, the sturdy Georgia brigade under Gen. George Doles—its left anchored on the turnpike—hit the flank of the Union 11th Corps. Doles’s men hurried past the Talley House, scrambling on toward the turnpike’s intersection with the Orange Plank Road.
The new CVBT tract encompasses most of the highway’s south shoulder from the Talley House to Orange Plank Road (State Route 603). Wilderness Church stands just across the turnpike from that crossroads. The church’s eastern boundary adjoins the Wagner Tract, saved recently by the Civil War Trust. CVBT already owns more than 45 acres near the Partain Tract, for a total of 58 acres—“a significant portion” of the flank-attack area south of Route 3, said its president, Stevens.
The Virginia trust had eyed the Partain Tract, as a kind of keystone opposite the Park Service land, for many years, said Jerry Brent, the trust’s executive director. Fredericksburg businessman Johnny Mitchell was “the key player” in approaching Partain and getting her nod to sell the property to CVBT, Brent said. “This was the longest marathon, the longest negotiation, I’ve ever run in the preservation business,” Mitchell said Friday. “I had a burning desire to keep going, long after I should have given up—and that was true of the landowner, too.”
When negotiations stalled last fall, Brent picked up the ball and saw the deal through. Local attorneys Kevin Jones and Jim Pates, a CVBT board member, did the legal work pro bono. Jackson’s flank attack on the evening of May 2, 1863, was the last military maneuver of his storied career. The commander Lee called “my right arm” was mortally wounded by friendly fire a little ways to the east as he reconnoitered in the moonlight, eager to keep pressing the attack and crush Union Gen. Joseph Hooker’s army.
The CVBT will be raising private donations for the purchase. Money from the Civil War Trust, a generous CVBT member, and federal and state matching grants will help cover some of the cost, Stevens said. Every dollar someone contributes now will be multiplied by $7 from those other sources, providing “a big bang for the buck,” he said. Eventually, the two trusts hope their land will become part of the park, which might require Congress to adjust the park boundary. As recently as 1989, the National Park Service owned no acreage in the flank-attack area, Krick said.
Text and Top Image Source: Fredericskburg.com
Second Image Source: Charles Hoffman, Painter