The Fredericksburg based Central Virginia Battlefields Trust (CVBT) has acquired approximately 93 acres of historic ground on the Wilderness battlefield. As Walmart continues to plan a new store at the intersection of State Routes 3 and 20, in Orange County, the CVBT has moved to protect nearby terrain in Spotsylvania County from development. This newly preserved land is on the south side of Route 3, adjacent to the Wilderness Tavern site, and protects the historic crossroads, through which a large portion of the Union army marched as they were fed into battle in the Wilderness. CVBT President Erik Nelson explained: “The proposed Walmart site is near the present day intersection established by the state highway agency in the twentieth century. The ground preserved by CVBT is the historic gateway to the Wilderness.”
One of the historic roads across this property is the old Orange Turnpike, which runs to the southwest, toward Elwood, the Colonial period home that served as General Warren’s Fifth Corps headquarters. The other road is the original Plank Road that extends southeast to the Brock Road and its intersection with the Orange Plank Road, which became the storm center of the Wilderness fighting. The CVBT already owns 19 acres of ground at the intersection of Routes 3 and 20, comprising the knoll where U.S. Grant had his headquarters during this confrontation with Robert E. Lee and his vaunted Army of Northern Virginia.
This latest acquisition retains exceptional historic integrity. While the battle action during the Wilderness campaign occurred in dense secondary growth, the approach to the battlefield was through relatively unrestricted terrain. A panoramic wartime sketch by Edwin Forbes shows this very ground, filled with wagons and troops, with clouds of battle smoke rising from the trees in the background. From this open expanse, the Federal troops deployed into the horrendously dense thickets of the Wilderness.
The sellers are pleased that this farmland will not be developed and the CVBT has readily agreed to pay $10,000 per acre. The owners have been in discussion with the CVBT about a sale for many years, but the battlefields trust had other, more immediate projects. With Walmart about to construct a new store nearby, however, the CVBT found it imperative to keep the historic gateway to the Wilderness intact. CVBT President Nelson notes: “This land looks much as it did in 1864, but we needed to move quickly to be able to afford to keep it that way.”
The new CVBT purchase protects a large amount of acreage from any future development that would compromise the Wilderness battlefield. More importantly, the protected terrain provides an option to establish an entryway to the Wilderness battlefield that avoids the twentieth century intersection of Routes 3 and 20 entirely. CVBT President Nelson observed: “Battlefield preservation requires long-range thinking, even as we acknowledge that the time we have left to actually save ground from development is exceedingly short. This land is not only important historically, but will have the added benefit of providing an alternate way to bring visitors to the battlefield without having to pass through the bright lights of modern commercial activity.”
The CVBT formed in 1996 and has preserved over 800 acres of historic ground on all four of the area’s battlefields. Over 200 of these acres have already been transferred to the National Park Service. The organization will launch a concerted fund raising campaign to pay off this project as quickly as possible so it can keep moving on to the next threatened site.
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