Under a hot August sun in 2001, Fredericksburg developer Larry Silver formally handed over a deed for six acres of land upon which a small group of preservationists had gathered on the Wilderness battlefield. Central Virginia Battlefields Trust president John D. Mitchell accepted this deed, which became the first outright gift of land the CVBT had ever received.
During this brief ceremony, Mr. Silver acknowledged that developers are in the business of changing the ground. All of us use grocery stores, service stations, and other retail and service establishments. He noted, however, that some areas are worth preserving and he welcomed the opportunity to work with an established organization like the CVBT that is able to identify areas that are historically significant, while differentiating them from areas that can logically be developed. Those who are familiar with the Wilderness battlefield know that the historic crossroads remains preserved, several hundred yards to the east. The focus of the National Park Service and the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust in this area has been to preserve the terrain below Route 3 where the modern Route 20 becomes the gateway to the Wilderness battlefield. This donated property (and an adjacent 12.3 acre parcel donated in 2007) fulfills this function by expanding the preserved ground around what is called Grant’s Knoll. On May 4, 1864, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant established his headquarters in this area during his first confrontation with General Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia. Mr. Silver’s gift effectively prevents development from encroaching into this dramatic setting.
This ground also has links to the American Revolution. In the summer of 1781, the Marquis de Lafayette carefully evaded a powerful British force under Lord Cornwallis. He camped his relatively small force on this high ground, later reporting how they spent the night with weapons primed. Shortly after the Revolution, William Jones constructed his home called Elwood, which still stands and which has come under the protective custody of the National Park Service. Stonewall Jackson’s amputated left arm was buried in the Elwood family cemetery.
Elwood has been opened to the public through a partnership between the National Park Service and the Friends of the Wilderness Battlefield. FOWB representatives were also in attendance at the ceremony transferring the Grant’s Knoll property to the CVBT. Tom Van Winkle and John Campbell both expressed their support and desire to assist with site interpretation.
Friends of the Wilderness Battlefield, developer Larry Silver, the National Park Service, and the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust certainly represent a broad community-based partnership that can bring together a variety of assets to preserve historic ground. The CVBT Board is proud to be associated with these partners and is grateful for this donation of historic land.