At Ease: Historic Brock Road
Brock Road is directly connected to three of the four battlefields we focus on: Chancellorsville, The Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House. Used for troop movement, battle, and logistics, this thoroughfare is a historic connector now...just as it's been for centuries.
Today, we've collected an article excerpt and video from the CVBT archive to share some extra "road history" with you.
Sketch of troops along Brock Road during the Overland Campaign
(Edwin Forbes, Library of Congress)
Brock Road: Where Generations Have Traveled
(Adapted from an article written for Civil War News, June 2021) “One generation builds the street on which the next will walk,” reads a Chinese Proverb, reflecting on the changes passed from era to era. Many of the roads connecting or running through the Civil War battlefields of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, The Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House existed prior to the 1860’s and are still visible or in active use today. Both the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac used the road network through Central Virginia during their campaigns, battles, and maneuvers. Generals on each side used maps or local guides to help them use the roads for logistics and quicker troop movements. Good roads had particular importance through the dense second-growth forest in Spotsylvania and Orange Counties, known as The Wilderness. To look a little closer at the importance of roads and their preservation, let’s take another look at Brock Road and the Federal change of supply base early in the Overland Campaign of 1864. Brock Road (now modern Road 613) meets the Plank Road west of Chancellorsville and runs southeast to Todd’s Tavern and Spotsylvania Court House—an approximate 10 mile stretch of road. Though the roadway was used during the Colonial Era prior to the Revolutionary War, one of the first organized military movements along the road took place in 1781 when the Marquis de Lafayette marched his troops along the route as he maneuvered through Central Virginia in the early parts of the Yorktown Campaign. During the Civil War, prior to the Overland Campaign, Confederates had moved along the road, most notably in 1863 during the Battle of Chancellorsville as General “Stonewall” Jackson’s soldiers made their Flank Attack March. Later, General Jackson was moved by ambulance along Brock Road toward Guinea Station after his wounding and brief stay in the field hospital. The Overland Campaign opened in 1864 as Union Major General George G. Meade, accompanied by Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, took the Army of the Potomac and the IX Corps on a strike through Central Virginia to battle the Army of Northern Virginia, commanded by Robert E. Lee. The Union army started from Culpeper, Virginia, and moved east. The commanders hoped to move quickly through The Wilderness, using the few roads through the region. Instead, the Confederates launched an attack along the Orange Turnpike (now modern Route 20) which started the Battle of The Wilderness on May 5. Brock Road started its near constant military use for the next two and a half weeks. The Union II Corps traversed it into The Wilderness, built trenches along the roadbed, and fought there, adding more history to the layers of the generations. On May 6, after two days of fighting, Grant decided to move the army toward Spotsylvania Court House, using Brock Road. Orders and messages recorded from this movement detail the order of march down the historic road, the details of moving thousands of soldiers via one of the few military usable roads for moving that direction. Skirmishes broke out as the Confederates slowed the Union advance near Todd’s Tavern and the rest of the way toward Spotsylvania Court House. The Confederates established defensive lines across Brock Road about 1.5 miles from the court house village. This led to another battle along Brock Road as more Union troops came down the upper section of the route into the fight. Warren’s V Corps and Sedgwick’s VI Corps lined up perpendicular to Brock Road and charged down the hard pack dirt and through the bordering fields, trying to break the Confederate position. Part of the land directly bordering Brock Road where Warren readied and rallied his soldiers has been preserved by Central Virginia Battlefields Trust. Standing on a battlefield and understanding how the fight unfolded is important and recognizing how the units moved to their fighting locations is also key for exploring the military tactics and stories of personal courage held in the fields. Driving the 45 mile per hour speed limit along Brock Road sometimes seems too fast. That is the place where the armies marched, and it remains to be seen how land along the road and the integrity of the historic road itself can be preserved for the next generation to walk...or drive.
Brock Road is shown in blue on this modern map. (Google Maps)
From The CVBT Archives: Brock Road Tract
In 2018, while CVBT was actively fundraising to save the Fifth Corps/Brock Road Tract, Travis Wakeman created this video showing the location of the property and troop movements across and around it. Although this piece of the battlefield has been saved and the modern structure demolished, the map work in the video is very helpful and we hope you'll enjoy it from CVBT's YouTube archives!
Fields at Chancellorsville, not far from where Brock Road meets Plank Road.
Central Virginia Battlefields Trust's mission is to preserve, protect, and educate about Civil War hallowed ground at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, The Wilderness, and Spotsylvania.