New interpretive markers coming to Fleetwood Hill

When Bud Hall was a boy, he became fascinated with Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, the famous cavalry leader. Above the family fireplace hung three photos: Gen. Robert E. Lee in the center and Gen. Stuart and Thomas â??Stonewallâ? Jackson on each side.

Hallâ??s father said Jackson was Leeâ??s top general, but Stuart was â??different.â?

â??I idolized (Stuart) as a boy,â? Hall, now 71, recalled. â??The enthusiasm and admiration for him has never diminished over time.â?

That fascination partially explains Hallâ??s exuberance about his current role partnering with the Civil War Trust (CWT) to interpret Fleetwood Hill, the epicenter of the Battle at Brandy Station on June 9, 1863 and Stuartâ??s headquarters during the battle.

Last year, the CWT purchased Fleetwood Hill and tore down the houses. Now the preservation organization plans to erect eight interpretative markers for the public to understand the importance of the largest cavalry battle in the Western Hemisphere.

Fleetwood Hill will no longer offer just a majestic vista of the surrounding area but bring to life the fierce fighting that took place there and the historic significance of the battle.
â??I heard about Fleetwood Hill as a boy,â? said Hall.

For 30 years, Hall, who read his fatherâ??s Civil War books, has been studying, writing and lecturing about the largest cavalry battle of the war. The Battle of Brandy Station was the beginning of the Gettysburg Campaign and the first time that Union horse soldiers proved equal to their Confederate counterparts. But as Hall notes, the Battle of Brandy Station, which was fought to a draw, was really the beginning of the end for the Confederate cause.

Decades ago, Hall gazed at the 1926 marker on Fleetwood Hill for the first time and felt an emotional connection to the site.

â??I was awestruck that I was on Fleetwood Hill,â? Hall recalled, his voice cracking with emotion. â??It was a momentous, changing event.â?

Fleetwood Hill, also known as the Fleetwood Front, proved to be a strategic location for both sides during the Civil War. Stuart occupied the hill during the famous 1863 battle and Union forces did the same in the fall of 1863 and during the Winter Encampment of 1863-1864. The hill stands close to the railroad line that passes through the village of Brandy Station, the nearby Old Carolina Road and the Rappahannock River.

The new markers
The first new marker, created by Hall to greet visitors atop Fleetwood Hill, provides an overview of the largest cavalry action in the Western Hemisphere. About 20,500 troops on both sides fought during the daylong action, resulting in 1,500 casualties.

â??On June 9 1863, there was fought a cavalry battle the influence of which was so great and far reaching that it must always hold a place in the annals of the American cavalry,â? U. S. Brig. Gen. D. M. Gregg wrote. That quote is part of the information displayed on the first marker.

The second interpretative marker provides a brief history of Fleetwood Hill.

Stuart is quoted as calling the Fleetwood Hill â??a fine military position.â?

â??About noon on June 9, we had to fight for it,â? Stuart wrote.

Gregg also saw the value of the hill.

â??The country around Brandy Station is open, particularly suitable for a cavalry engagement,â? Gregg wrote. â??Fleetwood, the coveted hill, was the key to the entire situation and here the fight was everywhere most fierce.â?

Modern day U.S. Marine officers from Quantico come to Fleetwood Hill annually to study the tactics that still have validity today.

â??Fleetwood Hill served as a headquarters platform more often, and for greater periods of time, than any other acreage in this country,â? the third marker reads.

The final marker reminds visitors of the carnage that took place that fateful June day in 1863.

â??Fleetwood Hill was covered so thickly after the battle with dead horses and men that there was not room to pitch tents among them,â? Capt. W.W. Blackford, Topographical Engineer on Stuartâ??s staff wrote.

The marker notes that both sides correctly claimed victory. The Confederates controlled the battlefield but after significant loss of life and horses. The Union horse soldiers for the first time proved tactically equal to their Southern counterparts.

Following the battle, Stuart relocated his headquarters two miles away to Farley Plantation.

Honoring the past to better understand the future
Later this month, the CWT will unveil and dedicate the eight interpretative markers to assist visitors to better understand the importance of the battle and Fleetwood Hill in particular.

â??It is incumbent with ownership to do something with it,â? said Hall, who worked with the CWT to provide the wording on the markers.

The markers will be placed on the summit in various locations. Visitor parking will be available onsite, with a mowed walking trail to each marker.

CWT Policy and Communications Director Jim Campi said that the markers and trail should be in place in the later-half of October.

Following the acquisition of Fleetwood Hill last year, CWT demolished two houses leaving only a gazebo on site.

â??The gazebo was left in the place to protect the historic well that is located beneath it,â? said Campi in an email. â??It is also a nice feature for visitors touring the site.â?

The well predates the Civil War as does the history of the historic hill.

In 1790, John Strode, a Fredericksburg arms manufacturer who supplied arms to Virginia soldiers during the American Revolution, built a manor home named â??Fleetwoodâ? on the hill. In 1840, the property was sold to John Barbour. Shelling during the Civil War produced gaping holes in the structure.

â??The house never recovered from the Civil War,â? said Hall.

â??Fleetwoodâ? was torn down in 1880 and a new house on the same footprint was constructed in 1900, but it too was later demolished, according to Hall.

As the CWT attempts to educate and inform visitors about the importance of the Battle of Brandy Station, the preservation organization is busy raising the $400,000 needed to buy another important 10.5-acre tract belonging to Paige Mitchell. The property, with a 1964 ranch house, sits across Fleetwood Heights Road along Stuart Lane. Mitchellâ??s late husband B.B. Mitchell III, along with other like-minded preservationists, hatched the idea for the Brandy Station Foundation in that house in 1989.

â??A group of local citizens banded together,â? said Hall, who was one of the founders of the Brandy Station Foundation, a fledgling preservation group hoping to stop construction of thousands of homes and a Formula One race track on the battlefield,. â??We were relentless in our pursuit of a desire to save, preserve and honor.â?

Hall and other preservationists will soon stand on the summit of the historic hill and overlook the battlefield saved for future generations to enjoy. A dream to preserve Fleetwood Hill and the historic battlefield will have taken another step.

â??This is the culmination of that dream,â? said Hall.

Wally Bunker is a freelance contributor with the Culpeper Times. You may reach him at wallybunker@outlook.com