Guest Editorial

Battlefield Preservation
Is A Duty to Take Seriously


by G. Michael Green and
Eric J. Wittenberg

As Americans, we have a sacred duty to preserve our past. The preservation of our Civil War battlefields is a sacred trust. Once those battlefields are destroyed, they can never be recovered. Agreeing to serve as a steward of one of those battlefields is not only a responsibility, it is a privilege. Don’t agree to do so unless you really intend to fulfill that obligation.

The Brandy Station battlefield in Virginia is a model of battlefield preservation at work. Saved from destruction twice, much of the battlefield has been saved through hard work by dedicated volunteers. Unfortunately, the new board of trustees and new president of the Brandy Station Foundation (BSF), charged with preserving that battlefield for posterity, do not take their responsibilities to preserve that battlefield seriously, and, unfortunately, have abrogated that duty in the interest of appeasing a property owner.

In the past few weeks, bulldozers appeared on the scene at Brandy Station and quickly began to severely despoil a key tract on the battlefield—southern Fleetwood Hill, a prominent ridge that witnessed the heaviest fighting in the entire battle.

In early May, a local landowner began excavating this historic acreage for the purpose of building a recreational pond. His bulldozers scraped, dug, and pushed this historic ground for several days—creating a large pond and damming up Flat Run, a perennial stream that feeds vigorously into the Rappahannock River.

Noting the destruction to Fleetwood Hill, the former president of the Brandy Station Foundation, Clark B. “Bud” Hall, notified federal, state and local authorities about the devastating construction on this battlefield property—acreage that comprises a battlefield deemed eligible by federal authorities for the National Register of Historic Places. Responding quickly, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers issued an immediate “cease and desist” order, while finding that the non-permitted construction violated the Clean Water Act. In response, the landowner apologized and acknowledged he would work with the Corps to restore the site.

However, the BSF board and president chose not to act. Instead, they enacted a policy that suggests that the BSF should not interfere with a landowner’s private property rights. In short, they have abandoned the battlefield.

Simply put, we believe the current BSF leadership cannot be trusted to preserve and protect this hallowed battlefield. Their appeasement—if not outright support—of the landowner’s misplaced “property rights&Mac226;” and his efforts to destroy a key part of Fleetwood Hill should reverberate throughout the historic preservation community. The battlefield itself, the memories of the men who struggled and died there, and our heritage all deserve MUCH better from the so-called stewards of this hallowed ground. We should not tolerate it.

G. Michael Green is a former Director and chief spokesperson for the Brandy Station Foundation. He is a federal executive and resides in northern Virginia.

Eric J. Wittenberg is a Columbus, Ohio attorney who serves as the vice president of the Buffington Island Battlefield Preservation Foundation and has been deeply involved in battlefield preservation for years.

Interested parties can contact BSF:
www.brandystationfoundation.com

For updates on this matter:
eric@civilwarcavalry.com