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TMCNet:  Preservationists spruce up local Civil War sites

[November 22, 2012]

Preservationists spruce up local Civil War sites

Nov 22, 2012 (The Free Lance-Star - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- People may think of Civil War battlefields as static, but they're hardly unchanging things.

Trees topple or grow, earth erodes, growth encroaches and signs get dated. In short, they sometimes need a bit of TLC.

That's what two of the Fredericksburg area's lesser-known Civil War hot spots have just received, courtesy of the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust.

On Monday, landscapers and CVBT officials swarmed over Pelham's Corner, a vest-pocket park at Tidewater Trail and Benchmark Road in Spotsylvania County. It's the spot where a lone cannon ignited the Battle of Fredericksburg, holding a giant Union force at bay for an hour.

Confederate Maj. John Pelham's feat drew admiration from his contemporaries. Gen. Robert E. Lee dubbed him "The Gallant Pelham," and remarked that, "It was glorious to see such courage in one so young!" Three months later, the 24-year-old Alabamian was mortally wounded in a skirmish at Kelly's Ford on the upper Rappahannock River.

Pelham's artillery hijinks, which delayed the Yankees' assault on Prospect Hill near Hamilton's Crossing in Spotsylvania, have long been a favorite story of countless visitors to the area. That's why CVBT moved swiftly to acquire the 1-acre site when it became available in 1999.

Since then, it has been engulfed by strip development, intrusions that make it hard for visitors to appreciate the Dec. 13, 1862, duel between Pelham and Union artillerists.

So, with an eye to the war's sesquicentennial, CVBT went to work this week to spruce up its property and make visitors' experience more meaningful.

To "block the schlock" of modern development, in the words of one CVBT member, the local nonprofit installed rows of fast-growing cedars around the tract's perimeter. Cedars grew on the property during the war, research has determined.

In addition, Ann Little of Tree Fredericksburg has donated two oaks and Meadows Farm has chipped in to lower the cost of the plantings.

So that visitors can understand the action, CVBT is trying to preserve sight lines at Pelham's Corner toward Prospect Hill and a Union position near today's Fredericksburg Country Club, Executive Director Jerry H. Brent said in an interview.

To enhance visitors' experience, the trust may collaborate with the Blue and Gray Education Society to help buy a cannon to position on the grounds.

To get an idea of what Pelham's Corner may look like 30 years from now, Brent suggested, look at Salem Church on State Route 3, where cedars lessen visual intrusion from busy roads.

CVBT hopes to have the site included in the Virginia Civil War Trails program, as it has just done with Harris Farm on State Route 208 not far from Spotsylvania Courthouse.

REMNANT OF LAST BATTLE The trails program recently replaced faded historical markers at the latter CVBT site.

To obtain Civil War Trails wayside markers for the interpretive site, the trust obtained a grant from the Duff McDuff Jr. Fund of the Community Foundation of the Rappahannock River Region, and chipped in more money.

Harris Farm and adjoining acreage saw combat on May 19, 1864, that became the last of the battles fought around Spotsylvania Court House.

The trust's 5-acre piece of the battlefield, now enveloped by Bloomsbury subdivision, holds a monument to the 1st Massachusetts Heavy Artillery, a newly recruited unit baptized by fire there. Survivors of the Battle of Harris Farm returned on May 17, 1901, to dedicate the granite marker.

The tract also holds a memorial plaque for Confederate Pvt. James Z. Branscomb of Union Springs, Ala., killed in the battle. His grave site is unknown.

CVBT's acreage is the only site that interprets the final battle around Spotsylvania Court House. At a nearby farm owned by the Alsop family, Northern photographers recorded images of the Confederate dead that are among the war's most famous photos of battlefield casualties.

That marks Harris Farm a mighty interesting place, but it's hard for visitors to find because of poor maps and road signs. So the trails program will put a directional sign on Route 208 and mark Harris Farm on one of its popular maps, Brent said.

Since its founding in 1996, the CVBT has preserved more than 900 battlefield acres in the Fredericksburg area by purchase or easement.

Clint Schemmer: 540/368-5029 Email: cschemmer@freelancestar.com ___ (c)2012 The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Va.) Visit The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Va.) at www.fredericksburg.com/flshome Distributed by MCT Information Services

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