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Virginia aids Civil War battlefield preservation
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Virginia aids Civil War battlefield preservation

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Todd's Tavern in Spotsylvania County, Va.

G.O. Brown photographed Todd’s Tavern on Spotsylvania’s Wilderness battlefield. Published in 1865, his stereocard is part of the Library of Congress’ Robin G. Stanford Collection, digitized with funding from the nonprofit Center for Civil War Photography.

Virginia will help the American Battlefield Trust preserve part of the Spotsylvania Court House battlefield, the state Department of Historic Resources announced this month.

The agency will contribute $500,000 toward the national nonprofit’s purchase of a tract at Todd’s Tavern in Spotsylvania County that figured in the May 1864 battle between forces led by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and Union generals George Gordon Meade and Ulysses S. Grant.

“This 136-acre site witnessed significant action during the movement of the armies toward Spotsylvania Court House in May 1864 and continuing through much of that battle,” said Kirsten Talken-Spaulding, superintendent of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.

“The land encompasses the site of Todd’s Tavern and adjoins a county-owned parcel featuring a parking area and interpretive waysides on the site’s history,” Talken-Spaulding added. “Preserving this ground along the historic Brock Road will improve the narrative and geographic connection between the battlefields of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House and enhance visitor understanding of the dramatic events of May 1864.”

Todd’s Tavern, a pivotal landmark during the battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House, stood on the tract’s southern portion, the Virginia agency said.

Built in 1835, the one-and-a-half-story tavern was run during the Civil War by Charles Bradshaw, helped by an enslaved person and a free African American.

On the night of May 7, 1864, Grant and Meade rode south along Spotsylvania’s Brock Road, skirting the Todd’s Tavern tract and stopping briefly at the tavern.

The Union army’s Second and Fifth Corps marched past the tract toward Spotsylvania Court House, and the Second Corps camped on the property from May 8 to May 9, the department said.

On May 14, Confederate Brig. Gen. Thomas Rosser’s cavalry brigade spent the night at Todd’s Tavern. The next day, Rosser marched east on the Catharpin Road and engaged the 2nd Ohio Cavalry and 23rd Regiment, United States Colored Troops, in a skirmish southeast of Chancellorsville.

The USCTs’ 23rd Regiment, which crossed the Rappahannock River and marched through Culpeper County, was the first African American unit to see combat with Confederates north of the James River.

That happened days after the Battle of Wilderness, the first clash between Lee’s and Grant’s troops.

The USCTs’ first combat occurred on May 15, 1864, when Rosser advanced his cavalry detachment along Catharpin Road to learn the Union army’s position. His men encountered and repulsed the 2nd Ohio Cavalry.

But the nearby 23rd United States Colored Infantry hurried forward to Catharpin Road’s intersection with Orange Plank Road, skirmished with the rebels and forced Rosser to withdraw.

The Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, also known as the Battle of Spotsylvania, was the second major battle in Grant’s 1864 Overland Campaign, which led 11 months later to the surrender of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia in the village of Appomattox Courthouse.

The Spotsylvania combat — the costliest battle of the campaign — inflicted nearly 32,000 casualties on the two armies.

It followed the bloody but inconclusive Battle of the Wilderness in Orange and Spotsylvania counties. Grant’s army disengaged from Lee’s army and headed southeast, where Grant tried to lure Lee into battle under more favorable conditions.

“Elements of Lee’s army outpaced the Union army to the critical crossroads of Spotsylvania Court House, where Lee’s forces began entrenching,” the Department of Historic Resources said. “Fighting occurred on and off from May 8 through May 21, 1864, as Grant tried various schemes to break the Confederate line.

“In the end, the battle was tactically inconclusive, although both sides declared victory,” VDHR’s summary continued. “The Confederacy deemed it a victory because its forces held their defenses. The Union did so because its offensive continued and Lee’s army suffered irreplaceable losses.”

In all, the department awarded grants from this year’s Virginia Battlefield Preservation Fund that will protect more than 441 acres associated with Civil War battlefields, including tracts involving actions of United States Colored Troops. The acreage targeted for preservation is in Augusta, Henrico, Shenandoah and Spotsylvania counties.

Sites that figured in the Richmond-area Battle of Second Deep Bottom will benefit. In Henrico County, Virginia will provide $49,500 toward the purchase of 49.7 acres and $15,500 toward buying 2.3 acres from that battle.

On the night of Aug. 13-14, 1864, troops led by Union Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock crossed the James River at Deep Bottom to threaten Richmond, coordinating with a movement against the Weldon Railroad at Petersburg.

On Aug. 16, Union assaults near Fussell’s Mill initially succeeded, but Confederate counterattacks drove the Federals out of captured earthworks and heavy fighting continued throughout the day. A Confederate general John Chambliss was killed. And on Aug. 20, the Federals returned to the south side of the James, but maintained their bridgehead at Deep Bottom, according to the American Battlefield Trust.

The Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation will receive two state grants, totaling $435,000, to buy easements on 252 acres associated with the Battle of Fisher’s Hill and the Piedmont Battlefield on the Middle River.

At Fisher’s Hill, VDHR awarded $235,000 toward a preservation easement on 106 acres in Shenandoah County. The agency granted $200,000 to preserve 146 acres in Augusta County tied to the Piedmont battlefield.

“The preservation of historic battlefield properties contributes to Virginia’s significant and growing heritage tourism,” said Julie V. Langan, director of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. “Moreover, preserving these lands also supports low-impact recreational areas near to expanding urban centers, while in many cases also preserving targeted lands for agricultural uses under private ownership.”

In making the awards, the department weighed each battlefield’s significance and ranking in the congressional “Report on the Nation’s Civil War Battlefields,” which was issued in 1993 and has been updated since.

Evaluating the grant applications, VDHR said it assessed battlefield parcels’ proximity to already protected lands; the threat of encroaching development that could transform a parcel’s historic look and feel at the time of a battle; and the potential for education, recreation, research or heritage tourism.

The General Assembly established the Virginia Battlefield Preservation Fund in 2010, and authorized the Department of Historic Resources to administer it.

Organizations that receive a battlefield grant must donate a property easement to the Virginia Board of Historic Resources that restrict or forbid development of the acreage, allowing for the historic site’s perpetual protection, the department said.

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