Slaughter Pen Farm, Fredericksburg, Va.

Slaughter Pen Farm, Fredericksburg, Va.

Buddy Secor

Slaughter Pen Farm

A Victory 16 Years in the Making

In March 2006, the Trust announced the most ambitious private battlefield acquisition project in American history — a $12 million fundraising campaign to purchase the 208-acre Slaughter Pen Farm on the southern end of the Fredericksburg Battlefield. It took more than 16 years, but in June 2022, the Trust finally claimed victory at Slaughter Pen Farm. The final payment on the long-term loan was made in May 2022 – two years early. It remains the largest and most complex private battlefield preservation effort in the nation’s history. 

Our Preservation Journey

Preservation Timeline

December 13, 1862: Union forces launch a massive frontal assault about five miles south of Marye’s Heights at Prospect Hill, a muddy plantation field. Before the fighting ended, 9,000 Union and Confederate soldiers had fallen at a place that was later dubbed “the Slaughter Pen.” 

1930s: The Confederate line along Prospect Hill is added to Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, but the open plain — that which contained “the Slaughter Pen” — remained a dairy farm. Over time, it became hemmed in by a highway, a railroad and a small airport. Plus, the land was zoned for light industry, making it even more valuable.  

1970s: Robert K. Krick, then-historian at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, convinced the farm’s owner to sell two tracts — of 20 and 23 acres — of land in the southwest corner of the property (along the railroad) to the National Park Service. The farm’s owner, long set against selling his property, was spurred to action due to the many infuriating requests sent to him by the airport. After selling, the land was then leased back to the farmer — much to his happiness.  

1997: The farm escaped becoming an auto auction venture only when the business decided to build on another property. 

2003: The then-Civil War Preservation Trust (the Trust) recognized the need to save “the Slaughter Pen” farm property but realized the drastic financial challenge it would take, valued at more than $10 million.  

November 2004: The farm’s owner was in ill health, leaving his niece — his to-be sole beneficiary and executor of his estate — to field a slew of calls from interested developers and realtors. This caused the Trust to back off at the time.  

Fall 2004: Central Virginia Battlefields Trust (CVBT) scored a major preservation victory when it obtained a conservation easement on 104 zoned-for-industry acres on Latimer’s Knoll, just northwest of Slaughter Pen Farm on the other side of the railroad tracks. 

Spring 2005: Chief Policy and Communications Officer Jim Campi was alerted that the Spotsylvania County School Administration was working on a plan to buy 25 acres of Slaughter Pen Farm for a new elementary school. He worked to reorganize local residents into the Spotsylvania Battlefields Coalition, arranging tours of the property to prepare volunteers for another possible fight. Despite learning of battlefield preservationists’ interest in the property, the administration scheduled a community meeting for early July. 

July 2005: Campi had the Trust’s law firm send a Freedom of Information Act request “to show the county that the Trust already had a high-profile legal firm on board.” Plus, then-President Jim Lighthizer sent a letter to members of the Spotsylvania Battlefields Coalition, calling the troops out to attend a special community meeting set for July 14. Upon this uproar, the school board backed down and cancelled the meeting.  

September 2005: When the longtime owner died, his niece made plans to sell. But she was hostile toward preservationists — possibly because of the school board noise the Trust had made — and Trust leaders were concerned that even a full cash offer from them might be rejected. 

December 2005: The farm, then 208 acres, went on the market as the “Pearson Industrial Tract” at $12 million.  

February 2006: After contacting Tricord Homes, a local firm with which they had worked to fashion a preservation-friendly development proposal on the nearby Chancellorsville Battlefield, the Trust was able to utilize its relationship with the firm to secure a $12 million purchase contract on the Slaughter Pen Farm. This way, the niece would not see the offer as coming from preservationists’ pockets.  

March 28, 2006: The Trust announced that it had agreed to buy the property for $12 million with a closing date of June 15, thus beginning its fundraising campaign. 

Spring 2006: CVBT pledged $1 million to save the Slaughter Pen Farm. 

Summer 2006: In his "Message from Headquarters" column in the summer issue of Hallowed Ground magazine, then-President Jim Lighthizer wrote that the Trust was pursuing the purchase of the Slaughter Pen Farm without knowing exactly how it would be paid for. But a game plan was built with creativity: Longtime Trust banking partner SunTrust, now Truist, agreed to fund the whole transaction and offer the Trust innovative financing opportunities. The loan’s terms required an annual payment of $400,000, and many donors scheduled a recurring gift to help pay down the balance. Plus, the Trust devised a plan to sell Virginia tax credits once it placed a conservation easement on the property. 

June 15, 2006: The acquisition of the 208-acre Slaughter Pen Farm closed, becoming the largest and most complex private battlefield preservation effort in the nation’s history. 

October 2006: The Trust held the first public event at the Slaughter Pen Farm, a news conference at which then-Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne announced that the project would receive a $2 million federal matching grant from the American Battlefield Protection Program — a sum that remains among the largest awards in that program’s history. In addition to its other funding sources, the Commonwealth of Virginia also contributed $300,000 toward the acquisition, a process that directly led to the creation of a first-in-the-nation state matching grant program for battlefield preservation in 2006.   

2009: The Trust installed an almost two-mile educational walking trail at Slaughter Pen Farm. The route is popular with locals, students of history and military units participating in staff rides to study lessons in leadership and tactics. 

June 2012: At the Trust's Annual Conference, CVBT representatives honored their commitment, presenting the final installment of their payment and receiving a standing ovation from grateful attendees. 

May 2022: The final payment on the loan was made, two years ahead of schedule. With the Slaughter Pen Farm now owned free-and-clear by preservationists, the Trust and its many partners turn toward celebrating the milestone. 

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