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Interpretive Center Opens for Kelly's Ford Anniversary

Historians and preservationists donate time and resources to create interpretive center at Culpeper, Va. battlefield site

Update June 2024: Culpeper Battlefields State Park is now open! For more information about its dedication on June 8, 2024, park accessibility and public recreational use, ongoing Trust involvement and preservation news and history, visit our Culpeper Battlefields State Park page.

(Culpeper, Va.) - The Civil War Trust, the nation's largest nonprofit battlefield preservation organization, has partnered with Culpeper, Va.-based businesses and local preservationists to complete the installation of an interpretive center at the Kelly's Ford Battlefield. Signage, fencing, trails and other amenities are among the additions comprising the interpretive center, dedicated on the battle's 150th anniversary.

"Completing the protection and interpretation of this site would have been impossible without the help of the landowners, local businesses and our members," Trust president Jim Lighthizer said. "Future generations now have the chance to experience America's history first hand by visiting this site."

In November 2012, the Trust secured an easement on a 964-acre farm owned by the Woodward family, among the largest transactions in the organization's 25-year history, with the intention of not only preserving, but interpreting the site. The landowners, Scott and Sam Woodward, agreed to donate time and labor to build, maintain and manage the center. Local businesses, historians and preservationists also donated time, energy and resources to complete the project, including Cedar Mountain Stone, Culpeper Wood Preservers, Kipps Nursery, CFC Farm Center and the Trust.

"My brother and I have learned much about the history of our property in the past few years," Sam Woodward said.

"And, as we discussed it, we realized we had an obligation to be stewards of the land and recognize its unusual history," added Scott Woodward. "This is the right thing to do. The trust and our consultant worked with us, and we are very pleased with their efforts to aid us in our desire to protect this farmland for our family and community."

The Woodward property is nearly two square miles of land flooded with documented history commencing long before English settlers explored this area. Including over a mile of frontage on the Rappahannock River, the property includes portions of the Old Carolina Road, Norman's Ford and the Carter House, which formerly belonged to Robert "King" Carter, arguably the most successful colonial  businessman of his era. It is also the site of the Battle of Kelly's Ford.

"The Woodwards have been incredible throughout this process," project consultant and local conservationist Jamie Craig said. "This is a unique property in that it encapsulates centuries of American history as well as sensitive riverfront habitat. This acquisition is a significant asset now protected and preserved for future generations - thanks to the assistance and foresight of the Woodward family, the Trust, local and state officials and Culpeper businesses who supported our efforts."

The Battle of Kelly's Ford, fought on St. Patrick's Day, March 17, 1863, was the first large-scale cavalry battle in the war. It provided a huge morale boost for the Union cavalry, which was then in the process of transforming into a formidable fighting force. The most famous of the battle's 200 casualties was Confederate artillerist Maj. John Pelham, of whom Stonewall Jackson wrote, after the Battle of Antietam, "with a Pelham on each flank I believe I could whip the world," and whom Robert E. Lee dubbed "the Gallant Pelham" after the Battle of Fredericksburg.  Pelham had been calling on a young lady nearby in Culpeper when the sound of gunfire drew him towards the battle.  Although he was not in direct command of troops on the field, he led the first charge on the Union line and was mortally wounded by a shell fragment in the attempt. Legendary cavalier J.E.B. Stuart wept upon hearing the news, exclaiming that "our loss is irreparable," and named his daughter, born that autumn, after his fallen comrade.

The Civil War Trust is the largest nonprofit battlefield preservation organization in the United States.  Its mission is to preserve our nation's endangered Civil War battlefields and to promote appreciation of these hallowed grounds.  To date, the Trust has preserved more than 35,000 acres of battlefield land in 20 states.  Learn more at, the home of the Civil War sesquicentennial.