Saved at Last: 208 Acres at Fredericksburg’s Slaughter Pen Farm!
In 2006, 208 acres of Spotsylvania County farmland were put up for sale on the open real estate market, advertised as the “prime light industrial development site in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” with an alarming purchase price of $12 million. Not just any farm, this land, on December 13, 1862, had become the “Slaughter Pen,” the “heart and soul” of the Fredericksburg Battlefield. A place where 5,000 soldiers were killed, wounded, or captured — where five Union soldiers acted with such valor they received the Medal of Honor.
The American Battlefield Trust, which had already thwarted earlier development proposals for the site, could not let this hallowed ground slip through our fingers and into the hands of those who would destroy it. So we took an audacious and calculated risk in purchasing the property ourselves. Only now, after 16 years of fundraising, can we claim final victory at Slaughter Pen Farm!
To this day, the transaction at the site remains the largest and most complex private battlefield preservation effort in the nation’s history. But it almost didn’t happen.
The seller had grown averse to preservationists, so the Trust approached a preservation-friendly developer, Tricord Homes, who negotiated a contract and claimed zero profit when the Trust made the purchase. Longtime Trust banking partner SunTrust, now Truist, agreed to fund the whole transaction and offer the Trust innovative financing opportunities.
Since June 2006, the Trust has steadily paid down its loan, making use of varied resources — everything from federal matching grants via the American Battlefield Protection Program to a noteworthy contribution from the Commonwealth to the sale of Virginia tax credits to a remarkable $1 million pledge from the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust. The Trust even took advantage of the ups and downs in the economy to refinance its loan, saving several percentage points — and tens of thousands of dollars in interest.
Ultimately, nearly half of the $12 million raised came via private funds, with tens of thousands of individual donors participating. The loan’s terms required an annual payment of $400,000, and Trust members scheduled a recurring gift to help pay down the balance, knowing that until the debt was paid off, the land could not truly be classified as “saved.” The final payment on the loan was made in May 2022, two year 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 and continuing to pursue landscape restoration and interpretation opportunities there.