In the early 1920’s the fields were completely unmarked, overgrown with timber, no roads, no markers, nothing to indicate where the engagements were, and you had to learn to know your way around.
James Ambler Johnston, architect, historian and civic activist
September 5, 1921: Historian Douglas Southall Freeman and the Richmond Rotary Club orchestrate a 21-car caravan of Civil War veterans from the city’s Soldiers’ Home on a driving tour of area to identify locations so that they can be marked for posterity. (“Rotarians make tour of state battlefields”, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Sep 6, 1921.)
May 1924: Freeman and J. Ambler Johnston, another Richmond historian and civic leader, organize the Battlefield Markers Association to “identify points of interest on various battle fields of Virginia and to place thereon suitable markers.” They raised $10,000 and erected 59 roadside markers consisting of a cast iron plate set on a concrete capstone atop a granite base. Materials were donated by local companies and Freeman wrote the concise historical summaries.
September 1924: The immediate success of Freeman and Ambler’s group inspired an offshoot — the Battlefield Markers Association, Western Division. Its purpose was “to raise funds for the purchase of bronze tablets with appropriate historic inscriptions, to be placed on the bases erected by the Daughters of the Confederacy, D.A.R., and Memorial Association on the principal battlefields of Virginia.” An additional 25 markers — bronze tablets atop white granite block bases — from Bull Run to Appomattox, particularly throughout the Shenandoah Valley, given that the group was founded at Charlottesville.
August 18, 1927: Out of the success of this movement to erect markers so that drivers could identify battlefields as they drove, came the Richmond Battlefield Park Corporation, granted its charter by the Commonwealth of Virginia and led by T.M. Carrington (“Battlefield Corporation granted charter by state”, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Aug 19, 1927.) The group’s first victory was fitting, since the threat of sale was an impetus of its founding: the acquisition of Fort Harrison at auction for $18,000. (“Virginia’s Early Battlefield Markers,” Richmond Battlefields Association Newsletter Summer 2010)
October 1929: Sir. Winston Churchill, known as a great historian before he became a great statesman, visits major American Civil War battlefields near Fredericksburg and Richmond, Va., with Freeman as his guide. Churchill writes an article about the experience titled “Old Battlefields of Virginia” for the London Daily Telegraph. “You must see the ground,” Churchill wrote, “You must cover the distances in person; you must measure the rivers and see what the swamps were really like.”