Cannons and a split-rail fence on the Cedar Mountain Battlefield

Cedar Mountain Battlefield, Rapidan, Va.

Buddy Secor

Culpeper Battlefields State Park

Meet the Commonwealth's 43rd State Park

Piece by piece, private preservation efforts saved a critical mass of the endangered battlefields at Brandy Station, Cedar Mountain, Kelly's Ford and Rappahannock Station to create a critical mass worthy of formal and permanent park status.

The New Park

Culpeper Battlefields State Park’s official dedication is the culmination of nearly 40 years of preservation. In 2022, Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed into law a biennial budget that allowed for the donation of 1,700 already-protected acres to the state, plus up to 800 further acres that will connect and enhance the park. Recognizing the high cost of land in this region of the state, the General Assembly has appropriated a total of $5.5 million to assist private organizations like the Trust in this work.

In the past two years, Trust staff have worked closely with state officials on the complex logistics that will allow the donation of more than 2,000 acres of battlefield land to the Commonwealth. About 260 acres centered around the crest of Fleetwood Hill were first donated to the state, with additional transfers happening in gradual phases through 2027. A master management agreement is being created for the Trust and the Commonwealth to cooperatively handle stewardship and care of the grounds during this process and as the park builds staffing and operations infrastructure. 

Many existing agricultural leases will continue uninterrupted and Trust-installed infrastructure, like parking areas, will remain largely unchanged, even as unused-modern structures are removed. Trust-owned lands will maintain the same sunrise-to-sunset access, and walking trails and interpretive signage will be retained at Fleetwood Hill, St. James Church and Buford’s Knoll. 

Although the majority of the new park’s acreage is located at the Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain battlefields, future transfers may include parts of Kelly’s Ford and Rappahannock Station, which, in addition to opportunities for historical interpretation, would facilitate recreational access to the Rappahannock River. The park may also grow to include notable archaeological resources, thanks to the inclusion of land on Hansbrough’s Ridge near Stevensburg that contains the well-preserved remnants of a Union winter encampment. As these additional properties are fully under state management, Virginia’s master plan process for the park will commence to determine what additional park amenities and programming will be offered.


Brandy Station Battlefield by Buddy Secor
Culpeper Battlefields State Park
A hand holds an illustration of the Battle of Brandy Station at Brandy Station Battlefield, Va.


When the modern battlefield preservation movement began in the late 1980s, development in Virginia’s piedmont was just beginning to bear down on Culpeper. The first big threat to its battlefields came in the early 1990s, when 1,500 acres at Brandy Station were rezoned for commercial development, including a proposed racetrack. This situation prompted the National Trust for Historic Preservation to name Brandy Station one of the 11 Most Endangered Historic Sites in the country in 1993. This vulnerability spurred the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites (a Trust predecessor organization) to acquire a 571-acre tract on the northern part of the battlefield around Buford’s Knoll in 1997. 

In 2008, two tracts on both sides of Fleetwood Hill, but there was much more work to be done. In 2009 and 2010, two landowners donated conservation easements on their land to the Commonwealth of Virginia, ensuring the preservation of 782 acres and connecting two major pieces of the battlefield. But the crest of Fleetwood Hill — called by historian Clark B. “Bud” Hall the “most fought-upon, marched-upon, and camped-upon piece of ground in American history,” was still in private hands, crowned by a large modern house. Thankfully, after negotiations, the landowner was willing to sell to the Trust and, in 2013, the organization, buoyed by federal and state grant funding, embarked on a $3.6 million campaign to purchase and restore the 56-acre property to its wartime appearance. 

The reclamation plan approved by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, which holds a conservation easement on the property, was the most ambitious then undertaken by the Trust. It included removal of two houses, a detached garage, two in-ground pools, and a pool house, the aluminum barn having already been relocated for the benefit of the local 4-H club. Only a well that predates the Civil War remains on the hill, and a paved area now serves as a parking area. An interpretive trail was added and based on historic photographs and maps, trees were replanted to resemble those in place during the battle. 

Meanwhile, the Trust protected important areas of the battlefield at Cedar Mountain, especially the Crittenden Gate site, plus portions of Kelly’s Ford and Rappahannock Station through both outright purchase and conservation easement.

Plan of battles of Kelly's Ford and Rappahannock Station, Virginia
Encroaching traffic near Brandy Station
Historian Bud Hall holds a picture of the "for sale" signs and development proposals that once threatened the land where he's standing, now owned by the Trust.
Witness Tree Cedar Mountain Battlefield Culpeper County, Va.

Ongoing Work

With the dedication of Culpeper Battlefields State Park, you could mistakenly assume that little preservation work remains to be done. But the legislation that formally authorized its creation explicitly called for the protection of further lands to augment and enhance the park.  Recognizing that protecting land in the Old Dominion is an expensive proposition, in 2023 the Virginia General Assembly increased its appropriation for Culpeper battlefield land to $5.5 million. We have identified some 800 acres optimal for these goals and already realized tangible success in pursing them for the park. As always, the Trust will seek to match this government funding with member donations and other sources, which is critical, given that competition from corporate mega-developers has driven up land prices drastically: the appraised value for a recently protected parcel more than doubled in the course of four years!  

Support the Trust's Work

At Brandy Station, the Trust was selected for a $175,000 Battlefield Restoration Grant from the federal American Battlefield Protection Program. But rather than plant trees or remove individual structures, as other such matching grants have funded, we will take a much broader view and craft a Cultural Landscape Report (CLR) for nearly 1,000 acres being transferred to the state. The CLR will identify extant resources and produce recommendations for how to preserve, rehabilitate, and/or restore the landscape in ways that prioritize protection of historical and archeological resources while making them accessible and relatable to the public. This more academic study will guide the transformation of open fields into a meaningful park that balances the highest standards for stewardship of historic resources with visitor expectations regarding amenities and experiences.  

Cedar Mountain Battlefield, Culpeper County, Va.

Culpeper History

Eight military campaigns were inaugurated within Culpeper County during the Civil War, more than in any other county in the nation. Geographically situated midway between the war ring capitals and connected to the North by the colonial-era Carolina Road, as well as the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, Culpeper’s vital strategic position ensconced south of the Rappahannock River ensured the county would attract the focus of opposing military planners. The four major battles where the Trust has preserved land now eligible for inclusion in the state park are:

Cedar Mountain 

On August 9, 1862, Confederate forces marching south to capture an important railroad junction in Culpeper County encountered Union troops at Cedar Mountain. The Federals gained an early advantage until a Confederate counterattack, led by A.P. Hill, repulsed the Federals. The Confederate victory shifted fighting in Virginia from the Peninsula to Northern Virginia, and gave Lee the initiative. 

Kelly’s Ford 

Kelly’s Ford is famous as the site of a fierce cavalry battle between Union Brig. Gen. William Averell and Confederate Brig. Gen. Fitzhugh Lee — former West Point classmates and close friends — on March 17, 1863. The Federal cavalry won the initial skirmish, but withdrew due to concern about possible Confederate reinforcements. This ford was the site of numerous skirmishes, artillery duels and cavalry clashes, and many military historians view Kelly’s Ford as the most marched-over and fought-over river crossing of the entire Civil War.  

Brandy Station 

At dawn on June 9, 1863, the Union cavalry corps under Maj. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton launched a surprise attack on Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart’s Confederate cavalry at Brandy Station. After an all0day fight in which fortunes changed repeatedly, the Federals retired without discovering Lee’s infantry camped near Culpeper. This battle marked the apogee of the Confederate cavalry in the East. From this point in the war, the Federal cavalry gained strength and confidence. Brandy Station was the largest cavalry battle of the war and the opening engagement of the Gettysburg Campaign. 

Winter Encampment

In addition to playing a role in the Battle of Brandy Station, Hansborough's Ridge was also sheltered more than 10,000 Union troops for five months during the winter of 1863-1864, as part of the Army of the Potomac’s 120,000-soldier winter encampment that dominated Culpeper County. The ridge was home not only to infantry and cavalry troops but also to soldiers’ visiting family members and large hospitals where doctors, nurses and volunteers treated sick and wounded men. The site’s importance was recognized in 1991 when the Department of Historic Resources listed the Hansborough Ridge Winter Encampment District on the Virginia Landmarks Register, but it, too, was threatened by development before being acquired by preservationists in 2018.

Rappahannock Station 

In August 1862, following the Peninsula Campaign, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee moved to prevent his opponent from consolidating forces in the Shenandoah Valley by sending Maj. Gen. James Longstreet to join Maj. Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s force near Gordonsville, Va. After the Battle of Cedar Mountain, the Federals withdrew to a defensive position along the Rappahannock River, where, on August 22–25, the two armies fought a series of minor actions, including Waterloo Bridge, Lee Springs, Freeman’s Ford and Sulphur Springs. Meanwhile, Jackson marched through Thoroughfare Gap to capture Bristoe Station and destroy Federal supplies at Manassas Junction. The next autumn, during the Bristoe Campaign, a Union force overran the Confederate bridgehead at Rappahannock Station on November 7, 1863, capturing more than 1,600 Southerners. 

Currier & Ives "The Battle At Cedar Mountain, Aug. 9th. 1862"