BRANDY STATION, VA. -- The latest battle between Civil War enthusiasts and developers is being fought over Brandy Station in Culpeper County.
The 127th anniversary of the war's largest cavalry battle attracted hundreds of people a week ago to protest a developer's plans to build a 1,500-acre business and industrial park at Brandy Station.
"If any ground in this battle deserves to be called hallowed, this is it," Clark B. Hall, a Civil War enthusiast, said as he stood on the Culpeper County hillside where Lee Sammis plans the biggest development in county history.
Brian Pohanka, a local historian, said: "Some kid a hundred years from now is going to get interested in the Civil War and want to see these places. He's going to go down there and be standing in a parking lot. I'm fighting for that kid." .
Last month, the Culpeper County Planning Commission voted 5 to 3 against the project. But the final word rests with the Board of Supervisors, which will vote this summer.
Increased interest in the Civil War has dovetailed with a public reaction against suburban sprawl into rural Virginia, generating an unprecedented movement to preserve battlefields.
People on both sides of the development issue say they want to avoid the kind of costly and bitter fight that occurred in 1988 over a plan to build a shopping mall next to Manassas National Battlefield Park and resulted in the federal government's taking the land. Many preservationists, in fact, are giving today's developers credit for trying to solve problems in a mutually agreeable way.
But even when developers try to cooperate, they sometimes find themselves in disagreement with the preservationists. At Brandy Station, for example, Sammis has offered to give the county 240 of the most crucial acres, but preservationists are not satisfied.
"If you've got isolated pockets of preservation, you've got nothing," Hall said, pointing across the wheat field. "You would have an artillery position overlooking warehouses."
About 35 miles southeast of Brandy Station, accelerating development around Fredericksburg threatens to engulf four major battlefields: Chancellorsville, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Courthouse, and Fredericksburg.
NTS, a Kentucky developer that owns 2,700 acres on and near the Wilderness site, has won praise from Civil War groups by agreeing to discuss selling up to 400 acres.
Private purchases, however, don't always solve the problem. At Cedar Creek, site of the Union's most decisive Shenandoah Valley victory, the Cedar Creek Foundation is struggling to make payments on a $450,000, five-year loan for 158 acres.
In Winchester, where 700 homes are planned on the last of three battlefield sites to be developed, preservationists are trying to raise money to buy 35 critical acres from a developer. But the preservationists have received little sympathy from the Frederick County Board of Supervisors, which has accused the preservationists of being Johnny-come-latelies.
"That land was for sale for some time, and the whole time, no concern was raised," said Kenneth Stiles, chairman of the county board, adding that concern about the project was raised only after the rezoning.