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State announces partnership to preserve Civil War site

At a public ceremony this morning at the National Sporting Library and Museum during his “Virginia: Growing Strong” statewide tour, Gov. Bob McDonnell announced a public-private partnership to preserve historic Mount Defiance, a five-acre battle site at the heart of the Civil War Middleburg battlefield.

The Commonwealth of Virginia is working with the nonprofit Civil War Trust and the Northern Virginia Regional Parks Authority to formally preserve the site as a public park.

During the ceremony, Gov. McDonnell announced that Virginia will provide a $432,000 Transportation Enhancement grant to assist in the permanent protection of the Mount Defiance property.

“Protecting irreplaceable historic sites like Mount Defiance at Middleburg is always a cause for celebration,” McDonnell said. “By working together in partnership to set aside this hallowed ground, we are honoring the Commonwealth’s past and simultaneously making an investment in its future.”

The Mount Defiance property rests along present-day Route 50, an important transportation artery crucial to both the Union and Confederate armies during the Gettysburg campaign of 1863. From June 17 to 19, 1863, opposing cavalry clashed along the roadway, as the two armies struggled for control of Middleburg and the Loudoun Valley. Today, the landscape is largely undisturbed, with the high ground defended by Confederate horse artillery clearly visible. The site includes three buildings dating to before the Civil War — an antebellum manor house-turned-tavern, a blacksmith’s cottage and the small blacksmith’s shop where well-documented hand-to-hand combat occurred.

“Our ongoing collaboration with the Commonwealth of Virginia is among the most fruitful partnerships in the annals of the historic preservation movement,” said Civil War Trust president James Lighthizer. “Thanks to the vision of the McDonnell administration and the foresight of the legislature in Richmond, we are working together to ensure that future generations will have the opportunity to visit these sites undisturbed by inappropriate modern intrusions.”

In recent years, the Commonwealth has redoubled efforts to set aside historic landscapes associated with the Civil War as part of the ongoing commemoration of the conflict’s 150th anniversary. These efforts, which will result in a permanent protection of hundreds of acres of battlefield land through easements held by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, augment and complement the outstanding work done by the Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission, including the History Mobile and Civil War 150 Legacy Project, both of which will make stops in every Virginia county during the anniversary period.

“In response to the governor’s challenge to find ways to promote and protect Virginia’s past and future, the Commonwealth Transportation Board is setting aside $1.5 million a year in enhancement grants for land acquisition in partnership with the Civil War Trust,” said Secretary of Transportation Sean T. Connaughton. “This joint effort is a win-win-win for preservation, conservation, and tourism. We look forward to making several other major announcements in the coming months.”

“I can think of no more appropriate way to honor our brave ancestors who fought in the Civil War than to set aside the physical landscapes where that conflict was decided,” said Secretary of Natural Resources Doug Domenech. “In addition to their educational benefits, these battlefields are also environmental resources — and they contribute to vibrant local economies by encouraging heritage tourism.”

The project received a $432,000 Virginia Transportation Enhancement Grant, leaving the Civil War Trust to finance the remainder of the $540,000 purchase price from other public- and private-sector sources. A lead gift of $10,000 has already been pledged by local historian and former Civil War Trust board member Childs Burden, and his wife Elaine, of Middleburg.

Once fundraising is completed, the Civil War Trust will place a permanent conservation easement on the property, ensuring that any future alterations to the land and its structures maintain the site’s historic integrity. This perpetual, legally binding covenant will be held and overseen by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

“A site like Mount Defiance, with its powerful connection to Civil War history and its multiple antebellum structures, is a true treasure,” said state director of historic resources Kathleen Kilpatrick. “Ensuring that it will be safeguarded and stewarded forever is a gift to this and all future generations of Virginians.”

Ultimately, the Mount Defiance property will be transferred to the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, which maintains nearly three dozen individual park properties totally more than 10,000 acres across Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun Counties, as well as the Cities of Alexandria, Fairfax and Falls Church. Among those holdings is the popular Balls Bluff Battlefield Regional Park and nearby Mount Zion Historic Park and Aldie Mill Historic Park.

“The ultimate goal of historic preservation is to ensure that important sites are open to the public for them to visit, learn from and enjoy,” said Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority executive director Paul Gilbert. “As we have done elsewhere in the region, we are eager to help make Mount Defiance a dynamic resource for local residents and visitors alike.”

augusta free press
augusta free press