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Youngkin approves Culpeper Battlefields State Park

It was many years coming, but with the stroke of his pen on Tuesday, Gov. Glenn Youngkin authorized Virginia’s newest state park, one that will preserve and commemorate Culpeper County’s two most significant Civil War battlefields.

In adopting the commonwealth’s two-year budget, the governor cleared the way for the nonprofit American Battlefield Trust to donate 1,700 acres in Culpeper to the state. Now, Youngkin’s administration can set to work to create a turn-key state park for opening by July 1, 2024, as mandated by the Virginia General Assembly. The park will incorporate lands preserved at Brandy Station, Cedar Mountain, Hansbrough’s Ridge near Stevensburg and elsewhere.

Virginia historian Clark B. Hall, long the chronicler of Culpeper in the American Civil War, said he is “elated” by the news.

“We can’t wait to see all those eager to experience a historic, scenic and engaging landscape flock to the Piedmont to enjoy Culpeper Battlefields State Park,” American Battlefields Trust President David Duncan said in a statement Tuesday afternoon.

“At the trust, we are fond of saying that ‘we build parks and tell stories,’ some of the greatest stories in American history,” Duncan added. “In this instance, we mean it especially literally—the creation of this new state park is the culmination of hard work across long years.”

The national preservation organization has been protecting land on the Culpeper County battlefields of Brandy Station, Cedar Mountain, Kelly’s Ford and Rappahannock Station for decades. First, the group saved the land from threats of inappropriate development, then bought it outright.

The new park promises “a meaningful addition to Virginia’s landscape” in greater recreation opportunities and economic potential through heritage tourism, Duncan said.

Now, it is up to state agencies to craft a plan that will efficiently transfer the trust’s holdings to Virginia and create the infrastructure necessary for a successful park, he said.

The trust, which protects sites from the Revolutionary War, War of 1812 and Civil War, expressed its gratitude to Youngkin, “whose signature has brought this journey to its happy conclusion,” Duncan said.

“We are deeply indebted to a number of insightful lawmakers who embraced our vision and helped bring it to reality,” he said.

Specifically, the trust thanked state Sens. Bryce Reeves and Chap Petersen, House Appropriations Chairman Barry Knight, state Sen. Emmett Hanger, Del. Michael Webert, Del. Robert Bloxom Jr., Del. Alfonso Lopez, Sen. David Marsden, Del. Daniel Marshall and Andrew Wheeler, senior advisor to Gov. Youngkin.

For Hall, a retired FBI agent who lives in Culpeper, the park effort has occupied a big chunk of his life.

“When we started the Brandy Station preservation effort in 1987, the question that I was most often asked was, ‘If you succeed in saving the battlefield or part of it, will there someday be a park here?” he recalled Tuesday afternoon. “I was asked that all the time. I used to answer, ‘We sure hope so. We hope it will be a park.’

“Thanks to the dedicated services of a lot of people, who were with us at the beginning and remain with us now, we have succeeded,” the historian said. “And the governor, to his credit of that of his staff and his supporters, has made it a reality as of today.”

In the Battle of Cedar Mountain, waged on Aug. 9, 1862, Confederate Maj. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson repelled Union forces that marched into Culpeper intent on capturing the critical rail junction at Gordonsville in Orange County.

The Battle of Brandy Station, which caught Confederate infantry commander J.E.B. Stuart by surprise, was the opening fight of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Gettysburg campaign, his army’s second invasion of the North. It was the largest cavalry engagement fought in the Western hemisphere.

The June 9, 1863 battle, the first time that Union cavalry proved it was the equal of Stuart’s vaunted horsemen, saw Stuart severely criticized in the press. Today, historians still debate his role and how events in Culpeper and Gettysburg affected the war’s outcome. The Culpeper battle also involved Union Gen. John Buford, later a hero of the first day’s fighting at Gettysburg. He ordered a desperate charge against a Confederate artillery battery that shelled his troops from high ground around St. James Church.

During the Civil War, Culpeper’s setting between the Rappahannock and Rapidan rivers made it strategically important to the Union and the Confederacy. Thousands of enslaved people crossed its rivers northward to freedom at the first opportunity. As free men enlisted in the U.S. army, some later returned to fight for their country on the same ground.

The American Battlefield Trust, which educates the public about what happened on the nation’s hallowed battlegrounds and why it matters today, has protected more than 55,000 acres from the three major wars waged on U.S. soil. Learn more at

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Clint Schemmer, a journalist since 1980, has worked at papers in California, North Carolina and Virginia. He’s been a bureau chief, editorial-page editor, copy desk chief and local news editor. Now a staff writer at the Culpeper Star-Exponent.

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