DHR Administers Easement Over Civil War Battlefield Land in Orange County

Published December 6, 2023
Siegen Forest Tract in August 2023.

Virginia Department of Historic Resources
(dhr.virginia.gov)
For Immediate Release
December 6, 2023

Contact:
Ivy Tan
Department of Historic Resources
Marketing & Communications Manager
ivy.tan@dhr.virginia.gov
804-482-6445

—The easement protects property associated with the Battle of Chancellorsville and the Battle of the Wilderness. Owned by Historic Germanna, the property boasts resources open to the public for outdoor activities—

RICHMOND – The Department of Historic Resources (DHR) announced today that a perpetual historic preservation easement has been executed and recorded over property in Orange County associated with two American Civil War battles. Known as the Siegen Forest Tract, the property encompasses more than 163 acres of land that lies partially within the Chancellorsville Battlefield (1863) and the Wilderness Battlefield (1864). Historic Germanna, the nonprofit organization that owns and oversees the 170-acre Siegen Forest, donated the easement to protect the property from subdivision and future development.

“We are thrilled to have achieved this pivotal milestone,” said Keith Hoffman, Board President of Historic Germanna, “Placing Siegen Forest under easement with the DHR is a strategic maneuver that ensures our steadfast dedication to preserving and perpetuating Germanna's rich historical and natural resources for generations to come.”

Located at 2062 Germanna Highway, the Siegen Forest Tract is connected to the Historic Germanna Visitor Center and the Hitt Archaeology Center. The property offers the public an extensive trail system along the Rapidan River as well as water access to launch kayaks and canoes onto the river.

“Over the years, DHR and Germanna have built a strong relationship based on collaboration and shared commitment to preservation,” said Julie V. Langan, DHR Director and Virginia’s State Historic Preservation Officer, “This easement donation is the logical extension of our partnership and will ensure that it continues long into the future.”

The Siegen Forest Tract includes the site of the historic Germanna Ford, a key crossing used by the Union Army throughout the Civil War. The ford was one of the few places along the Rapidan River where large groups of infantry and cavalry could cross quickly.

Before the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863, Union troops under the command of Major General Joseph Hooker crossed the Rapidan River at Germanna Ford to outflank Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, which was encamped near Fredericksburg. On April 29, 1863, the Union troops crossed the ford and passed through the Siegen Forest Tract as they headed southeast toward Orange Turnpike, a gravel toll road built during the early 19th century connecting Fredericksburg with the Orange County Courthouse.

Similarly, shortly before the start of the Battle of the Wilderness—in a move that marked the beginning of his Overland Campaign—Union Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant ordered a portion of the Army of the Potomac to cross the Rapidan River at Germanna Ford on May 4, 1864. Union cavalry under Brigadier General James H. Wilson crossed the river first to engage Confederate units in the vicinity of the Siegen Forest Tract. After constructing pontoon bridges across the Rapidan, two Union corps crossed the river and headed southeast on Germanna Plank Road, passing by and through the Siegen Forest Tract to camp near Wilderness Tavern.

The Siegen Forest Tract also contains seven known archeological sites including a historic mill complex, an 18th- to 19th-century domestic site, a family cemetery, and Civil War earthworks. Many of these sites existed during the Civil War, enhancing the historic battlefield landscape. Furthermore, the sites indicate that the property likely contains additional sites, deposits, or features associated with prehistoric and historic occupation of the tract.

Today, much of the Siegen Forest Tract consists of forested cover, and almost half of the acreage is considered high-yielding farmland. The easement’s protection of wetland and riparian resources will help promote the water quality of the Rapidan-Upper Rappahannock and Chesapeake Bay watersheds as well as the Rapidan River-Fields Run sub-watershed.

The easement over the Siegen Forest Tract was made possible partly by grant funding from the American Battlefield Protection Program and the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation. Historic Germanna conveyed the easement to the Virginia Board of Historic Resources (VBHR) in October 2023 as part of a requirement to receive grant funding from the two programs. The VBHR already holds historic preservation and open-space easements over 3,373 acres of land in Orange County.

As of 2023, DHR has placed under easement more than 45,000 acres of land in Virginia. DHR easements are held by the VBHR, and DHR staff monitor the eased lands. The VBHR currently holds easements on approximately 15,900 acres of battlefields in the Commonwealth.

About Historic Germanna
The Memorial Foundation of the Germanna Colonies in Virginia, Inc. (a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization), known as Historic Germanna, was chartered in 1956 to preserve the heritage of the earliest organized settlements of Germans in colonial Virginia in 1714 and 1717, augmented with additional infusions of immigrants in the 1730s and 1740s. Formerly known as the Germanna Foundation, Historic Germanna seeks to connect communities with Virginia’s past and present through historic, natural, and cultural resources. Learn more by visiting germanna.org.

A sketch by Edwin Forbes of the crossing of the Rapidan at Germanna Ford in May 1864 during the Battle of the Wilderness.
A sketch by Edwin Forbes of the crossing of the Rapidan at Germanna Ford in May 1864 during the Battle of the Wilderness. Image available from the Library of Congress (reproduction number: LC-DIG-ppmsca-20681).

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