In 1812, Peter Hansbrough of “Zhe Hol” purchased “Cole’s Hill Estate,”
an acquisition including Cole’s Hill and a mile-long wooded ridge tracking south of Cole’s Hill—inevitably called Hansbrough’s Ridge.
Peter Hansbrough’s house (no longer standing) was situated on an eastern spur of Cole’s Hill, overlooking Mountain Run. The ancient Hansbrough family burial ground remains intact (somewhat).
Other old structures encircling Hansbrough’s Ridge include:
• Fitzhugh home, “Milton Mills” (standing)
• Stout place, “Hilldale,” (fell down)
• Wishard Doggett and McVeigh houses (destroyed)
• Grayson home, “Salubria” (standing)
• Norman home, “Fairfield” (gone)
• Norman’s Mill (destroyed by arson)
• “Glen Ella,” ( torn down, recently), the Dr. Pembroke Thom residence
As the Civil War began, troops from both sides marched north and south on the “Old Carolina Road” (663), strategically positioned at the western base of Hansbrough’s Ridge. Further, the east-west, “Kirtley’s Rolling Road” interdicted the ridge at the south end and proceeded west into Stevensburg where it intersected with the Old Carolina Road, creating the most significant military intersection in Culpeper County.1
The junction of these two major wartime transportation corridors at the immediate western base of the ridge ensured the “high ground to the east” would be heavily fought over and camped upon in the Civil War simply because control of this lofty ridge—commanding the terrain of eastern Culpeper County—was all-important to successive military commanders. Indeed, numerous forces, both sides, utilized the ridge as an artillery platform, and cavalry battles swayed back and forth on Hansbrough’s western slopes.
Further—and notably—during the Stevensburg phase of the Battle of Brandy Station, June 9, 1863, a regiment of Confederate troopers affixed themselves facing east upon Hansbrough’s Ridge, ultimately thwarting an entire Federal division attempting (unsuccessfully) to hook up with their mates fighting General Jeb Stuart’s Cavalry Division on Fleetwood Hill.
During the winter of 1863-1864, 20,000 soldiers of the Army of the Potomac’s 2nd Corps moved into the Stevensburg area, with the bulk of this command camped for five months atop Hansbrough’s Ridge.
Corps Headquarters were established, successively, at Dr. Thom’s Glen Ella, and Blucher Hansbrough’s home. The 2nd Corps signal station was established upon Hansbrough’s Ridge, guarded by the nearby 20th Massachusetts Infantry—including Captain Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., future Supreme Court Justice.
A massive trench complex was constructed—with a large, well-staffed military hospital situated in the center. And because Union artillery crowned the pinnacle, camping soldiers termed the impressively fortified Hansbrough’s Ridge, “The Fort.”
It is singularly noteworthy that trenches; hut-sites; fire-pits; fighting holes; signal platforms; and the remains of military roads yet today course throughout the crest of the ridge, and Hansbrough’s Ridge easily boasts the largest concentration of untouched Civil War encampment features in the entire United States.
On May 4, 1864 “ the faces and feet” of the Army of the Potomac were suddenly turned to the Rapidan. Arising from their campsites, soldiers forevermore departed Hanbrough’’s Ridge. But as they resolutely proceeded to The Wilderness, Federal soldiers of course left behind resonant historical memory, and in October 1991—based on a National Register application submitted by the Brandy Station Foundation—the Virginia Board of Historic Resources listed “Hansbrough’s Ridge Winter Encampment District” as a “Virginia Historic Landmark.”
CLARK B. HALL
1 “Stevensburg, established in 1782, is the oldest and (was) for many years the largest village in Culpeper County.” See, Mary Stevens Jones, comp., An 18th Century Perspective: Culpeper County, VA (1976), p. 97