2013-06-12 / Front Page

Acquisition would create Civil War parks


By Michael Buettner

Chesterfield County’s Civil War history may not be as well-known as that of a couple of neighboring cities, but the Parks and Recreation Department still thinks it’s worth preserving – especially if that can be done without spending any county funds.

The department is gearing up to ask the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors for approval to acquire three scattered pieces of property on the eastern side of the county to expand two existing “special purpose parks” and create a new one.

All three locations feature earthworks remaining from the trenches and batteries that saw action during the Union Army’s campaign of 1864-65 to capture Richmond – fighting that is scheduled for commemoration next year as part of the Civil War Sesquicentennial program.

“We would like to get these on board for that,” said Mike Golden, Parks and Recreation director.

Golden said the department is still working out some of the details, but it looks like the county will be able to acquire all three properties without spending any taxpayer funds.

The three projects:

• Expansion of Howlett Line Park. The county acquired the existing park in 1991, and the Civil War Preservation Trust bought an adjoining 11.5-acre parcel in 2010 from Walthall Baptist Church.

According to the Parks and Recreation Department, “The request property is rich in historical and cultural resources and has unique historical significance. The Civil War earthworks were part of the Howlett Line that stretched across the Bermuda Hundred peninsula. The site was one of the largest artillery positions along that line.”

It was from here in June 1864, according to George Fickett, a county information services employee and local history buff, that Confederate Col. Olin M. Dantzler led an attack on a nearby Union position. Dantzler and 16 of his men were killed in the operation, and a nearby Confederate fort’s name was changed soon afterward to honor him.

• Battery Dantzler Park, that very fort, will also be expanded. Overlooking a side channel of the James River just east of the Interstate 95-Route 10 interchange, the existing park is surrounded by industrial sites.

Among other actions, the battery took part in the Battle of Trent’s Reach in early 1865, when three Confederate ironclads tried unsuccessfully to force their way down the James River to attack the Union supply base at City Point (now Hopewell).

• A new park, 39th Illinois Park, is planned for a 2.5-acre parcel that backs up to the CSX rail line at the eastern end of the Branch’s Bluff subdivision off Hopkins Road just south of the intersection with Kingsland Road.

The site was the location of some “formidable fortifications” that soldiers of the Union’s Army of the James dug hastily in May 1864 and then defended against repeated Confederate assaults, Fickett said. The Illinois soldiers only abandoned the site when they discovered that the rest of the Union force had pulled back, leaving them exposed, he explained.

The property is owned by an affiliate of Finer Homes, the developer of Branch’s Bluff, and its historical significance was discovered when the company “had to go through a Corps of Engineers review because of wetlands” on the site, Fickett said.

The county has been talking with the developer, and Fickett said details are being worked out for the land to be donated.

In the case of the Battery Dantzler property, owned by a private individual, Fickett said a combination of a grant from Dominion Resources and a donation by the owner will mean that there will be “no county money involved” in acquiring that property, either.

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