After months of working out the details, the Civil War Preservation Trust has helped to facilitate a preservation/conservation easement on the Valley Mountain tract located in Pocahontas County, WV between the Rich Mountain Battlefield Foundation and private land developers Sunset Mountain Village owners Suzanne and J.F. Hodges.
Valley Mountain served as General Robert E. Lee’s headquarters during the Cheat Mountain Campaign, his first assignment of the Civil War. General Lee arrived at Valley Mountain on August 6, 1861, accompanied by his staff and a battalion of Virginia Cavalry commanded by his son, Major William Henry Fitzhugh Lee, joining the 21st Virginia and 6th North Carolina Infantry regiments. General Lee’s assignment was to plan an attack upon the Federal Army stationed at Cheat Fort Summit, 33 miles northeast, from which they commanded key access to the Parkersburg-Staunton Turnpike. Once established at Valley Mountain, General Lee engaged in personal reconnaissance to inform himself as to the Federal Army to his front and to become familiar with the topographic conditions of the immediate field of action. Reconnaissance efforts would have drawn him to this property – the summit of Valley Mountain – which provides the best vantage point for long range views, as described in a letter written to his wife on August 9, 1861:
“I have been here, dear Mary, three days, coming from Monterey to Huntersville and thence here. We are on the dividing ridge looking north down the Tygart's river valley, whose waters flow into the Monongahela and South towards the Elk River and Greenbriar, flowing into the Kanawha. In the valley north of us lie Huttonsville and Beverly, occupied by our invaders, and the Rich Mountains west, the scene of our former disaster, and the Cheat Mountains east, their present stronghold, are in full view…The mountains are beautiful, fertile to the tops, covered with the richest sward of bluegrass and white clover, the inclosed fields waving with the natural growth of timothy.”
Facilitated by Richard Perry of the Civil War Preservation Trust, the Rich Mountain Battlefield Foundation began the process of negotiating the terms with the owners to permanently protect this scenic tract of Civil War history. “This is the first easement RMBF has ever acquired. We have always just acquired the entire tract. When Mrs. Hodges stopped by my office all those months ago, RMBF was pretty unfamiliar with conservation easements and how they worked,” commented Chelley Depp, RMBF Executive Director. “But it was exciting to have private owners see the importance of saving this site from development.” The owners were eager to preserve this piece of land based off of the letter that Lee had written. They were able to see the same beauty and tranquility that Lee saw and wanted to save that for others, not to mention the fact that Lee and his men had spent some time encamped in this location. “Although we are not certain that this is the exact spot, it is pretty close” added Depp. The view-shed includes views that are relatively unchanged from the days of General Lee’s encampment, providing a 360-degree scenic view far as the eye can see. Particularly stunning, vast and unique are the property’s views to the east, including Cheat Fort Summit, to the north east, extending down the Tygart’s River Valley, to the north, outlining the Mingo Flats, and to the northwest, encompassing Mingo Knob, Elk Point and Rich Mountain.
The site is in private ownership but RMBF retains the right to include it in tours of regional Civil War sites several times a year. In the next few months, the owners, with RMBF’s oversight, will be developing a walking trail around the tract and installing some signage that will inform visitors of the importance of the site.
RMBF is a private, non-profit foundation established in 1991 to preserve and protect the then-endangered Rich Mountain Battlefield Civil War site, the location of the July 11, 1861 battle whose Union victory catapulted McClellan to leadership of the Army of the Potomac and helped to push for the creation of West Virginia as state independent from Virginia. The Foundation operates in the historic Crawford Store, used as McClellan’s Headquarters following the battle, which is located in Beverly, WV. The RMBF protects and operates the battlefield park on over 400 acres of ground located just outside of Beverly, WV on Rich Mountain. They also own the Camp Elkwater site just a short drive from Beverly. For more information, contact the RMBF or visit them at the Beverly Heritage Center/Rich Mountain Visitor center located at #1-4 Court St in Beverly, WV.
For More Information
Terry Hackney, Operations Manager RMBF, PO Box 227 Beverly, WV 26253, 304-637-7424