The Alexandria Gazettee of September 18, 1863, under a column entitled THE WAR IN VIRGINIA, contained two reports from Raccoon Ford. (Italics courtesy of Armchair Historian – an attempt to keep the chronology straight.)
The first citation was from the Richmond Examiner of September 16 (Wednesday), which noted, “A spirited fight took place on Monday (September 14), at Raccoon Ford, in which the 6th Virginia cavalry repeatedly charged and drove the Federals back. Their loss was 50 or 60 killed and wounded. Our loss was only four or five. The repeated efforts of the enemy to gain the river were foiled, and we now hold possession of the ford.”
The second citation with the Gazette’s column: “The Army correspondent of the New York Times writes on the 16th, says: The enemy contests Gen. Pleasanton’s further advance on the south bank of the Rapid Ann with a strong force of cavalry, artillery, and infantry, aided by strong breastworks and rifle-pits. Considerable sharp skirmishing occurred at Raccoon Ford yesterday (Tuesday, September 15), but our loss was slight and our forces remained quietly on this side of the river. I have as yet no positive information concerning the main body of the rebel infantry; but it is quite evident that their position will be certainly developed within a day or two.”
In May 2020, Friends of Cedar Mountain, a preservation organization located in Culpeper, received a grant to undertake field research on the Rapidan Front. The grant was awarded by the National Park Service through the American Battlefield Protection Program. This grant was one of four awarded in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
The area of study encompasses Somerville Ford, Raccoon Ford, and Morton’s Ford along the Rapidan River, and the 1863-1864 winter encampment of the Army of the Potomac north of the river in Culpeper County.
As stated in the grant application, “The overarching goal of this 2020 grant is the protection of Civil War battlefields, encampments, and associated sites throgh achieving enhanced documentation. The majority of the grant research funding will focus on amassing heretofore unrevealed documentation that will establish an outcome that this area will finally be recognized for its nationl significance. Researchers will concurrently document other nationally significant pre- and post-war histories that occurred on the Civil War landscape. This will lend greater depth to our understanding and interpretation of the battlefields and the war, in a historic continuum.” The cultural landscape assessment will yield a layered look at the area’s history that includes Native American, African American, farming, post-European settlement and other resources.
Field and documentary research will be undertaken by a team composed of architectural historians, Civil War historians and archeologists.
With this post, we’re giving a little love to another Culpeper County ford with historic significance …
Notable county historian Clark B. Hall will offer a tour of Kelly’s Ford on the Rappahannnock River on March 21, 2020, with a focus on Colonial and Civil War era history. This program is sponsored by Culpeper Tourism. Full details about the tour and ticket purchases can be made on EventBrite.
The Library of Congress/National Endowment for the Humanities website Chronicling America is an invaluable resource for gathering articles and ads from America’s newspapers. A review of the site yielded the following mentions of happenings in pre-Civil War 19th century Raccoon Ford that document a thriving small village.
August 10, 1838, Richmond Enquirer: An Executor’s Notice of sale of land near the Rapidan River in Orange and Culpeper counties. The notice highlights “three very fine merchant mills upon the river,” one of which is identified as Raccoon Ford Mills. Source: Richmond enquirer. [volume] (Richmond, Va.), 10 Aug. 1838. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84024735/1838-08-10/ed-1/seq-3/>
January 18, 1850, the Alexandria Gazette: Under the headline “Post Office Appointments” it is reported that Philip P. Nalle has resigned as postmaster, and Joseph J. Halsey has been named to succeed him. Source: Alexandria gazette. [volume] (Alexandria, D.C.), 19 Jan. 1850. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85025007/1850-01-19/ed-1/seq-2/>
September 19, 1851, the Alexandria Gazette: The sale of Benjamin L. Hume’s 5 to 600 acre property near “the flourishing village of Raccoon Ford” is posted. Hume highlights that the property is in proximity to Culpeper Court House, Fredericksburg, Alexandria and the proposed Orange and Alexandria Railroad route. Also highlighted are the richness of the farmland, nearby commercial enterprises and churches. Plus, he is “anxious to sell and will give a bargain.”
May 28, 1852: Reported in the Richmond Daily Dispatch, “Several cases of small pox have occurred at Raccoon Ford, Culpepper county. Mr. J.W. Crittenden has fallen a victim to the disease.” Source: The daily dispatch. [volume] (Richmond [Va.]), 28 May 1852. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84024738/1852-05-28/ed-1/seq-2/>
January 7, 1853: The Alexandria Gazette reports that “A general interest has been awakened in the region of Raccoon Ford & c., in reference to the proposed Plank Road to Culpeper Court House, by way of that place.” Interestingly, this news was tucked below a notice that the Syracuse and Binghamton Railroad would be adding berths to their night cars, and above a mention of the funeral of War of 1812 veteran Commodore Charles W. Morgan at the Navy Yard in Washington. Source: Alexandria gazette. [volume] (Alexandria, D.C.), 07 Jan. 1853. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85025007/1853-01-07/ed-1/seq-2/>
October 19, 1853, the Alexandria Gazette: As a follow up to the mention above regarding the Plank Road, this October article alerts that the Plank Road from Fredericksburg to Liberty Mills is complete and that the branch through Raccoon Ford to Culpeper Court House was begun in August and completed in September. “This branch strikes off the main stem about 26 miles from Fredericksburg – near Deadman’s (ed.: unknown) – making the distance from there to Culpeper Court House 15 and a quarter miles.” The writer observes that “horses and mules … seem to have taken a fancy to the plank and instead of shying off, leave the road with evident reluctance.” Source: Alexandria gazette. [volume] (Alexandria, D.C.), 19 Oct. 1853. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85025007/1853-10-19/ed-1/seq-2/>
January 22, 1856, Alexandria Gazette: A report that “Mr. Eggborn of Culpeper has offered a resolution in the House of Delegates for a plank or graded road from Brandy Station via Stevensburg to Raccoon Ford, in Culpeper.” Source: Alexandria gazette. [volume] (Alexandria, D.C.), 22 Jan. 1856. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85025007/1856-01-22/ed-1/seq-2/>
For development of another road from Raccoon Ford, the following act was passed by the House of Delegates on February 6, 1856:
Be it enacted by the general assembly, that it shall be lawful to open books for receiving subscriptions to an amount not exceeding twelve thousand dollars, to be divided into shares of fifty dollars each for the purpose of contructing a graded turnpike road from the Raccoon Ford in the county of Culpeper to Mitchell’s station on the Orange and Alexandria railroad in the county aforesaid. The books shall be opened at the store of Mr. R. S. Stringfellow at the Raccoon ford, under the direction of John A. Porter, George Pannill, junior, James O. Harris and William Colvin, or any one of them; and at such other places and under the direction of such agents as a majority of the above named commissioners may appoint.
When one-third of the above capital shall have been subscribed, the subcribers, their executors, administrators and assigns, shall be incorporated into a company, by the name and style of The Raccoon Ford Turnpike Company; subject to the provisions of chapters fifty-seven and sixty-one of the Code of Virginia: provided that the said company shall have the privilege of making the said road, or any part thereof with rock gravel, sand, clay or plank, as to them shall seem most expedient; that the said road shall occupy not less than twelve feet in width nor more than thirty feet; and that is grade shall in no case exceed three degrees to the mile; and further, that the rates of toll shall not exceed those by law authorized to be collected on the Fredericksburg and Valley plank road.
This act shall be in force from its passage. (Source: Acts of the General Assembly of Virginia: passed in 1855-6 in the Eighteenth Year of the Commonwealth)
March 21, 1857, Alexandria Gazette: Fire, a hazard of the times, was all too frequently reported. According to the Gazette, “The dwelling of Dr. George Morton near Raccoon Ford in this County, was consumed by fire one day last week, together with a portion of his furniture. We learn that it was quite an old building, and that the Dr. proposed pulling it down this Spring in order to rebuild.” https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85025007/1857-03-21/ed-1/seq-3/
August 4, 1857, The Richmond Enquirer. Property sale notices, particularly for attractive properties, would make it into the large regional newspapers. The area around Raccoon Ford had a number of farms, including this one in a “fine state of cultivation” and “considered a superior Wheat and Grass Farm.” Note the list of the neighbors, who presumably contributed to the “society equal to any in the state.”
Following the roads of present-day Culpeper County, the distance between Raccoon Ford and Stevensburg to the north is just over 7 miles. Although clearly not neighbors, similarities create a linkage between the two localities.
Both are located along the historic route of the Carolina Road, the byway that early travelers followed from Pennsylvania to South Carolina. Both villages and their immediate surroundings saw significant military action during the Civil War, and both were overtaken by the Union Army’s winter encampment during 1863-64.
Today, Raccoon Ford and Stevensburg are small and quiet communities melding village and rural landscape. Each has faced the challenge of utility scale solar development proposals, inappropriately planned for productive agricultural and historic land and inappropriately sized in excess of 1000 acres. This challenge as well as others — residential and commercial development, roadway construction or widening — erase the landscape that brings to life the story of a place, making it all the more important to share local history and its contribution to our country’s heritage.
With this in mind, we share an article by journalist Clint Schemmer in the February 19, 2019 edition of the Culpeper Star Exponent highlighting the history of Stevensburg .
An opportunity to learn about one of Culpeper County’s Civil War battles …
On August 8 & 9, 2020, Cedar Mountain Battlefield in southern Culpeper County will host a reenactment and living history experience commemorating the August 9, 1862 clash between Confederate Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s troops and Federal Major General Nathaniel Banks’ corps from the Army of Virginia. In addition to battle reenactments, activities for all ages will bring to life the stories of Civil War soldiers at the battle and civilians who experienced the challenges and deprivations of war on their very doorstep.
Location: Battlefield: 9465 General Winder Road, Rapidan, VA 22733. Event parking served by a free shuttle will be at the George Washington Carver Center, 9432 James Madison Highway, Rapidan VA 22733.
Admission: Visitors free with pre-registration on Eventbrite (link to be provided spring 2020).
Contact: Diane Logan, Friends of Cedar Mountain, 540-727-8849, email [email protected]
Reportedly, the earliest presence of a mill in Raccoon Ford dates to the late 18th century. We continue to piece together information about this important enterprise within the community. As research continues, our goal is to transform the informational nuggets below into a chronology of mill operations in the ford.
A notice in the Richmond Enquirer of July 19, 1825 advertised the Rackoon Ford Mills for sale. (Many references cite this spelling, Rackoon, as the original name of the village or as the early spelling of the village name. However, a letter to the editor printed in the Enquirer in August 1862 also used this spelling.)
The ad states:
The subscribers having purchased the above mills under a deed of trust, but not being acquainted with the milling business, are disposed to sell them very cheap. They lie on the Rapid Ann River, in the counties of Orange and Culpeper, and consist of a Manufacturing, Grist, Saw, and Plaster Mill; a picking Gin and a Carding Machine. The Manufacturing Mill is undergoing suitable repairs for the next grinding season. The Grist Mill, &c. are new.
This property is so advantageously located that it is believed twenty-five thousand bushels of wheat can be commanded with much ease–that the toll from the corn mill will (e)average two hundred and fifty barrels, and that the saw mill, (c)arding machine, &c. will command a valuable custom under proper management. All persons disposed to engage in the milling business, are invited to make a personal inspection, as the subscribers feel confident, so good a bargain will rarely be offered in property of this kind.
The Richmond Enquirer of August 10, 1838 posted an auction notice for the estate of William Hansbrough, whose property straddled the Rapidan River. As a selling point to generate interest in the property, the auction notice refers to “three very fine merchant mills upon the river,” one of which was identified as Raccoon Ford Mills.
The Richmond Enquirer of July 22, 1845 contained the following notice:
This is to notify Jeremiah Beckham that I shall proceed to take the deposition of John Porter and others, at the Rackoon Ford Mill in the county of Orange on the 30th August near, between sun-rise and sun-set, and continue the same from day to day until completed – to be read as evidence in a suit pending in the Circuit Superior Court of Law and Chancery for the county of Orange, in which I am plaintiff and you are defendant. JAMES BECKHAM
From the Alexandria Gazette of January 12, 1866:
WANTED immediately a good MILLER to take charge of the Raccoon Ford Mills on the Rapidan River, in the county of Orange. A man without a family preferred. Apply at once to C.B. Porter at the Mill. For particulars, apply to Messrs. T.A. Brewis & Co., Alexandria, VA.
The map below is an overlay of a plat found in the Chancery Causes at the Library of Virginia in Richmond (microfilm reel LVA632-P301; chancery cause 1882-011 Orange County; Phillip Pannill v Jeremiah Pannill, etc.). The colored parts are current conditions, with lot lines in red. The plat detail in black was drawn by a surveyor of that era, Joseph J. Halsey, in 1874. Many of his property lines are still recognizable today. Many have also been superseded. Note the one acre rectangular parcel that appears to cross the “Rapid Ann” River. Could that be a mill? Halsey had noted: “Mill Tract 99 1/2 acres.”
The Midland Journal of Rising Sun, MD reported on November 19, 1886:
I.M. Clayton Carhart of Zion recently paid a visit to Haines England, an old neighbor, who is at present established in the milling business at Raccoon Ford in Culpepper county, VA. While there he killed a wild turkey and “any number” of partridges.
The Fredericksburg Free Lance on May 23, 1903 reported the death of R.H. England of Raccoon Ford.
Mr. Robert Haines England died Thursday at his residence, at Raccoon Ford, aged 76 years. Mr. England was a native of Cecil County, Maryland but moved to Virginia 27 years ago. He was a well known farmer and mill owner at Raccoon Ford. He is survived by a widow and three children – Mr. Edward E. England of Culpeper County, Mrs. Edward Difford of Pennsylvania, and Mrs. E.J. Haskwell of Baltimore. His body was taken to Cecil County, Maryland for interment.
The Richmond Times Dispatch on November 25, 1904 reported that Mr. E.E. England has sold his mills at Raccoon Ford on the Rapidan River and has purchased the Nalle Mills in Culpeper county. The Times Dispatch reported on March 5, 1905 that Mr. Allie Rhoades, of Orange county, has purchased the Raccoon Ford mill and farm in Culpeper county and the store and stock of goods from Mr. G.B.W. Nalle at that place.
On April 2, 1911, I.S. England of Raccoon Ford placed the following ad in the Times Dispatch:
WANTED, A MILLER AT ONCE AT the Raccoon Ford Mills. Address I.S. England. Raccoon Ford, VA.
However, shortly thereafter in June 1911, Raccoon Ford Mills ceased operations due to fire. On June 13, The Free Lance ran the following notice about the loss of the mill, attributing ownership to E.E. England:
On December 31, 1911, six months after the fire, I.S. England again placed a classified ad seeking a miller AT ONCE. Perhaps Raccoon Ford Mills had been rebuilt?
Robert B. Stratton fought in the Civil War as a member of the Second Virginia Cavalry. In 1894, he published The Heroes in Gray, a compilation of stories and poetry written by himself and others related to the authors’ time in service. Two pages in the compilation describe his participation in a skirmish at Raccoon Ford, which was the site of numerous such encounters during the war. This particular skirmish was a prelude to the Bristoe Station Campaign.
The title page and the two pages of Stratton’s book that address the Raccoon Ford experience are below. The full publication can be read on Google Books. Our thanks to Culpeper historian Clark B. Hall for calling our attention to Stratton’s publication.
Stratton’s book was endorsed by his former comrades in arms shortly before its publication in 1896. You may have noticed the entreaty on the title page: “Read this book, it will interest you and help a blind man.” In addition to the proceeds of sales of the book at 50 cents a copy, Stratton’s circumstances were assisted in 1900 when he was given a state pension. The General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia approved “an act for the relief of Robert B. Stratton, a blind Confederate solider.” Recognized as a “gallant Confederate officer during the late war between the states,” Stratton was awarded an annual sum of 15 dollars.
The Rapidan River became the dividing line between Confederate and Union troops after the battle of Culpeper Court House, September 13-15, 1863. The Union Army retained control of Culpeper County for a month.
An article written by Culpeper historian Clark B. Hall captures the chaotic few days of military engagements around Culpeper Court House, with Federal cavalry chasing Confederate cavalry south to Raccoon Ford. As this happened, supporting artillery fired upon the village, according to Hall.
After sustained opposition from March through late August 2019 by a local group to a utility scale solar project proposed for the agricultural and forested areas surrounding Raccoon Ford, the developer, BayWa, pulled the application. This development occurred shortly after the citizens’ group had gathered in Raccoon Ford to review their efforts and learn more about the area’s significance from a local historian.
Below is an excerpt of an article by journalist Clint Schemmer on the meeting and application withdrawal. The article was originally printed in the Culpeper Star Exponent; a link is provided after the excerpt for a full look at the article.
RAPIDAN — People from across Culpeper County and Virginia came to the Raccoon Ford area Sunday evening to advance their campaign against a 1,600-acre power-generating facility proposed there.
And in less than 24 hours, California-based solar developer BayWa yanked its application for permission to build a multimillion-dollar, utility-scale solar plant on farmland and woodland near the Rapidan River.
Coincidence? Surely. But heartening, still, to members of Citizens for Responsible Solar and their guests, as well as the tour’s hosts — the Foshay family of historic Greenville plantation. They’d come to rally their spirits in anticipation of weeks of intense work before the county planning commission held a public hearing on BayWa’s proposal.
Ron Maxwell, director of the Civil War films “Gettysburg,” “Gods and Generals” and “Copperhead,” encouraged those present to continue their efforts to protect historic lands from incursions such as solar development.