“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Montpelier Station in Orange County, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)

Confederate Camp & Freedman's Farm Trail

Confederate Camp & Freedman's Farm Trail Marker image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain, April 17, 2010
1. Confederate Camp & Freedman's Farm Trail Marker
Inscription. After Dolley Madison sold Montpelier in 1844, the estate witnessed many important historic events, few more significant than those of the 1860s. Throughout the winter of 1863 and 1864, as many as 4,500 Confederate troops camped here, part of a defensive line on this side of the Rapidan River (located approximately a half mile to the north). These troops left their camps on May 4, 1864, marching directly into the Battle of the Wilderness, opening the 1864 Lee-Grant campaign.

With the Confederate surrender in 1865, slaves were emancipated across Virginia and the American South and were officially known as freedmen. Montpelier's Gilmore Farm was the homestead of one emancipated family. The restored farm preserves the African-American experience of emerging from slavery and becoming citizens of the United States.

The Confederate Camp and Freedman's Farm interpretive trail passes through a portion of the Confederate winter camp and leads to the Gilmore Farm, a farm settled by a freedman who was a slave of James Madison's. A direct return path is provided, parallel to Route 20. The round-trip distance is just under one mile, through generally level woodlands. An interpretive sign is located at each star on the map.

Confederate General Samuel McGowan
One of three brigades camped at Montpelier was McGowan's South
Trail Map image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain, April 17, 2010
2. Trail Map
Carolinians. During the winter months, these troops patrolled the Rapidan River and "planked" the road leading to the town of Orange (modern-day Route 20), cutting and sawing trees into heavy boards and laying them over the road's rutted surface. The road improvements allowed the troops to deploy quickly when Union forces were detected in the early morning hours of May 4, 1864, at Germanna Ford, about 30 miles east of Montpelier. Later that morning, General McGowan's 1,500-man brigade was on the march and within 24 hours was engaged in the Battle of the Wilderness. This battle alone claimed one third of McGowan's forces.

1864 Meade Map of Orange County showing Confederate General Robert E. Lee's encampments
Following the defeat at Gettysburg, Lee retreated to Orange County and positioned his army along a 30-mile front behind the Rapidan River. The soldiers built and manned observation posts on high spots, such as Clarke Mountain, to keep watch over Union troops on the north side of the Rapidan. Following the Union army's unsuccessful attempts to move south, culminating with the Mine Run campaign in November 1863, both sides went into winter quarters and waited until spring to resume major operations.

1920s photograph of George and Polly Gilmores grandsons and daughter or daughter-in-law
Following the Civil War, thousands of former slaves in Orange
Section of the Meade Map image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain, April 17, 2010
3. Section of the Meade Map
County made the transition to freedom. Most emancipated slaves stayed in the area and sought work wherever it was available. For many this meant working on the same plantations where they once labored as slaves - but now earning wages. Owning land was a universal goal among freedmen, and Montpelier's Gilmore Farm is the homestead where one emancipated African-American family realized this goal.

1863 Sketch of Montpelier Mansion made by visiting soldier
Throughout the Civil War, Montpelier was owned by Frank and Thomas Carson, two Irish brothers with banking interests in Baltimore. The Montpelier house was not occupied by Confederate officers as a headquarters, but was a landmark that drew many visiting soldiers. Frank Carson hosted a ball given by General J.E.B. Stuart at Montpelier, and he allowed the house to serve as a venue for a court martial case where seven Confederate soldiers were condemned to death for desertion.
Location. 38° 13.747′ N, 78° 10.598′ W. Marker is in Montpelier Station, Virginia, in Orange County. Marker is at the intersection of Constitution Highway (State Highway 20) and County Route 693, on the right when traveling west on Constitution Highway. Click for map. Located in a parking lot at the start of the trail mentioned on the marker. Marker is in this post office area: Montpelier Station VA 22957, United States of America.
Other nearby markers.
Confederate Camp & Freedman's Farm Trail Marker image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain, September 6, 2009
4. Confederate Camp & Freedman's Farm Trail Marker
At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Montpelier Train Station (within shouting distance of this marker); Montpelier Flag Stop (within shouting distance of this marker); Civil War Encampment (approx. mile away); Dolley Madison (approx. mile away); Gilmore Farm (approx. 0.3 miles away); Post-Emancipation (approx. 0.3 miles away); a different marker also named Gilmore Farm (approx. 0.3 miles away); Slave Cemetery (approx. 0.7 miles away). Click for a list of all markers in Montpelier Station.
More about this marker. The marker displays a portrait of Gen. McGowan, a section of the Meade Map, a photo of the Gilmore family descendants, a wartime sketch of Montpelier, and a trail map of the site. At the bottom is a time-line spanning from 1732 when the Madison Family moved to Montpelier; through 1844 when Dolley Madison sold Montpelier; the start of the Civil War in 1861; to 1863 when Montpelier lands were occupied by Lee's forces; through 1865 when the 13th Amendment abolished slavery; to 1873 when the Gilmore cabin was built; ending at 1905 when George Gilmore died.
Also see . . .
1. Civil War Encampment. Page from the Montpelier web site detailing the camps and the trail. (Submitted on June 9, 2010, by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia.) 

2. The Gilmore Farm. Page from the Montpelier website detailing the freedman's farm. (Submitted on June 9, 2010, by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia.) 
Categories. African AmericansWar, US Civil
Credits. This page originally submitted on , by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia. This page has been viewed 974 times since then and 85 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4. submitted on , by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016.
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