STAFFORD COUNTY’S COMPREHENSIVE PLAN
The Comprehensive Plan is arguably the County’s single most important document besides the County Code. It establishes goals, objectives, and policies that shape the future direction of the County as it relates to the physical development of its land. Policies typically identify what the community’s vision is for anticipated growth. More specifically, policies may identify where growth is desirable and establish the type and intensity of development.
The plan also addresses the other interrelated aspects of growth, including: transportation, housing, public facilities, infrastructure, and natural and cultural resources. The Plan serves as a guide upon which development proposals are evaluated to ensure conformance with the desires of the community.
Civil War Reconnaissance
During the Battle of Chancellorsville, Banks Ford below Greenbank Farm served as a major supply line, telegraph communication hub and eventually an escape route for the vanquished Federals. It was also the last location at which the Union Army used reconnaissance balloons during the Civil War.
In the late 1850’s, Professor Thaddeus Lowe, a self-made scientist, made a name for himself as a showman giving rides in a tethered, lighter-than-air balloon he designed and constructed. In April 1861, Lowe departed on a test flight from Cincinnati, Ohio to Washington, D.C. but was blown off course to Unionville, South Carolina where he was arrested as a Union spy. After convincing his captures of his purely scientific purposes he was released.
When word of his exploits reached Washington Lowe was summoned by Abraham Lincoln and successfully lobbied the President to employ balloons for battlefield reconnaissance. Following a demonstration of the balloon’s utility during the First Battle of Bull Run, Lincoln ordered General Winfield Scott to name Lowe as Chief Aeronaut of the Union’s new “Balloon Corps.” Lowe eventually fielded seven balloons, each equipped with a mobile hydrogen generation wagon. The balloons took approximately one hour to inflate and relayed information to the ground through telegraph lines. Lowe provided observations for George McClellan during the Peninsula Campaign but fell into disfavor in 1863 when Captain Comstock was put in charge of the Union Corps of Engineers in 1863. Comstock began to question the efficacy of the Balloon Corps and its status of independent contractor.
During April the Battle 1863, of the Balloon Chancellorsville Corpins operated two balloons in support of General John Hooker. The Washington was piloted by James Allen in Falmouth opposite Fredericksburg, and the Eagle, piloted by E.S. Allen, observed from Banks’ Ford, with Lowe periodically ascending in each. The balloons were able to provide Hooker and Sedgwick real time intelligence on Confederate troop movements between Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. Hooker’s defeat further strained relations between Lowe and Comstock and Lowe resigned. The Allen brothers were put in charge of the Balloon Corps, which was disbanded just 2 months later.
In the weeks following the Union defeat at Chancellorsville, Federal troops remained at Greenbank Farm to guard the crossing. On May 28, 1863, a Union soldier wrote that:
“We….are now at Banks’ Ford, a very handsome place……There was one company of cavalry doing picket which we relieved. Our regiment is in two Our regiment is in two parts – the right wing at the right of the Ford, and the left wing at or near the centre – and the 1st Ohio battery of six brass twelve pounders – three guns with each wing. As I remarked before this is the nicest place I have ever seen since leaving home. I write this letter in an old house – or, at least, made old by the soldiers. It is pretty well gone to ruin.”
As this Union soldier noted, the months of military occupation at Greenbank Farm resulted in serious damage to the property. The 1865 Stafford County land tax assessment notes that the value of buildings on the property in 1861 was $1,500; by the end of the war, however, their worth had plummetted to $750. By the late nineteenth century, the penninsula of Greenbank had been acquired by A. Randolph and both Banks’ Ford and Scott’s Ford (renamed “Blind Ford”), were still in operation. In 1906, the Embrey family assembled 868 acres of the historic farm and ran a dairy farm, building a large barn and other agricultural buildings on the property. Appollus W. Kay bought Greenbank Farm in 1937, and his son, Thomas W. Kay ran the property, rejuvenating the depleted soils by planting and plowing under several soybean crops, and fixing fences, buildings, and roads. The subsequent owner, Salvind O. Olson, a Washington real estate broker, leased the land to tenant farmers from the 1950’s until the late 1990’s when the property was purchased by Larry D. Silver.
Greenbanks’s Civil War History
Situated halfway between the capitals of the Union and Confederacy , it was inevitable that Stafford County would become a crossroads of military activity during the Civil War. Stafford was occupied by both Confederate and Union forces, and the southern portion of the county was occupied by approximately 100,000 Union troops. Stafford suffered heavy troop movements with concomitant devastation caused by troop foraging as well as the destruction of the transportation system by heavy wagon traffic.
The “Mud March”
Following his devastating defeat at Fredericksburg, in January 1863, General Ambrose Burnside readied his Union troops for a surprise flank attack against Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia in Fredericksburg. According to Burnside’s plan, the soldiers would cross the Rappahannock River on pontoon bridges at Banks’ Ford and strike at Lee from the west. Heavy rains commenced the night before the planned 20 January assault and turned Stafford’s roads into a glutinous mess. Two divisions, including 150 artillery pieces and the makings of five pontoon bridges, bogged down on Greenbank Farm without a single man crossing the river. Burnside refused to abandon his plan and ordered two days’ rations for his men. The rain continued; the men nearly mutinied, and the exhausted force eventually struggled back to their camps. The infamous “Mud March” was the final act of command by Burnside, and five days later, on January 25, 1863, President Lincoln relieved him of command and replaced him with General Joseph Hooker, who had been commanding the army’s Center Grand Division.
Retreat from Salem Church
Following the Mud March debacle, Hooker re-built the shattered and demoralized Federal army forces, and in late April of 1863, he
would commence a two-pronged attack on Fredericksburg from the west and the east that would soon be known as the Battle of Chancellorsville. The main body of Hooker’s superior force crossed the Rappahannock into Spotsylvania County at U.S. Ford and advanced from the west, while General Sedgwick’s VI Corps crossed at Fredericksburg after Robert E. Lee sent Stonewall Jackson west to meet Hooker.
On the morning of May 2, 1863, Jackson executed a brilliant surprise flank attack on Hooker’s 70,000 troops at Chancellorsville which lead to widespread panic in Union forces. Sedgwick, who had advanced west to Salem Church, found himself caught between the armies of Lee and Jackson and withdrew his VI Corps to the Federal pontoon bridges at Banks’ Ford and Scott’s Ford under heavy enemy fire.
The Federal troops crossed over the Rappahannock River on the pontoon bridges under the covering fire of the large Federal guns emplaced on Greenbank Farm across the river. The confused Federal retreat was recounted by Colonel Thomas S. Allen of the 5th Wisconsin Infantry, who recalled the confusion among the retreating Federal troops as they desperately tried to reach the relative safety of the north bank of the Rappahannock River.
Upon hearing of Sedgwick’s defeat, and after suffering heavy casualties, General Hooker abandoned his attack and ordered his remaining troops to move back across the Rappahannock River on the night of May 5th to the safety of their camps in Stafford County.
“A dozen different detachments met and challenged on the way, all were in search of the Ford, but not one knew where it was. We frequently got off the road for a few rods, but a look at the polar star brought us back. After a long march of apparently several hours… we moved down to the ford, where Gen. Sedgwick was superintending the crossing. He ordered me to place my two regiments in the old rebel rifle pits, ready to defend against any attack from the rear. It was not two minutes before every man was asleep excepting the officers who were ordered to keep a lookout… The crossing was soon made, a few rebel shells from the hill tops in the rear bursting harmlessly over our heads ( Harrison 1990:201).
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Prelude to War
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In 1851, Jemima Banks sold Greenbank to William S. Scott, ending the family’s 177-year occupation of the estate. The farm was purchased by Johnson Fitzhugh for some period during the 1850s, but purchased back from Fitzhugh by Hugh Scott in 1861. Scott evidently owned the property during the Civil War: military maps from 1863 indicate that “Scott’s Farm” was situated on the Greenbank property near the Rappahannock River. The upper of the two fords on the river was still known as “Banks’ Ford,” but the lower was now called “Scott’s Ford” after the newer owners.
The location of Greenbank Farm, halfway between the capitals of the Union and the Confederacy, and 2 miles upriver of Fredericksburg, would bring unwanted attention to Hugh Scott’s property in 1862. Greenbank’s high grounds became strategic artillery positions for Union artillery positions. The dirt roads through the property would serve as critical communications and supply line routes, and the fords extending from Greenbank across the Rappahannock would play pivotal roles in the outcomes of several military engagements throughout 1862 and 1863.
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