Civil War Encampments (1845-1865)

Research & Collections

While no battle was fought on Montpelier property, it is an inescapable truth of the Civil War that Confederate troops died in the encampments.  Of the estimated 600,000 Americans that died during this conflict, only 20% of them did so on the field of battle.

During the winter of 1863 and 1864, Montpelier was the location of a substantial set of winter encampments occupied by Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.  Lee’s camps spread across Orange County, and the western-most section of these camps, under the command of General Cademus Wilcox, was at Montpelier.  In the spring of 2002, local relic hunters provided Montpelier archaeologists with the location of several of these camps.  Many of these relic hunters allowed us to examine their collections, which allowed us to determine that one set of camps was occupied by General Samuel McGowan’s South Caroline brigade.

During 2002, archaeologists mapped these winter encampments to establish the pattern of hut layout.  Once the layout of the camps was established, archaeologistsspent four months excavating several hut sites to establish the architectural style of the huts and the range of items soldiers had access during the alternatively cold and went winter of January-March 1863.

Since that time, the Montpelier Archaeology Department has spent several years with the aid of metal-detecting specialists in mapping in not only individual hut sites, but new encampments, picket posts, and even the pre- and post-Civil War domestic sites that are dotted throughout the landscape.  By identifying these sites, Montpelier is able to put into place such things as the Forest Management Plan to discuss conscientious management of the various wood-lots on Montpelier while still managing the cultural resources for future generations.

At present, an interpretive trail runs from opposite the road of the Train Station, through the McGowan winter encampments to the reconstructed Civil War huts, and onto the restored Gilmore Farm.  This is just one of the many trails that you can walk along during your visit to Montpelier.  To read a more detailed description of the findings at the Civil War camp at Montpelier, click here to download an article on the site.

Photograph of South Carolina Palmetto coat button recovered by a local relic hunter from the McGowan encampment.  The state seal on the button allowed us to make the association between the South Carolina origin of the troops and McGowan’s brigade.

Map showing interpretive trail that links one of the Civil War camps with the Gilmore Farm