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NPS grant preserves Siegen Forest on Rapidan, 164 acres on the Chancellorsville Battlefield

A grant from the National Park Service will protect Siegen Forest along the banks of the Rapidan River in eastern Orange County through a recent $655,070 award that preserves 163.88 acres at Chancellorsville Battlefield.

The American Battlefield Protection Program has announced $1.3 million in Battlefield Land Acquisition Grants to protect a total of 272.86 acres across four Civil War battlefields in Maryland, Mississippi and Virginia, according to a park service release.

Siegen Forest, part of 163 acres owned by the Germanna Foundation, sits along the banks of the Rapidan River as it meanders between Orange and Culpeper. Human communities have occupied the area for nearly 12,000 years, starting with Native Americans attracted to the rich flora, fauna and mineral resources in the riverine environment, according to the National Park Service. Humans were also attracted to the shallows that provide a crossing point for the stream that served as a transportation highway for centuries.

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Today this cultural crossroads bears the name of the European communities – English and German – who settled there in the early 18th century. According to the park service, the Germanic colonies attracted skilled workers from their homeland, the principality of Nassau-Siegen, to mine the local iron deposits.

Enslaved people of African descent also worked hard on these lands when the Civil War was tearing Virginia apart.

In late April 1863, after a bloody December 1862 defeat at Fredericksburg, the U.S. Army of the Potomac crossed the Rapidan River near the preserved site and marched to another deadly battle at Chancellorsville.

A year later, at the opening of the Overland Campaign in May 1864, colored United States troops approached the Battle of the Desert across the Germanna Ford and marched to a battlefield where neither side could claim victory despite 30,000 dead and wounded, release declared.

In 1956, the Germanna Foundation preserved Siegen Forest to commemorate the 18th-century German settlers who settled the area and to preserve this historic space for reflection and recreation. The forest remains a park for public enjoyment, inspiration and creative opportunities.

The 170-acre Siegen Forest trail system begins behind the Fort Germanna Visitor Center along Route 3 in Locust Grove.

“Our work preserves and honors the places and stories of those who lost their lives in battle,” said NPS Director Chuck Sams. “These grants support local stewardship and reinvestment to bring new experiences and powerful moments to places where so many lives have been lost.”

The projects support collaborations between state and local governments and nonprofit partners to care for places and stories that are significant to the nation’s history, according to the park service release. The Land and Water Conservation Fund is supporting the initiative, reinvesting proceeds from offshore oil and natural gas leases to strengthen conservation and recreation opportunities across the nation, the release said.

The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation also received $163,251 for 101-acre conservation at Ream’s Station Battlefield in Dinwiddie County.

The Board of County Commissioners of Washington, Maryland received $122,600 through the Park Service grant for the preservation of .92 acre at Antietam Battlefield. Contact the program at [email protected].

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