State funding will help Cumberland Church Battlefield develop

Published 6:48 am Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Plans to preserve the Cumberland Church Battlefield are moving forward. On Friday, Oct. 13, Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s office announced a $96,000 grant to help with that goal. The money was given to the American Battlefield Trust, which will in turn use it to buy 42.8 acres on the property, parts of which are up for sale. 

The Battle of Cumberland Church, also known as the Battle of Farmville, took place on April 7, 1865. In retreat from Petersburg and Richmond, had just fought the Battle of Sailor’s Creek the day before, with Gen. Robert E. Lee writing to warn Jefferson Davis that “a few more Sailor’s Creeks and it will all be over.” After Sailor’s Creek, Confederates headed for High Bridge, to cross over and continue their retreat. 

At Cumberland Church, the Army of Northern Virginia held off Union Major Gen. Andrew Humphrey’s attacks, thanks to maintaining the high ground. But that didn’t even last a day. About 11 p.m. on Aug. 7, Confederate troops started to march toward Appomattox Court House, where Lee would surrender to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. 

Where is the battlefield?

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The battlefield at Cumberland Church, at what is present day Jamestown Road, is 42.8 acres with 23 of the acres wooded and 900 feet containing Bad Luck Creek. If you take a walk around it, you’ll find a number of earthworks structures from both the Confederate and Union armies. These include trenches and other modifications made during the stalemate.

Owners put the plot of land containing this battlefield up for sale in 2021, as it was zoned for development. The American Battle Trust expressed their interest, but didn’t have enough funding to immediately finalize the deal. The trust will use Gov. Youngkin’s grant to buy the land and turn it over to the Appomattox-Petersburg Preservation Society, which will manage it. 

Transforming the Cumberland Church Battlefield

“This award will go toward preserving some of the first acreage associated with the Battle of Cumberland Church on April 7, 1865,” Officials from Youngkin’s office said in a statement. “A partnership between the Trust and the Appomattox-Petersburg Preservation Society will ensure the property is open to the public as a battlefield park, while also retaining its agricultural uses.” 

Now when they say “retaining its agricultural uses,” that means people will still be able to farm the property. It will simply have those areas blocked off. In other parts, it will have trails with interpretive markers. 

The money was part of more than $1.3 million Youngkin allocated to protect an estimated 211 acres of battlefield land throughout the Commonwealth. The Department of Historic Resources (DHR) will administer the grants awarded through the Virginia Battlefield Preservation Fund (VBPF) program.

This year, Cumberland Church is one of a total of eight projects that will receive funding through the VBPF to acquire land for the purposes of permanent preservation and battlefield interpretation. Grant recipients also intend to install signs and develop tours and pedestrian trails to make the properties accessible to the public. 

“My administration is committed to preserving our history to allow future generations to learn from it – the bad and the good,” Youngkin said in a statement. “These commitments will continue the preservation and accessibility to these important resources. These battlefields, that we were at risk of losing forever, serve as a reminder of our journey as a nation.”

Now as part of the deal, grant recipients must donate an easement to the Virginia Board of Historic Resources for the property. That includes Cumberland Church. That easement restricts any commercial development of the land.