“That ‘bijou of a place:’ Farley Plantation and the Civil War”

 

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Culpeper County boasts its share of venerable homes, but none possess a grander reputation than Farley, north of Brandy Station. Farley is in fact ensconced in that rare company of homes that, once gazed upon, is never forgotten—just as one would never forget being honored with the audience of a revered queen.

 

Well acquainted with handsome homes, an officer from Philadelphia’s Main Line wrote from Farley in 1863 that his commanding general’s headquarters were pleasantly situated in a “bijou of a place.” And during Colonial times, and yet today, there is no finer historical jewel atop Virginia’s architectural crown than Culpeper’s own Georgian Palladian mansion, Farley.

 

William Champe Carter bought the former Sans Souci Plantation in 1801 and renamed it Farley, in honor of his bride, Maria Byrd Farley Carter. About a hundred feet long, incorporating 7,000 square feet, the newly built Farley entertained Tidewater luminaries who moved to nearby estates following the Revolution. Champe and Maria Carter oversaw countless scenes of social gaiety held in Farley’s formal parlor. 

 

Upon the death of Champe Carter in 1843, Dr. William Wellford of Fredericksburg bought Farley and lived there until the Civil War. And with war looming, Farley found itself wedged squarely within the crosshairs of a four-year conflict.

 

Directly in front of Farley passed the Old Winchester Turnpike, a Colonial thoroughfare linking Fredericksburg with the lower Valley. Just north, the most important ford on the Hazel River, Wellford’s Ford, connected lower Culpeper with the “Little Fork.” But Farley’s occupants could not conceive that the plantation’s convenient lodgment would soon attract unwelcome visitors, these bearing arms—Rebels and Yankees, thousands of them.

 

When attacking or shifting into Culpeper during the war, all armies, Blue and Gray, advanced south from Fauquier and always used Wellford’s Ford to anchor their right or left flank, depending on the tactical objective. Now we comprehend Farley’s problematic geographical positioning. Which house sits closest to Wellford’s Ford, a half mile away? Which house is most suitable for a commanding general to utilize as headquarters? Which house sits a mere quarter mile away from the northern terminus of Fleetwood Hill, the most fought over piece of real estate in American military history?

 

Consider a few examples of Farley’s wartime exposure: During 1862, hot cavalry battles swept past Farley as both armies maneuvered for control of the Rappahannock line. At the outset of the 2nd Manassas Campaign, General Jeb Stuart took Farley as his headquarters. In June 1863, a portion of this country’s largest cavalry battle occurred on Farley’s grounds as wounded and dying men took shelter inside Farley during the Battle of Brandy Station. Following this threshold battle, Jeb Stuart again took over Farley as his headquarters, and there, consulted with General Robert E. Lee.

 

In late 1863, additional cavalry actions took place around Farley, and in late 1863, General John Sedgwick, 6th Corps Commander, Army of the Potomac, moved into Farley for nearly six months as the 120,000-strong Federal army wintered in Culpeper County. The genial “Uncle John” Sedgwick hosted memorable parties at Farley for visiting dignitaries. But inevitably, Union letters during this period describe a once grand home, now undergoing a sad transformation as the war finally took its toll on Farley. And as the Civil War departed Farley in 1864, the old house—shutters ajar, windows shot out—stood empty, grand only in historic reputation.

 

In 1983, Farley was sold to a family who lovingly put their heart into its restoration. In any such noble undertaking, we realize there is always one person who retains a vision others must obey (or else). So in this situation, we need look no further than Cita Suratgar for our hero. Aided by her wonderful husband, David Suratgar, and Cita’s two sons, Quentin and Caleb Ward, Cita’s dream of a restored Farley is now reality. Indeed, their home sits on both the Virginia and National Registers of Historic places. Farley has also won the coveted Great American Home award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Farley is solidly back from the ruins of war.

 

Another note of prominence for Farley—one that won’t end up on a brass plaque, but is vitally significant to this columnist. Many years ago, I asked a beautiful lady to marry me on the front steps of Farley. And in a weak moment, my beloved Deborah accepted. So Farley will also live forever in our hearts.