BRANDY STATION — Retired Wall Street banker Edwin Payne, of upstate New York, recently partnered with the American Battlefield Trust and others to place a monument to his Confederate ancestor on the Brandy Station Battlefield in Culpeper County.
He recognized the debate going on in America about such memorials and their appropriateness in the modern world.
“I want to be on the right side of this,” said Payne, who grew up in North Carolina. “I am interested in history and the preservation of history and knowing our history so we don’t repeat it. There are a great many lessons to be learned from studying history. We don’t want this kind of thing to happen again, but it doesn’t mean you can erase it.”
His ancestor to whom the monument was placed was Gen. William Henry Fitzhugh Payne, founder of the famed Black Horse Cavalry. A Fauquier County lawyer and gentleman farmer, he joined the Confederacy at war’s outset and earned promotions based on his leadership, battlefield valor and meritorious service, according to the monument recently dedicated to mark the 155th anniversary of the Battle of Brandy Station, fought June 9, 1863.
Gen. Payne was wounded and captured three times during the war while at Brandy Station — the largest cavalry battle in North America. He took over command of a North Carolina regiment after its commanding officer, Col. Solomon Williams, was killed a mile from where the monument was placed, down a gravel road near the intersection of Beverly Ford Road and St James Church Road. He subsequently led the regiment at Gettysburg and later served in the state legislature.
Civil War historian Bud “Clark” Hall, a Marine who served in the Vietnam War, said the general was not any more important than any other soldier who fought at Brandy Station, where 18,456 men on horseback engaged in fierce fighting on a sweltering day. The point, he said, was to add context to the sprawling battlefield.
“Edwin Payne’s thought was it would honor his ancestor and in addition embody the aspirations of many of us to see monuments on the battlefield that are appropriate,” Hall said.
In the hundreds of tours he has given through the years, the one question Hall always get asked is, “Where are the monuments?” He hopes the Payne marker will spur more monuments covering all aspects of the Civil War at Brandy Station, including the Union history, as well as the African-American experience.
“It was a horrendously tragic loss of life,” Edwin Payne said. “They were all Americans — with differences of opinions, as we all know.”
But to see blank battlefields with no historic markers provides none of that story for today’s visitors, Payne said.
“They witnessed monumental events and great sacrifices were made by both sides,” he said. “We hope and pray never to repeat it. The more we know, the better we are as a country.”
Jim Campi, with the American Battlefield Trust, said it is very rare for the preservation organization to allow placement of monuments on battlefield land it owns.
“Each monument has to go through a rigorous process, and we turn down far more than we accept,” he said Monday. “In this instance, we thought it appropriate to facilitate construction of the monument to W.H.F. Payne ... by one of his descendants.”