Lake of the Woods, Rich in History
Lake of the Woods is at the center of an area rich in natural and cultural resources that span a broad range of the historic periods and events of Virginia's history. It borders the Germanna Highway, originally the path made by the inhabitants of Lt. Gov. Alexander Spotswood's Germanna colony in 1714. Seventy years later, his grandson, Capt. John Spotswood, inherited all the land that includes Lake of the Woods and built his home "Orange Grove." John served in the 10th Virginia Regiment, was wounded and captured in 1779, and paroled at the request of General Washington.
Across Germanna Road lie the relics of the Vaucluse Gold Mine, which is the best known of the mines in the county's largest gold producing area until 1848. Part of the area of Lake of the Woods was owned before the Civil War by mining companies, including the Orange Grove Mining Company.
On May 4th, 1864, Lt. Gen. U. S. Grant with the Army of the Potomac crossed over Germanna Ford and entered Orange County. One of the few sketches made during the Battle of the Wilderness shows those troops marching down Germanna Plank Road past the Spotswood farm. Over 24,000 Union troops turned at Spotswood's and headed to the battlefront down a path known as Culpeper Mine Road. For several hours, they fought their way through what is today the Lake of the Woods golf course to reach Saunder's field. By thirty-six hours later, 3,600 of them had been carried or crawled back wounded to the field hospital established at Spotswood's farm.
The evening of the 6th of May, Brig. Gen John B. Gordon staged his famous flank attack on the Union Army 6th Corps. While there is even today dispute over what happened and how important his victory was, there is no dispute that he formed up within Lake of the Woods, north of the part of the Wilderness Battlefield inside of the National Military Park. On the 7th of May, General Lee rode with Gordon along Culpeper Mine Road to survey the land captured and discuss what might have been.
Today four houses that witnessed the battle still exist within the greater wilderness Battlefield: Ellwood inside the Park, Widow Willis' and the Reynolds' houses just west of Lake of the Woods and the Apperson house, which is a home inside of Lake of the Woods.
Nearly 150 years later, a Civil War Study Group has been formed by Lake of the Woods residents. The group has conducted extensive literature search and fieldwork in order to preserve the history of the men that came from thirty states to our part of Orange County to fight and die.
By Dr. Peter G. Rainey
Author, "Germanna Road: Three Hundred Year History of Lower Orange County, Virginia, with particular attention to the Alexandria Tract and Lake of the Woods"