Close to D.C. but far from the demands of modern life, picturesque Spotsylvania offers an escape to outdoor activities and rich history. In 1721, this vast new county was formed in the young colony of Virginia. Extending far beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains, this frontier outpost was named for Alexander Spotswood, Colonial Governor of Virginia.
Much of Spotsylvania County’s early development is attributed to Spotswood’s ironworks founded in the early 1700s. Spotswood’s Iron Mines Company, a mining and smelting operation founded in 1725 at Germanna, was the first fully equipped iron furnace in the colonies and the county’s first industry. A wharf was built at the mouth of Massaponax Creek for ships to load wares for colonial ports, including firebacks, pots, pans and kettles. A blast furnace, also founded by Spotswood, was operated in the area from 1730 through 1785. Remnants of the ironworks are still found in the county.
Under Spotswood’s resourceful leadership, a road network for transporting the iron was laid out, and skilled laborers were imported from Germany. At his death in 1740, Spotswood left behind a nearly self-sufficient iron empire that set in motion the rise of America’s iron and steel industry. Spotswood furnace was acquired in1842 by the U.S. Government, which set up a forge and foundries. Here, the government made hundreds of cannons to supply the Mexican War, making it one of the most important cannon works in the country.
Four major Civil War battles were fought on Spotsylvania soil, including one of the bloodiest of the war, the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House in May 1864. Here, the armies of Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee saw one of the most intense clashes in American history – the Union attack on the Confederate-held “Bloody Angle.” This battle marked the beginning of the fall of the Confederacy. It was at Chancellorsville in Spotsylvania County that Stonewall Jackson fell to the mistaken fire of his own men. The National Park Service maintains more than 4,400 acres of Civil War battlefields in various locations throughout Spotsylvania County.