Jim Lighthizer, president of the American Battlefield Trust.
November 27, 2019
Dear Fellow Battlefield Preservationist,
As we approach the end of the year, as well as my 20th anniversary as president of the American Battlefield Trust in a few days, please forgive me for feeling a little nostalgic tonight, as memories of the last 20 years come flooding back to me.
More than anything else, I especially want you to know how thankful and grateful I am to you for all that you have done for this great cause over the years.
Since I announced earlier this month that I will be retiring sometime next year as the day-to-day president of the Trust, I have received dozens of cards, letters, emails, and calls from members thanking me for “all I have done.”
That’s wonderful to hear, and I appreciate it, to be sure, but it’s not quite right. It is not what I have done that has made this mission to save America’s hallowed ground so successful over the last 20 years . . .
. . . it is what you have done!
I tell people all the time that we could not save one blade of grass on a battlefield… we could not save a single square inch of hallowed ground . . . we could not send even one student on a life-changing battlefield field trip . . . we could not produce a minute of educational video content . . . we couldn’t accomplish any aspect of our mission if not for you and your generosity. Period, end of story. For example, thanks to you, we have saved the heart of the Stones River battlefield in Tennessee this year, land that I believed was once lost forever.
Thanks to you, we will soon go to closing on the largest remaining part of the Perryville Battlefield in Kentucky this year, substantially completing that battlefield.
Thanks to you, we have preserved forever hundreds of acres of priceless hallowed ground at battlefields in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Mississippi, Maryland, and North Carolina, all in 2019.
It is a remarkable record of accomplishment to be proud of, and I hope you are. When I look back over the past 20 years and think about the nearly 52,000 acres of hallowed ground saved from development and destruction, I can hardly believe it.
When Walmart wanted to build a “supercenter” at the Wilderness Battlefield, you and I stopped them.
When ill-advised developers wanted to build casinos on the doorstep of the Gettysburg Battlefield, you and I stopped them . . . TWICE!
When another developer wanted to build 2,000 houses and millions of square feet of retail space on the Chancellorsville Battlefield, you and I stopped them.
And when the Slaughter Pen Farm battlefield at Fredericksburg was threatened by a tidal wave of warehouses and light-industrial development, that’s right, you and I stopped them!
At battlefield after battlefield, all across America, you and your fellow Trust members have held the line against those who would pave over our country’s honored past without a second thought.
I must be honest with you; twenty years ago, when I took this job as a relatively young man of 53, I thought that, ultimately, we might be fighting a losing battle.
Don’t get me wrong . . . I believed it was a battle we had to fight, but it was obvious to everyone in late 1999 that the developers had all of the money, they had many of the local politicians and power on their side, and they had all of the momentum.
Back then, battlefields across America were falling prey to rampant development; the bulldozers had already rolled across places like Chantilly and Seven Pines in Virginia, and most of the Atlanta Campaign in Georgia, among many others. Historian Gary Gallagher has said that back then, he was concerned even land next to the Bloody Lane at Antietam was endangered!
But there were a few of us determined (crazy?) preservationists who resolved to do everything we could save whatever parts of our country’s priceless heritage we could before it was too late.
In those early days, we didn’t have a pot to you-know-what in, or a window to throw it out of. But slowly, little by little, year by year, dollar by dollar, map by map, and victory by victory, we started to make real progress, to the point where now, at many places we are getting close to substantially saving whole battlefields.
Speaking of our now-famous maps, I wanted to show you exactly what I mean, so please take a look at the special map packet I have sent to you today.
These maps show you – far better than I could ever describe – the incredible progress you and I have made at just these four battlefields of Malvern Hill, Perryville, Brandy Station, and Bentonville. (I could show you similar progress at many more sites, but I’m still keeping an eye on printing and postage costs!)
Let’s recall what some developers had in store for battlefields like these. If they did not obliterate every historically significant hill, road trace, forest, stream bed, or open field, they sure promised to come close. They gouged highways through the hearts of battlefields where men fought and died. They paved over fields of valor and courage, denying those stories to all future generations. They plopped down housing developments and obscenely named the streets after the generals who fought there.
In some cases, in an insulting trade-off for erasing our history, a developer might have offered up a piddling patch of insignificant, completely compromised ground, bordered by a snake-rail fence and featuring a lonely, impossible-to-reach interpretive sign, with a dangerous highway on one side and waste-water treatment plant on the other. Can’t you just see it? Sometimes they didn’t even offer that!
But we never got discouraged, and we never stopped fighting. We convinced the U.S. Congress to join us as a partner, and those battlefield matching funds over the years have helped to more than double the power of your generosity. When state matching funds, or gifts from foundations or other major donors are factored in, over the years, we have been able to multiply nearly every $1 you have given for land preservation into $5.00!
And in the process, you and I have helped to save nearly 52,000 historically priceless acres so that future generations can go to these places to learn about their history, why what happened on those outdoor classrooms is still important to us today, and to make themselves better citizens.
I fully believe that you and I have helped our country in ways that few people have ever done before. Certainly, there has never be a historic land-preservation organization in our country’s history that has been anywhere near as successful as we have.
You are the reason why. And you are also the reason why we will continue to be successful for years to come.
Our work is not done, my friend. Nowhere near close. We still have tens of thousands of acres that we simply must save, and potentially millions of people we must reach to inspire them about their history. And as I said in my most recent letter to you, while I am stepping back from the day-to-day operations of the Trust, I am looking forward to staying involved as President Emeritus, a member of the Board of Trustees, and serving as a volunteer for as long as I am able!
Today, I am not asking you to help me save one specific tract of battlefield land, as I normally do. Instead, I ask you to help save ALL of the remaining unprotected hallowed ground in America, by making your most generous possible contribution before the end of 2019.
I will be writing to you about several extremely important and historic transactions early next year – we are ironing out important details with landowners as I write these words to you today.
Over the last 20 years, I cannot count the number of times people have said to me, “Jim, I sure wish you guys would put out a book of your battle maps. I love those maps!” The American Battlefield Trust has created dozens of maps detailing the action of hundreds of battles. Now, for the first time in book form, we have collected the maps of some of the most iconic battles of the Eastern Theater of the Civil War into one volume.
From First Bull Run to the Surrender at Appomattox Court House, you can follow the major actions of the Eastern Theater from start to finish utilizing this unparalleled collection of maps.
We are planning on a series of map books which will be available over the next few years, which we can either give to members like you, or sell to the general public to generate additional revenue for battlefield preservation, education, and interpretation.
Today, I am honored to tell you that the first edition of the Volume One – The Eastern Theater of the Civil War will be going to the printer in just a few weeks, and if you can make a gift of $50 or more today, I will send you a copy of one of the first books off the presses as a thank-you gift from me, with my compliments. This is your chance to secure your personal copy of this long-awaited and highly anticipated book of American Battlefield Trust maps, before the book is even offered for sale to the general public. (Books will likely ship in January 2020.)
If you could send $75 or more today for a year-end gift, I will send you a second copy, also with my compliments, so that you can have an extra one to give to a friend who should also be a member of the Trust, a family member, or even better, a grandchild, to spark their love of history!
The American Battlefield Trust depends upon the generosity of patriots like you who understand the importance of preserving our history. Saving the land where our country was created and defined has never been more important, especially now when history education is being neglected in schools and colleges all across America.
Like never before, it is up to you and me to ensure that these hallowed places are preserved, both to honor those who fought there, and also to ensure the freedom of our country in the years to come.
When I think about all that you and I have accomplished over the last 20 years, I start to get a little emotional. I cannot thank you enough for standing with me in this fight to save our irreplaceable history.
The fields of battle are peaceful now, but for those of us who care about our nation’s history, and who believe in saving all these beautiful, historic, and poignant places for future generations, our battle never ends.
Please let me hear from you as soon as possible, and please let me thank you in advance for your generosity. I wish you and yours a very joyous and fulfilling holiday season.
Your partner in preserving our history,
Jim Lighthizer, President
P.S. I hope that you will make your special, battlefield-saving year-end gift of at least $50 so that I can send you a copy of our new, first-edition map book – Volume One – The Eastern Theater of the Civil War, or your gift of $75 or more, and I will send you two copies! Your support is absolutely essential to our continued success, so I am looking forward to your response. Thank you once again for all you do for this great cause of saving our history!
Join the Action
Sign up for email updates from the American Battlefield Trust to get U.S. history and battlefield preservation news in your inbox.