David Duncan, President of the American Battlefield Trust
Photo by Buddy Secor
“Impatiently, but in the profoundest silence, the men of the Second brigade awaited the order to advance, and just as the first faint streaks of dawn appeared in the east, the word ‘Forward!’ was whispered along the lines of crouching, motionless regiments…”
– Infantryman Henry C. Houston, 32nd Maine Regiment
January 12, 2021
Dear Fellow Preservationist,
Let me begin by expressing my sincerest wishes that the New Year finds you healthy and well!
There is no denying that the last year was challenging and hectic for us all — and I suspect that you, like me, were eager for 2021 to begin!
In the spirit of looking to new beginnings, perhaps the same word stood out to you as it did to me in the passage above, written by Henry C. Houston, a soldier in the 32nd Maine Infantry Regiment after the Battle of Petersburg: “Forward!”
After all, what better way to start the New Year than by charging “Forward” into the fight to preserve our priceless American history and heritage?
Now is the time for a fresh start, to set goals and make plans for a successful and fulfilling year ahead. For each of us at the Trust, this means rededicating ourselves to our core mission — saving our nation’s hallowed ground and educating the public about why it is still so important today.
I’m reminded that every battle has a story to tell, and as dedicated stewards of our nation’s history, you and I are responsible for ensuring that we preserve the stories that unfolded on each of those sacred acres — whenever and wherever we have the opportunity.
In the spirit of starting the year off with a bang, I’m thrilled to tell you today about three opportunities to save hallowed ground in the New Year — the first is a 94-acre tract at Mill Springs, Kentucky, the second is a 9-acre tract at Petersburg, Virginia, and the last (including two parcels totaling 7 acres) is at Bentonville, North Carolina. Combined, that’s more than 110 acres!
And what’s more, thanks to a combination of federal and state grants, as well as substantial private donations, you and I can save these priceless battlefield lands at a $3.26-to-$1 match, more than tripling the power of your donation dollar!
Now, at first glance, you may ask yourself what these three sites could have in common . . . you’ll likely recognize that they took place in different theaters, in different seasons, in different years of the war, and with entirely different armies and different sets of commanding officers.
But each of these battles tells the story of an important “beginning.” The beginning of the second year of the war and the beginning of the long-term effort to secure the important border state of Kentucky at Mill Springs. The beginning of the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, and the 292-day siege that would eventually lead to General Lee’s surrender. The opening day fighting at Bentonville, which marked the beginning of the final standoff between General William Tecumseh Sherman and General Joe Johnston.
The good news is that we have already secured or applied for the grant funding to cover more than a million dollars of the total needed to complete these projects, but we must still raise the final $432,000 necessary to see all four of these important tracts saved forever.
There’s much to tell about each of these sites, so let’s begin with the Battle of Mill Springs, where a Federal victory set the stage for the fight to keep the Bluegrass state.
From the very outset of the war, Lincoln and his generals understood the importance of keeping this critical border state in Union hands — Lincoln famously remarked that “I hope I have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky.”
In late 1861, Confederate forces made their winter camp near Mill Springs. On January 19, 1862 (that’s right, today very nearly marks the 158th anniversary of the battle!), General Felix Zollicoffer received orders to launch an attack on Federal forces led by Union General George H. Thomas, at an area called Logan’s Crossroads.
In the early morning mist and rain, Zollicoffer moved toward the body of Union troops, but was killed as he scouted ahead of his men, leaving his own troops in a state of confusion. Fierce hand-to-hand combat commenced across the property, as Kentuckians and Minnesotans held off the determined charge of Mississippians and Tennesseans.
Federal forces eventually stopped the Confederate advance, turning the tide of the battle. This marked the first significant Union victory of the war, reinvigorated Northern morale and paved the way for the effort to keep Kentucky firmly in Union control.
This land is regarded by historians as some of the last core battlefield land that could be saved at Mill Springs. Knowing how important it was, the Trust pulled a significant amount from its strategic reserves to save it, but now we must raise the final funds needed to rebuild those depleted reserves.
I want to mention, too, that the Trust has done much work at Mill Springs over the years, which played a role in creating one of our newest national parks – we celebrated the opening of Mill Springs Battlefield National Monument just last fall. Now we have the chance to add to that preservation success.
As I’ve said before (and I’ll say again), sometimes preserving our nation’s hallowed ground means saving what we can, when we can, and saving this land is critical to the full picture of what happened in Kentucky early in the war.
The next opportunity is located on the Petersburg Battlefield in Virginia. The fighting that happened on and around this tract marked the beginning of the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, and the opening of the longest siege of the war.
The hallowed ground we’re working to save today saw action throughout the day on June 17, 1864. Union General Robert B. Potter’s second division made a dawn assault in which the 32nd Maine Infantry soldier, Henry C. Houston — whose words I shared with you at the top of this letter — and his comrades passed over this very land as they launched an attack that left the Confederates “surprised and bewildered at such an unexpected assault.”
A Confederate counterattack succeeded in breaking the defensive line formed by Federals under General James H. Ledlie, and his men who regrouped on this parcel of land. The tract saw even more action again later that afternoon, as Union General Orlando B. Wilcox’s 1st Division also launched an attack that swept over this parcel.
Notably, several units that fought in this area — the 1st Michigan Sharpshooters and the 37th and 38th Wisconsin — included full companies of Native American troops within their ranks. The preservation of this property will further bring to light the little-known role of American Indian tribes in the War.
Development around the city of Petersburg continues to expand, swallowing up land with new residential and commercial growth, so we must move quickly. But thanks to the dedication of supporters like you, the Trust has saved more than 4,000 acres at battlefields associated with the campaign for Petersburg, more than at any other battlefield!
For our final two tracts, we’ll jump ahead in time to March 19, 1865, at Bentonville, North Carolina, where we have the chance to save two parcels that saw action during the first day of that three-day battle.
Bentonville was the largest battle in the state and the land we can save today was integral to the opening of that battle, which marked the beginning of the final stand for Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston’s Army.
After his famous “March to the Sea,” Union General William Tecumseh Sherman led his army northward, encountering resistance along the way from Johnston’s troops south of Bentonville. On your enclosed Bentonville battle map find the 1-acre tract at the fork of the Goldsboro and Bentonville Roads, and the 6-acre parcel just north of the Goldsboro Road. The nearly continuous actions on these tracts helped set the stage for the next two days of fierce fighting at Bentonville.
The battle marked the beginning of the end of so many standoffs between Sherman and the Army of Tennessee, as Federal forces closed in around the Confederate Army. Johnston surrendered just a month later, and this land — where soldiers in both blue and gray fought, bled, and died — is crucial to understanding the full story of this highly significant battlefield.
To date, the Trust has preserved more than 1,860 acres of the Bentonville Battlefield, thanks to the dedication of members like you. Both parcels we have the opportunity to save today will add crucial pieces to completing this puzzle (including the preservation of the place where Union cannons helped to halt the Army of Tennessee’s final, grand charge). Both will allow us to nearly finish the preservation of the First Day’s Battle. Even more, the preservation of these two tracts will protect this land forever from further development, opening the way for additional trails and interpretation.
Remember: I believe it is a key aspect of our mission to hold these lands in trust for future generations — adding to them when we can, and leaving them in the best condition possible for posterity to learn from and explore.
Just think, the actions of each of the soldiers — like Infantryman Houston — who fought on these pieces of hallowed ground laid the groundwork for major, consequential events of the war.
Isn’t the best way to honor their sacrifices, and to preserve their legacy, to ensure that we never forget their stories? And today, my friend, our actions can set the stage as well, this time for another year of preservation victories all across America!
Our task is at hand – will you begin this year by marching into battle alongside me to protect the stories of those beginnings, while multiplying the power of your generosity by a factor of $3.26-to-$1?
Will you join me as we charge forward together to save these vital properties along with all of our nation’s history and heritage for future generations? I thank you in advance for your dedication and support! With my sincerest wishes for a prosperous New Year,
David N. Duncan, President
P.S. I hope you’ve also had the chance to look at the series of bookmarks I’ve included along with this letter. Each displays an image of a battlefield that you have helped to save in perpetuity. Anticipating that you are a reader like me, please accept this as a small token of my appreciation to thank you for your ongoing dedication to our cause!
P.P.S. Don’t forget that your gift today will be more than tripled! That’s right! Thanks to a number of grants and support from our partners, we have raised nearly $1 million for these important transactions, but we need your help to get us over the finish line, and set the stage for another year of preservation success. Thank you again, and . . . Forward!
P.P.P.S. If you would like to donate securely online, please visit the special appeal page we have created on our website at www.battlefields.org/3battlefields. Your gift today will ensure that the unique and inspiring stories that unfolded on these three battlefields will never be lost! Please send your most generous gift today! Thank you.
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