Jim Lighthizer, president of the American Battlefield Trust.
September 4, 2020
Dear Fellow Battlefield Preservationist,
This is a very bittersweet letter for me to write to you, but I have two very important and urgent things to report to you today. One is about the future of the American Battlefield Trust, and the other is about saving 49 acres at Gettysburg with a $5.38-to-$1 match of your donation dollar!
First, as you may recall, about a year ago I wrote to you to let you know about my plans to retire sometime in 2020. While the COVID-19 pandemic delayed my retirement by a few months, I want to share some very exciting news:
After conducting an eight-month nationwide executive search to find my successor, the Board of Trustees, working with an independent search firm, has unanimously voted to elect David Duncan, currently the Trust’s Chief Development Officer, as our new president, effective October 1, 2020. Please let me tell you why I believe this is wonderful news . . .
David has worked side by side with me for the past 20 years, as we have both dedicated two decades of our professional lives to this organization and to this cause. Often working in the background, he has played a key role in each of the organization’s successes over the years.
There is no one else who has worked more closely with me since March of 2000, with literally thousands of substantive discussions between us about tactics, strategy, management, mission, fundraising, board relations, personnel, advocacy, organizational structure, culture, history, and many other topics. David is a voracious reader of American history who has personally visited the vast majority of the places we are working to preserve.
David has a deep passion for this cause and this mission, and his thorough understanding of the functions of all departments, as well as the support of his colleagues, leaves no doubt he will hit the ground running, and the organization will not miss a beat.
As he is taking the reins of the organization in the midst of global pandemic and a time of deep economic uncertainty, he faces significant challenges. But again, if you know him from our events, or from the thousands of personal handwritten notes he has penned on thank-you letters over the years, I believe you will agree there are few – if any – more prepared to step into this role at this time.
But most important, he understands that we have become the best history land preservation organization in America only because of the generosity, enthusiasm, dedication, and support of members like you.
You will be hearing more about David’s vision for the organization in the coming days, but I want you to know that I support the Board’s decision 100 percent, and I know he is ready to build on the success that we have already achieved during the past tw o decades.
As for me, I am gratified to be able to tell you that I will rem ain involved in the organization, first as an on-call advisor to David as he transitions into his new role over the next six months, and also as a member of the Board of Trustees with the title of President Emeritus.
As I have said before, my health is fine, but I will be 75 years old next spring, and this is a natural time for me to transition into retirement. I am grateful beyon d words for the support and encouragement I have received from members like you over the years, and I am mo re proud of what we have accomplished together for the good of our country than anything else I have done in my life. Now, as we all must do, it is time for me to pass on the baton, and I do so with optimism and a happy heart.
If you would, please join me in congratulating David as he assu mes his new role by writing a few words of encouragement and signing the page I have provided for you, and returning it as soon as possible. And please . . . moving forward, do me the honor supporting him as you have supported me. Our work to preserve, educate, and inspire is so important for the future of our nation – we need you now more than ever!
Now that all of that is out of the way, let’s go back to work – and hopefully preserve and restore another 49 acres at Gettysburg!
Today, as you can see from the maps I have enclosed for you, we are focusing on three tracts that add important parts to the preserved land at Gettysburg.
First, please focus on the large parcel at the southern end of the battlefield. On July 2, 3 and 4, 1863, anyone standing on this land at Gettysburg would have witnessed nearby fighting, marching and artillery projectiles over the course of all three days.
The battle swirled around, and sometimes on, this tract. More than 10,000 soldiers of the Union Second Corps approached the battlefield on the night of July 1 a nd the morning of July 2 from near the eastern border of this property. Before the fight for Little Round Top, the famed 15th Alabama marched by the tract’s northern border. After the nearby struggle for Devil’s Den, the sluggish Plum Run, now known as Bloody Run, carried the lifeblood of dead and wounded soldiers to the tract’s western border.
The next day, the Union occupied Big Round Top. As the Union extended their lines, men, beasts, and cannons moved past its southern border and launched the doomed Farnsworth’s cavalry charge from near the west side of the tract. That same day, Vermont skirmishers established a picket line on part of the tract. A field hospital was established that day or so just east of this large tract on the Plank farm, which you generosity has already saved.
As you can see, this tract abuts preserved land on two sides. But let me call your attention to the developer’s plat map I have also enclosed. If we are unable to save this property, a housing subdivision of large-lot “McMansions” – interfering with the views of Big Round Top – will likely be the fate of this land.
Next, please look at the small but crucial parcel in the shadow of Culp’s Hill, with a structure on it labeled “McKnight.” This denotes a historic pre-war home owned at that time by Jame s McKnight, who purchased the house, barn and five acres of land in 1860 for $1, 200. (I sure wish we could buy a house and land for $240 per acre today, don’t you?) The 1860 census notes that James was a 42-year-old farmer who had a 30-year-old wife, Margaret Ann, and a one-year-old daughter named Jane.
Three years later, the largest battle ever fought in North America swept over their farm . . .
American Battlefield Trust Chief Historian (and Licensed Gettysburg Battlefield Guide) Garry Adelman has more to tell us about this tract: On the slopes of East Cemetery Hill, abutting the Baltimore Pike and sitting just below the crest of the Union artillery position on Stevens Knoll, this area figured prominently in the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg.
The Gettysburg National Military Park owns most of East Cemetery Hill but this tract is a key missing piece. The land above it to the east, called McKnight’s Hill, or Stevens Knoll, was among the first tracts preserved at Gettysburg, less than one year after the battle. This one-acre tract includes the historic McKnight house, and other features including a stone wall behind which soldiers fought, bled and died.
Tens of thousands of Union troops marched right in front of, paused on, passed over, fought on and were buried on the larger McKnight Farm on July 1 and 2. On July 1, as the Union met disaster north and west of Gettysburg, Northern troops fell back to and fortified Cemetery Hill. Union General Winfield Scott Hancock ordered Captain Greenleaf Stevens’ 5th Maine Battery to occupy McKnight’s Hill.
Stevens shouted, ‘Fifth Battery, forward,’ as he led the guns to James McKnight’s house, turned left down McKnight’s lane, and moved around McKnight’s stone walls to get into position atop the hill. In case the unsupported battery met with disaster, Stevens’ men created gaps in the stone walls to facilitate an easier escape.
But support came quickly. Remnants of the Iron Brigade took position on Stevens’ right on Culp’s Hill and the 33rd Massachusetts Infantry was positioned along one of McKnight’s stone walls. On the early evening of July 2nd, Confederate troops under General Jubal Early made a ferocious assault upon East Cemetery Hill. The Confederates were successful in breaking the center of the Union position, and captured nine cannons atop East Cemetery Hill, but the 33rd Massachusetts and Stevens’ Battery held, an anchor for the Federals. The stalwart defense bought critical time for Union reinforcements to arrive and push the now-outmatched Southerners back.
In the last two decades, the construction of the Comfort Inn hotel directly across the Baltimore Pike along with the creation of the new National Park Service Visitor Center has made the already commercially zoned tract all the more ripe for development. The need to preserve this tract is urgent.
The final parcel I must tell you about today is only a few feet farther south on the Baltimore Pike. Very nearly the exact same history applies to this tract as to the McKnight House tract.
If this one looks familiar to you, it is because I wrote to you about it late last year in an appeal where this parcel was featured with two other small but important tracts of battlefield land. Unfortunately, we did not raise enough to also cover this important Gettysburg tract.
When this has happened in the past, we usually try to cover the difference from our cash reserves or by delaying other projects. But due to the pandemic, the threat of economic uncertainty and job losses, and other factors rocking our nation, we just don’t have that much uncommitted money on hand right now.
I don’t mind telling you that this one concerns me . . . if we aren’t able to close on this transaction, I fully expect the landowner to sell quickly to a developer, endangering our on-going preservation efforts on this part of the battlefield which, as you can see from the satellite image, is already suffering from commercial encroachment.
Plus, I really do not want to leave this transaction hanging out there as I retire. I want David to be able to assume his duties – which are substantial, trust me on that – with as clean a slate as possible.
The total amount we need for the acquisition and restoration of these three important Gettysburg tracts (the historic McKnight House will need extensive stabilization to save it as part of the battlefield) is $1,487,400 – almost a million-and-a-half dollars! But the good news is that, through a combination of anticipated federal matching grants, a landowner donation, and some large gifts already received, our total need today is down to $276,700 – a $5.38-to-$1 match of any gift you are able to send.
That means we essentially should have 81.4% of the funding lined up, and need to raise the final 18.6% as soon as possible. These properties all close at different times, but all must close by the end of 2020.
What you and I have done for the future citizens of this country has never been done before. No other effort, nor any other preservation organization, even comes close to what you have accomplished when it comes to historic land preservation.
And even though I am retiring, please don’t think for a second that our work is over – far from it!
You and I still have thousands of acres of hallowed ground from the Revolutionary War up through the Civil War left to save . . . we still have potentially tens of millions of students young and old to educate and inspire about the importance of these hallowed places we are protecting . . . and we still have “those people” out there who would pave over our past if given half a chance, and we have to fight them everywhere.
So what do you say? Will you help today with your generous gift of any amount, so that I can then match $5.38-to-$1 to help save and restore these tracts at Gettysburg, and others just like them all across this great nation?
And would you please consider adding something extra to your gift, as a personal favor to me, so that I can leave the finances as strong as they can possibly be for our new president, David Duncan, when he takes over on October 1?
I would personally be grateful for any support you can spare today, just as I am personally grateful for all you have done to save America’s history! I’ve said it before, but truer words were never spoken: You are the hero of this preservation story. You deserve ALL the credit. And you are making an important and lasting impact on our nation. Thank you for all you continue to do for this great cause!
Most sincerely yours,
Jim Lighthizer, President
P.S. I read an article recently which said that more and more donors to charitable causes were reading their mail, and then choosing to go online to make their gifts there rather than writing and mailing checks. I want you to know that if this is your preference, it is perfectly fine with us! Visit our website for this special effort at www.battlefields.org/gettysburg20 to learn more, and support this very urgent $5.38-to-$1 effort! Thank you again.
P.P.S. My friend, this cause is larger and more important than any one individual, and it must go on. If you have any questions on the presidential transition, please visit our website at www.battlefields.org/transition, and thank you again for your dedication, generosity, and commitment to the American Battlefield Trust.
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