Jim Lighthizer, president of the American Battlefield Trust.
Dear Friend and Fellow Preservationist,
Before I answer the question about what those fourteen names on the envelope all have in common, would you be willing to take a short quiz to test your Civil War knowledge?
Question 1: How many Congressional Medals of Honor were awarded to U.S. Colored Troop (USCT) army soldiers during the Civil War?
Question 2: Most of the Medals of Honor awarded to USCT soldiers were the result of valorous actions in just one battle. Which was it?
a. Morris Island / Fort Wagner
b. Port Hudson
c. New Market Heights / Chaffin’s Farm
d. The Crater
Question 3: Which Union general nominated more USCT soldiers to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor than any other?
a. Benjamin Butler
b. William T. Sherman
c. George Meade
d. George Thomas
So how did you do? The answers are that 15 Congressional Medals of Honor were awarded to USCT army soldiers throughout the entire Civil War; 14 of those were awarded for action at the September 29, 1864, Battle of New Market Heights / Chaffin’s Farm in Virginia; and Benjamin “Beast” Butler is the general who made those nominations!
And by now you’ve probably guessed that those 14 names on the envelope are those of the soldiers who were awarded our nation’s highest military honor for their actions that day.
New Market Heights is one of the more-important but lesser-known battles of the Civil War. And today, you and I have the chance to preserve another 22 acres (adding to the 65 acres we have saved there previously), ensuring that the story of that battle will never be forgotten.
The property is a crucial 22-acre tract in the heart of this battlefield outside of Richmond. One glance at your battle map should confirm the importance of securing this hallowed ground, which would be ripe for a residential developer to swoop in, buy it, and get it zoned for a subdivision of new houses, as has already happened all over the booming Richmond area. The cost is $260,000, and there is a non-historic house on the tract (which will cost about $20,000 to remove). We have applied for a $130,000 grant from the Virginia battlefield protection program – 50% of the purchase price – so the Trust would still need to come up with $130,000 to save it.
Still, that means that every $1.00 you give to help purchase this land will be doubled, and that’s a great return on your preservation investment!
But if you are like most people, you may not know the history of this battle as well as you know others. Let me help fill in the gaps:
In the pre-dawn hours of September 29, 1864, as part of General Ulysses S. Grant’s efforts to menace both Richmond and Petersburg and dislodge General Robert E. Lee’s army from literally miles of entrenchments, the eastern arm of the Federal Army of the James’s two-pronged attack (part of the larger Battle of Chaffin’s Farm) swept toward New Market Heights.
They faced a small but determined Confederate brigade of infantry, comprised of Texans and Arkansans, and some dismounted Confederate cavalry of the Hampton Legion (Virginians and South Carolinians) added a little strength to the entrenched defenders.
The USCT troops crossed the lower branch of Four Mile Creek on this land and surged northward toward the crest, toward the left of the Confederate line. Connecticut and New Hampshire regiments also plunged across the land we are working to save today.
Confederate artillery harassed the advance the entire distance, and attackers fell in droves as they attempted to maneuver through extensive obstructions the Confederates had placed before their position. After several attempts, the Union advance finally seized the hilltop as the Confederates fell back to another prepared position.
For a moment, it seemed that the road to Richmond was open, but the Union forces were not able to capitalize on their victory. Some historians think the war could have ended in October of 1864, not six months – and tens of thousands of additional casualties – later.
As it was, for the entire battle, which comprised of several different actions over three days, there were more than 4,400 casualties on both sides. For actions all across the battle lines at New Market Heights, 14 Medals of Honor were awarded to men in the USCT brigades for their morning’s work, all of them for conspicuous demonstrations of heroism and bravery under fire. Remember, there were only 15 Medals of Honor awarded to USCT soldiers during the entire Civil War.
After the battle, Sgt. Maj, Christian Fleetwood – one of those USCT soldiers who received one of those 14 Medals, described the carnage in his diary: “When the charge was started, our color guard was full; two sergeants and ten corporals. Only one of the twelve came off that field on his own feet. Most of them are there still….It was a deadly hailstorm of bullets sweeping men down as hail-stones sweep the leaves from trees….It was very evident that there was too much work cut out for our two regiments….We struggled through two lines of abatis, a few getting through the palisades, but it was sheer madness….”
It seems to me that this is a story that few people know, one that must be told, and one that is best told on the ground where many of those honors were earned, especially when we can DOUBLE the power of your generosity!
Will you help tell that crucial story? Will you help the Trust raise the $130,000 we will need to match the anticipated grant from Virginia, plus the $20,000 we will need to remove the modern house and restore the land to what it looked like on September 29, 1864?
I hope so, because otherwise, this hallowed ground could end up as the newest subdivision of modern houses (probably called something appalling like “Battlefield Heights”) and cul-de-sacs on the outskirts of rapidly expanding Richmond!
And to the extent you can budget your giving for the rest of this year, I hope you will agree that together you and I are making tremendous strides in achieving the mission you want to accomplish most: Saving America’s most important and threatened hallowed ground.
I need your help on another important matter as well. Frankly, these days, it is getting harder and harder to find new members. Fewer people are joining organizations like the Trust, and it also seems that fewer and fewer people are even interested in American history!
So, I would like to try something new in our mailings, on our website, and in our social media. Maybe people are tired of hearing from me all of the time, so would you please do me honor of writing out – just as if you were speaking to someone who was considering joining our great cause – why you are proud to be a supporter of the American Battlefield Trust?
Is it the great battle maps? Is it our informative members-only magazine, Hallowed Ground? Or is it, as I suspect, the incredible satisfaction you get from knowing that you are helping to save our country’s history for future generations?
I’d be eternally grateful for any testimonial you could provide today. Then, with your permission, I’d like to be able to use your comments to encourage new prospective members to join our cause. Your inspiring words could end up in one of our mailings, on our website, or even on social media such as our Facebook page or Twitter.
What would you say to someone who was considering joining the American Battlefield Trust? Would you point out our great ratings with nonprofit watchdog groups like Charity Navigator (see the enclosed letter from them announcing our top rating for 10 years in a row!) or the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance?
Would you highlight that members like you have saved more than 51,000 acres of priceless hallowed ground, with more being saved every month? Would you mention that – just as we have the chance to do today at New Market Heights – that we are almost always able to multiply the power of any gift you give with matching funds?
I truly believe that if prospective members hear directly from dedicated, stalwart, and generous supporters like you, they can’t help but be inspired by all that you are accomplishing, and they will want to join our preservation “army.”
Please never forget that with every acre you preserve, you are saving America’s heritage. You are ensuring that the story – the ENTIRE story – of the American Civil War, especially at important places like New Market Heights – is available to all future Americans.
With every dollar you give to the American Battlefield Trust, you are ensuring that this defining period of our nation’s history – which still resonates in our society and affects every one of us to this day – can never be forgotten.
Today, you can help save 1/100th of an acre of hallowed ground at New Market Heights for a gift of just $59. A gift of $108 helps save 1/50th of an acre, and $216 saves 1/25th of an acre. If you are so moved, $591 saves 1/10 of an acre,$1,182 saves 1/5 of an acre, and $1,478 saves ¼ of an acre.
People sometimes ask me if members actually send in big donations – such as the $2,955 that would help save ½ of an acre, or even $5,910 to help save a full acre at New Market Heights. My response is absolutely they do – that’s just how committed some of your fellow members are to this great and important cause. But every gift, be it $5,910 or $5.91, is essential to saving hallowed ground right now. I truly have no substitute for your support.
Thank you for all you continue to do for the cause of battlefield preservation, my friend. You are making an impact that will last for as long as there is a United States of America. And by honoring those who fought at places like New Market Heights, and by ensuring their deeds will be remembered, you are ensuring that the United States will be around for a very long time.
Most sincerely yours,
Jim Lighthizer, President
P.S. Want more information on this preservation effort, and New Market Heights in general? Go to our website at www.battlefields.org/NMH2019. And while you are there, please go ahead and make your gift in support of this important mission on our secure donation page. It saves you a stamp and a trip to the mailbox, and your online gift is put to work right away. I can’t thank you enough.
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