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Save 226 Acres at 4 Civil War Battlefields

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A message from Jim Lighthizer, American Battlefield Trust president

 

Jim Lighthizer Square
Jim Lighthizer, president of the American Battlefield Trust.

April 26, 2019

Dear Friend and Fellow Preservationist,

Dear Friend and Valued Member,

As hallowed ground all across America faces renewed and urgent threats from commercial and residential development, today I ask you to please help me:

  • Very nearly complete the preservation of a Virginia battlefield that is facing an imminent development threat;
  • Save the first land ever preserved at another battlefield in Tennessee;
  • And add small but extremely crucial tracts at two additional important battlefields, one in each the Eastern Theater (Petersburg) and Western Theater (Champion Hill).

I don’t know if you prefer studying or visiting the battlefields in the East or the West. But today . . . it doesn’t matter! We’ve got you covered either way.

That’s because the Trust has been able to assemble a group of opportunities at two Civil War battlefields in each theater of operations. Four battlefields total – Reams Station and The Breakthrough at Petersburg in Virginia, and Champion Hill and one called Jackson (or Salem Cemetery) in Tennessee – totaling 226 acres . . .

. . . four transactions that add up to $1,350,000 in value, and we can save them all for $180,500! That’s a $7.48-to-$1 multiplier of your generosity.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that each of these projects has a different closing date between now and the end of 2019, with the first of those dates coming on June 30, only about two months away.

That means we need to have as much of our portion of the $180,500 in hand as possible, so that we can go to closing and save these key properties. I don’t know about you, but in a world where the stock market can drop 5% in a week, any opportunity to earn a 748% return on your gift-giving dollar sounds like a pretty good investment to me!

Let me quickly brief you on this extraordinary opportunity to save four crucial chapters of America’s history and heritage . . .

On your battle map, please find the small 3-acre tract and notice that it is one of those rare places that is associated with two different Civil War battles, Peebles’ Farm on September 30, 1864, and The Breakthrough on April 2, 1865. (As my space is limited here, I’ll just focus on The Breakthrough for now.)

To set the historical stage for you, General U.S. Grant had General Robert E. Lee pinned down into a siege around Petersburg, Virginia.
Following the Federals’ victory at Five Forks on April 1, General Grant, sensing that the end of the siege if not the whole war could be near, ordered his famous “general assault along the lines.”

In response to that order, as you can see from your map, all during the night, Major General Horatio Wright’s VI Corps began filing into position to attack the Confederates’ strong earthworks (which exist to this day). One brigade commander urged his officers to write a quick note to their loved ones because “hell will be tapped in the morning.”

At 4:40 a.m. on that cold April morning, a signal gun from Fort Fisher, just a few hundred feet from this tract, boomed out a lone shot, and 18,000 Union soldiers stepped off on the attack that many hoped would start them on the road home.

Approaching the Confederate earthworks, the firing became so deadly – coming from front and flank – that the entire assault almost ground to a halt. Officers later said that on no other battlefield did they have to strike so many of their own men with the flats of their sabers to keep their momentum.

Before the end of that tide-turning day of battle, nearly 8,800 Americans had fallen as casualties (3,900 Union, 4,900 Confederate), and the nine-month-long Siege of Petersburg was finally broken, leading to the collapse of Lee’s valiant defense of that city and, the next day, the fall of Richmond itself. The race between Grant and Lee that would end just 168 hours later at Appomattox was on.

Going back a few months in time, at Reams Station (August 25, 1864), you can clearly see that if we are able to save this 101-acre tract, we will take a giant step forward in completing this important battlefield, while preventing the very real threat of residential development if we don’t buy it.

By that time, Lee had been under siege at Petersburg for more than two months. The Weldon Railroad, which ran from North Carolina, was a major supply line for his Army.

Grant had tried several times to cut that lifeline. On August 18, his troops succeeded in capturing a section of the track, but the Confederates simply began to stop the trains further south of Petersburg and haul the supplies by wagon into the city. Grant responded by ordering his troops to tear up the track and move further south. Soldiers from General Winfield Hancock’s corps tore up eight miles of rail, but Lee moved quickly to halt the operation. On August 25, General A.P. Hill’s infantry and General Wade Hampton’s cavalry were ordered to attack the Federals at Reams Station, and they drove the Federals into their defensive positions.

The Union earthworks, hastily constructed the day before, were arranged in a rough square shape that was too small and so Confederate shells easily passed over the top. The green troops in Union General John Gibbon’s division were unnerved by the bombardment, and a Confederate attack broke through the Yankee lines. The Union force retreated in disarray.

Hancock’s corps lost 2,700 men, most of whom were captured during the retreat. Hill and Hampton lost just 700. The one-sided battle was a stinging defeat for Hancock’s proud II Corps, which had held the Union line against Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, and was considered among the best in the Army of the Potomac. Gibbon and Hancock blamed each other for the disaster, and both soon left their positions in the Second Corps.

Now, let us turn our attention to the West, starting with, arguably, the most important battle of the entire Western Theater, Champion Hill in Mississippi. That’s not just my opinion; Terry Winschel, author and retired park service historian at Vicksburg, who along with Ed Bearss knows more about that decisive campaign than any other living human being, reminds us that Champion Hill was “the largest, bloodiest and most significant action of the Vicksburg campaign.”

Ed calls the struggle for Vicksburg “the most decisive campaign of the Civil War,” and British military historian, Maj. Gen. J. F. C. Fuller may have said it best of all: “The drums of Champion’s Hill sounded the doom of Richmond.”

As you can see, the 2-acre triangular-shaped tract we are working to save today is in the very heart of the battlefield. On May 16, 1863, Confederates charged across this land, and then were driven back by Union countercharges. Grant’s forces would carry the day, eventually forcing the Confederates back into the defenses of Vicksburg.

You and I have already saved 799 acres at Champion Hill, where nearly 6,800 Americans fell as casualties (2,500 Union, 4,300 Confederate), and the acres we are saving today are a first step toward “filling in” the separated parts of the battlefield that have been preserved to date.

Finally, I ask you to help me save 120 acres at a little-known battlefield where not one single acre has ever been saved before. It may be hard to believe that there are still Civil War battlefields out there where nothing has been saved yet, but this is a great example of one.

The Battle of Salem Cemetery (also known as “Jackson”) in Tennessee, was, compared to the titanic clashes above, a relatively small affair. But in December 1862, Confederate Cavalry General Nathan Bedford Forrest sought to disrupt Grant’s rail supply line (just as Grant wanted to do against Lee at Petersburg).

Grant sent infantry and cavalry to deal with Forrest, and they clashed on the 19th at Old Salem Cemetery. Union infantry repulsed a mounted attack by Forrest’s troopers, but then retired. Forrest had achieved one of his objectives, holding the Union troops in place while his cavalry destroyed track north and south of the town, temporarily hindering Grant’s campaign.

I know that’s a lot to digest, but I always want to make sure you understand exactly what you are helping to save, both at these four battlefields as well as at all of the battlefields across America where you have given to save our history. Here’s what you really need to know:

Four battlefields, two East and two West . . . 226 total acres . . . Total transaction value of $1,350,000 which we can save, thanks to matching grants, for just $180,500 . . . a $7.48-to-$1 multiplier of your donation dollar. Oh, and the properties begin closing at the end of June, so we really need to have as much of that $180,500 in hand as possible by then – just about 60 days away.

This does not happen every day, my friend, so I hope I can count on your generosity to help save these parcels before they are lost to development.

Sometimes, I am able to offer a small gift or book as a token of my thanks for your support. But today, I thought I would offer you something else, even if you decide not to make a gift to help save these 226 acres.

Rather than send you a gift you may or may not want, I thought why not just give you and unprecedented discount in our redesigned web store, and that way you can get whatever you want!

Until May 31, make a purchase of $50 or more in the American Battlefield Trust online store at shop.battlefields.org, enter this special code at checkout – SAVE30 – and take 30% off your total order!

Pick up a new logo hat, water bottle, shirts or t-shirts, gifts for family and friends… there are dozens of exclusive items to choose from. There is also a section for Civil War books and art prints many already deeply discounted. Just fill up your online “shopping cart” then check out using the code SAVE30 and save 30% instantly. Every purchase helps to save even more hallowed ground.

But first, please help me preserve this hallowed ground in the East at Reams Station and The Breakthrough, and in the West at Champion Hill and Jackson by sending your most generous gift today.

I don’t know what I would do without you. Thank you.

Most sincerely yours,

Jim Lighthizer Signature

Jim Lighthizer
President

P.S. While you are visiting our online store, I also encourage you to go to the appeal page dedicated to this preservation campaign at www.battlefields.org/2east2west. There, you can discover more maps, photos, and articles – and also securely make your donation online, if you so choose! You will receive an e-mail confirmation of your gift in seconds. Thank you!