Save 29 Acres at Williamsburg Battlefield | American Battlefield Trust
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Save 29 Acres at Williamsburg Battlefield

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A message from Jim Lighthizer, American Battlefield Trust president
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Jim Lighthizer, president of the American Battlefield Trust.

April 28, 2020

Dear Friend and Fellow Battlefield Preservation Hero, 

Dear Friend and Fellow Preservationist,

Before I say anything else, please let me tell you that I sincerely hope you and your loved ones are healthy and safe. It has been a difficult period for all of us, certainly unlike anything you and I have ever experienced in our lifetimes.

As challenging as the last several weeks have been, I want you to know that every member of the Trust staff is still on the job, working for you (remotely, of course, as our offices are closed and we are all are under “stay-at-home” orders), negotiating land transactions, preparing and distributing educational content via our website and social media channels as never before, and continuing the great and vital task of preserving America’s history.

But before I tell you about the newest and most exciting preservation opportunity on our plate right now, I want to do something a little different.

As you may recall, I sometimes jokingly refer to myself a “recovering politician,” from my days as a member of the Maryland legislature, Anne Arundel County Executive, and Secretary of Transportation. As such, it is a challenge for me to “turn over the microphone” to anyone else!

But quite frankly, we have received so many positive, uplifting messages of support from dedicated members like you over the last few very difficult weeks, that I wanted to let some of those friends do the talking for a little while.

The first message is from one of our Color Bearers, Rob Webb, from Bloomington, Illinois. Robb wrote in a recent email:

“The mission of the Trust is so important in our time. I read a comment this week about how this crisis seems to be magnifying the features of our personalities, both good and bad. This is no surprise to a student of history.

“We marvel at how the horrors of war bring out the worst of mankind’s cruelty and inhumanity, but also at how so many men and women met those challenges with bravery, leadership, honor, and self-sacrifice. Those are virtues worth studying, and examples worth following as we meet with our own historical moment in this generation.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about this because this crisis seems to be so new, so unprecedented. It has us feeling unmoored. But Lincoln said the struggle of today is not altogether for today. Their words, their example, their courage will be a guide for us also through these times. I’m glad the Trust is there to preserve these battlefields, these words, these lessons for our future.

You and I are definitely facing “our own historical moment.” Thank you for these inspiring words, Robb. We also heard from long-time member and Color Bearer Dr. George Glass, from Lewiston, Maine. He writes:

“I hope this crisis reminds more Americans of the crises of the past, especially the Civil War. Remembering that our ancestors got through a worse crisis should give us hope.

Thank you, Dr. Glass, for this reminder, and please be safe and stay well – we need you!

I could go on, but I think you get the message. As people who understand and appreciate history, you and I should take great hope from those who endured war, deprivation, and loss, and emerged stronger and better than ever.

I am so grateful to every member and supporter of this great cause who has sent a gift, or a kind word of encouragement over the last couple of months. You inspire all of us here at the American Battlefield Trust to even greater accomplishments.

And if you are anything like me, you could use some positive news to get excited about!

Even though battlefield preservation is probably not at the top of most peoples’ list of priorities at the moment, the American Battlefield Trust has not for one second slackened in our mission to save hallowed ground that is important to you and to our nation.

To prove that, I wanted to let you know that you and I now have the chance to preserve 29 absolutely key and pristine acres of the 1862 Battle of Williamsburg in Virginia at – get this – a $220-to-$1 multiplier of your generosity!

The transaction has a value of an eye-popping $2,743,000, due to the land’s market value as a property zoned for commercial use. Even though the virus temporarily tanked the economy, you can rest assured that there are still some developers out there sitting on piles of cash, ready to swoop in and snatch up unimproved tracts of land like this one, so they can be ready for any recovery.

If we had to save this land on our own, well, right now, with all the uncertainty generated by the pandemic, there is no way we could do it. But as we had been working on this transaction for a long time before the virus impacted our lives, we were able to work out a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Amazingly, between significant federal and state matching grants and a generous donation of value from the owner of the property, you and I can save this land for just $12,500 as “the last money in!” That’s right: for just $12,500, you and I can save some of the most important land associated with this key battle of the 1862 Peninsula Campaign, land that was destined to be developed and lost forever.

Some scattered parcels have been preserved over the years, but as you can see on your battle map, this is the first time any part of the main action near the famous “Bloody Ravine” has been targeted for preservation.

The battle, fought in almost unceasing rain that turned roads to streams of mud, and streams and creeks into bottomless swamps, occurred on May 5, 1862, as Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston pulled his army back up the Virginia Peninsula ahead of Union General George B. McClellan’s mighty host, otherwise known as the Army of the Potomac.

Johnston left his subordinate, General James Longstreet, in Williamsburg with instructions to delay the Federals and buy time for the Confederate supply wagons to get further up the one road leading to Richmond.

Author Shelby Foote, in his acclaimed The Civil War: A Narrative, described the Battle of Williamsburg as “confusion from start to finish, with lunges and counter lunges and a great deal of slipping and sliding in the mud . . . In the end, both [sides] claimed a victory . . . the only apparent losers were the casualties: 1,703 for the South, 2,239 for the North.”

For just $12,500 – a $220-to-$1 match of your generosity – you will help to create, essentially, a new battlefield, where people can go to learn about this important chapter in our history. I know you are being asked to support many important causes and endeavors these days, but I hope you will also see the value in this effort to save 29 acres at Williamsburg.

But as always, we are not just working to save threatened battlefield land. During this entire COVID-19 pandemic, with so many folks and students quarantined at home, more people than ever have been taking advantage of the Trust’s world-class online education offerings!

And as much as we are doing to help educate people about America’s First 100 Years, we could be doing even more.

As you have heard me say before, our education efforts are absolutely essential to the survival of our preservation efforts. People aren’t going to preserve a battlefield unless they care about it – and they aren’t going to care about it unless they know something about it. And quite frankly, I believe you share my concern about how few people these days seem to know anything about our history!

Back in February, a newspaper article quoted a recent poll that showed something shocking. In this poll, only 15 percent of respondents under the age of 30 agreed with the following statement:

“America is the greatest nation on earth.”

My friend, to me, that is an alarm bell in the night. When 85 percent of the next generation of adults does not believe that we live in the greatest nation the world has ever seen, we could be heading for a disaster worse than a pandemic, and one that can only be averted through education.

It’s no longer enough for us to save the places where America was created and defined, my friend, and hope that people will go to those battlefields and learn about our history. We must also take the lead in using those places to teach people what happened on those hallowed grounds and why it matters today.

Using technology, we are doing just that . . . perhaps you have already downloaded one of our Battle Apps, where you can take a battlefield tour no matter where you are in the world . . . perhaps you have watched one of our incredible animated maps, which bring the battles to life right before your very eyes . . . maybe you have watched one of our videos on our YouTube channel (last month, our videos were watched more than 1 million times!)

But right now, as I said, we must do even more. For students, field trips to battlefields are on hold for now across most of the country, but we are working on several fronts to bring the battlefields to them.

One of those projects is the creation of an “augmented reality” battlefield experience at Gettysburg where, with just your smartphone or tablet, you are completely immersed in the battle action that is happening around you as never before.

Imagine standing at the Angle and seeing Armistead’s men leaping over the stone wall in front of you, Cushing clinging to his guns behind you. Or standing at the National Cemetery with a crowd of nineteenth century onlookers, seeing and hearing President Lincoln deliver the Gettysburg Address.

No bulky, expensive special goggles are needed, making this experience available to nearly everyone. I have seen the prototypes of this new technology, and I can tell you, I believe it will excite students of all ages as very few things ever have. And while this experience is designed for a visit to the hallowed ground at Gettysburg, the augmented reality can be projected anywhere – a classroom, a backyard – so you can experience a piece of history no matter where you are!

But developing this superior level of educational content and technology is costly. The good news is that, working through our partners, we have approximately $150,000 of the $200,000 cost covered through in-kind gifts, meaning that any gift you give today will be multiplied by a factor of four!

The return on our $50,000 investment today, as measured by new audiences interested in preserving our history, is priceless. So please, I hope you will consider making your investment of any amount in our on-going education efforts today.

Whatever the reason for your generosity, please know that you have my deepest thanks for all you are doing to save our nation’s history. You are, and will always be, a hero to future generations.

Most sincerely yours,

Jim Lighthizer Signature

Jim Lighthizer

P.S. I truly hope that you don’t mind that I have written to you today about these important issues, the historic preservation opportunity at Williamsburg and the need to fund our vital education efforts. I just want you to see that – pandemic or not – we are still fighting to preserve our nation’s irreplaceable history, and teach people why it is so important. I hope that you will be able to help, but if now is not a good time for you and your family, please file this letter away for a better day, and please accept my most profound thanks for all you have done for this cause. 

And please, continue to take care of yourself. To paraphrase what Abraham Lincoln once said of Ulysses S. Grant, “I cannot spare you!”