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Save 338 Acres at Four 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.

November 4, 2019

Dear Friend and Fellow Preservationist,

For more than 20 years, you and I have been part of something exceptional, something that has never happened before in the history of our nation.

What you and I have accomplished – the permanent preservation of nearly 52,000 acres of American heritage battlefield land, hallowed ground that would have been destroyed and denied to future generations – is a legacy that will last forever.

Since December 1, 1999, it has been my distinct honor and privilege to serve as president of this organization. I can honestly tell you that this job has been the best one of my career, primarily because I get to work with great and generous people like you who care so much about saving our county’s incomparable history.

Because you have been such an important part of the success of this movement to save our irreplaceable American history, I wanted to tell you personally that I have decided that the time has come for me to retire from my position as the day-to-day president and CEO of the American Battlefield Trust.

I have not chosen a “final day of work” yet, but it will most likely be sometime next year. My health is fine, but I will be 74 years old in March 2020, so this is a natural time in my professional career to make this transition.

However, I want you to know that while I may be retiring as president, I have no intention of “leaving” the Trust. Through a mutual agreement with the Board of Trustees, I plan to remain actively involved in the organization I have worked so hard to help build over the past two decades.

I will serve on the Board as President Emeritus and look forward to acting in that new capacity; I will be available to help and advise the new CEO upon request; I hope to still participate in the Trust’s advocacy efforts with lawmakers and in major fundraising campaigns, two activities which I truly enjoy.

In short, I will be available to help in any way that enhances the mission of this incredible organization, hopefully for many years still to come.

At times like these, it is natural to reflect on the legacy that one has created. It is important to me that you and every other member and supporter of this organization understand that I consider one of my greatest legacies to be the Board of Trustees, the management team, and the staff of the American Battlefield Trust.

In my opinion, these people collectively make up – pound for pound – the best nonprofit in the world.

To a person, they all have depth, experience, and commitment to the mission of saving America’s hallowed ground and teaching why those places are important to us today. From the Chairman of the Board to the newest intern in the office, these are quality, knowledgeable people who will ensure a smooth transition and solid future for the organization.

As far as who the next president will be, I can report to you that the Board of Trustees is conducting a national executive search to find the strongest possible successor. Further, I have committed to stay on as long as needed to ensure we get the “right person for the job,” so this process will not be rushed.

I fully expect the new CEO will do some things differently, but I assure you on one key point: No one in the Trust leadership sees my retirement as an opportunity to move the organization in a different direction. Our mission remains the same – land preservation and history education – and we still have a lot of work to do for many years to come. The Board and Trust management already have a transition plan in place and are committed to delivering the results that Trust members like you have come to expect.

In fact, I only have one concern about my retirement, which is, in all candor and transparency, that some members will either cut back or stop supporting this mission after I retire. That would be devastating to me.

Because, as you and I both know, this mission is so much more important than just one person. And while I have been the “face” of the organization for nearly 20 years, and leaders generally get credit for victories (and must accept blame for defeats), most of the hard work done day in and day out has been accomplished by scores of other people, supported by the generosity of tens of thousands of dedicated people like you.

Take the example of the history that you and I preserve . . . we may say that “Lee won the Battle of Chancellorsville,” “Meade won at Gettysburg,” or “Washington won at Yorktown.” But we all also know that if a leader is not surrounded and supported by dedicated, experienced, and committed troops, they have no chance of victory.

So if you believe I have been a good leader of this organization, please do me the honor of staying absolutely committed to the cause so that we can continue the level of success we have experienced during the past two decades, and build on what we have done together. We absolutely cannot let up now.

Even as I write these words, there are dozens of important preservation projects around the country in various stages of review and discussions, and I have no intention of “coasting to the finish line.” (You’re not getting off that easy!)

In fact, I am excited to announce that I am working with the Board and staff on a group of initiatives they are calling “The Lighthizer Legacy Fund” that you will be hearing more about in the coming months. These are three broad unfinished-but-absolutely-crucial preservation projects that are near and dear to my heart:

1. The significant preservation of the Gaines’ Mill / Cold Harbor battlefields, which contain the mostimportant unprotected Civil War hallowed ground anywhere in America, where two major Civil War battles were fought on the same ground;

2. Creating the Revolutionary War Liberty Trail in South Carolina, where I believe our independence was actually won, by saving nearly 1,000 acres of land and creating state-of-the-art interpretation, all before the nation’s 250th birthday celebration begins in 2026; and

3. Reflecting my love of my home state of Maryland, the significant preservation of the important battlefields of Antietam and South Mountain, as well as the other 1862 Antietam Campaign battlefields of Harpers Ferry and Shepherdstown.

I’m very excited to announce that, to kick off this effort, we have a tremendously significant preservation opportunity at Shepherdstown, along with urgent opportunities at three other battlefields scattered around the country.

When we combine all four of these current opportunities – at Shepherdstown, West Virginia, Bentonville, North Carolina, Chattanooga, Tennessee, and White Oak Road, Virginia – we can save 338 historic acres with a transaction value of $1,597,982… for just $64,976! That is a $24.59-to-$1 match of your generosity! (So you see, even though I am announcing my retirement, it is still very much business as usual here at the Trust!)

Let me quickly describe these four projects for you:

At Shepherdstown, through a special U.S. Department of Agriculture grant and working with the Jefferson County Farmland Protection Board, we have a chance to save more of this battlefield than has ever been saved before – 278 acres!

This important battle was fought on September 19 and 20, 1862, just days after the Battle of Antietam, as a detachment of the Union Fifth Corps pushed across the Potomac River at Boteler’s Ford, attacking the Confederate rearguard and capturing four guns. Early on the 20th, two more Union divisions crossed to establish a bridgehead, but a Confederate division counterattacked while many of the Federals were crossing, nearly annihilating the famed 118th Pennsylvania regiment.

This action discouraged any additional Federal pursuit of Lee’s Army, and, on November 7 (seven weeks after Antietam), an exasperated President Lincoln relieved General George B. McClellan of command of the Army of the Potomac.

Next, let’s move to White Oak Road, fought on March 31, 1865. As you can see on your battle map, this transaction adds significantly to the land we have already saved at this crucial Appomattox Campaign site. As part of a coordinated Union assault at several points along the Confederate defenses of Petersburg, Fifth Corps troops moved against southerners entrenched along White Oak Road, but were temporarily stopped by a crushing counterattack (does this sound familiar?). However, this was 1865, not 1862, and the Federals were able not only to stabilize their forces but also stage a counter assault, driving the Confederates from the field and setting up the Battle of Five Forks the next day.

The Trust is buying this 48-acre property – which we have been working on for years – with the expectation that the Petersburg National Battlefield will be able to buy it from us relatively soon. (We can move so much faster than the federal government in cases like this.)

The third tract we have a chance to save today is a 9-acre tract associated with the Battle of Brown’s Ferry, or Wauhatchie, part of the 1863 Chickamauga Campaign. While there may not have been actual combat on this ground, it is important to save to tell the story of the Battle of Chattanooga, and especially the opening of the Federal “Cracker Line.”

There is a historic log cabin on the property, and while we don’t usually save buildings, this one – called “Brown’s Tavern” – would likely have been used as a shelter and meeting point during the Union’s 1863-1864 winter encampment (imagine Generals Joe Hooker and Oliver Otis Howard warming themselves before the large fireplace), and the property is under threat of becoming a potential residential subdivision. The best part about this transaction is that due to federal and state matching grants we are applying for, we are essentially able to save a piece of property that would normally cost about $494,000 for less than $20,000!

Plus, this land is a historic “two-fer,” as the tavern is also associated with the removal of Cherokee Native Americans during the Trail of Tears. Local and state organizations have wanted to see this property preserved for a long time, and the state considers it one of the more important grant awards of the Tennessee Civil War Sites Preservation Fund to date. Our local preservation partner, National Park Partners, has agreed to take ownership of this landmark site.

Finally, the fourth tract is a small but very important 3-acre piece of the Bentonville Battlefield. This land witnessed action, assaults, and maneuvers on every day of this massive three-day battle, March 19 – 21, 1865. Acre by acre, day by day, we continue an effort now more than 20-years-long to preserve this battlefield, the largest and most important battle fought in North Carolina during the Civil War.

Whenever I need a quick pick-me-up, I look at a map of the Bentonville Battlefield and the land that was saved 30 years ago (almost none!) versus the 1,864 acres we have been able to protect since then. That is just remarkable, and it goes right back to the heart of how I opened this letter to you today.

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 we have accomplished, when it comes to historic land preservation.

And even though I will be retiring sometime in the coming year, please don’t think for a second that our work is over – far from it! (I can be replaced, but you most definitely cannot!)

You and I still have tens of thousands of acres of hallowed ground left to save . . . we still have potentially millions of students young and old to educate and inspire about the importance of these hallowed places we are saving… 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, are you still with me? Will you help today with your gift of any amount, that I can then match $24.59-to-$1 to help save land at these four crucial battlefields and others just like them all across this great nation?

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!

Your partner in preserving our history,

Jim Lighthizer Signature

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 me! Visit our website for this special effort at www.battlefields.org/fourbattlefields19 to learn more, and support this terrific $24.59-to-$1 effort! Thank you again.