Save 42 Vital Acres at Two Key Civil War Western Theater Battlefields | American Battlefield Trust
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Save 42 Vital Acres at Two Key Civil War Western Theater Battlefields

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

May 22, 2020

Dear Friend and Fellow Battlefield Preservation Hero, 

Before I get into details about the latest historic opportunity to save 42 acres of hallowed ground at two key Civil War Western Theater battlefields, while multiplying the power of your donation $5.17-to-$1 . . . 

. . . please indulge me as I tell you about an e-mail I received here at the Trust a while ago, one that affected me very deeply. 

This brief note from a long-time supporter who is facing a health crisis – not COVID-19 but Parkinson’s disease – really put all the work you and I are doing into perspective. He wrote:

“Ever since I have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, I have felt my mortality breathing down my neck. Though Parkinson’s is not fatal, the end result is not pretty, and life becomes much more difficult.

“But as I think of those boys in blue and grey and the hardships they faced, I have come to realize that Parkinson’s isn’t so bad. If they had the courage to face their challenges, could not I have the courage to face mine?

“That is why the mission of the American Battlefield Trust is so vital. It perpetuates the memory of those who fought for what they so truly believed in. And that is why I give . . . so their memory and their sacrifices will never fade.”

 Wow. After reading that, and after all we in this country have gone through over the past 90 days . . . isn’t it inspiring to be part of something as amazing as preserving our country’s history forever? 

I know it may be difficult to think about battlefields right now, but do you still get a sense of great satisfaction when we are able to save a crucial piece of American hallowed ground before “those people,” if given half a chance, would pave over our history? 

Hardship . . . challenge . . . sacrifice . . . these are words that many of us are having to deal with on a daily basis today. But that supporter’s message above used another two very important words, and they are “mission” and “courage.” Believe me, I understand that many people are going through some very tough times right now, with job and investment losses, health crises for themselves or loved ones, shortages of basic necessities, and more. 

But those of us who study history know that if we can maintain our courage in times like these, we can achieve our mission, no matter how the odds are stacked against us. 

So that is why I have continued to write to you throughout this crisis. The threats against America’s hallowed ground have not slackened. In fact, in the coming months, it would not surprise me to see cash-strapped landowners looking to sell their battlefield properties to the highest bidder, which just might be developers. 

In these challenging days, especially when we lose a part of a battlefield, it is not easy to remain optimistic. 

But then I get a note, or a card, or an e-mail like this one, and it re-energizes me all over again. And I remember that no matter how big the challenges are that you and I face, at least we are not wearing wool uniforms in Mississippi in June, while someone is shooting at us! 

So as that fellow member said, “If they had the courage to face their challenges, could not we have the courage to face ours?” 

If so, then let me get back to the matter at hand, which is telling you why I am so excited about the tremendous preservation opportunity you and I have in the Magnolia State today. 

Sixteen of the Civil War’s 384 principal battles were fought in Mississippi, and today, you and I have the chance to help substantially complete one of them! 

I’m talking about Brice's Cross Roads, fought on June 10, 1864, a battle that historian Bruce Catton called “one of the most startling defeats of the war” for the 8,300 Union soldiers on the field under the command of Brigadier General Samuel D. Sturgis. 

In The Civil War, A Narrative: Red River to Appomattox, Shelby Foote described Brice's Cross Roads, or Tishomingo Creek, as a “famous victory, which would be studied down the years, in war colleges here and abroad, as an example of what a numerically inferior force could accomplish once it got what its commander called ‘the bulge’ on an opponent, even one twice its size.” 

In late May 1864, Maj. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest set out from Mississippi with his cavalry corps to enter Tennessee and destroy the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad, which was carrying men and supplies from Nashville to support Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s campaign against Atlanta. 

Sherman, who suspected the Confederate cavalry leader would cause havoc behind his lines, ordered Sturgis to move from Memphis to counter Forrest and to control northern Mississippi. Sturgis’s first objective was the Mobile and Ohio Railroad that ran north and south from Tupelo. 

Forrest, who took 3,500 men into action, met Sturgis’ infantry and cavalry column on June 10th at Brice's Crossroads, 20 miles north of Tupelo, beating back the first Union cavalry division to arrive there. Sturgis sent in infantry reinforcements, on the double-quick through the June heat, and counterattacked the Confederates. Forrest had predicted this exact scenario to an aide, saying, “It is going to be hot as hell, and their infantry will be so tired out we will ride right over them.” 

Although outnumbered more than two to one, Forrest used his more mobile cavalry to threaten both ends of the Union infantry line simultaneously and his artillery to focus on the center. When Forrest’s 2nd Tennessee Cavalry, on a wide flanking move, captured the bridge over Tishomingo Creek in Sturgis’ rear, the Union force fell back. The Confederate cavalrymen pursued the rapidly retreating Yankees several miles toward Memphis, before Forrest recalled them, ending the battle. 

Sturgis later reported that he thought he faced somewhere between 15,000 to 20,000 troops . . . Forrest had that effect on people. 

Legendary historian and American Battlefield Trust board member Ed Bearss called Brice's Cross Roads “Forrest’s masterpiece,” where the southern general inflicted more than 2,600 casualties while suffering fewer than 500. 

Today, we have the chance to save another 41 acres including the key area along Tishomingo Creek, as well as a small but crucial tract in the heart of the battlefield! This will bring the total number of preserved acres to 1,500! As you can see on your map, there are now only a few more key parts left to save, before we declare Brice's Cross Roads fully preserved! 

The exploits and name of Nathan Bedford Forrest are well known among those of us who study the Civil War. I’m going to guess, however, that you probably don’t know the story of John S. Kountz. For the tract of hallowed ground we are working to save at Missionary Ridge in Tennessee, no story is more important. 

John Kountz was born March 25, 1846 in Richfield, Ohio. In September 1861, at the age of 15, he enlisted as a drummer boy in the 37th Ohio Infantry. 

For two years, as he grew from a boy into a young man, Kountz served his regiment honorably and faithfully in the actions of the Vicksburg and Chattanooga Campaigns. Then, on the foggy morning of November 25, 1863, on a steep rise of ground outside of Chattanooga known as Missionary Ridge, his regiment – along with the 30th Ohio and 4th West Virginia – was directed to attack a place called Tunnel Hill, and dislodge Texas troops entrenched there. Kountz and his fellow musicians were ordered to the rear. 

That day, however, something must have changed in that 17-year-old’s heart and mind. He put down his drum, picked up the rifle of a fallen comrade, and was one of a handful of soldiers of the 37th Ohio who pressed through withering fire to nearly the Confederate line, before he was severely wounded in the right leg above his knee. 

Left between the lines on the slope of Tunnel Hill, Kountz was rescued by a comrade and carried to the rear, where his leg was amputated. The story of Kountz’s valor received wide recognition when poet Kate Brownlee Sherwood published her poem “The Drummer Boy of Mission Ridge,” which attained a wide reputation. (As I suspect not many people know of the poem these days, I have taken the liberty of reprinting it on the back of the maps I sent to you.) He convalesced at a hospital in Kentucky until he was honorably discharged from the service in 1864. 

But his story did not end there. An early member of the Grand Army of the Republic, Kountz was the first private soldier to be elected as the GAR’s Commander-In-Chief (1884-1885). In 1895, Kountz and the man who rescued him were both awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for their valorous actions on this tract that day. And finally, when Vicksburg National Military Park was established in 1899, Kountz became its first Secretary and Historian. 

Today, you can help keep that story alive for future generations. While this half-acre tract is only a small portion of the Tunnel Hill section of the Missionary Ridge Battlefield, restoring and saving it today will preserve a crucial piece of core battlefield, especially to Ohioans, West Virginians, and Texans, and offers a unique opportunity to improve the interpretation of this part of the battlefield. 

So there you have it, my friend. Two western battlefields, 42 total acres, with a total transaction value of $292,742. Thanks to the tremendous generosity of some major donors, along with an anticipated matching grant from the federal American Battlefield Protection Program . . . 

. . . I am confident that we have about $236,083 of the $292,742 cost covered (that’s 80%!), meaning that if you and I can raise the last $56,659, we can save this land forever. That’s a $5.17-to-$1 match of your donation dollar! 

As always, I encourage you to go to our website for even more information on this effort to save these 42 acres at Brice's Cross Roads and Missionary Ridge. Please type in, for more much more detail! I want you to see what you are getting for your financial support. 

Given all that is going on in our world today, I’m not assuming that you will send a gift today to help with this effort – but I am hoping that I’ve been able to convince you of the significant impact you will be making while saving two key parts of our nation’s history. I predict a full and complete victory, if you will help! 

Please be as generous as you can today, and thank you! 

Awaiting your reply,

Jim Lighthizer Signature

Jim Lighthizer

P.S. I have said it before, but let me say it again. You are the hero of this story. You are the one who matters most to this cause. And without you, hallowed ground like these tracts at Brice's Cross Roads and Missionary Ridge do not get saved.

So thank you for all you have done, and for all that you will do in the future. Thank you for your courage and your dedication to this mission. And thank you for your generosity, without which, the American Battlefield Trust would not exist.

I hope you and your family are well. And if this is not the right time for you to make a gift, I hope that you will put this letter aside for a better time, and that you will join with your fellow members and help when you can. We will all get through this together, and we will continue to save our nation’s priceless history together. Thank you again.