A message from Jim Lighthizer, American Battlefield Trust president
Jim Lighthizer, president of the American Battlefield Trust.
March 23, 2020
Dear Friend and Fellow Battlefield Preservation Hero,
Several times each year, I get letters or emails from members saying, “Jim, I wish the Trust would save some more Civil War battlefield land in the Western Theater.”
Well, if you are a fan of the Western Theater – or even just a fan of making your battlefield preservation dollar go as far as possible – I’ve got important news for you:
Today, we have the opportunity to preserve significant, crucial acres of hallowed ground at two of the most important battlefields of the entire Civil War, but especially in that crucial theater, Perryville and Stones River!
In each case, we are building on amazing success we had at both battlefields last year.
And in each case, (and especially at Perryville), we are getting very close to substantially completing the preservation of those two battlefields.
I’ve sent you a specially prepared map packet today, showing you not only our traditional battle map highlighting each tract in yellow, but also a current satellite image of each battlefield so that you can see what is actually happening around each one.
As you can see, the 6-acre tract at Stones River is an important piece of the puzzle of that battlefield, linking the 42-acre tract we are preserving (with the help of O’Reilly Auto Parts – more on that in a moment) to the northern sector of the park.
And the satellite image will only reinforce my message to you today: Stones River is under such a crushing development threat, we must do everything we can to save every possible remining acre while we can!
Just to let you know, it is a condition of the federal and state matching grants that we get an official appraisal on the property, and as part of every appraisal, there is a section on the “highest and best use” of the property, either as it is or with a possible rezoning.
For the 6-acre tract at Stones River, here are some of those appraisal “highest and best uses” that could end up there, if we are unable to save it:
“Auto repair shop, bank, parking garage, gas station, laundromat, liquor store, pawn shop, car wash,” and literally dozens of additional potential commercial uses. Worse, in its current “heavy industrial” zoning, an “adult cabaret” or “adult bookstore” could be permitted!
I don’t know about you, but those sound more like “threats” to me. I believe the “highest and best use” of that land is as preserved battlefield land, where people can go to learn about the important battle of Stones River and their country’s history, and I am betting that you agree with me.
Especially since this land is immediately adjacent to the 42-acre tract we are saving, with the help of O’Reilly Auto Parts.
Just to refresh your memory, in 2015, the Trust had been in direct communication with the previous landowner of these crucial acres – the General Electric Corporation. GE had a manufacturing plant in a large industrial building on the property, and when it was damaged in a storm, they closed the plant, tore down the structure, and put the property up for sale for potential industrial or commercial use.
As it is in the core of the Stones River fighting, and, if preserved, would have connected two widely separated wings of this important battlefield, we had our eyes on this land for quite some time. But GE had no interest in donating the property to us, and even after we made a generous offer, they turned us down flat. They wanted a lot more than we could pay, so I thought, “Well, that’s that. We will never get another chance to save that ground ever again.” It broke my heart.
The land stayed on the market for years before it was purchased by the O’Reilly Auto Parts company. Fortunately for preservation, O’Reilly Auto Parts did not develop the property, and when we took a chance and approached them about selling it to us, they were very receptive.
Also, in recent years, the Trust had been very busy in Tennessee and, thanks to great champions in the state legislature, that state has leapt ahead of all others in America by creating a battlefield preservation matching-grant fund that – each year – has its own dedicated funding source!
All of this led to the miracle at Stones River last year. Thanks to the generosity of members like you, we were able to raise the $120,000 we needed, after receiving state and federal matching grants of more than $3.9 million, to save this $4.1 million piece of property!
That was a $33.94-to-$1 match of your donation dollar, for one of the most important battlefields in America.
Actually, O’Reilly sold us the property for less than what they paid for it. So, we were very grateful to them for being such a good partner in preservation for this effort, and I wanted to give you a chance to join me in thanking them for being such a great corporate partner. I sent you a small “Thank You” card, and asked you write a few words of appreciation to the leaders of that company. My intent was to deliver your card – hopefully along with thousands of others – to the leadership of O’Reilly Auto Parts, so they could see how grateful Trust members all across America were to them.
You know what they say about best-laid plans. Just as we were beginning to prepare the cards for presentation, something terrible happened. For some inexplicable reason, the overnight cleaning crew in our Washington, DC, offices picked up the multiple boxes of cards . . . and, thinking they were trash, threw them all away!
We of course did not find out about this until the next morning when it was too late. But the Lord works in mysterious ways, and perhaps, with this new 6-acre tract which is immediately adjacent to the O’Reilly tract, we are getting a second chance to say “thanks.”
I am sorry to have to ask you to do this again, but if you would, please write a few words of thanks to O’Reilly Auto Parts for being a rare corporation that is willing to help save our nation’s history. Thank you for doing this. Rest assured that, this time, I will keep the cards under lock and key!
And if one “thank-you” card is good, two is even better, right? As you can see, I’ve also sent you a second card, and I hope you will sign that one as well, so that we can thank two state political leaders who are helping to preserve Perryville, as well as all of Kentucky’s battlefields.
State Senator Rick Girdler and State Representative Daniel Elliott are the perfect example of two local leaders who are making a difference. Sen. Girdler pushed for legislation to study battlefield preservation needs in the state, and Rep. Elliott introduced legislation that would create a battlefield preservation matching-grant fund in Kentucky to preserve important properties like this new one I’m going to tell you about.
Both of these leaders have Perryville in their districts, and both have been good champions for us, so please, as you look at your map of that battle, do me the favor of writing a quick note of thanks to them as well.
And as you look at that map, may I ask you to take a moment just to be amazed?
Thirty years ago, only a very small part of that place – the biggest and most significant Civil War battle in Kentucky – was preserved. Now in March 2020, with the preservation of this 51-acre parcel, only a few very small parts of this battlefield are NOT preserved!
Thanks to you, and especially thanks to a wonderful grant from our friends at the HTR Foundation and a federal grant from the American Battlefield Protection Program, we were able to save a large 128-acre tract. We just went to closing a few weeks ago, so that land is now preserved forever!
Perryville is one of the biggest and best preservation successes in the long history of our movement, my friend. It didn’t happen overnight; it took years of relentless, patient, and dogged work by a lot of passionate, dedicated people – including you! – to make this dream come true. Completing the preservation of a major Civil War battlefield is an achievement you and I can be proud of. Pat yourself on the back for a job well done!
I just realized that I have not mentioned any numbers associated with these transactions yet. The two transactions combined total $1,615,000, and as of today, we fully expect to benefit from $1,337,500 of that from sources including federal and state grants, leaving us with a need of $277,500 to make sure we can go to closing later this summer.
So today, I am asking you for your most generous possible contribution to help make sure we have enough to close on these two gigantically important battlefields in about 150 days.
Your generosity will be multiplied by a factor of $5.82-to-$1 to save these two tracts at Stones River and Perryville.
If you could help with a gift of $62 or more today – helping to save these two crucial 1862 battlefields – it will be my honor to send you a free book that is part of the “Command Decisions of the Civil War” series published by the University of Tennessee Press. This book, Decisions at Stones River: The Sixteen Critical Decisions that Defined the Battle, is more than just a history of the battle. Author (and American Battlefield Trust member) Matt Spruill focuses on the critical decisions confronting commanders on both sides of the clash.
I like how this series – which is now up to six books – identifies and explores the critical decisions made during the battle, allowing students of history like you and me to go from a rudimentary sense of the “what” of warfare, to a mature grasp of “why.”
Complete with maps by Tim Kissel (also a fellow Trust member) and a guided tour, Decisions at Stones River will give you key insights into the campaign and a deeper understanding of the Civil War itself. I hope you will claim your copy today with a gift of $62 or more.
And before I close, may I “pull back the curtain” and let you in on a piece of “battlefield preservation intelligence?” In 20 years of fighting to save hallowed ground, we almost never raise as much in member contributions for Western Theater Civil War battlefields as we do for Eastern Theater sites.
It’s a shame, because you and I both know how important places like Perryville and Stones River are to tell the full story of the Civil War; but it is the truth. It would be just as much of a crime to see this hallowed ground desecrated by houses or other development in coming years, as it would be to lose 57 acres at Gettysburg, Antietam or Fredericksburg, don’t you think?
Was the blood spilled by soldiers on Western Theater battlefields any less worthy or patriotic than that of soldiers east of the Blue Ridge? Of course not.
That’s why today, I hope you will be able to help me make this effort – to save 57 combined acres at Perryville and Stones River – the most successful Western Theater preservation effort in our history. If we can do this, my friend, it would be a remarkable accomplishment.
Thank you so much for your generosity, and for your extraordinary dedication to such an important cause. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Very sincerely yours,
P.S. I’m sure you already know Perryville was the largest and bloodiest battle fought in Kentucky. What you may not know is that Perryville saw more casualties (7,600) than many other well-known battles – far bloodier than Champion Hill (6,700), Resaca (5,600) or Kennesaw Mountain (4,000). The one-day battle of Perryville saw more casualties than all of Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign combined!
Hard to believe, but Stones River was even worse. The casualty percentage at the Battle of Stones River was second only to the Battle of Gettysburg in all the major engagements of the Civil War. Throughout five days of battle, nearly 24,000 men on both sides became casualties out of 81,000 engaged – a 29% casualty rate. Gettysburg had a casualty rate of 31%, Chickamauga 29%, and Shiloh 26%. The staggering losses at Stones River compelled both armies to spend months trying to regain their strength and come to terms with the causes of the winter bloodshed.
There is a wealth of information on our website about both gigantic battles, and the efforts to save them. Just go to www.Battlefields.org/WesternGiants20, for more photos, maps, history articles and many more resources. You can also make your gift securely on-line – putting your generosity to work at nearly the speed of light! Please help with your gift today of any amount. Thank you again!
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