Save 99 Crucial Acres at Three Western Theater Battlefields | American Battlefield Trust
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Save 99 Crucial Acres at Three Western Theater Battlefields

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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.

July 28, 2020

Dear Friend and Fellow Battlefield Preservation Hero,

I need your help on two extremely important matters today:

First, I have the privilege and honor to announce an urgent opportunity to save and restore 99 acres of Civil War Western Theater battlefield land associated with the Vicksburg Campaign and the Battle of Shiloh worth nearly $1.5 million at a $2.70-to-$1 match of your generosity! More on that in a moment.

Second, and just as urgently, I need to know your thoughts on what is happening in America today.

As statues of historic figures are damaged and removed from coast to coast, as the names of Confederate generals are removed from buildings, streets and other places, and as disputes over how to interpret our nation’s history threaten to divide communities, if not our entire country . . .

. . . I need to know your thoughts on all of this controversy as soon as possible.

While it means a little extra work on your part, please take a few moments today to complete the enclosed extremely important American Battlefield Trust Member Poll.

You will notice that your Member Poll is comprised of two parts. The first part is a traditional survey, with a few key questions for you to answer by quickly checking a box. These questions are essential to helping me, the staff, and the Board of Trustees know where you and your fellow members stand on these important and timely issues.

It is vitally important that you complete and return this part of your Member Poll before September 15, just a few weeks away. Because your response is so important to me, I have taken the extra step of providing you with a postage-paid reply envelope, so all you have to do is complete your poll and put it in the mail.

However, if you have a few extra minutes, I ask you to complete the second – and maybe the most important – part of the Member Poll as well. The issues we face today are complex, and with 45,000 members, I realize there are likely to be 45,000 opinions on the subjects of monuments and the interpretation of our history.

So while I apologize for asking you to do this extra work, it would be bothhelpful and an honor for me to read your handwritten or typed-up comments to the short-answer questions I have asked. (And please feel free to use additional sheets of your own stationery if you need to. Thank you.)

Some of these questions may not be easy to answer; all I ask is that you do the best you can, because your responses could help shape the future of the American Battlefield Trust, the future of the battlefield preservation movement in America, and even the future of how history is taught in our country in the years to come.

For your reference, I have also enclosed the official position of the American Battlefield Trust, which we developed back in 2017, and which has been posted on our website every day over the last three years. You can read the entire document for yourself, but in short, it says:

The mission of the American Battlefield Trust is to preserve America’s hallowed battlegrounds and educate the public about what happened there and why it matters. One reason we have been so successful over the decades is that we have always remained focused on that one mission – we save battlefields – and have declined to become involved in other very worthy issues or causes, such frequent requests for assistance in preserving things like a wartime cemetery, a struggling museum, or an historic home.

It is not that we don’t care about these other aspects of our nation’s history. We are simply working to the limits of our capacity every day to ensure that we can keep saving hallowed ground. And seeking to be the best possible stewards of the funds you entrust to us, unfortunately, we just don’t have the unlimited resources to save every other worthwhile historic site or artifact that should be preserved, and this includes monuments.

That said, we see war monuments and memorials — especially those on America’s battlefields — as important educational tools for teaching valuable lessons about our history. Rather than move or remove monuments, we have always encouraged communities to add additional interpretation to any monument to help citizens reflect on the many layers of their history – both good and bad, heroic and painful.

I believe we should all also be wary of “presentism,” which is the tendency to look at past events through a contemporary prism. When judged against modern values, without the benefit of the past 150 years of history and hindsight they did not have, no person or country is spotless.

Previous generations erected those monuments for a variety of reasons to express what they thought was important, even if we don’t agree with it. While some were erected as political statements, others were erected as symbols of grief as communities mourned and honored their fallen fathers, sons, husbands and brothers. When one is destroyed, our ability to learn and improve from that history is greatly impaired.

Yet we are also practical enough to recognize that decisions to remove local monuments will ultimately be made by officials at the local level, and even if the preservation of monuments were part of our mission, we simply do not have the resources it would take to mount an effective defense of hundreds of statues in hundreds of town squares all across the country, without jeopardizing our core mission.

When we conducted a nationwide survey of our members on this issue three years ago, the results were:

  • About 15% believed that the Trust should support the removal of Confederate statues;
  • About 15% believed that the Trust should support the preservation of Confederate statues;
  • About 70% believed that the Trust should stay focused primarily on the preservation of endangered battlefield land.

That’s another reason why I need you to complete and return your Member Poll today; I am eager to see if any of these numbers have shifted, given recent events, so please complete it as soon as possible.

Despite all that has happened over the past few months, even through the pandemic and protests, the mission of saving America’s hallowed ground has continued without a moment’s pause.

Today, I have some very exciting and challenging news on the battlefield preservation front:

  1. We have the chance to save another crucial part of the Shiloh Battlefield in Tennessee, where we are getting ever closer to being able to declare that battlefield completely saved;
  2. We have the chance to save a very large and significant part of the Raymond Battlefield in Mississippi, part of the Vicksburg Campaign;
  3. We have the chance to preserve and restore the largest remaining and most important unprotected parcel of battlefield land at the Vicksburg Battlefield itself!

Let’s start in Tennessee:

The Battle of Shiloh: After the fall of Forts Henry and Donelson, Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston was forced to pull his army back to Corinth, Mississippi, giving up Kentucky and much of Western and Middle Tennessee.

Seeking to strike a blow, Johnston and his army managed to surprise the Union army, under the command of General Ulysses S. Grant, near the Shiloh Meeting House.

During the initial phase of the opening of the Battle of Shiloh, on Sunday, April 6, 1862, elements of a roughly 2,400-men Confederate brigade, in line of battle and commanded by Brig. Gen. Adley Gladden, filed north across the tract highlighted on your battle map to attack the left flank of Brig. Gen. Benjamin Prentiss’ 5,400-man division.

After passing over this part of the battlefield, Gladden’s infantry suffered heavy casualties in their attack on Prentiss’ left, as the Federal forces successfully held the line and repulsed the Confederates.

Gladden was joined by a brigade of Mississippi and Tennessee troops, another roughly 2,400 men, under Brig. Gen. James Chalmers, which moved up on Gladden’s right around 8:30am, advancing across the tract as the brigade joined the attack. Combined, these two brigades, with another brigade in direct support advancing in their wake, resumed their attacks on the hard-pressed Federals.

The four-mile-wide Confederate advance drove the Union defenders back until they encountered stout, obstinate resistance at places like the Hornet’s Nest, Bloody Pond, and the Peach Orchard, place names that are now enshrined in American memory.

The Union lines suffered terribly, but every bullet fired and every life sacrificed bought them precious minutes, while costing the Confederates dearly.

Eventually, the Union brigades were forced to fall back to a defensive line at Pittsburg Landing. Many of the generals around Grant counseled retreat, but he was having none of it, declaring, “Retreat? No! I propose to attack at daylight, and whip them.”

During the rainy night that followed, crucial Federal reinforcements arrived. When dawn broke on April 7, it was the Union army’s turn to push the Southern soldiers back on their heels, and late that day, a portion of the defeated Confederate army retreated across this property to recover key roads for the return march southward to their base at Corinth, Mississippi. After the battle, elements of Maj. Gen. Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio also encamped on the property for roughly two weeks.

Acquisition of these 22 acres will do three things: First, it will allow public access to this crucial part of the battlefield for this first time since the battle. Second, it will add to the acreage saved at Shiloh, getting us one step closer, as you can clearly see, to being able to declare this battlefield fully preserved.

But perhaps most of all, preserving these 22 acres right now, while we have the chance, takes any threat from development off the table, and protects this part of the battlefield forever!

Now, let’s move to Mississippi, and jump forward in time thirteen months to May 12, 1863, and the Battle of Raymond, one of the most important actions of the entire Vicksburg Campaign.

Ordered by Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton, the Confederate commander at Vicksburg, Brig. Gen. John Gregg led his force from Port Hudson, Louisiana, to Jackson, Mississippi, and out to Raymond to intercept approaching Union XVII Army Corps, led by Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson.

By 10:00 a.m. on May 12, the Federals were about three miles from Raymond. Gregg decided to dispute the crossing of Fourteen Mile Creek and arrayed his men and artillery accordingly. As the Union skirmishers approached, the Confederates opened fire, initially causing heavy casualties.

Two brigades of Union Maj. Gen. John A. Logan’s division quickly deployed into line of battle on the tract we are working to save, and moved into the woods bordering the creek, but were soon tangled in dense underbrush. Gregg unleashed his regiments which splashed across the creek in echelon and slammed into the Federals who began to give way. “With the shriek of an eagle,” Logan restored order and continued the struggle throughout the morning despite mounting pressure.

Early in the afternoon Federal reinforcements arrived that turned the tide of battle and launched a counterattack across the land we are working to preserve. By late afternoon, Gregg’s line was faced with double envelopment and pressed by overwhelming numbers in front. The Confederate commander had little choice but to order his troops from the field.

Due to the ferocity of the battle of Raymond, General U.S. Grant changed the operational direction of his army and marched on the capital city of Jackson, which fell to Union forces two days later. With his army now clear of danger from attack from the east, Grant turned west toward Vicksburg and a rendezvous with destiny.

And at the end of that historic day, a young private in the 32nd Ohio regiment, who was detailed to gather the wounded and get them to a field hospital, surveyed the carnage of battle, and wrote:

“I saw dead and wounded soldiers laying scattered here and there over the field. Some had their brains blown out, some were pierced through the heart, others through various parts of the body and limbs…it was a dreadful sight. The ground was covered by human blood.”

Think about that: Here is a young man originally from Ohio – like me – far from home, having just fought a terrible battle, and he is recording in his diary the immediate, horrific scenes still fresh in his mind.

Not that there were pools of blood sprinkled around . . . not that he saw “some” blood . . . Private Smith tells us the ground upon which he performed his duty at Raymond was “covered.”

Can you even imagine such a thing? Most of us, if we are lucky, will never have to see such a terrible sight, and it reminds me once again that despite every challenge we face today, what you and I are doing by saving these sacred battlefields is vitally, crucially, and critically important.

Today, working closely with The Friends of Raymond, a dedicated local group that are making a significant cash contribution to this transaction, you and I have a chance to save another 44 acres, ground that was – and remains to this day – hallowed by the blood of the men who fought there.

With your help today, you and I will nearly double the amount of preserved battlefield land at this crucial site, ensuring that it remains in its near-pristine condition for all future generations.

And just as those armies did in 1863, we finally come to Vicksburg, and the opportunity to save 33 acres – the largest single parcel of land that can be saved at the battlefield – associated with the Union XIII Corps attack on the “Railroad Redoubt” on May 22, 1863, just 10 days after the Battle of Raymond.

One of the Confederate defenders, Lt. J.M. Pearson of the 13th Alabama described the Union attack, saying, “. . . they seemed to be springing from the bowels of the earth, a long line of indigo, a magnificent line in each direction . . . It was a grand and appalling sight.”

Men of the 21st and 22nd Iowa breached the fort’s wall, gaining, for a few crucial moments, a lodgment in the city’s defenses. Confederate Brig. Gen. Stephen D. Lee desperately attempted to get his men to counterattack, to no avail. He turned to Col. Thomas N. Waul, commander of the famed Waul’s Texas Legion who, with some nearby Alabamans, counterattacked.

In a desperate hand-to-hand struggle, the Iowans were driven back at the point of bayonets when no reinforcements were at hand. The mounting casualty lists on this day of battle convinced U.S. Grant that it was time to begin a siege.

Unfortunately, residential and commercial development has already consumed much of the area surrounding the battlefield. Without action today, the historical integrity of the Railroad Redoubt could soon be compromised by a convenience store, tattoo parlor, fast food restaurant, or apartment complex.

Adding to the expense, there are five modern structures on this land which must be removed so that the land can be restored to its wartime appearance. Still, with a total transaction value of $1,495,660 for the 99 total acres at these three iconic Western Theater battles, the fact that we expect to have $942,330 (that’s fully 63% of the total needed) in matching funds is remarkable, especially in a worldwide pandemic the likes of which none of us has ever experienced!

This also means that every $1 you give today will be transformed into $2.70 of value, again, a tremendous multiplier given everything that is happening in our country today. But, we do still need to raise the final $553,330 by November 30, 2020, to make sure we can save these three crucial piece of American Civil War hallowed ground, and that is a tall order.

With a multiplier of $2.70-to-$1, a gift of $50 turns into $135 of value; $100 becomes $270; $500 is worth $1,350, and a $1,000 gift turns into $2,700!

I obviously do not know your personal financial situation, so if because of COVID-19 or other circumstances a gift right now is not possible, I do understand. All I will say is that these are exactly the types of transactions that the federal matching grant program was designed for, and it is exactly the situation the appropriators in Congress are watching to see that we can handle.

If we cannot keep up our track record of success – even on transactions like this where we have to stretch – I can almost guarantee that future Congresses, facing tighter budget restraints, will be inclined to set aside smaller and smaller amounts of matching in future years, seriously hobbling our ability to save hallowed ground. And there is no other organization in America that can step in to do this work on a national level.

If we are forced to walk away from any or all of this land – it could set a chilling precedent. So think of this as a test . . . an audition . . . a challenge . . . This may not be the biggest trial we have ever faced, but it is one of the most important.

That’s why it is so important for you to respond as soon as possible, with your completed Member Poll and your most generous gift to help save this crucial land at Shiloh, Raymond, and Vicksburg. Please accept my deepest thanks for your generosity, and for your action today.

Awaiting your reply,

Jim Lighthizer Signature

Jim Lighthizer
President

P.S. Don’t forget that there is a wealth of information on our website about this important Western Theater effort. Just go to www.battlefields.org/2020westernbig3 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 the speed of light! And if I haven’t said it enough: Thank you!

P.P.S. Also, because it is so crucial that I get back both your Member Poll and any gift you can send ASAP, please remember that I have sent you a Business Reply Return Envelope – this is essentially the same as an envelope with a First-Class Stamp already on it! It is a tiny gesture, I know, but because it is so important that I hear from you as soon as possible, I am willing to pay for your return postage. Thank you again.