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Save Central Land at 3 Battlefields, Including Gettysburg

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A message from Jim Lighthizer, American Battlefield Trust President

 

Jim Lighthizer Square
Jim Lighthizer, president of the American Battlefield Trust.

December, 2019

Dear Friend and Fellow Preservationist,

As we count down the final hours of 2019, and I reflect on another successful year of saving America’s battlefields, I believe it is important to count our many blessings.

And for me, you are at the top of that list.

That’s because your generosity over the past twelve months has directly saved so much hallowed ground, nearly 1,000 crucial acres at battlefields all across America!

But there is still so much to do . . . so much more threatened battlefield land for us to save.

The pace of new residential and commercial development has picked up dramatically in many areas across the country. We are now experiencing intense competition for desirable properties at a level not seen in more than a decade.

So it’s up to you and me. And even as successful as we have been, did you know that for each acre of hallowed ground you and I saved in 2019, at least 100 more acres need to be saved, before the developers destroy them forever?

That’s a huge job, and that’s why your support is so important right now:

Will you please consider sending a special capstone gift this Christmas so that we can save even more hallowed ground in 2020?

The mission of saving America’s hallowed ground does not “take a break” over the holidays. The Trust does not shut down and send everyone home with a hearty “see you next year!” We can’t.

We can’t let up because the threats don’t let up. And in the holiday spirit of “good things come in small packages,” I’ve sent you three year-end examples of what I am talking about.

These are three small parcels of land . . . one at Gettysburg, one at Parker’s Cross Roads in Tennessee, and one at Sailor’s Creek, the defining battle in the Appomattox Campaign.

Each of these tracts has a modern house or other buildings on it . . . each of these small tracts is near the center of each battlefield and all three of them are therefore extremely important to preserve if we possibly can. And in its own way, each is threatened. Not with a massive housing subdivision or a casino, but the half-acre tract at Gettysburg is zoned for commercial use, and there are some commercial buildings already nearby (a restaurant and a hotel). If we don’t save this tract now, it would not surprise me to see a new gas station or fast food restaurant on this ground before long.

Likewise, at Parker’s Cross Roads, the threat is that someone could come in, purchase this house and half-acre of land, tear down the older house and put up a new gas station or mini-mart, right in the middle of the battlefield that you and I have worked so hard to preserve.

The situation at Sailor’s Creek is unique as well, and let me tell you why. This one-acre tract is situated at what many believe to be the epicenter of that part of the battle.

For many years, the rural property has been dominated by a run-down, ramshackle house and several dilapidated outbuildings. The word “eyesore” has been used more than once to describe this tract of land, which is surrounded by pristine, preserved hallowed ground that we and the Commonwealth of Virginia have saved as part of the Sailor’s Creek State Battlefield Park. (Personal note: If you ever get the chance to go to Sailor’s Creek, I encourage you to do so. The land is so pristine that you really feel like you are stepping back in time.)

For years, many entities (including us) attempted to buy this land, but the owner would never budge. Recently, however, a local preservation hero was able to negotiate the sale of the property personally.

That hero is Chris Calkins. Chris worked for the National Park Service for 34 years and served at Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, and the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, before ending his NPS career as historian and Chief of Interpretation at Petersburg National Battlefield. In 2008, he accepted the position of first full-time Park Manager of Sailor’s Creek Battlefield Historical State Park.

And just as Chris and his wife, Sarah, were looking forward to being able to spend more time together in retirement, Sarah passed away suddenly in 2016, just 60 years of age. They had been married for 40 years.

No one knows more about the Sailor’s Creek Battlefield than Chris (one of the original founders of the battlefield preservation movement), and he was determined to get this crucial, central acre. He negotiated the transaction, and bought the property himself, paying considerably above market value. Now, this land will be restored and eventually transferred to the State Park! He is doing this, as he says, “in honor of Sarah.” God bless him.

A glance at the battle map shows the important history that happened on this small tract. On April 6, 1865, only about 72 hours before the surrender at Appomattox, Lee’s Confederates under generals Richard Anderson, George E. Pickett and Bushrod Johnson aligned their troops near the strategically important Marshall’s Cross Roads to receive the onslaught of pursuing Federal cavalry led by General Wesley Merritt.

His divisions, led by generals George A. Custer, Thomas Devin and George Crook, pounded the weakened Confederates in brief but fierce fighting, eventually scattering them back toward Rice’s Depot and the portion of Lee’s army that remained. Seeing this retreat from a nearby overlook, the commanding general remarked, “My God! Has the army dissolved?” It’s a small tract of land, but it would be a major preservation victory to save it forever.

Now, for the small tract at Gettysburg, I asked our Chief Historian Garry Adelman (who is also a Licensed Battlefield Guide at Gettysburg) about the historic significance of that property, and he told me:

“On the slopes of East Cemetery Hill, abutting the Baltimore Pike and sitting just below the crest of the Union artillery position on Stevens Knoll, this tract figured prominently in the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg.

“The Gettysburg National Military Park owns most of East Cemetery Hill but this tract is a key missing piece. The land above it to the east, called McKnight’s Hill, or Stevens Knoll, was among the first tracts preserved at Gettysburg, less than one year after the battle. Tens of thousands of Union troops marched right in front of, paused on, or passed over, the tract on July 1 and 2, 1863. On July 1, as the Union met disaster north and west of Gettysburg, Northern troops fell back to and fortified Cemetery Hill.

“Union General Winfield Scott Hancock ordered Captain Greenleaf Stevens’ 5th Maine Battery to occupy McKnight’s Hill. Stevens shouted, “Fifth Battery, forward,” as he led the battery to James McKnight’s house, turned left down McKnight’s lane, and moved around McKnight’s stone walls to get into position atop the hill.

“July 2 saw roughly one-third of the Union army marching past this tract. Later that day Union Eleventh Corps soldiers marched directly across the tract en route to defensive positions on the nearby Culp’s Hill.

“In the last decade, the National Park Service has restored the historic wood line around Stevens’ Knoll and the Trust has preserved the adjacent tract to the south, making the current tract even more visible and important. The construction of a hotel directly across the Baltimore Pike has made this already commercially-zoned tract all the more ripe for development.”

Finally, you can also see the importance of the tract at Parker’s Cross Roads, where Confederate Brig. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest – finding Union forces in front and rear – famously roared, “Charge ‘em both ways!”

In early November 1862, Ulysses S. Grant launched a campaign to capture Vicksburg. By the middle of the following month, Grant’s supply line extended from Mississippi to Kentucky.

Hoping to disrupt Grant’s logistics, Gen. Braxton Bragg dispatched Brig. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry into West Tennessee. On the morning of December 31, Forrest encountered elements of Col. Cyrus Dunham’s brigade near Parker’s Cross Roads.

In a fight that gave new meaning to the phrase “chaos of battle,” Union and Confederate forces fought back and forth across this land. Later in the day, Col. John Fuller’s brigade arrived to reinforce Dunham, and one of Fuller’s regiments, the 39th Ohio, advanced south over the tract and engaged Forrest. Fighting on two fronts, Forrest managed to disengage and withdraw.

Acquisition of this land, adjacent to a 51-acre tract we previously preserved, would continue our decades-long effort to preserve the Parker’s Cross Roads battlefield.

In each of these three cases, we have saved larger tracts of land nearby. Now, we must painstakingly add the smaller “puzzle pieces” to help complete and protect these battlefields from the bad things that could happen to them.

The good news is that – through a combination of federal and state grants and a landowner donation – we can save these three “small packages” which would cost $765,000 if we had to pay full price . . . for just $193,000.

That is a nearly $4-to-$1 match of your donation dollar, and is a great way to end 2019, if you ask me.

Your gift today will ensure that battlefield land will be preserved for that next generation, so they can visit these priceless places and learn our nation’s unique history.

A package under the tree may bring surprise and joy, but your gift today to the Civil War Trust will give the life-changing appreciation of history – a gift that lasts a lifetime.

I know it is a busy time of year, but if you could send one additional gift by Tuesday, December 31, I assure you it will not only help us save these three tracts, it will also make a huge impact on the Trust’s ability to save even more battlefield land into the New Year.

I’ve enclosed a postage-paid envelope for your convenience, or you can donate securely online on our website: www.battlefields.org.

We still have a lot of work ahead of us. Without you, this hallowed land and the lessons it can teach will be lost forever. With your help and generosity, I know we can save tens of thousands of additional acres, as our gift to future generations . . . as our legacy.

To express my appreciation for all you have done for the cause of battlefield preservation, I have enclosed a small personalized certificate for you. I know it is not much, but I wanted you to know that all of us here at the Trust are grateful to you for all you have done for this noble cause.

I know you have many choices for your charitable giving. Thank you for making the Trust one of the organizations you support; we are grateful to “make the cut” each year, and we strive constantly to be worthy of your generosity.

This mission – this movement – this organization – could not exist without you. You make all this amazing preservation of hallowed ground possible.

Thank you once again for everything, and I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and the happiest of holiday seasons. I look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible.

Wishing you every blessing of the season.

Jim Lighthizer Signature

Jim Lighthizer, President

P.S. Aside from the official Trust battle map showing the significance of the properties we are rushing to save, and aside from your personalized Certificate of Grateful Appreciation, I hope you will take a moment to read the copy of the letter from retired General Barry McCaffrey. Not only has he served our country in combat, but he also served as our nation’s drug czar, and is a dedicated and vastly knowledgeable student of history, particularly military history. I thought you might like to see who else is supporting our cause, just like you!

And please, don’t let the year end without a visit to our fantastic website. You can donate to this appeal (and several others that still need to be funded) anytime of the day or night directly at www.battlefields.org/2019yearend.

I wish you and yours a joyful Christmas season filled with the love of family and friends! Thank you for your tremendous generosity, and for all you do to inspire those around you. I know you inspire me, every day. Thank you again, and again, and again!

P.P.S. Many of your fellow members find it easy to save even more hallowed ground by making a gift of appreciated stock at this time of year. This may be something you want to consider, too. By donating stock directly to the Trust, it could help you come tax time, without impacting your holiday budget! I’ve enclosed some easy directions for you should you wish to make your gift this way. Thank you again, and all the best for a joyous holiday season!