Save Key Land At Four Virginia Battlefields
A message from Jim Lighthizer, American Battlefield Trust President
January 27, 2019
Dear Friend and Battlefield Preservation Hero,
Normally, I could give you three or four good reasons why you might want to help the American Battlefield Trust save a significant piece of Civil War hallowed ground.
But today, as we jump fully into the 2020 battlefield preservation season, I don’t have three or four good reasons . . .
I’ve got TEN GREAT reasons why I believe you will want to participate in this historic effort.
Reason #1: Right now, you and I have a chance to save 602 key, crucial acres at four important battlefields, including land at Cedar Creek, one of America’s most highly threatened sites, in the heart of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, and at Cedar Mountain, scene of one of the most dramatic moments in the Civil War involving Stonewall Jackson.
Reason #2: In saving these 602 acres, I can turn every $1.00 you give today into nearly $40, using a variety of federal, state, local, and individual matching funds we have secured. Is a 4,000% return on your preservation-investment dollar a good thing in this day and age? I sure think so.
Reason #3: Those matching funds will help secure $3,344,000 of transaction value – literally millions of dollars just sitting there on the table – if you and I can raise the final $84,000 to take advantage of them.
Reason #4: We will be adding crucial acres to Cedar Creek, Cedar Mountain, Sailor’s Creek and Ware Bottom Church, building on previous preservation success at each battlefield.
Reason #5: With the $84,000 we need to raise, you can literally help save a full acre of hallowed ground for just $140 per acre!
Reason #6: As I mentioned, Cedar Creek is one of the most highly threatened Civil War battlefields in America. This is because there is currently a major limestone mining operation on hundreds of acres of core battlefield land, not to mention other forms of development on the battlefield! Although we continue to work against the destruction of this hallowed ground at every opportunity, the most effective action we can take right now is to try to defend as much hallowed ground as we can on this iconic battlefield.
We need to strike whenever an opportunity presents itself by preserving hallowed ground at Cedar Creek whenever we have an opening.
Reason #7: According to the congressionally authorized study that we use to prioritize our efforts, Cedar Creek is a “Priority I.1 Class A” battlefield, one of only eleven sites in America to hold this top-most ranking. In this case, however, being at the top of the list means Cedar Creek is one of those battlefields “most in need of urgent and immediate preservation action.” So, we’ve got to move faster than a speeding Minie ball whenever land becomes available.
Reason #8: The land we are saving at Cedar Mountain is an area targeted for residential development; just picture a subdivision on this part of the battlefield. And while you can see from your map that we still have much important ground to save at Cedar Mountain, the acquisition of these 86 acres sets the stage for future preservation success.
Reason #9 (and I’m going to spend a few moments on this, because it is so important): All five of these tracts (on four battlefields) are covered in extraordinarily significant history.
On your enclosed Cedar Creek battle map, please find two tracts marked in yellow. One is 18 acres, and the other is 12. This part of the battlefield saw considerable action in the morning phase of this October 19, 1864 battle, and these 30 combined acres are among the most important we have saved there in a long time.
Following one of the riskiest approach marches ever attempted during the entire Civil War, the outnumbered Confederate Army of the Valley, commanded by Lt. Gen. Jubal Early, launched a devastating surprise attack against the left flank of the Union Army of the Shenandoah at approximately 5:00 a.m.
Three Confederate divisions (approximately 7,000 men all under the command of Maj. Gen. John Gordon), formed their battle lines immediately southeast of the land we are saving today. Aided by the pre-dawn gloom and dense fog, the success of the surprise was complete. They launched their devastating attack against the Union left, directly over this land (which has remained virtually unchanged since 1864).
By 10:30 a.m., the Union Army of the Shenandoah was bloodied, battered, and on the verge of a demoralizing defeat. They had been driven across five miles of rolling Virginia fields during five hours of combat. To most Union soldiers and their officers, the battle was over. Cedar Creek appeared to be a stunning Confederate victory, just weeks before the 1864 presidential election.
Then, the army’s commander, Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan, soon arrived on the scene. Having attended a council of war in Washington the day before, he spent the night in Winchester, over 13 miles to the north. Sheridan had no idea that disaster had befallen his army, but as the sounds of battle reached him, followed by fleeing Union troops and rumors of defeat, he quickened his pace and rode hard to the field, rallying his demoralized soldiers. “Sheridan’s Ride,” as it became known, forever secured his status in American history.
Another threat to this land is due to the rapid growth of residential development, as this battlefield is now within the ever-expanding Washington, DC, commuting area. Farms are being converted to commercial and residential use at a dizzying rate. Open space around Cedar Creek is also very attractive to developers due to the convergence of two major interstates on its eastern boundary. We need to save it now, while we still can.
At Cedar Mountain, you see on your map that we and other organizations have saved much of this battlefield, but we have much more to go, as Culpeper County now serves as another “bedroom community” for Washington, DC.
On the afternoon of August 9, 1862 as temperatures neared 100 degrees in the Virginia piedmont, Confederate General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson saw an opportunity to attack a portion of Union General John Pope’s army before all his widespread forces consolidated near Culpeper, Virginia. The resulting battle pitted Jackson’s forces against the corps commanded by Union General Nathaniel P. Banks.
At one point of the battle, however, Jackson – needing to rally his troops – rode into the midst of fleeing soldiers and tried to draw his sword, but he performed this act so rarely that he found the sword rusted to the scabbard! Not to be thwarted, Jackson waved sword and scabbard together, inspiring his men. One witness later wrote that “the escape of Jackson from death was miraculous. He was in the thickest of the combat.”
The land we are saving today is associated with both the opening of the battle, as Union troops advanced toward Jackson’s Confederates, as well as the closing hours of the fight, as the victorious but exhausted Confederates pursued the remnants of Banks’ corps across this land.
That we even have a chance to save this historic land we once chalked up to either being lost forever or so expensive as to always be out of our reach . . . well, it’s almost a miracle.
Jumping to the 53-acre tract at Ware Bottom Church, near Petersburg, part of the important 1864 Bermuda Hundred Campaign, we have a chance to add a very large piece of the battlefield to an existing local Civil War park, and one that contains some of the most pristine earthwork gun emplacements existing on any battlefield anywhere!
Part of “The Howlett Line,” on May 20th, 1864, the soldiers of the 97th Pennsylvania Infantry had a very bad day on this land. Advancing westward as a reconnaissance-in-force, as they crested a rise (located on this property) a masked Confederate battery of approximately twenty-four guns pulled back the brush and opened on them.
At the same time Confederate forces advanced to push the Federal picket line back closer to their main line. The Howlett line changed hands at least once and was continuously occupied from early June 1864 until early April 1865, when the Confederates were forced to abandon their lines around Petersburg.
As I mentioned, Chesterfield County owns and operates the ten acres on the east end of this property as a Civil War park, complete with an interpretive trail. By helping to save this land today, which is bounded on its other three sides by houses, industrial warehouses, and Interstate 95, we will help preserve the largest-remaining part of this battlefield that can be saved, while increasing the size of that Civil War park six-fold!
Finally, you and I can help preserve another enormous part (433 acres!) of the Sailor’s Creek Battlefield, part of the Appomattox Campaign. Having been forced to abandon Richmond and the supply center of Petersburg on April 3, 1865 to the armies under General Ulysses S. Grant, General Robert E. Lee led the Army of Northern Virginia away from the trenches defending the cities.
Trying to keep his men fed and supplied, Lee organized wagon trains to move with the army to carry the necessary items to keep them in the field. As Lee’s army trudged westward, flat terrain of the tidewater region gave way to the rolling hills and valleys and creeks, creating gaps and delays for the army which marched along a single road on its quest for food and survival.
Each ford or bridge at every creek became a choke point for the wagons and artillery. In these gaps, pursuing Union cavalry wreaked havoc by forcing the Confederates to form battle lines to protect the precious supply wagons. The Union Second Corps of infantry, under the command of General Andrew A. Humphreys, also closely followed the Confederate rear guard, General John B. Gordon’s Second Corps, taking every opportunity to harass these soldiers and slow their progress.
Finally, at Holt’s Corner, Confederate General Richard S. Ewell turned the main wagon train and its defenders, Gordon’s troops, onto a road parallel to the main Confederate columns, to relieve some of the gaps and delays in the march. The Union Second corps followed Gordon to continue their harassment of the retreating Confederates.
As Gordon’s soldiers reached the farm of James Lockett on the ridge overlooking the crossings and double bridges of Big and Little Sailor’s Creek, they could see the wagon train struggling to cross the creeks and the muddy hillside beyond it. The Confederate infantry formed into a battle line on the hillside at the Lockett house to protect the supplies. A Union soldier described the scene, “We advanced to a White House (Lockett’s) on Sailor’s Creek, where we had an engagement and I found some protection behind the house. We notified the occupants of the house to adjourn to the cellar; bullets came pattering against it.” The fighting was brief but desperate as the setting sun limited the time Union forces had to damage the floundering wagons.
Still, Gordon sustained very heavy losses for such a brief battle: 1,700 men killed, captured, or wounded, thirteen battle flags, three cannons, 200 wagons and 70 ambulances captured. The wagons and the materials within them could not be replaced and nor could the depleted ranks from the Confederate army. The losses of the battles at Sailor’s Creek would lower morale and move even Lee to wonder if his army was dissolving around him.
Finally, Reason #10 why I think you should want to help today. Right before Christmas, we received the very welcome news that Congress had appropriated $13 million for battlefield preservation matching grants for the next fiscal year! This is the largest amount of matching money that has ever been appropriated in a single year in American history.
And I believe a big reason why the Congress did this was because of you and your fellow American Battlefield Trust members. Those legislators recognize that by working together, we have forged an effective and invaluable public-private partnership. They see that the Trust is still the most efficient organization of its kind in America, we do what we say we are going to do with our members’ donations and government grants, and we achieve our mission of saving America’s battlefields.
That’s why today, along with your most generous-possible gift to start 2020 (and take advantage of millions of dollars in matching funds), I hope you will sign and return the enclosed special thank-you letter, which lists the name of every sponsor and co-sponsor of the bipartisan legislation that funded this historic appropriation. We live in an age when legislators are routinely vilified; by being one of the few groups that remembers to thank them when they do something positive, I can assure you they will remember us for many years to come.
So, if you are looking for the biggest bang for your charitable buck (we can turn every $1 into nearly $40 if we act fast), if you want to save absolutely key parts of your country’s history, and if you want to build on our past successes and set the stage for future victories, then I humbly suggest this is the project for you!
I thank you for your dedication to our great cause, and I look forward to saving even more of America’s priceless hallowed ground with you in the rest of the year.
Yours in preserving America’s history and heritage,
Jim Lighthizer, President
P.S. As you think about making your donation to this important effort, I urge you to visit our special appeal page on our website at www.battlefields.org/fourvabattlefields2020. There you will get to see more photos and maps of the properties than I could ever afford to print and put into an envelope (being good stewards of the funds entrusted to us). You can also, if so motivated, make your donation securely online with a credit card (perhaps earning travel miles or other bonus points, depending on your card). I look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible. Thank you once again for all you do.