Save 74 Acres at Three 1863 Battlefields

A message from Jim Lighthizer, American Battlefield Trust president


Jim Lighthizer, president of the American Battlefield Trust.

September 29, 2018

Dear Friend and Fellow Preservationist, 

Before I brief you on the tremendous opportunity you and I have to more-than-double the power of your support and save 74 acres of crucial hallowed ground at three 1863 Civil War battlefields…

… what would you say if I told you that your signature today on the enclosed document could be worth $20 million?

I suspect you might say, “Jim, you’ve been out in the summer sun too long,” but I assure you, it’s true.

That’s because this document, a copy of recently introduced federal legislation House Resolution 6108, could provide up to $20 million per year in matching funds for battlefield preservation, restoration, and education, potentially doubling the current amount!

Never before in the history of our nation has Congress even considered authorizing or appropriating this much matching money for battlefield preservation: That gives you a chance to make history.

Never before has there existed a national organization that could even come close to matching this level of financial commitment: That makes your support of the American Battlefield Trust the key to victory.

And never before in the history of America has a citizen-based group saved so much hallowed ground where history actually happened: That makes you part of something unique.

This is why I ask you to please sign and return the enclosed document, signifying that you are proud to be a “Citizen Co-Sponsor” on H.R. 6108, the “Preserving America’s Battlefields Act.”

With the possible exception of the acts in the 1890s which authorized the creation of the first battlefield parks at Gettysburg, Antietam, Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Chickamauga- Chattanooga, the “Preserving America’s Battlefields Act” is, quite frankly, the most important piece of federal legislation for battlefield preservation in our nation’s history.

For several years this competitive federal matching-grant program, which makes it possible to double the power of your contributions, has been capped at $10 million.

That means the American Battlefield Trust and the many other local preservation groups who utilize this program have been somewhat limited in the projects we can tackle.

If H.R. 6108 passes Congress, then that $10 million for battlefield preservation every year could potentially become up to $20 million! And, for the first time, this legislation allows for up to $1 million per year to be spent on battlefield restoration, and up to another $1 million to enhance educational opportunities at battlefields, including using cutting-edge technology!

The relevant committees in Congress are already debating this legislation, so time is critical. I ask you to please sign as a Citizen Co-Sponsor! I need to show our friends in Congress just how much you and your fellow Trust members support this bill. Thank you.

Now, let’s go save some important 1863 battlefield lands by tapping into the matching grants that are already on the table: Significant tracts at Chancellorsville and Brandy Station in Virginia, and Champion Hill in Mississippi, three major battles all fought within six weeks of each other.

Today, it is my honor to tell you that we have the chance to save 4 more acres of Stonewall Jackson’s Flank Attack at Chancellorsville – nearly $280,000 worth of hallowed ground – for just $40,000, thanks to a variety of matching funds, including the federal program mentioned above, as well as an anticipated grant from a supportive foundation.

As shown on the battle map I have sent to you, Jackson had already led his 26,000 men on a punishing 12-mile march, and spent precious minutes on the afternoon of May 2, 1863, forming them into line of battle, three enormous ranks of battle-hardened veterans stretching for a mile on either side of the Orange Turnpike.

Union troops in this sector of the field dispatched urgent messages to headquarters all day about unusual activity to the west, warnings summarily dismissed by General Joseph Hooker and his staff.

Then, like the crash of a sudden summer thunderstorm, the Confederates descended upon the Eleventh Corps flank and rear, sending thousands of Union soldiers reeling eastward toward the Chancellorsville crossroads, a blow from which the Army of the Potomac could not recover.

To this day, Jackson’s Flank Attack at Chancellorsville remains one of the most studied military actions in U.S. history.

And today… you and I can save another 4 crucial acres of this irreplaceable hallowed ground – adding to the success we and other organizations (like the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust) have achieved there over the years.

Historian Robert K. Krick, the greatest authority on the Army of Northern Virginia, has this to say about the effort to save this land:

“Stonewall Jackson's mighty flank attack roared eastward astride the Orange Turnpike on May 2, 1863, passing the Orange Plank Road opposite Wilderness Church. Acquisition of this tract, immediately east of that historic intersection, combined with earlier preservation efforts in the neighborhood, ensures permanent protection against commercial development in that supremely evocative historic scene. Jackson rode east past the site in the evening of May 2, to the scene of his fatal wounding.” – Robert K. Krick, author of Chancellorsville: Lee's Greatest Victory.

Moving on to the map of Brandy Station, we have the chance to preserve a small but central 2-acre tract at the heart of the battlefield. It is often called the “St. James Church” tract, for the small Episcopal church that stood on the property, around which swirled the largest cavalry battle in North America on June 9, 1863.

I’ll stand aside here and let historian Clark “Bud” Hall tell you the significance of this property: “The two-story church—made of red brick fired on-site by slave labor—stood 40 by 40 feet. Consecrated in 1842 as St. James Episcopal Church, by 1860, the congregation boasted 28 communicants, with 40-50 black and white souls attending weekly services. A cemetery was laid out and all races were interred therein, with the same lovely periwinkle covering the quiet ground.

“But this tranquil scene drastically changed as Civil War arrived, and St. James was soon to be the first Culpeper County house of worship to experience total destruction. By the thousands, Blue and Gray combatants tramped and fought about St. James. On June 9, 1863, fighting raged in front of St. James as Jeb Stuart’s legions beat back Federal charges. Several Rebel soldiers killed nearby rest today in St. James’s burial ground.

“In December 1863, St. James was taken apart, brick by brick, to be used for hut-building materials during the winter encampment of the Army of the Potomac. Soon there was nothing left. The American Battlefield Trust hopes to soon own the wooded, peacefully blissful St. James Church site, and its sacred burial ground. Enter St. James today, if you will, and quietly and reverently experience the holy memory of a little church in the woods that refused to die.”

The Trust’s cost to purchase this landmark site in the epicenter of the battle is $75,000.

Finally, let me tell you about the extraordinary opportunity you and I have at Champion Hill. Here, we can use $120,000 in matching funds from the federal American Battlefield Preservation Program to preserve these 68 acres at Champion Hill worth $240,000 – doubling the power of your generosity!

As you look at your official troop-movement map, I’m sure two things will become clear to you: 1) The 68 acres that we have a chance to save today are in the absolute heart of the battlefield, and 2) like Chancellorsville and Brandy Station, we are building on our previous preservation success at Champion Hill.

Terry Winschel, author and retired park service historian at Vicksburg, who knows more about that decisive campaign than any other person I know, reminds us that Champion Hill was “the largest, bloodiest and most significant action of the Vicksburg campaign.”

Specifically regarding the land we are saving today, he says, “Seldom has the opportunity to save such a large and significant portion of the core area of a battlefield been presented. The tract encompasses almost two-thirds of [Confederate General John C.] Pemberton's line of deployment and is from where the Confederate counterattack began. The area has changed little since that bloody day in 1863. Thus, its integrity is largely intact. What a remarkable acquisition this is! Great work!”

And no less of an authority than General Ulysses S. Grant wrote, in his memoirs, “Champion’s Hill, where Pemberton had chosen his position to receive us, whether taken by accident or design, was well selected. It is one of the highest points in that section, and commanded all the ground in range.”

As later events proved, when Grant’s army won at Champion Hill, he won Vicksburg. And as many respected historians, scholars and buffs maintain, when Grant won Vicksburg, he won the Civil War. All these reasons combine to make these 68 acres “must-have” ground, in my book.

So there you have it… we can save 74 acres at three major 1863 battlefields from the threat of development, at a cost of $595,000, and you and I can do it, all-in, for $235,000. That means every dollar you give today turns into $2.53, more than doubling the power of your gift.

I know you have already done so much for the cause of battlefield preservation. You have already been so generous, and you have already saved so much hallowed ground for future generations.

I am so proud to be engaged in this noble work with you, and of all we achieved together, for the good of our nation. I can only hope that you, too, are proud of the work you have done, because this organization would be nothing… could do nothing… without you.

I hope by now you have read our announcement about Charity Navigator, the nation’s leading charity evaluator. In it, we report that the American Battlefield Trust has received their highest “4-Star Rating” for the ninth consecutive year in a row.

And while he says many nice things about the Trust, I think he gets a major point wrong; the key to our success is not about how great “we” are as an organization – its about how great you are as a supporter of this important cause.

Our revenues are impressive because you care about saving our nation’s history and are so generous. Our costs are manageable in part because you and your fellow members are loyal, and we don’t have to spend as much as some other organizations to attract supporters. And our mission is successful for one reason: You refuse to stand aside and see our nation’s history paved over and destroyed.

You are the common thread in all of this, my friend, so please accept these accolades from Charity Navigator as your own. You deserve all of this and more. Today, I ask you if it is within your power to do so, to help an “old friend” by sending your generous gift once more to save these crucial acres of priceless hallowed ground at three 1863 battlefields.

In fact, if you will make a gift of at least $61.08 today (in honor of H.R. 6108), it will be my honor to send you a thank-you gift that very few people have ever seen before – a full-color 18” x 12” print of a private, newly commissioned painting by renowned artist Keith Rocco, depicting the early morning fight of the 8th Illinois Cavalry near the St. James Church at Brandy Station. This oversized image, printed on the highest quality matte paper, signed and numbered by the artist, and shipped to you in a rigid mailer, has never been seen or offered for sale to the public. The gentleman who commissioned the painting is allowing us to reproduce it to help with the fundraising effort to save this land.

If you can help today with a gift of $500 or more, I can send you the same painting, but instead of paper, it will be a printed artist’s giclée in vibrant color on a 27” x 17” canvass. Giclées look very much like original paintings, and I know you will be proud to display this work of art in your home or office.

Both the premium paper print and large canvas giclée are being produced in very limited numbers, so I encourage you to reply as soon as possible to reserve yours, knowing that every dollar you send is multiplied to save hallowed ground all across the nation.

I am so honored by your dedication, my friend. Thank you for sharing so much of your life’s success for the cause of battlefield preservation, for the good of our nation.

With gratitude, appreciation and awe,

Jim Lighthizer Signature

Jim Lighthizer

P.S. As always, there is a tremendous amount of additional information about this historic effort on our website at Fantastic maps, recent and historic photos of the land we are saving, plus a whole lot more. I encourage you to visit and see all we have to offer, then make your gift. Many thanks.