Save 185 Acres at Three Civil War Battlefields
A message from Jim Lighthizer, Civil War Trust President
We had a run for it. Staff officers yelling and calling on the men to rally and support the artillery and the men throwing away their guns and running like mad men and them Rebs a yelling as they came up on the charge with that peculiar yell they have. It sounds like a lot of school boys let loose. I thought Hell had broke loose.
Samuel Bradbury, Union Army Engineer, in a letter home following the Battle of the Wilderness
I was there [Bentonville, N.C.] with a regiment that had faced Beauregard at Shiloh and Bragg at Stones River; that had participated in nearly every battle of the Army of the Cumberland…but for desperate valor on the part of the rebels, and for a desperate resistance of our own men, we saw nothing in four years of army life to compare with Bentonville.
Private R.J. Heath, 34th Illinois Regiment
I have always regretted that the last assault at Cold Harbor was ever made... no advantage whatever was gained to compensate for the heavy loss we sustained.
General U.S. Grant, from his memoirs, on the Battle of Cold Harbor
Dear Friend and Fellow Preservationist,
Three compelling quotes . . . about three of the Civil War’s greatest and most consequential battles.
The Battle of the Wilderness in May 1864 . . . the first time U.S. Grant squared off against Robert E. Lee. The carnage there was followed a month later by more slaughter at Cold Harbor, where Grant himself later admitted that the fight should have been broken off.
Then in March 1865, with the Confederacy on the ropes in every theater of the war, Confederate General Joseph “Old Joe” Johnston lashed out one last time at Union General William “Uncle Billy” Tecumseh Sherman, and the armies under two of the war’s most storied figures locked in a desperate struggle.
After many months of intense negotiations, the Civil War Trust (a division of the American Battlefield Trust) has three signed contracts with landowners who are agreeing to sell us crucial unprotected acres at each of these three battlefields!
And the best part? Due to the matching funds in place or being applied for, we expect to be able to save these properties, with a combined transaction value of $1,683,350, for just $161,375! That’s a $10.43-to-$1 multiplier of every dollar you can send to help this effort.
Particularly at the Wilderness (36 acres) and Cold Harbor (5 acres), saving these important tracts will act as a further barricade against future residential and commercial development, which is threatening each of those battlefields as never before.
Bentonville is, fortunately, much more rural, but there is a dangerous new threat emerging in those more remote areas, as well: industrial-scale solar farms! Imagine hundreds of acres of open land blanketed by solar panels, all installed on concrete bases, by the way, so the land is just as destroyed as if it was covered by a huge, shiny parking lot.
One quick glance at the battle maps I have sent to you today should tell you as much as I could say in ten letters. This is supremely important, must-have hallowed ground at each of these three battlefields!
And to the extent you can budget your giving for the rest of this year, I hope you will agree that together you and I are making tremendous strides in achieving the mission you want to accomplish most: Saving America’s most important and threatened hallowed ground.
The first thing I would ask you to notice about the map of The Wilderness Battlefield that I have sent to you today is that we are getting close to preserving what can still be saved there.
I do not normally do this, but for this battle map, I have shown the developed property crowding in on all sides of this hallowed ground by denoting the roads in the various subdivisions in bright orange.
I wanted you to see for yourself just how threatened each unprotected acre of the battlefield is today, and give you a sense of how important it is for us to save this land now, while we have the chance. Unfortunately, so much of this battlefield was developed decades ago.
As for the history, this land is immediately behind the Confederate lines, west of that part of the battlefield known as Saunders Field, where one wing of General George Meade’s Union forces tried to hammer their way through Lee’s entrenched Confederates for the better part of two days, May 5th and 6th, 1864.
Ferocious fighting see-sawed back and forth across Saunders Field on the first day of the battle, leaving hundreds of dead, dying and wounded strewn across this bloody field.
On the second day of the battle, the Confederates counterattacked, and for a few moments, it appeared that the results in 1864 might be the same as they had been at the nearby Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863, a dramatic rolling up of the Union line.
As panic-stricken officers and men poured back from the front, one of the most famous moments of the Civil War occurred. As historian Gordon Rhea writes in his tremendous The Battle of The Wilderness: May 5-6 1864:
“At the height of the excitement, an officer rushed to Grant and urgently volunteered advice. ‘General Grant, this is a crisis that cannot be looked upon too seriously,’ he warned. ‘I know Lee’s method’s well by past experience; he will throw his own army between us and the Rapidan, and cut us off completely from our communications.’ Grant stood, pulled the cigar out of his mouth, and spoke his mind. ‘Oh, I am heartily tired of hearing about what Lee is going to do,’ he roared back with unaccustomed heat at the startled officer. ‘Some of you seem to think he is suddenly going to turn a double somersault, and land in our rear and on both of our flanks at the same time. Go back to your command, and try to think about what we are going to do ourselves, instead of what Lee is going to do.’”
In a way, my friend, I can sympathize with General Grant. For years, I have heard people saying, “the developers are too powerful, matching funds are too hard to come by, you should cut back and not buy so much hallowed ground,” and so on.
Well, I too stand up and say, “Oh, I am heartily tired of hearing about the developers and anyone else who thinks they are going to stop us from saving America’s hallowed battlefields. Instead, let’s focus on what we are going to do ourselves, instead of what these people are going to do to us!”
Now that I am fired up, let’s take a look at the small but absolutely crucial tract we have the chance to save at Cold Harbor. This 5-acre tract is essential to our progress at Cold Harbor where we are truly “building a battlefield.” This tract connects to a much larger portion that you and fellow Trust members saved a few years ago, and adds another crucial piece of the puzzle that will eventually result in a well-preserved battlefield.
And although you cannot see it on this map, destructive residential and commercial development is relentlessly rolling, like a tidal wave, or the lava flow of a volcano, or a wildfire, or whatever visual scares you the most, outward from Richmond toward this hallowed ground.
Historians tell us this parcel, immediately behind the main Union line, was continuously occupied by Federal troops in battlefield conditions from June 1 through June 12, 1864.
On June 1 General William F. “Baldy” Smith’s Union 18th Corps massed in the Beulah Church Road and advanced east to west. One division moved across this ground and drove off Confederate skirmishers before being halted by the primary line about 400 yards farther west. Two days later, General John H. Martindale’s division formed on this ground under fire and then advanced on to the property south of this tract, where it was slaughtered at short range.
From June 3-12 this tract was part of the ground where the Union 9th Corps connected with the Union 18th Corps. The woods on the western portion of this property still feature well-defined original earthworks. There is also, unfortunately, a modern house on the property, which we will need to remove to restore the land to its wartime appearance.
Then, speaking of “building a battlefield,” let’s look at Bentonville, a massive three-day fight that is often overlooked. Just to remind you, according to the 1993 Congressional study on threatened Civil War battlefields, Bentonville is rated “Priority I.1, Class A,” meaning that the U.S. Congress has declared it to be one of the eleven most important pieces of hallowed ground in America that needs to be preserved.
As you can see on your map, the Trust and our partners have now preserved 1,864 acres, and this transaction, saving even more of the second day’s sector of the battlefield, will add another 144 preserved acres, putting us over 2,000 acres of saved hallowed ground.
Thirty years ago, my friend, there were only a few acres of protected land at this incredibly important site, the last full-scale action of the Civil War. In hundreds of letters, diaries and reports, men on both sides bore witness to the ferocity of this three-day battle, saying things like “all agree that it was one of the hottest places we were ever in,” and the quote I started this letter with from an Illinois private who said that even the battles of Shiloh, Stones River, and other major battles of the western theater could not compare to Bentonville.
Today, I ask plainly for your help to save these combined 185 acres at three major battlefields at a $10.43-to-$1 match of your generosity.
Every gift gets us that much closer to ultimate victory. This is one of those very rare chances to do something that we can be proud tell our grandchildren about . . . something that will live on forever.
Here’s one final thought: While we are working so hard to save these important places that mean so much to our nation, perhaps these places are saving us at the same time.
Today, you and I can preserve forever, as a gift to our nation and every future generation of Americans, these 185 acres important hallowed ground at three of the most important Civil War battlefields in our country . . .
. . . with a 1,043 percent return on your battlefield preservation donation dollar! That, in my book, is called “making a difference” in this world.
You and I can never lose sight of the fact that with every acre you and I preserve, we are saving America’s heritage. We are ensuring that the story – the ENTIRE story – of the American Civil War is available to all future Americans. With every dollar you donate, you are ensuring that this defining period of our nation’s history – which still resonates in our society and affects every one of us to this day – will never be forgotten.
Of course, I believe that every American should feel this way about saving our nation’s battlefields, but I am realistic enough to know that, sadly, the vast majority of people don’t share our passion.
It’s not fair, but as so often happens in any endeavor, the real work falls to a handful of committed people, those who grasp the importance of their calling, and who are willing to roll up their sleeves and get the job done. I gratefully count you as one of those I can depend on.
If America’s Civil War battlefields are going to be saved, the extent to which they are preserved will be determined by the adults who are alive today . . . you and me and people like us.
By the time the generation coming up behind us is ready to take over this great task, it will be too late. The land will either be saved, or it will be developed and, therefore, destroyed.
You and I are part of “The Last Generation” that will have the chance to save the nation’s most significant Civil War battlefield land. This task has fallen to us, and how those hallowed, sanctified fields of valor will look to all future generations is now on our shoulders.
Two hundred years from now, what do you want your descendants to see when they go to a Civil War battlefield like Bentonville, or Cold Harbor, or The Wilderness? Do you want them to walk the fields – perhaps where a shared ancestor marched and fought and died – and have that place look and feel as it did in 1864-5?
Or are you content to have your great-grandchildren just read a roadside sign, forcing them to imagine what happened on that storied ground, as they navigate through malls, over roads, around houses, across parking lots and other future forms of development that you and I can’t even imagine yet?
All I can hope for is that you will resolve to stand with me in this fight – to the best of your ability – to save as much of America’s historically significant land as possible in the very short time we have remaining. But I am especially asking if you will consider helping by saving 185 acres, and many more all across America, today.
Then please, I hope you will decide to join in this tremendous $10.43-to-$1 campaign by making your most generous possible donation to the Civil War Trust, and help continue to build these battlefields.
I will never live long enough to thank you for all you have done for the cause. I am humbled by your dedication. Please let me hear back from you as soon as possible, and please accept my deepest gratitude for your continued generosity to this mission.
With unbounded gratitude and appreciation, I remain your friend,
Jim Lighthizer, President
Again, before you make your final decision to support this crucial campaign, I hope you will investigate the tremendous amount of information on our website at www.battlefields.org/threebattlefields2019. You will find detailed maps, photos of the land we are saving, and much more, describing the historic significance of this hallowed ground. I urge you to learn all about this historic transaction, then make your donation now, either on-line or by mailing back your gift. Many thanks.