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Civil War

Save Three Tennessee Battlefields

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A message from Jim Lighthizer, Civil War Trust president


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Jim Lighthizer, president of the American Battlefield Trust.

January 18, 2018

Dear Fellow Battlefield Preservationist,

In my first official communication to you in the New Year, I have the honor and duty to deliver an important update to you:

Right now, you and I have the chance to save 15 key acres of crucial hallowed ground at three Tennessee battlefields – including surely one of the bloodiest acres of the entire Civil War – while multiplying the value of every $1.00 you give into $21.17!

As you can see from the battle map I have sent to you, we have the chance to save three small, but absolutely crucial, parcels at Franklin, Fort Donelson, and Brown’s Ferry (near Chattanooga).

And while there are not a lot of acres in these transactions, we are saving significant history at each of these places, preventing future destructive development on these tracts, and enhancing what you and I have already saved at each site.

Plus, let me remind you that, through a combination of federal, state, and local matching funds, we can save these 15 acres – worth a combined total of $1,549,000 – for just $73,250! That’s a $21.17-to-$1 match of your generosity!

To me, that’s a great way to start off another year of saving America’s important and irreplaceable battlefields!

Let’s start at Franklin, a tragic battlefield that holds a special place in my heart because not that long ago, it was lost, paved over, and nearly forgotten.

But thanks to some very dedicated local people, with whom it has been an honor to work, we have been able to help claw back this battlefield, acre by acre, to tell the story of one of the Civil War’s most horrendous days.

The Battle of Franklin, fought on November 30, 1864, was one of the fiercest and bloodiest battles of the war.

As nearly 9,000 casualties literally piled up in just five hours, you can bet that many times during that fight, soldiers on both sides of the entrenchments sent out desperate calls for help. Today, once again, a friend from Franklin is calling for our help. The great local group “Franklin’s Charge” is purchasing the one acre noted in yellow on your map, right in the heart of the battlefield, a literal stone’s throw away from the center of the main Union defensive line, and they are asking the Civil War Trust to help them raise the funds to save it.

There were many horrifying scenes of carnage throughout the Civil War, but there aren’t many that testify to the ferocity of battle more than these very graphic quotes from the men who fought on or about this property, and I’ll let them tell you just how important it is that you and I act now to save a crucial part of this hallowed ground:

Lieutenant Alonzo Wolverton, of the 20th Ohio Light Artillery, posted just a few paces from the tract, wrote home several weeks after the battle, saying, “The Rebs came on to us in full force, and there ensued one of the hardest fought battles since this war commenced. The Rebs, determined to conquer or die, made thirteen desperate charges. Several times, they planted their colors within ten feet of our cannon, and our men would knock them down with their muskets or the artillerymen with their sponge staffs and handspikes. I never dreamed men would fight with such desperation. I never expected to come out alive.”

A captain of the 72nd Illinois, fighting in the Carter House garden, tells us, “The most distant man I shot at was no more than twenty feet away… A Rebel colonel mounted our breastworks, and profanely demanded our immediate surrender… Private Arbridge thrust his musket against the abdomen of the rash colonel, and with the exclamation, ‘I guess not,’ instantly discharged his weapon. The effect of the shot was horrible and actually let daylight through the victim.”

After the battle, Moscow Carter, who lived in the Carter House situated immediately behind the Union line, gave this chilling report: “I could walk from fence to fence on dead bodies, mostly those of Confederates. In trying to clear up, I scraped together a half bushel of brains right around the house and the whole place was dyed with blood.”

Such close-quarters slaughter had almost no match in the four years of the war. This hallowed acre is among the bloodiest of the whole war, with scores – if not hundreds – of men killed or wounded on this property.

At Fort Donelson, on a frigid February morning in 1862, a rather obscure general named Ulysses S. Grant began to make his mark on history. Regarding the 11-acre arrowhead-shaped-tract that we are saving at Fort Donelson, respected historian Terrence Winschel tells us:

“At dawn on February 15, 1862, the Confederate garrison at Fort Donelson launched a desperate attempt to break through the encircling Federal forces and open an escape route to Nashville. The sudden and determined attack caught Union soldiers positioned astride the Forge Road by surprise. The blue lines that were hastily formed began to waiver and fall back. By mid-morning the road to Nashville was open.

“Rushing to the assistance of their comrades [over the land we are working to save] were the troops of Brig. Gen. Lew Wallace’s division. ‘There was no time to await orders,’ reported Wallace. The future author of Ben-Hur led his two brigades forward hoping to stem the Confederate onslaught. Surging forward down a steep slope and across Indian Creek, troops from Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, and Nebraska pushed up the opposite slope and into position astride the Wynn’s Ferry Road, where they stood their ground against repeated assaults. Their stand that day resulted in the loss of 283 men.

“Although the road to Nashville was open, Confederate leaders decided to return to the fort. The following morning Grant demanded and received the ‘immediate and unconditional surrender’ of Fort Donelson and its garrison, which gave the North its first major victory of the war. Acquisition of this key tract of hallowed ground will mark another significant preservation victory for the Trust.”

Finally, let me tell you about an exciting 3-acre addition to the Brown’s Ferry battlefield. This is the battle that opened up the “Cracker Line” and lifted the Confederate siege of Chattanooga, saving the Union Army of the Cumberland from starvation.

After its defeat at Chickamauga, Rosecrans’ 40,000-man Union army was trapped and besieged in Chattanooga. His supplies dwindled. Just one fragile supply route kept the Union men barely alive.

So the Battle of Brown's Ferry, October 27, 1863, was fought for one reason: food. General George Thomas, the "Rock of Chickamauga" who was appointed by Ulysses S. Grant to replace Rosecrans, approved a bold plan to open a more direct supply line.

In the pre-dawn hours, Union troops boarded 52 pontoons and rode the swift current of the Tennessee River around Moccasin Bend, past Confederate pickets both on Lookout Mountain and along the river. Landing at Brown’s Ferry, they drove back the Confederate forces in sharp fighting.

The famous "Cracker Line" was open. Over the next month, the pontoon bridge built by Union engineers would see a nearly uninterrupted line of men, food and supplies, which led directly to the Union’s November victories on Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge.

A couple of years ago, the Civil War Trust was able to save the first 12 acres of this battlefield, where nothing had been preserved before, despite the staggering importance of this action on the overall Chickamauga – Chattanooga campaign. (At our 2017 annual conference, we were able to take several busloads of Civil War Trust members and land the Southern Belle, a dinner cruise boat, at this now-protected site).

By now, I hope you are saying, “O.K., Jim, I’m sold on these pieces of battlefield land. Remind me again how much will this cost, and are there any matching funds to help pay for them?

Answer: Absolutely! Today, these 15 acres have a cost of $1,549,000. But you and I can save this land for just $73,250! Again, that’s a $21.17-to-$1 match of your donation dollar!

If you and I can raise the final 4.7% -- just $73,250 – to leverage and unlock this needed state and federal matching money, we will save this absolutely crucial unprotected ground before it is lost forever.

But even more important than increasing the value of your donation more than 2,100 percent, I am reminded of something a good friend once said to me. Woody Harrell, the now-retired-and-running-marathons-all-across-America superintendent of the national park at Shiloh, told me:

“People will be singing the Civil War Trust’s praises 100 years from now.”

Think about that for a moment, my friend… one hundred years from now, what will it even be like to go to a Civil War battlefield? Sure, the indefatigable Ed Bearss – at age 195 – will still be giving tours, but I imagine it will be a very different experience from what you and I know today.

Will there be high-definition, 3-D, holographic projections showing re-creations of the battle on the actual ground in real-time? Will you put on a virtual-reality headset or other data device and have your tromps across this hallowed ground thoroughly narrated via satellite depending on where you are on the battlefield? Who knows what other technological advances are on the horizon?

I can’t say for sure, but I can tell you this: one hundred years from now, the hallowed ground that you and I are saving today will definitely be the islands of green space and open space in the vast oceans of commercial development and sprawl.

I believe people will be drawn to these hallowed, sacred places and they will sing your praises, saying, “Thank God someone was forward thinking enough to see this coming, and generous enough of their time and treasure to save these places while they had the chance.”

I also believe that as long as there are places for Americans to go to learn about their history, they will continue to WANT to learn about their history. If these places are erased from our national landscape, they may as well be erased from our national memory.

I hope you agree, and that you’ll stand with me and the Civil War Trust today in this crucial effort to save 15 acres of Tennessee Civil War battlefield land while multiplying your support by $21.17.

Thank you once again for all you have done, and all that you continue to do, to save our nation’s Civil War battlefields. Your generosity is the difference between saving this land, or watching it be developed and destroyed, and I don’t know what I would do without you. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely yours, 'til the work is done, and the battle is won,

Jim Lighthizer Signature

Jim Lighthizer

P.S. I hope you will join me in starting 2018 with a boom, multiplying every $1 you give today into $21.17 to save hallowed ground at Franklin, Fort Donelson, and Brown’s Ferry. If you would prefer to donate securely online, please visit our appeal page here.

Sometime early this year – thanks to you! – we will hit the milestone of 50,000 acres of hallowed ground saved! Every acre counts, and every dollar counts, especially when it can be turned into $21.17! Please respond as soon as you are able. Thank you again, my friend.