33 acres at the New Market Heights Battlefield, outside of Richmond, (listed for sale on the open real-estate market, threatened by residential development, and the risk of losing a Union fort on the property), where men of the U.S. Colored Troops distinguished themselves for their bravery;
126 acres at the North Anna Battlefield, part of the Overland Campaign, the “Chesterfield Bridge” segment of the eastern part of this wide-ranging battlefield, where no land has ever been saved before (and the property is planned for industrial use if it is not preserved); and
167 acres at the Second Manassas Battlefield (land that is currently zoned for large-lot residential – that is, “McMansion” – development) that would loom on the high ground over the current preserved battlefield.
I’ll get into the history and threats to each of these three tracts in just a moment. For now, I ask you please to focus on that extraordinary $33.42-to-$1 match.
Just how big is that number? Well, I’ve made comparisons like this before, but it is like you being able to buy a $334 airplane ticket . . . for a mere $10!
It’s like you being able to purchase a new $33,000 car for just $987!
It’s like being able to buy a $334,000 house for just under $10,000! I think that any of us, when presented with an opportunity like this, would jump at the chance to make our dollars go so much further.
And especially when those dollars are going to save our priceless American history, well, you get the picture . . . it does not get much better than this when it comes to saving hallowed ground in 2017.
Let me walk you through each of these important efforts, as each one has its own special circumstances that you should know about.
Starting at Second Manassas (or Second Bull Run), we have actually been working to save these 167 acres – situated right behind the famous “railroad cut” where Stonewall Jackson’s troops resorted to throwing rocks to halt determined Union assaults – for several months now.
The truly amazing part about this transaction is that – thanks to anticipated federal matching funds, and a significant donation of value from the landowner – we only have to put in about $8,500 of our money to save . . . I hope you are sitting down . . . a piece of property worth more than $4 million!
But that’s not entirely correct. Because the bank which holds an outstanding note on the property did not wish to wait until about $500,000 in grant money would be available (probably in mid-2018), the Civil War Trust is having to tap into our reserve funds to “bridge” the gap, and make sure we can save this land.
This reserve fund was created by several trustees and former trustees, as well as a handful of other concerned preservationists, Color Bearers, etc., for just such an emergency, but it is not just a “blank check.” Any money we pull out must be repaid, which we will do once we are reimbursed with the grant money next year.
Today, I am specifically asking you to help me raise the $8,500, plus any additional amount you can give to help us during this challenging period until the grant money comes back to the Trust, so that we do not lose any additional transactions that are coming down the pike.
And when you think about it . . . stretching the belt a little tighter for a few months but eventually being paid back 100 percent, spending $8,500 to save a piece of 1862 hallowed ground worth $4,000,000 is like getting a $472.59-to-$1 match! That would be the all-time record holder!
As I mentioned to you, this property occupies much of the high ground behind Jackson’s lines, and there are reports of a Confederate field hospital on this land. Just looking at where it is on the battlefield, it is obvious to me that troops and couriers would have been shuttling back and forth across this land all during the first day of the battle, and although there is no record, it certainly is feasible to think that both Jackson and Robert E. Lee might have watched parts of the battle from here.
It is currently zoned for “large-lot residential development,” meaning dozens of massive homes on five- or 10-acre sites, looming over the existing battlefield, ruining its viewshed. Manassas is already a highly threatened battlefield, with commercial and residential development crushing it from all sides; if we were to lose this ground now; it would be lost forever.
Moving on to the 1864 North Anna Battlefield, you and I have the chance to save 126 acres at an important part of the battlefield where no land has ever been saved before, the vital eastern “Chesterfield Bridge” sector (a crossing that was so strategically important that there are several wartime photographs of the bridge itself)!
Attempting to drive Confederates from the north bank of the North Anna River on May 23, 1864, as well as their south-side defenses, Union gunners opened an artillery barrage. As noted Overland Campaign historian Gordon Rhea wrote in his masterful book, To the North Anna River:
“Parson Thomas H. Fox’s two-story brick house, Ellington, occupied a conspicuous point on Telegraph Road a quarter of a mile south of the river. When the artillery barrage opened, [General Robert E.] Lee was sitting on the porch drinking buttermilk. Suddenly a round shot whizzed within feet of Lee and lodged in the doorframe. The Confederate commander finished his glass, gave thanks to Parson Fox, and rode away.”
More Union shells hit the house later in the day and tumbled a chimney down on a party of high-ranking Confederate officers, killing and wounding several of their couriers.
From May 24 through May 26, the Ellington Mansion and surrounding acreage was within the lines of General Winfield S. Hancock’s Union 2nd Corps. His men built fortifications of their own south of the house and skirmished with the Confederates opposite them. The fighting waxed and waned daily; the heaviest action occurred on the 24th, when men from the divisions of General John Gibbon and General Francis Barlow attacked southward across the property and collided with advanced Confederates from the command of General Charles Field.
The historic Ellington mansion and Fox boarding school, as well as the original Telegraph Road and remnants of the Chesterfield Bridge, survive on this large property we are working to save today. But if we are unsuccessful, it will likely be lost to development as prime industrial property. Imagine row upon row of warehouses and other industrial development replacing pristine, untouched battlefield land!
The specifics: This transaction is valued at $1,234,400. But again, through the matching fund opportunities that we have assembled, including applications for federal and state funds as well as a landowner donation, you and I can save this absolutely essential land for just $84,400!
The final piece of property is a crucial 33-acre tract in the heart of the New Market Battlefield outside of Richmond. One glance at your battle map should confirm the importance of securing this property, which was offered for sale (there is a non-historic house on the tract), and which would be ripe for a residential developer to swoop in, buy it, and work to get it zoned for a subdivision of new houses, as has already happened all over the booming Richmond area.
But if you are like most people, you may not know the history of this battle as well as you know others. On September 29, 1864, the eastern arm of the Federal Army of the James’s two-pronged attack (part of the larger Battle of Chaffin’s Farm) swept toward New Market Heights.
General Charles Paine’s 18th Corps division formed on the southern boundary of this parcel and attacked northward toward and across Four Mile Creek. Two units on the Union side did virtually all of the fighting: Both commands consisted exclusively of United States Colored Troops. They faced a small Confederate brigade of infantry, and some dismounted Confederate cavalry added a little strength to the entrenched defenders.
The USCT troops crossed the lower branch of Four Mile Creek on this land and surged northward toward the crest. Confederate artillery peppered the advance the entire distance, and the upper portion of the property is within small arms range, too. Together, the two Union brigades lost more than 800 men. After several attempts, they finally seized the hilltop.
For actions all across the battle lines at New Market Heights, 15 Medals of Honor were awarded to men in the USCT brigades for their morning’s work, all of them for demonstrations of heroism and bravery under fire. It seems to me that – especially in this contentious day and age – this is a story that few people know, one that must be told, and one that is best told on the ground where many of those honors were earned. There is also an existing fort on the property, built by Union troops after the battle, that would almost certainly fall under the bulldozer’s blade should this property be developed.
The numbers on this transaction are $360,000 total, of which we need to come up with the final $75,000.
So there you have it my friend . . . three crucial, historic tracts of hallowed ground . . . 326 combined acres with a total transaction value of an astounding $5,611,400 . . . and you and I can preserve them forever for just $167,900 – a historic match of $33.42 for your donation dollar!
As important as that matching-grant amount is, what you and I are doing for our country and its future are so much more than just getting a big bang for our buck. Imagine a day when people yearn to know all they can about the history of this country, the greatest that has ever existed on Planet Earth.
Imagine a day when parents understand that it is just as important to take their children to a battlefield as it is to take them to Disney World.
Imagine a day when people use the full, amazing, warts-and-all story of this country, its lessons, and its heroes to bring us together once again, instead of twisting it to fit a modern agenda to drive us apart.
This higher calling is really what you are doing with every acre of hallowed ground that you save . . . you are creating a better nation, a better future, and ultimately a better world for yourself and those you care about.
It’s not easy and it’s not inexpensive, but if there is any more important work we can do for the country that means so much to us, I don’t know what it is.