Civil War Trust Recognizes Outstanding Virginia Battlefield Preservation Leaders
(Spotsylvania, Va.) - As major supporters met here this week for the organization’s annual Grand Review, Civil War Trust President James Lighthizer recognized two of Virginia’s most outstanding leaders in battlefield preservation with the national nonprofit group’s highest honor.
Lighthizer presented Richmond businessman and philanthropist Bruce C. Gottwald Sr. and William J. Howell, speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, with the Trust’s Edwin C. Bearss Lifetime Achievement Award.
The 50,000-member Trust bestows its Bearss Award, named for the historian emeritus of the National Park Service, only when merited by a person’s extraordinary and unusual effort. The two Virginians accepted the honor during the Trust’s 30th anniversary banquet, held Friday night at Stevenson’s Ridge resort on part of the Spotsylvania Court House battlefield. The Trust was founded in Fredericksburg in 1987 by historians concerned with the loss of historic battlefield land, and began life as the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites.
The Trust has partnered with Bill Howell for many years, and previously recognized him with its State Leadership Award. Having represented Stafford County since 1988, Howell will retire next January after 29 years in the House of Delegates, the last 14 as its speaker.
“Quite simply, Bill Howell has been our champion in the General Assembly,” Lighthizer said. “His public advocacy and behind-the-scenes support for Virginia’s Civil War history has made our success in the Old Dominion possible. Again and again, Howell has worked quietly to save Virginia’s battlefields from ruin.”
The speaker is one of the founding fathers of the Virginia Battlefield Preservation Fund — and has persuaded colleagues to keep sustaining it. It has provided $16 million in matching grants since 2006, helping save more than 8,800 acres of hallowed ground in the Commonwealth. This dedicated reserve is one of only two such state funds for battlefield preservation in the country. In 2015, the Virginia fund expanded its scope to include Revolutionary War and War of 1812 battlefields.
During the Civil War’s 150th anniversary, Howell chaired the Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission, which inspired similar commissions in other states. Virginia’s thought-provoking observances drew 3.7 million visitors during the 4-year commemoration, and resulted in $290 million in spending and $13 million in state and local tax revenue.
Howell also advocated strongly for the Virginia Land Preservation Tax Credit, which has helped save more than 741,000 acres across the Commonwealth — including the 208-acre Slaughter Pen Farm in Spotsylvania County. The credit provided $4.4 million to buy this “heart and soul” piece of the Fredericksburg battlefield. At $12 million, the property’s purchase remains the most ambitious private-sector battlefield acquisition in American history.
Slaughter Pen Farm is the most intact portion of the 6-mile-long Fredericksburg battlefield. According to historian and author Frank O’Reilly, protecting the ground that soldiers named the “Slaughter Pen” transformed interpretation of the whole battlefield, allowing visitors to explore the southern end of the Fredericksburg battlefield, where the fighting was ultimately decided.
Bruce Gottwald, a member of the Civil War Trust Board of Trustees from 2011 to 2017, is the former chairman and CEO of NewMarket Corp. in Richmond. A dedicated philanthropist and history enthusiast, Gottwald has donated more to save Richmond-area battlefield land than any individual in U.S. history, Lighthizer said.
“Bruce Gottwald and his family members have been preservation heroes for decades,” the Trust’s president said. “They are deeply committed to Virginia history and to their community in the Richmond area. Bruce’s dedication can be seen in his efforts to preserve the antebellum Tredegar Iron Works on the James River, his support of the American Civil War Center, and at historic land bordering Richmond National Battlefield Park.”
A 1954 graduate of Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Gottwald was a member of VMI’s Board of Visitors and received VMI’s top honor, the New Market Award, in 2014.
Possessing a vision for preservation and how it helps Virginia’s economy, Gottwald has been incredibly generous to the Civil War Trust. His first significant donation came in 2012, when he gave $1 million for Gaines’ Mill, to acquire the spectacularly pristine route of James Longstreet’s attack in the 1862 battle.
But Gottwald is modest about what he does. “He is unusually humble and low key in his giving,” a longtime friend said. “He gives quietly.”
The Civil War Trust is a national nonprofit land preservation organization devoted to the protection of America’s hallowed battlegrounds. Although primarily focused on the acquisition of Civil War battlefields, through its Campaign 1776 initiative, the Trust also seeks to save the battlefields connected to the Revolutionary War and War of 1812. To date, the Trust has preserved more than 47,000 acres of battlefield land in 24 states, including 24,600 acres in Virginia. Learn more at www.civilwar.org.
The Civil War Preservation Trust became the Civil War Trust in January 2011; the Civil War Trust became a division of the American Battlefield Trust in May 2018. Campaign 1776 was created in 2014 as an initiative of the Civil War Trust; in May 2018 it became the Revolutionary War Trust, a division of the American Battlefield Trust.