(Sharpsburg, Md.) - During ceremonies this morning at Antietam National Battlefield, Deputy Secretary of the Interior Michael Connor joined the Civil War Trust to announce the preservation of historic land at the battlefield's epicenter. Protection of these 44 acres will greatly enhance the existing park, expand the interpretive opportunities and enable visitors to better understand the September 1862 conflict.
"This land is exceptionally important to the story of Antietam," said Connor. "It is rare to preserve a property of such historic significance, and I applaud the hard work of organizations like the Civil War Trust who help make sure we can continue sharing our country's history with future generations."
Joining Deputy Secretary Connor at the news conference were Antietam National Battlefield Superintendent Susan Trail, Civil War Trust President James Lighthizer, and long-time Trust board member Mary Munsell Abroe.
Protection of this parcel was the result of a national fundraising campaign undertaken by the Civil War Trust earlier this year. The property was sold to the Trust by Lilli Wilson, whose husband and father-in-law served in the U.S. military. That service was the catalyst for her and her husband's desire to see the property preserved in honor of the young men, in blue and gray, who struggled on the property more than 150 years ago this month.
The tract, located within 300 yards of the National Park Service (NPS) visitor center and bordered on all three sides by NPS land, is surrounded by iconic Antietam landmarks such as the Cornfield, Smoketown Road and the Dunker Church. Thousands of soldiers marched and charged across the triangular parcel during six hours of combat on the morning of September 17, 1862.
"This is one of the most meaningful acquisitions by the Civil War Trust in recent memory," said Civil War Trust Chairman emeritus John L. Nau, III. "Adding the Wilson Tract to Antietam National Battlefield is a critical step toward complete preservation of this battlefield and national treasure."
In addition to the Wilson Tract, the Civil War Trust is engaged in private fundraising to preserve two other historic properties within musket range of the Wilson property: a 1.2-acre parcel near the North Woods and six acres near the East Woods, where intense battle action also occurred.
Acquisition of the Wilson property was funded through private donations from Trust members. Land restoration will be undertaken by the locally based Save Historic Antietam Foundation (SHAF), in collaboration with the Civil War Trust. Plans include removing the non-historic fence line - already underway by SHAF - as well as a modern barn by the end of the year. Replanting 3.5 acres of the East Woods is expected to begin in 2017, and the modern home will be removed when the current resident vacates.
"As with all our major preservations projects, we rely on our members and partners like SHAF to see this effort through to a successful conclusion," noted Lighthizer, whose work conserving land at Antietam began 25 years ago during his tenure as Maryland Secretary of Transportation. "Their unwavering commitment to the Trust's mission is something that continues to inspire me."
Ultimately, the land will be transferred to the NPS. Antietam National Battlefield, established in 1890, currently comprises about 3,200 acres.
"These 44 acres at the epicenter of Antietam battlefield will be an incredible addition to the park," said Trail in her remarks welcoming ceremony attendees to the battlefield. "Our visitors will gain a much clearer picture of the morning phase of the battle, and, I hope, take away greater reverence for the men who fought here."
The Wilson Tract, which historian and author Dennis Frye has called "the bloodiest ground of the bloodiest day in American history," saw more casualties than the more famous Cornfield, located just north of the property. Repeated Union attacks and Confederate counterattacks swept across this land. Despite the great Union numerical advantage, Stonewall Jackson's forces near the Dunker Church held their ground, while Union assaults against the Sunken Road pierced the Confederate center.
"The action that occurred on the Wilson property during the Battle of Antietam is key to visualizing the full scope of the conflict," said Lighthizer. "Along with the essential work already being done by the stewards of these battlefield lands, the epicenter tract will give greater authenticity to the interpretation at Antietam and enhance this park's standing as one of the best preserved battlefields in the nation."
The Civil War Trust is America's premier nonprofit battlefield preservation organization. Although primarily focused on the protection 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 41,000 acres of battlefield land in 21 states, including nearly 300 acres at Antietam. 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.