Buddy Secor

Nonprofit Fights To Safeguard 52 Acres of Virginia's Hallowed Ground From Modern-Day Development

The American Battlefield Trust seeks to protect land at three Virginia battlefields, which provide key insights into the opening and ending days of the Civil War

Jim Campi, (202) 367-1861 ext. 7205
Mary Koik, (202) 367-1861 ext. 7231

(Washington, D.C.) — The epicenter of the Civil War’s Eastern Theater, Virginia witnessed some 40 percent of that conflict’s major battles. Thirty-five years ago this month, suburban development pressures in Northern Virginia spurred the creation of a modern battlefield preservation movement, and the concentration of historic resources has driven the protection of thousands of acres across from the Blue Ridge to the Tidewater.  Today, development pressure remains feverish throughout the Old Dominion, partially because of the unprecedented demand for 21st century infrastructure like data centers, solar farms and distribution facilities. In line with its ongoing vigilance, the American Battlefield Trust has begun its latest Virginia campaign, seeking to protect 52 acres of historically valuable land at Cumberland Church (Cumberland County), Reams Station (Dinwiddie County) and Manassas (Prince William County). 

“Growing up in Roanoke, attending college in the Shenandoah Valley, and now living in Northern Virginia, I’m well aware of the wealth of historic sites scattered throughout the Commonwealth,” said Trust President David Duncan.  “But today, I fear for the future of these sites — where our nation’s democracy was fought for and safeguarded. While alternate locations can be found for development, these historically significant sites cannot be moved and should not be sacrificed.” 

Manassas Battlefield
Cannon sits on the Second Manassas Battlefield at the "Deep Cut." James Carter

The Trust, which traces its origins to a July 1987 gathering in Fredericksburg, has a proven track record, protecting more than 55,000 acres of hallowed ground at 150 sites in 24 states. Among the hallmarks of its success is the ability to leverage private donations against federal and state matching grants and this newest effort is no different. The total transaction value for the three tracts is $1,018,500, but more than 85 percent of that funding is already accounted for, leaving just $145,000 left to raise, and offering donors a 7-to-1 return on their investment.    

The three targeted battlefields mark key moments in the Civil War’s progress across Virginia. 

The twice-hallowed plains of Manassas witnessed the first full-scale battle of the Civil War in 1861, but also opened the gateway to the Maryland Campaign of 1862, when war returned a year later. The three-acre tract at Manassas, a quickly growing Northern Virginia town, is the most expensive of the three properties and targeted for development — it is also at the heart of the battlefield of Second Manassas and is very near the famous “Deep Cut.” 

At Reams Station — once a key stop on the Weldon Railroad — the Union unsuccessfully targeted a crucial supply point for Gen. Robert E. Lee’s army, entrenched around Petersburg in the war’s final year. Here, the Trust has the opportunity to fill a “hole in the doughnut” with a three-acre property that will contribute to a critical mass of protected battlefield. Currently, a modern home sits on the property — a reminder of residential development’s impact.  

Cumberland Church marks one of the last desperate actions by the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, fought only two days prior to the surrender at Appomattox Court House. Here a letter from Gen. U.S. Grant passed through battle lines to eventually land in the hands of Gen. Robert E. Lee. This letter spoke of the “hopelessness of further resistance,” and asked that Lee surrender a portion of his Army of Northern Virginia, a request to which Lee did not comply. The 46-acre property also represents the Trust’s first acquisition opportunity on the battlefield.  

Just as Lee didn’t surrender at Cumberland Church, the American Battlefield Trust will not surrender in its mission to save crucial battlefield land. For more details on the Trust’s current fundraising effort to save 52 acres at Manassas, Reams Station and Cumberland Church, visit www.battlefields.org/52VirginiaAcres.  

The American Battlefield Trust is dedicated to preserving America’s hallowed battlegrounds and educating the public about what happened there and why it matters today. The nonprofit, nonpartisan organization has protected more than 55,000 acres associated with the Revolutionary War, War of 1812 and Civil War. Learn more at www.battlefields.org.