(Orange, Va.) – In an unexpected development, Walmart announced this morning that it has abandoned plans to pursue a special use permit previously awarded to the retail giant for construction of a supercenter on the Wilderness Battlefield. The decision came as the trial in a legal challenge seeking to overturn the special use permit was scheduled to begin in Orange County circuit court.
“We are pleased with Walmart’s decision to abandon plans to build a supercenter on the Wilderness battlefield,” remarked James Lighthizer, president of the Civil War Trust. “We have long believed that Walmart would ultimately recognize that it is in the best interests of all concerned to move their intended store away from the battlefield. We applaud Walmart officials for putting the interests of historic preservation first. Sam Walton would be proud of this decision.”
The Civil War Trust is part of the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition, an alliance of local residents and national groups seeking to protect the Wilderness battlefield. Lighthizer noted that the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition has sought from the very beginning to work with county officials and Walmart to find an alternative location for the proposed superstore away from the battlefield.
“We stand ready to work with Walmart to put this controversy behind us and protect the battlefield from further encroachment,” Lighthizer stated. “We firmly believe that preservation and progress need not be mutually exclusive, and welcome Walmart as a thoughtful partner in efforts to protect the Wilderness Battlefield.”
In August 2009, the Orange County Board of Supervisors approved a controversial special use permit to allow construction of the Walmart Supercenter and associated commercial development on the Wilderness Battlefield. A wide range of prominent individuals and organizations publicly opposed the store’s location, including more than 250 American historians led by Pulitzer Prize-winners James McPherson and David McCullough. One month after the decision, a group of concerned citizens and the local Friends of Wilderness Battlefield filed a legal challenge to overturn the decision.
The Battle of the Wilderness, fought May 5–6, 1864, was one of the most significant engagements of the American Civil War. Of the 185,000 soldiers who entered combat amid the tangled mass of second-growth trees and scrub in Virginia’s Orange and Spotsylvania counties, some 30,000 became casualties. The Wilderness Battlefield Coalition, composed of Friends of Wilderness Battlefield, Piedmont Environmental Council, Preservation Virginia, National Trust for Historic Preservation, National Parks Conservation Association, National Coalition for History and Civil War Trust, seeks to protect this irreplaceable local and national treasure.
The Civil War Trust is the largest nonprofit battlefield preservation organization in the United States. Its mission is to preserve our nation’s endangered Civil War battlefields and to promote appreciation of these hallowed grounds. To date, the Trust has preserved nearly 30,000 acres of battlefield land in 20 states. Learn more at www.civilwar.org.