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Save Seminary Ridge at Gettysburg

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A message from Jim Lighthizer, American Battlefield Trust president

 

Jim Lighthizer Square
Jim Lighthizer, president of the American Battlefield Trust.

May 8, 2018

Dear Fellow Battlefield Preservationist,

As you can no doubt tell from the enclosed battle map and quotes above, I have an electrifying announcement to make about an incredibly important – and urgent – preservation effort at Gettysburg.

But first, there is some other extremely exciting news that I cannot wait to tell you:
Today, after more than four years of preparation and consultation, I have the honor and privilege to tell you that we have decided to create a new umbrella organization called the American Battlefield Trust.

The Board of Trustees and I – along with many members like you who have anticipated this direction for some time now – firmly believe that the creation of the American Battlefield Trust will take our cause to a much higher level.

But before I say another word, I want to emphasize some very important points to you:

First, the Civil War Trust is not going away. There will be no diminishment of our efforts to save Civil War battlefield land and promote knowledge of Civil War history. Period. You have my word on that.

The preservation of America’s Civil War battlefields will still be our primary mission. There’s more Civil War battlefield land to save, the threats are higher, and it is what we do best.

But as our mission has expanded over the past four years to include saving battlefield land from “America’s First Century,” it became clear to me that our name no longer accurately described what we do, which is to preserve hallowed ground from the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Civil War, and educate the public about those three conflicts.

This new structure, with the American Battlefield Trust acting as the umbrella organization and the Civil War Trust and the Revolutionary War Trust (formerly “Campaign 1776”) operating as its main divisions, gives us the strength and flexibility we need to be even more successful in the years to come.

But let me be clear: that umbrella organization is not creating a new layer of bureaucracy! I remain the president, our Board of Trustees has not changed, our staff team is intact, and our battlefield preservation mission remains unchanged. New name, new look, exact same mission.

The creation of the American Battlefield Trust, embracing an even broader and richer expanse of our country’s history, will bring new government and private sector resources that will make us better and more effective. It will also aid us in teaching new generations about the importance of all three of these conflicts in forging the great nation we are today.

And one of the things that we are most excited about in this new structure is the flexibility it gives you, our generous and dedicated member, to support the types of preservation and education projects that speak most deeply to you.

If you prefer to support our Civil War mission primarily, you can absolutely still do that. If you’re like many members and are starting to support more Revolutionary War preservation efforts here and there – such as our recent victory at Princeton, saving the land where George Washington turned the tide of the American Revolution – you can still do that.

If you want to see the maximum impact for your donation dollar go where the need is greatest, you can do that, too, by giving directly to the American Battlefield Trust.

We have the internal processes and accounting procedures set up – even different post office boxes! – to make sure your support goes where you want it to.

Think of it this way: The American Battlefield Trust is the equivalent to General Motors, but if you like Chevrolet cars (think Civil War Trust), you can still buy one. If you prefer, say, Buicks (think Revolutionary War Trust), you can still buy one of those, too. The choice is yours, always.

Very soon, my friend, this organization will hit the milestone of 50,000 acres saved over the last 30 years – that’s more than 78 square miles, equivalent to 3.5 Manhattans, 11 Disney Worlds, or 342 Washington, D.C. National Malls!

That is a tremendous accomplishment, attributable to you and the nearly 50,000 members and supporters who have given so generously to save this hallowed ground. I can’t thank you enough.

But to get to the next level of success – in this dangerous era of skyrocketing land prices and plummeting appreciation for our nation’s history and its heroes – and to protect the next 50,000 acres of hallowed ground that must be saved, I believe we must have a name that reflects our overall mission.

The bottom line: We have a new name, we have a new look, but our mission remains exactly
the same. We preserve America’s hallowed ground, we use those places to educate everyone about the importance of what happened there, and we do this so they can be inspired to be better citizens and better people.

I understand that you may have some questions about all of this, and that change is often challenging, but as I tell the staff all the time: change is constant. I would encourage you to visit our website at its new address at www.battlefields.org, spend some time there, and watch the video with yours truly. I can’t wait to move forward under this new banner and save even more hallowed ground with you.

And if that weren’t enough of a big announcement, let me also say that I am honored to tell you about one of the most important preservation efforts we have ever attempted:

Today, I can tell you that we are launching an eight-month campaign to save the largest and most significant remaining undeveloped acres of Seminary Ridge at Gettysburg!

With your help, the American Battlefield Trust – through its Civil War Trust division – will save Seminary Ridge at Gettysburg, by January 31, 2019.

You and I have preserved a lot of hallowed ground over the years. But today, with the chance to save some of the bloodiest unprotected 18 acres associated with the First Day of the Battle of Gettysburg . . .

. . . well, I don’t mind telling you that – in my humble opinion – this is without a doubt one of the most important historic preservation efforts in American history.

And, just like the announcement about our name, it has been years in the making!

If you have not already done so, please look now at the special maps and photo study I have sent to you today, showing you exactly where these crucial acres are, what they looked like after the battle, and what they could look like if we don’t succeed.

Located south of the historic Chambersburg Pike (and just across the road from Lee’s Headquarters, which you and your fellow members saved in 2014), on famed Seminary Ridge and immediately adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park, this land saw fierce fighting on July 1, 1863.

As thousands of Confederate soldiers pushed toward the town of Gettysburg, Union Brigadier General John Buford had, as Shelby Foote wrote, “a good view of the scene from the cupola of a Lutheran seminary on the crest of the ridge,” and that it was obvious “they were not going to be able to hang on long in the face of all that power.”

“As he started down the ladder, perhaps to give the order to retire,” Foote writes, “he heard a calm voice asking from below: ‘What’s the matter, John?’ It was [John] Reynolds, whom many considered to be the best general in the army. Buford shook his head. ‘The devil’s to pay,’ he said,” but reckoned he could hold on until Reynolds’s First Corps arrived on the field.

A few moments later, Reynolds would be killed in action. Buford’s cavalry troopers, joined by Reynolds’s infantry, were rushed up and over this ground to the battle line, and soon found themselves retreating before overwhelming forces, grudgingly giving up ground inch by bloody inch, and taking fearsome casualties every step of the way to Seminary Ridge.

In his magisterial Gettysburg – The First Day, historian Harry Pfanz devotes an entire chapter (chapter 22 starts on page 305 if you want to read it from the copy you have in your library) to the ferocious and deadly battle for Seminary Ridge.

The main combatants over this hallowed land were the Union Iron Brigade along with one New York and six Pennsylvania regiments, attempting to hold back North and South Carolinians in Alfred Scales and Abner Perrin’s brigades. There were also four Union batteries crowning the Ridge including six fearsome Napoleon guns posted directly on a portion of the land we are trying to save, which fired over the heads of the Union infantrymen with devastating effect on the advancing Confederates.

Pfanz writes that members of the unfortunate 34th North Carolina – the regiment directly in front of these guns – later reported that “of the 1,400 Tarheels who had begun the charge, only 500 were able to go on.”

A captain of the Iron Brigade recalled later that infantrymen fired so fast their rifles became hot, and the smoke was so thick that it was as dark as night. Many wounded fell rapidly on both sides.

In his book, The Iron Brigade, Alan Nolan writes that after regrouping, the Southern advance “was not long delayed as Confederates from Heth’s, Pender’s, and Rodes’s divisions, on both sides of the pike, again striking obliquely against both flanks as well as the front of the Iron Brigade’s position” just like three sides of a square around them.

Under so much pressure, the Union defensive line had to give way. The Iron Brigade’s 7th Wisconsin was ordered to be the rear guard for the Union retreat down the pike and through the town. “When the 7th left the ridge,” Pfanz writes, “a body of South Carolinians fired into its right. Another line from Rodes’s division shot into its left. While running this gauntlet, the 7th suffered its greatest losses of the day.” (During the entire day of fighting, the Iron Brigade lost more than 60 percent of its men, and was never the same.)

My friend, not many people know this, but if you look at the roughly 17,000 casualties on just the First Day of the Battle of Gettysburg as a stand-alone battle, it would be the 12th costliest battle of the entire Civil War! Certainly, hundreds of those casualties fell on this land we are working to save today.

After the battle, Mathew Brady’s photographers captured one of the most iconic photographs taken during the war – of three lean Confederate prisoners standing right on the edge of this land. Every inch of these 18 acres is covered with undeniable history.

I have received so many quotes on the significance of this land from the top historians in our field that I cannot even put them all in this letter! (But I have included them on a separate sheet for you to read.)

Remarkably, the 18 acres are mostly unchanged since 1863, meticulously stewarded by the Lutheran Seminary. However, its future as open space cannot be guaranteed until the Trust permanently protects this hallowed ground, removing forever the threat of new institutional buildings and facilities that would erase its important history.

This is a true win-win scenario for everyone, as we get to save the property, and Gettysburg’s oldest educational institution (established in 1826) gets to see the land preserved while getting a significant infusion of capital.

You have no idea how many times over the last few months that I have wanted to shout to you from the rooftops: “We are saving Seminary Ridge at Gettysburg!”

Of course, there is the rather important matter of paying for it all, without going into debt and without jeopardizing our many other worthy projects. And this is where it becomes not only one of the most important projects we have ever tackled, it also is one of the biggest ones financially.

The price for this land is $3.5 million. That’s a lot of money in anybody’s book, especially when we must close on the property in early January 2019, about 250 days away. This is especially difficult because where this land is located, we will not be able to apply for any federal matching grant money from the National Park Service for this effort. We have to go this one alone.

So, we still have a huge job ahead of us, especially considering that we have an astounding number of other absolutely-crucial preservation projects either already in process or about to break.

It will not be easy, but we can do it. Let me restate that: We can do it, if you will help. And I pray you will, because if we are unable to raise the final amount we need, I shudder to think what will become of this place.

Quite frankly, that’s why I sent you two maps and some “photoshopped” pictures today. The battle map shows you what “was,” the fighting on this land that hallowed it forever. Turn it over, and look at the modern aerial view, with the battle map superimposed on top of it. You can clearly see the threat: if this land is not saved, it could be developed into multi-story structures, such as administrative office buildings or apartments.

Think of that, my friend. The site of the Iron Brigade’s desperate defense of Seminary Ridge, hallowed ground within close sightlines of the famed Railroad Cut, the Lutheran Seminary cupola and the woods where Union Gen. John Reynolds was killed, could very easily be redeveloped into massive multiple structures.

If you are anything like me – if you care even remotely about preserving the important parts of our nation’s rich history – that mental image of construction equipment digging up Seminary Ridge fills you with disgust.

We are actually fortunate that this land hasn’t been compromised over the years, and that we still have a chance to save it. But make no mistake – this is our last opportunity, right here, right now. If we do not save this property in the next 250 days, we may never have another chance.

I’m no Pollyanna. I know asking you to help me raise $3.5 million – on top of the many other important hallowed ground purchases we have made of late – is asking a lot. But I hope you will agree that this is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and it is worthy of our absolute best effort to save it.

And in the end, my friend, whether you “lean” Union or Confederate, whether you have a Billy Yank or a Johnny Reb in your family tree, or even if you just enjoy studying about the people and events surrounding this most important time in our nation’s history . . .

. . . wouldn’t you like to say you had a hand in saving – for all future generations – Seminary Ridge at Gettysburg? It is a big task, but if I have your help, I know we can do it, and make history by saving history.

We’ve come so far that it would be a tragedy to turn back now. If we lose this final chance to save this land, you and future visitors studying the First Day at Gettysburg could have the historic view blighted by hideous, intrusive, invasive modern development.

Without Seminary Ridge, you cannot tell the full story of Gettysburg, and without Gettysburg, you cannot tell the full story of the Civil War . . .

. . . and I’ll even go so far as to say that without all of the above, you cannot tell the full story of this nation. That’s how it is with all battlefield land, my friend, and that is why the work we are doing together is so important.

Every additional piece of hallowed ground we save not only protects and enhances all of the hard work we have done before, but also leads us on to our next challenge . . .

. . . which, in turn, leads directly to us today, to our concept of America and its history and its promise, as important and immediate as any other place and event in our lives.

Will you help save Seminary Ridge at Gettysburg? If so, and if you will commit at least $49 to this effort, to say “thank you” it will be my pleasure to send you a specially designed t-shirt that features the battle map view of Seminary Ridge, and proudly notes, “I Helped Save Seminary Ridge at Gettysburg!”

Many of your fellow members have told me how much they appreciate our t-shirts that show the actual hallowed ground they have preserved – plus it’s a great way to help spread the word of our crucial mission and successes.

Even if you are not a t-shirt wearer, you probably know someone who is, and who would appreciate one as unique as this.

If you can donate $100 or more, I will also add your name to our new digital Roll Call of Honor donor display, which will be visible 24/7 on our website. No matter where you live, and even if you never get to visit this land for yourself, you will be able to log on anytime, anywhere, to see your name on this digital recognition.

For your gift of $200 or more I will also add your name to the physical donor display which will stand on our already established donor recognition site at Lee’s Headquarters, just across the Chambersburg Pike from this land, so that you can bring your children and grandchildren to this spot and show them that you played a major role in saving this historic landmark.

If you are able to give even more to this effort, it will be my honor to increase the size of your name as it appears on the Roll Call of Honor. I hope that you will seriously consider how large you would like your name to appear on this marker. It’s going to be there a long time.

Please make your gift today to save Seminary Ridge at Gettysburg. I can’t thank you enough for all your help. Please reply as soon as you possibly can.

Humbly yours, ‘til victory is ours,

Jim Lighthizer Signature

Jim Lighthizer
President

P.S. I can only pray that I have done a good enough job convincing you how important this effort to save Seminary Ridge truly is. Now, I place the future of this hallowed ground in your hands. Look at the map and photographs I have sent (and visit our website at www.battlefields.org/gettysburg2018 for even more!) Tell me that you would like to have your name included on the battlefield Roll Call of Honor display . . .

. . . but even more than all of this, decide today what you want your battlefield preservation legacy to be. Personally, I cannot think of too many better things I could say than, “I helped save Seminary Ridge.”

Thank you very, very much. Remember, we have a hard and fast deadline of 250 days. Now, please let me hear back from you as soon as possible. Thank you again.

P.P.S. And please stay tuned for more news about the American Battlefield Trust.
I hope you are as excited as I am about taking this new step and accomplishing even more together!