Preservation and development. Civil War Preservation Trust President Jim Lightizer opened a news conference to a National Press Club audience in Washington yesterday by saying the two don’t necessarily cancel each other out. They can co-exist in today’s society if given careful thought and planning; developers, power companies, and local governments just need to be mindful of our common past and heritage and ensure the legacy of the past is carried forward far into the future.
This was a call to arms so to speak. After two short Metro train rides involving four stops, a walk of two city blocks, and a 13 floor elevator ride, I found myself pursuing the press packet handed out by the Civil War Preservation Trust in a journalistic shrine known as the National Press Club waiting for Jim Lightizer to address the media and plead the case for endangered battlefields. This was the 2010 version, where the Top Ten most threatened pieces of consecrated ground were to be announced.
Camp Allegheny in West Virginia; Cedar Creek in Virginia; Ft. Stevens in DC; Gettysburg; Picacho Peak in Arizona; Pickett's Mill in Georgia; Richmond, Kentucky; South Mountain; Thoroughfare Gap in Virginia; and the Wilderness. I check the list of fifteen additional "At Risk" sites: Belmont, Missouri and Columbus, Kentucky; Chickamauga; Harper's Ferry; Honey Springs, Oklahoma; Knoxville; Manassas; Mobile; Monocacy; Monterey Pass; New Market Heights; Petersburg; Resaca, Georgia; Winchester, Virginia; Williamsburg; and Wilson's Creek. Personal disappointment sets in. Shepherdstown is missing. It's been relegated to the low minors after rising to Triple A last year.
Lightizer made it clear to his audience right off the bat that the Top Ten most endangered and fifteen At Risk battlefields list could have easily have been expanded to include two to three hundred sites. C.W.P.T. members and the general public are solicited for opinions, which are then sifted by staff members who, in turn, make recommendations to the Board of Directors. The Directors, who could engage in endless debates about which sites belong among the Top Ten , make the final selections. Geography is an important consideration. The organization wants to avoid bunching sites and chooses diverse locations throughout States that witnessed the conflict. Four separate battlefields in the Fredericksburg area, for example, could have taken a prominent place at the top of the list.
The C.W.P.T. "is in the business of saving America's heritage. We and most historians believe the Civil War was the defining moment in American history." The war claimed more lives than all other conflicts combined that American soldiers engaged in. To be certain, "the Civil War was a time of remarkable sadness and carnage" and "made America what it is today, the freest country in the world." It was an event that shaped and charted our future, an event that wasn't decided by the ballot, but "decided on the battlefield at a terrible cost."
In answer to critics, Lightizer defended the C.W.P.T. "We are not an anti-growth organization. You can save your history and have economic development."
Jeff Shaara was then introduced as a member of the C.W.P.T. Board of Trustees and author of nine consecutive best sellers, which have sold over five million copies. Shaara, who began with a modest disclaimer "I'm a novelist," said that he learned one major lesson sitting at his father Michael's knee and he put it into practice when researching "Gods and Generals." "You have to walk the ground of your characters." As such he went looking for the spot where Stonewall Jackson was shot.
Relating that on May 2, 1863, during horrific fighting at Chancellorsville, Jackson swept around the Union flank and began rolling it up west to east. "The war might have ended then, but for the end of daylight." Jackson went out that night to reconnoiter, probing for further weaknesses in the Union defenses to continue the attack, riding on a country lane at the head of those accompanying him. He could hear the enemy digging in, hear the shovels moving earth, and cautioned by his staff to turn back. Riding back down that country lane the sound of their horses caught the attention of troops from a North Carolina regiment, who had been exposed to "a tough day." Nervous, edgy, someone, it's unknown who, fired a single shot. This was followed by momentary uncertainty before a Captain yelled out, "Give it to them boys." Jackson was struck three times and fell from the saddle, wounded but not mortally so. He'd be claimed by pneumonia eight days later.
A Park Ranger showed Shaara where Jackson fell. A subtle depression in the earth is all that remains to mark the lane he rode. Jeff has nothing against WalMart, he even shops there. However, if development of their Wilderness store is allowed to proceed he said that one will be able to look down that country lane "smack at the building." The ability to "walk in the footsteps of history will be irreparably changed."
Jeff recalled his first visit to Gettysburg as an eight-year-old, smiling as he told those listening about home movies which show him climbing on cannon. He remembers that his father, from that point on, was "obsessed with Gettysburg." When he hit that very last typewriter key and thereby put the finishing touch to "The Killer Angels" he "had no idea what he had when he wrote it." Jeff beamed when he announced that book is now in its 109th printing.
But what he remembers more than that first visit to Gettysburg is one made when he was twelve. His father was "a great story teller" and during that visit they retraced on foot Pickett's Charge, walking the mile and a half over fields toward Cemetery Ridge. His father was repeating the story of Lewis Armistead marching in front of his men, hat on the tip of his upraised sword, moving ever closer to where Winfield Scott Hancock commanded opposing troops. They stepped over the same wall as Armistead and coming to a small monument dedicated to mark the spot where Armistead fell, Michael recalled that his father broke down crying. At that moment Michael Shaara's mind told him that he was Lewis Armistead and that he was sharing in his fate.
The land where battles and firefights once raged, where men carrying the stars and stripes or stars and bars once marched "is valuable because it's where we come from. It defines us as a people."
Mark Snell is a faculty member at Shepherdstown College and Director of the George Tyler Moor Civil War Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. He considers himself "lucky to live in Gettysburg." He can see Big Round Top from his front porch and drives by South Mountain and Antietam on his way to work. If he's not in a hurry he can detour past Harper's Ferry and sees the Shepherdstown battlefield, "the bloodiest battlefield in West Virginia," almost daily. "I'm lucky to have my own Gettysburg address and lucky to teach at a fine University."
He resides less than two miles away from the Eisenhower Center, the focus of the latest effort to bring a gambling casino to Gettysburg. Roads that are already clogged with tourist buses would only grow more congested and immediately threaten land where opposing cavalries clashed. Fox's Gap, which traverses South Mountain, is under threat from a natural gas compression station. "All the sites" on the Top Ten "and many others are more than just history. They're outdoor classrooms." As a former military officer Snell said that staff rides over Civil War battlefields allow the opportunity for today's young military leaders to learn first hand from their counterparts of 140 plus years ago.
The Sesquicentennial observance of our country's greatest ordeal kicked off last year with the 150th anniversary of John Brown's raid. Snell remembered greater numbers of people flocking to Harper's Ferry than in the past. It wasn't mere curiosity that brought them. Studying that interest leads Snell to conclude, "We have an opportunity to save the land for future generations." "We face a different threat due to the economy. Dollars are being slashed, staffs are being cut." Picacho Peak, which "opened just last year to great fanfare is now closed due to a lack of funds." "On the eve of the Sesquicentennial are we going to listen...or will we gamble that future away."
Jim Lightizer retaking the microphone said that the picture has not been all gloom and doom. He spoke of the important victories that have guaranteed the preservation of over 29,000 acres of land. In Virginia, for example, the C.W.P.T. has worked successfully with governors and the legislature in achieving recent victories. The cost of preservation can be enormous, though, Lightizer citing the $12,000,000 that was needed to save the Slaughter Pen at Fredericksburg. Without that effort much of the Fredericksburg battlefield would have been lost not only to future generations, but ours as well. In Franklin, Tennessee, where most of the battlefield had been paved over, a local group is ”reclaiming the battlefield. Real history is being brought back."
"These are our outdoor classrooms, where future generations can learn. It is open space. History is who we are, why we are, and the way we are."
To visit the Civil War Preservation Trust Web site follow this link.