For Immediate Release: 02/28/06
Civil War Preservation Trust Unveils Most Endangered Battlefields Report
Actor, commentator and preservationist Ben Stein joins CWPT to reveal plight of America's hallowed battlegrounds
(Washington, D.C.) - A once sleepy crossroads town in Pennsylvania where the blood of 50,000 Americans was shed, a fertile valley in Virginia where armies clashed for four long years, and a little-known New Mexico battleground known as the "Gettysburg of the West," were today announced as some of the nation's most endangered Civil War battlefields.
At a news conference this morning, the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT) unveiled its annual report on the status of the nation's historic battlegrounds. The report, entitled History Under Siege: A Guide to America's Most Endangered Civil War Battlefields, identifies the most threatened Civil War sites in the United States and what can be done to rescue them.
"Today our Civil War battlefields are being destroyed at an alarming rate," warned CWPT President James Lighthizer during the news conference. "Hallowed ground, where more than 600,000 Americans gave their lives, is being paved over in favor of shopping malls housing tracts, and even gambling casinos. These endangered battlefields are irreplaceable treasures and now, more than ever, we must work to preserve and protect these sites because once they're gone, they're gone forever."
Joining Lighthizer at the news conference was writer, economist, commentator and well-known actor Ben Stein. In addition to appearing in dozens of movies, and hosting Comedy Central's Emmy award winning quiz show, "Win Ben Stein's Money," Stein is an active battlefield preservationist.
In his remarks, Stein echoed Lighthizer's concerns. "I came to be fascinated by the Civil War at an early age, as a child growing up down the street from the Maryland house where Confederate General Jubal Early made his headquarters during his 1864 raid on Washington. The Civil War was our bloodiest conflict but also the densest concentration of courage ever shown on this continent. America's Civil War battlefields are where that courage is best memorialized. Let's keep them, and keep them glorious and beautiful, keep them above commerce."
Also participating in the news conference was Dr. Libby O'Connell, Chief Historian of The History Channel. O'Connell, who developed and oversees Save Our History, The History Channel's campaign for historic preservation and history education, is also a Trustee of the CWPT and a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Council for History Education. O'Connell stressed the urgency of the report when she said, "These endangered Civil War battlefields are the places where many Americans made the greatest sacrifice for their country. They must be protected."
History Under Siege is comprised of two parts: the first section cites the 10 most endangered battlefields in the nation, with a brief description of their history and preservation status; the second section lists 10 additional "at risk" sites that round out the top 20 endangered battlefields in the country.
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania will always be synonymous with the Civil War. It was not only the site of the largest and most costly battle ever fought in the Americas, but also the inspiration for one of the most famous speeches in our nation's history. Although the park is the most visited battlefield in the country and is the cornerstone of the local economy, the Gettysburg that millions of Americans have come to know and love is threatened by a proposal to build a massive, 3,000-slot gaming facility. If approved, the casino will be located just one mile from East Cavalry Field.
From the very beginning of the war until its tragic end, the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia was one vast battlefield. Confederate General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson won immortal fame in the Valley for his series of victories in the Spring of 1862. Later in the war, Federal General Phil Sheridan would clinch Union victory in a series of battles culminating at Cedar Creek. Today, Cedar Creek and ten other Civil War battlefields are threatened by the proposed widening of I-81, a major transit artery that runs the entire length of the valley. CWPT and a coalition of conservation groups have proposed a rail solution as an alternative to widening the road, which is already a magnet for sprawl.
At Glorieta Pass, New Mexico, federal forces were finally able to turn back the Southern invasion of New Mexico. The battle ended when a detachment of blue infantry burned a Confederate supply train and forced the Rebels to retreat back into Texas, ending dreams of a Southern republic that stretched to the Pacific Ocean. Today, safety concerns about heavy traffic along State Route 50, which runs through the heart of the battlefield, keeps much of the site closed to visitors, who can only view it out their car windows.
In addition to Gettysburg, Pa., the Shenandoah Valley, Va., and Glorieta Pass, N.M., History Under Siege includes:
Chattahoochee River Line, Georgia. Revolutionary in its design and formidable in its strength, the line stretches along the northern banks of Georgia's Chattahoochee River, where Joseph E. Johnston's Confederates took up defensive positions following the battle of Kennesaw Mountain. As late as the 1950s, a person could still walk the length of the River Line, but immense suburban development has devastated the site, and most of the River Line's features have been destroyed by property owners who feared that historic details would impede development plans.
Circle Forts, Washington, D.C. Erected to protect the Union capital from the threat of Confederate assault, the Circle Forts are a ring of 68 fortifications scattered around Washington. On July 11, 1864, the city was defended only by a motley crew of short-term recruits and convalescents -- but Federal reinforcements arrived just in time to save the city. Watching the action from the ramparts of Fort Stevens was President Abraham Lincoln, the only time a sitting American President has faced direct enemy fire. Today, the ring of fortifications has largely been absorbed by growing neighborhoods, and, although each fort has faced a different fate, none are preserved as thoroughly as their rich heritage deserves.
Fort Morgan, Alabama. Despite the Union blockade, Mobile Bay was still a hot spot for smuggling supplies into the beleaguered Confederacy until late in the war. In the summer of 1864, a Federal fleet under Admiral David Farragut arrived on the scene, intent on capturing the port and closing it to all illicit traffic. Faced with a withering fire from the fort, as well as other defensive tactics, as he attempted to pass the fort on August 3, Farragut proclaimed, "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!" Although it was able to withstand an 18-day Union bombardment before it surrendered, today Fort Morgan has fallen into significant disrepair. Portions of the property are closed to the public due to safety concerns and the site's future management is uncertain.
Glendale, Virginia. The savage fighting at Glendale (also known as Frayser's Farm) led to 6,500 casualties and marked the fifth day of the famous 1862 Seven Days Campaign around Richmond. Located near rapidly growing Richmond, Virginia, only 262 acres of the 7,888-acre Glendale battlefield is preserved. Currently, construction has begun on three housing projects in the area immediately surrounding the battlefield, with three more in the planning stages.
New Orleans Forts, Louisiana. In the spring of 1862, two forts staggered on opposing banks of the Mississippi River seventy miles south of New Orleans, were the only obstacles standing between a powerful Union fleet and its plan to cut off Southern ports to all trade. The two garrisons were able to hold Admiral David Farragut's flotilla at bay for a week before the Union gunboats broke through, ensuring the capture of New Orleans. Today, immense damage caused by Hurricane Katrina has compromised the structural integrity of these sites to the point that it is entirely uncertain when some will be safe for the public.
Raymond, Mississippi. Raymond was a major turning point in Union General Ulysses S. Grant's brilliant Vicksburg Campaign. Today, only 65 acres of the 1,000-acre battlefield are protected. Development pressure along State Highway 18, which connects the battlefield to the nearby Jackson suburbs, remains the principal threat to the battlefield.
Wilderness, Virginia. The first clash between Civil War legends Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant took place in this wooded area west of Fredericksburg, Virginia. After two days of intense fighting, more than 25,000 dead and wounded were left in the Wilderness. Today, Orange County is transforming itself from a largely rural area to a suburban community with immense population growth and proposed home construction, which threaten areas of the battlefield not protected by the Park Service.
The sites mentioned in the report range from the famous to the nearly forgotten. However, all have a critical feature in common - each one is in danger of being lost or spoiled forever. The battlefields were chosen based on geographic location, military significance, and the immediacy of current threats.
With 75,000 members, CWPT 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. CWPT's website is www.civilwar.org.