Civil War Trust
For Immediate Release: 03/01/06
Preservation Trust Designates Valley Battlefields as 'Most Endangered' in Nation
Day after identifying the Shenandoah Valley in its Most Endangered Battlefields Report, Civil War Preservation Trust and local activists highlight potential problems with I-81 widening
(New Market, Va.) - At a news conference this morning at New Market Battlefield State Historical Park, the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT) joined with the Shenandoah Valley Battlefield Foundation (SVBF) and other community activists to address the threat posed by a proposed widening of I-81 on the Shenandoah Valley's Civil War battlefields. On Tuesday, the Valley battlefields were designated among the most endangered in the nation in History Under Siege, CWPT's annual report on America's Civil War battlefields.
"The Shenandoah Valley is one of America's most hallowed regions," remarked CWPT President James Lighthizer. "The battles that were fought here are what give the Valley much of its identity — they are what make the Valley unique. The proposal to widen I-81 not only threatens to destroy much of the Valley's hallowed ground, it also threatens to steal the Valley's identity."
Joining Lighthizer at the news conference was SVBF Executive Director Howard Kittell, Shenandoah Forum President Rosemary Wallinger, and Rockingham County Community Alliance for Preservation President Kim Sandum. All lamented the potential impact the proposed widening of I-81 will have on historic resources in the Valley. The press event was graciously hosted by Scott Harris, Director of the New Market Battlefield Park.
CWPT is part of a coalition of citizens groups and local Valley governments that have endorsed "Reasonable Solutions," a six-point plan that improves traffic flow and safety in the Valley without devastating historic resources. The Reasonable Solutions alternative allows for spot improvements on I-81 to alleviate congestion, and eliminates much of the truck traffic on the highway by improving rail facilities in the Valley. "The state transportation bureaucracy needs to work with local governments and citizens groups to find a balance between transportation needs and preservation," remarked Lighthizer.
Howard Kittell, Executive Director of SVBF, echoed Lighthizer's concerns. "I-81 is a major transit artery that runs the entire length of the Shenandoah Valley. If widened, New Market, Cedar Creek, and other irreplaceable Civil War treasures in the Valley will be threatened. These sites are markers of an incredible time in our nation history — it would be tragic to lose them to development and construction."
The report, entitled History Under Siege: A Guide to America's Most Endangered Civil War Battlefields, 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.
The sites mentioned in the report range from the famous to the nearly forgotten. However, all have a critical feature in common, each one or part of each one is in danger of being lost forever. The battlefields were chosen based on geographic location, military significance, and the immediacy of current threats.
In addition to the Shenandoah Valley battlefields, History Under Siege includes:
Chattahoochee River Line, Georgia. Revolutionary in its design and formidable in its strength, the River Line stretches along the northern banks of the 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. 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 Fort Morgan, 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, and large portions of the property are closed to the public due to safety concerns.
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Not only the site of the largest and most costly battle ever fought in the Americas, but also the inspiration for one of President Abraham Lincoln's most immortal speeches, Gettysburg will always be synonymous with the Civil War. Although the park is the most visited Civil War site and forms a 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 positioned just one mile from East Cavalry Field.
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.
Glorieta Pass, New Mexico. This is the place where Federal forces were finally able to turn back the Southern invasion of New Mexico. The decisive day of battle was March 28, 1862, when after skirmishing and maneuvering, the small army of Confederate Lieutenant Colonel William Scurry launched an attack against Federal troops under Union Colonel John Slough resting and filling canteens near Pigeon's Ranch. The fighting dragged on throughout the day, with Scurry's men gradually forcing Slough to retreat eastward. However, the burning of the Confederate supply train by a detachment of blue infantry 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.
New Orleans Forts, Louisiana. In the spring of 1862, Forts Jackson and St. Philip, 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, the forts structural integrity is uncertain following immense damage caused by Hurricane Katrina.
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.
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.