Civil War Trust
For Immediate Release: 02/13/07
Civil War Preservation Trust Unveils Report on Most Endangered Battlefields
Former Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson, descendant of Civil War soldier, and Former New York Congressman Bob Mrazek, noted Civil War novelist, join CWPT to announce report
(Washington, D.C.) - An historic West Virginia village where the scenic Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers meet, a once rural crossroads town in Pennsylvania where the blood of 50,000 Americans was shed and a Tennessee battleground where weary Confederates paid dearly for their slumber are 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.
"The Civil War was the most tragic conflict in American history. For four long years, North and South clashed in hundreds of battles and skirmishes that sounded the death knell of slavery," said CWPT President James Lighthizer. "Nearly 20 percent of America's Civil War battlefields have already been destroyed?denied forever to future generations."
Joining Lighthizer at the news conference was former Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson, whose ancestor served with the 1st Alabama at Spring Hill, Tennessee, and former New York Congressman Bob Mrazek, a noted Civil War novelist. Wilson is the central character of the best selling book Charlie Wilson's War, soon to be a major motion picture starring Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Phillip Seymour Hoffman.
In their remarks, both lawmakers expressed strong support for the Civil War Battlefield Preservation Program, the principal federal program for protecting historic battlefield land. According to Wilson, the program has been used to save more than 14,000 acres of hallowed ground nationwide.
Also participating in the news conference was Dr. Libby O'Connell, Chief Historian of The History Channel. O'Connell developed and oversees Save Our History, The History Channel's campaign for historic preservation and history education.
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 15 additional "at risk" sites that round out the top 25 endangered battlefields in the country.
According to Lighthizer, 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 forever, either fully or in part. The battlefields were chosen based on geographic location, military significance, and the immediacy of current threats.
Among the sites on this year's list is Harpers Ferry, W.Va., famous as the site of John Brown's abortive attempt to arm and liberate local slaves, but also the site of an important 1862 battle. From the heights that surround the sleepy village, Maj. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson orchestrated one of the largest mass surrenders in American history. In August 2006, a consortium of Jefferson County, W. Va. developers crossed onto National Park Service (NPS) property and dug two 1,900-foot-long trenches for water and sewer pipes. They did so without receiving a permit from NPS and, despite repeated requests to cease and desist, left nearly two acres of taxpayer-owned hallowed ground seriously compromised. Now, thanks to this illegal construction, the same developers are proposing a massive development along the ridgeline.
The unprecedented bloodletting at Gettysburg, Pa., transformed the town into a mecca for those who sought to commemorate the sacrifices made there and on other battlefields. Although a proposal to build a 5,000-slot gambling facility one mile from the battlefield was defeated in December 2006, development pressures at Gettysburg continue unabated. According to The Gettysburg Times, the county estimates that 1,100 homes are either under construction or slated to begin shortly. Another 14,000 units have been proposed, and 6,500 more are foreseeable in the near future.
The struggle for Spring Hill, Tenn., was an attempt by Confederates to prevent an isolated Union column from retreating to nearby Franklin. Late in the day the Southern army gained a strategic position from which to cut off the Union retreat, but failed to attack. While Southern soldiers rested on their arms, the entire Union army passed them by, leading to the Battle of Franklin and its 6,200 Confederate casualties. Today, expansion of the Nashville and Franklin suburbs is eating away at large portions of the Spring Hill Battlefield. In January 2007, construction began on a massive commercial development — a 62-acre, 465,000-square-foot shopping center, which will contain a SuperTarget, Kohl's and 31 other retail units.
In addition to Harpers Ferry, Gettysburg and Spring Hill, History Under Siege includes:
Cedar Creek, Va. Despite a string of defeats in the Shenandoah Valley, the Confederate Army launched an audacious surprise assault at Cedar Creek, Va. on the morning of Oct. 19, 1864, that nearly reversed Southern fortunes in the valley. Unfortunately for the Rebels, the Federals rallied and launched a crushing counter-attack. Today, a rezoning application could allow the O-N Minerals Company to expand its current mining operations with five additional quarries across an area where at least 60 percent of the land is core battlefield.
Fort Morgan, Ala. In August 1864, Mobile Bay was one of the last ports available to the beleaguered Confederacy. After 18 days of intermittent bombardment by a Federal fleet under Adm. David Farragut, Fort Morgan surrendered its 46 guns and 500-man garrison. Today the once formidable Fort Morgan has fallen into significant disrepair. In 2006 the Alabama Historical Commission adopted a new plan to gradually increase staff and repair storm damage to the property. But full implementation of the management plan will require substantial state funding.
Iuka, Miss. On September 19, 1862, a bitter, pitched battle raged at Iuka for three hours, during which the Confederates managed to drive the head of the Federal column back. The presence of Union reinforcements the next morning caused Confederates to withdraw to the south. Today, as on many other Civil War battlefields, modern roadways penetrate the core battlefield and scene of the most significant fighting at Iuka. A motel was built on the spot where Lt. Cyrus Sears' 11th Ohio Battery unlimbered and served its guns in the heart of the battlefield; the building's foundation destroyed the hillside and valuable artifacts were lost.
Marietta, Ga. Following intense fighting at the end of May 1864, action during the Atlanta Campaign shifted eastward as Confederate forces occupied a long line of entrenchments from Lost Mountain to Brushy Mountain, near Marietta. Eventually, Federal forces drove the Confederates from the mountains eastward to the Kennesaw Mountain line. Today, huge sections of trenches and fortifications remain unprotected, and, in some instances, earthworks have been intentionally bulldozed to avoid complications that could scare away potential developers.
New Orleans Forts, La. In the spring of 1862, the Union navy launched an offensive to capture New Orleans, despite the series of forts built to defend against a nautical assault. Two of the greatest obstacles were Forts Jackson and St. Philip, situated on opposite banks of the river 70 miles south of the city. Fort Pike, just outside New Orleans, defended an alternate route. In August 2005, all three were devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Eighteen months later, though the initial cleanup has been completed, important questions remain about the future of the forts that once defended New Orleans.
Northern Piedmont, Md., Pa. and Va. The Northern Piedmont, a bucolic region that encompasses parts of Md., Pa. and Va., was one of the most heavily contested areas of America during the Civil War. Today, energy giants Dominion Virginia Power and Allegheny Power have proposed 500-kilovolt power lines that would devastate environmental, cultural and historical resources throughout the region. The most controversial route, proposed in Northern Virginia, would affect some 48,000 acres of land protected under preservation easements, including seven Civil War battlefields.
Petersburg, Va. For 10 months in 1864 and 1865, the area around Petersburg, Va., was honeycombed with tunnels and earthworks as Union and Confederate forces created trenches extending as far as 30 miles from the city center. In all, 18 major battles were fought in the area. The 2006 federal Base Realignment and Closure commission report call for a drastic increase in the size of Fort Lee, a U.S. Army installation located adjacent to the Petersburg National Battlefield. Estimates are that the on-base population will increase by 119 percent and that approximately $1 billion will be spent on building upgrades and new construction. Such incredible growth in such a short time will threaten the Park's historic buildings, landscape and archeological resources.
With 70,000 members, CWPT is the largest nonprofit battlefield preservation organization in the United States. Its mission is to preserve our country's remaining Civil War battlefields. Since 1987, the organization has saved more than 23,500 acres of hallowed ground nationwide. CWPT's website is located at www.civilwar.org.