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Civil War Trust

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For Immediate Release: 10/13/10

Prominent Historian to Testify on Historic Significance of Wilderness Battlefield Walmart Location

Pulitzer Prize Winning Historian James McPherson to Testify as Expert Witness during Upcoming Wilderness Walmart Trial

(Orange County, Va.) – Counsel for the plaintiffs seeking to prevent construction of a Walmart Supercenter on a portion of the nationally significant Wilderness Battlefield today announced that they will call on Pulitzer Prize winning author and historian James McPherson as a volunteer expert witness.  As part of the pre-trial process, a summary of the testimony that Dr. McPherson will deliver at the trial has been submitted to the defendants.  The trial is set to begin in Orange County Circuit Court on January 25, 2011, and is scheduled to last approximately one week.

McPherson’s testimony addresses the great historic significance of the under-appreciated Battle of the Wilderness, fought May 5–6, 1864, and the specific events that took place on and around the proposed Walmart site.  As his testimony explains, the battle of the Wilderness was one of the most decisive moments of the American Civil War, with some 185,000 soldiers entering combat and 30,000 of them becoming casualties. 

If Union Army commander Ulysses S. Grant had retreated, as previous Union generals had done, the destiny of the United States may have been very different.  McPherson describes the battle as “the beginning of that end, even if the end was still eleven months in the future.  The hinge of fate in the Wilderness did indeed decide the destiny of the continent for centuries.”

In his testimony, McPherson calls the area in which Walmart seeks to build its superstore “the nerve center of the Union Army during the Battle of the Wilderness.”  He notes that the site was to the immediate rear of the Union line at its vulnerable right flank and was guarded by the 22 guns of Col. Charles H. Tompkins’ artillery brigade.  The headquarters of General Grant and other senior army leaders were nearby and the whole vicinity was dotted with encampments and support infrastructure.

Even more significant, the proposed Walmart area was the site of major military hospitals where thousands were treated and many died.  Historical accounts indicate that the battle’s many casualties literally clogged the nearby intersection of the Germanna Plank Road and Orange Turnpike with ambulance wagons and wounded soldiers seeking treatment.  Wounded and dying were of the Fifth and Sixth Corps sprawled across the very ground where Walmart wants to put its supercenter and adjoining parking lot. 

Of the 12,000 Union soldiers wounded at the Battle of the Wilderness, 8,300 were treated at hospitals within a mile of Walmart’s proposed location — the majority of them on or immediately adjacent to that site. McPherson relates a period account of the battle’s aftermath penned in the area stating, “thousands of men ‘stretched upon every available spot of ground for many rods around,’” soldiers who “seemed to have been wounded ‘in every conceivable way, men with mutilated bodies, with shattered limbs and broken heads, men enduring their injuries with heroic patience, and men giving way to violent grief, men stoically indifferent and men bravely rejoicing that it is only a leg.’”

Dr. McPherson is the George Henry Davis ’86 Professor of American History, Emeritus, at Princeton University, and author of many well-respected academic and popular works on the Civil War era, notably the Pulitzer Prize winning book, Battle Cry of Freedom.  McPherson served on the federal Civil War Sites Advisory Commission (CWSAC), which established the accepted historic boundaries of significant battlefields, and is uniquely qualified to address the proposed Walmart site’s historical significance to our American heritage.  McPherson and other experts have identified the Wilderness as a Priority I, Class A battlefield, its highest designation, which indicates that it is one of the 20 most historically significant and preservation-worthy battles of the entire Civil War.  In its 1993 report to Congress, the CWSAC identified the proposed Walmart site as part of the Wilderness battlefield.

In August 2009, the Orange County Board of Supervisors approved a controversial special use permit to allow construction of the Walmart Supercenter and associated commercial development on the Wilderness battlefield.  A wide range of prominent individuals and organizations publicly opposed the store’s location, including more than 250 American historians led by McPherson.  One month after the decision, a group of concerned citizens and the local Friends of Wilderness Battlefield filed a lawsuit to overturn the decision, citing serious procedural problems with the County’s action. 

About the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT)
With 55,000 members, the Civil War Preservation Trust (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.  .Since 1987, the organization has saved more than 29,000 acres of hallowed ground, including nearly 15,000 acres in Virginia.  CWPT’s website is located at www.civilwar.org.

About Friends of Wilderness Battlefield (FOWB)
Friends of Wilderness Battlefield (FoWB) is an all-volunteer non profit organization founded in 1995 to assist the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park in its efforts to preserve the Wilderness Battlefield in Spotsylvania and Orange Counties. The Friends are the primary stewardship organization within the FRSP providing advocacy, educational programs, and service projects for the battlefield. FOWB’s website is www.fowb.org.

About the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA)
Since 1919, the nonpartisan, nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) has been the leading voice of the American people in protecting and enhancing our National Park System. NPCA, its members, and partners work together to protect the park system and preserve our nation’s natural, historical, and cultural heritage for generations to come.  NPCA is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization with more than 325,000 members, including more than 11,000 members in Virginia.   NPCA’s website is located at www.npca.org.

About the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP)
The National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) is a non-profit organization bringing people together to protect, enhance and enjoy the places that matter to them.   With headquarters in Washington, DC, 9 regional and field offices, 29 historic sites, and partner organizations in all 50 states, NTHP provides leadership, education, advocacy and resources to a national network of people, organizations and local communities committed to saving places, connecting us to our history and collectively shaping the future of America’s stories.  NTHP’s website is located at www.preservationnation.org.

About the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC)
The Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) is a grassroots nonprofit emphasizing the links between city and country, nature and people, conserving and creating.  PEC works to safeguarding the landscapes, communities and heritage of Virginia’s Piedmont region by involving citizens in public policy and land conservation.  PEC has facilitated the permanent conservation of 300,000 acres across its nine-county region.  The organization actively advocates on behalf of air and water quality, wildlife habitats, energy solutions and sustainable communities.  PEC’s website is www.pecva.org.

Contacts

  • Jim Campi, CWPT, 202-367-1861 ext. 7205
  • Alison Zemanski, NPCA, 202-454-3332
  • Mary Koik, CWPT, 202-367-1861 ext. 7231

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