For Immediate Release: 10/27/10
Civil War Preservation Trust Begins National Campaign to Acquire Key Battlefield Land at the Wilderness
Historian James McPherson and Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Doug Domenech join Civil War Preservation Trust to announce effort to protect 49 acres of hallowed ground
(Orange County, Va.) – Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James McPherson and Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Doug Domenech today joined the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT) to announce the launch of a national campaign to permanently protect 49 acres of hallowed ground on the Wilderness Battlefield. The focus of the effort is the Middlebrook Tract, located north of State Route 20 near historic Saunders Field. Surrounded by land currently protected by the National Park Service (NPS), the property was the scene of terrific fighting on May 5 and 6, 1864.
“The Battle of the Wilderness was a true turning point of the Civil War,” said McPherson. “Although the cessation of hostilities was still a year in the future, those days of trauma in the Wilderness marked the beginning of that end. I am honored to be a part of this remarkable opportunity to see more of this pivotal landscape set aside in perpetuity.”
Acquisition of the Middlebrook Tract has long been a priority for the preservation community, both for the intensity of the fighting that occurred there and for its unique location, entirely surrounded by land owned and protected by the National Park Service.
“I firmly believe that this land constitutes some of the most important unprotected battlefield land in America,” said CWPT president James Lighthizer. “If we are successful in saving this key part of the Wilderness, I would count this among my Top 10 personal achievements during my tenure as president of this organization.”
In order to meet the terms of the acquisition contract, CWPT seeks to raise the full purchase price and close on the property by the end of the year. Due to its desirable location with highway frontage along Route 20, the land commands a hefty $1,085,000 price tag. Since there are no matching government funds available for acquisition of this property, this money needs to be raised entirely from the private sector. Fortunately, donors have already begun to step forward in support of the project, including a $100,000 gift from long-time CWPT member John Jansen of Wisconsin.
Just last week CWPT received one of the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s 2010 Partners in Conservation Awards, and Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park (NMP) superintendent Russ Smith said that this acquisition effort is a perfect example of why.
“Time and again, the Civil War Preservation Trust has stepped forward for the benefit of this and other Civil War battlefield parks by purchasing high priority pieces of land,” said Smith. “They are willing to undertake ambitious projects at significant cost. This, coupled with their consistent advocacy on issues of preservation and interpretation, has proven them to be a friend indeed.”
During the past year, CWPT has also acquired land inside the boundaries of Gettysburg NMP, Manassas National Battlefield and Richmond National Battlefield. In addition to this latest Wilderness project, CWPT owns major tracts associated with Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania NMP battlefields, including the 208-acre Slaughter Pen Farm at Fredericksburg, 85 acres associated with Jackson’s Flank Attack at Chancellorsville, 208 acres at the First Day at Chancellorsville site and 685 acres connected to the Battle of Mine Run.
Fought on May 5–7, 1864, the Battle of the Wilderness was the opening engagement General Ulysses S. Grant’s bloody Overland Campaign. In addition to being the first time that legendary generals Grant and his Confederate counterpart Robert E. Lee met in battle, the Wilderness also marked a significant strategic shift in the Union war effort. After days of costly and inconclusive fighting in the tangled underbrush, rather than retreating northward, as his predecessors had done following major battles, Grant continued to push his army south toward Richmond.
Figuring heavily into the action of both May 5 and May 6, Saunders Field was one of the few large clearings on the battlefield, making combat in the area especially fierce. For his valorous actions on the property on May 5, Lt. John Patterson of the 11th U.S. infantry was awarded the Medal of Honor. The following day, the Middlebrook Tract was the scene of a dramatic counterattack that turned the tide of a major Confederate onslaught threatening to turn the Union flank.
In addition to the Wilderness property, CWPT is currently engaged in active fundraising efforts to save significant battlefield properties at Brandy Station, Va., Franklin, Tenn., Gettysburg, Pa., and Second Manassas, Va. To learn more about these and future opportunities, visit www.civilwar.org/take-action/save-a-battlefield.
With 55,000 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 has helped preserve more than 29,000 acres of battlefield land across the nation, including nearly 15,000 acres in Virginia and 158 acres previously saved at the Wilderness. CWPT’s website is www.civilwar.org.