Save 44 Acres at the Epicenter of Antietam
A Message from Jim Lighthizer, Civil War Trust President
** Fundraising has ended **
Dear Dedicated Preservationist,
Before another second goes by, please – please – look at the special series of battlemaps that I have for you today.
These are maps of the Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg), fought on September 17, 1862, still the single bloodiest day in American history. More Americans perished on that day than during the attack on Pearl Harbor, D-Day or September 11.
And the triangular-shaped parcel of land at the heart of these maps, highlighted in yellow – what I am calling “The Epicenter of Antietam” – has been described as the most blood-soaked ground on that entire battlefield.
It is no exaggeration to say that during five hours of the most intense combat ever witnessed on the North American continent, thousands of men – North and South – shed their blood on this ground.
This 44-acre piece of central battlefield land is one of the most important… one of the most significant… one of the most priceless parcels of hallowed ground you and I have ever had the chance to save.
And today, you and I can save it forever!
I realize that it might strike you as odd that this land – bounded by such prominent Antietam landmarks as the Cornfield, the East Woods, the Smoketown Road, the Dunker Church and the West Woods – is still threatened. After all, it is literally surrounded by protected National Park Service property.
But this incredibly important land is a special case. It is one of those rare properties called an “in-holding,” which is privately owned land contained within the boundary lines of a national park. Because it is private property, it has been completely inaccessible to the general public.
And although some restrictions were voluntarily placed on the property years ago by the landowner, it is most emphatically not fully protected, and will not be, until we purchase it!
In fact, the greatest threat to this land for many years has been that the property could be sold to a buyer who might try to replace the existing older farmhouse with a massive “McMansion” right in the heart of the Antietam battlefield.
And before you say “that could never happen,” I ask you to recall that the Civil War Trust just tore down such a monstrosity that was built several years ago right on top of Jeb Stuart’s headquarters at Fleetwood Hill, on the Brandy Station battlefield! It can, and sometimes does, happen!
Instead of that sad fate, however, the current landowner has given the Civil War Trust the opportunity to buy the land, so that it could be preserved and eventually restored to the way it looked on September 17, 1862!
The price to purchase and restore this land (which includes removing the modern house and even replanting a portion of the East Woods): $575,000. While that is a big number, it is also a very fair price. But there are several challenges:
First, we have to close on the property by June 30 of this year… that’s only about 90 days from the time you are reading this letter.
Next, because of where this land is situated (inside the official boundary of the Antietam National Battlefield), it is not eligible for any federal matching grant money, and there is no state money to help out either.
We need to raise the full $575,000 on our own. In 90 days.
There is good news on that front, however. In the last few weeks, I have put out the word to many of the Trust’s top supporters – including members of our own Board of Trustees. Based on my conversations with them, by our June 30 deadline, I expect to have raised $460,000 from these folks. But to assume much more from these friends could put the whole endeavor at risk.
That’s why today, I ask you please to help me raise the final $115,00 in the next 90 days to save this absolutely crucial land at the heart of the Antietam Battlefield.
One glance at the map shows you how essential this hallowed ground is. But don’t take my word for it… I asked several of today’s leading Civil War historians to tell me what they thought about the opportunity to save this vitally important “Epicenter” of the Antietam Battlefield:
“I have given many tours of the Antietam battlefield. I always begin the tour at the North Woods, where General Joe Hooker looked south across the Miller cornfield at dawn on September 17 and saw the Dunker Church, toward which he directed the attack that his corps launched a few minutes later. Today we can't see the same view because the house and barn of the ‘Epicenter’ tract block the way. To acquire this property and restore the same view that Hooker and his men saw on that fateful morning would be one of the greatest coups in the history of battlefield preservation.” — James McPherson, author of The Battle Cry of Freedom
“In the ‘stubblefield,’ as some soldiers called it, just south of the Cornfield, Lawton’s Georgians fought tenaciously early on September 17. A Texan advancing through the field ‘passed...a complete line of dead Georgians as far as I could see.’ Another Texan wrote: ‘I fired over sixty shots and none farther than one hundred paces.’ For nearly a half-century I have described the savage maelstrom of battle on that field to tour groups gathered along its boundary, without access to the ground. CWT’s acquisition of this land must be accounted among the most spectacular preservation coups in memory.” — Robert K. Krick, author of Stonewall Jackson at Cedar Mountain
“Any way today’s visitor looks at it, this 44-acre tract is as vital to an understanding and interpretation of the morning’s fight – for Miller’s cornfield and the West Woods slaughter – as any other land that has been preserved at Antietam. Any development there would destroy the integrity of what has been saved before. I’ve always wondered what would happen to this property. My opinion: This is one of the most important actions the Trust has taken in a long, long time.” — Ed Bearss, Historian Emeritus, National Park Service, and Trustee of the Civil War Trust
“The ‘Epicenter’ tract at Antietam is a spectacularly important piece of the battlefield. Intense fighting in this triangular-shaped area played out during the first phase of the battle. Its acquisition would bring under perpetual protection the ground over which John Bell Hood’s division moved to engage surging Federals in Miller’s Cornfield and would knit together much of the heart of the battlefield.” — Gary W. Gallagher, John L. Nau III Professor of History, University of Virginia
“That tract of land, consecrated by the blood of patriots, is a holy memorial to American courage and sacrifice. Preserving it for all time to come is a move that the whole nation should applaud.” — Dr. James I. Robertson, Jr., author of Stonewall Jackson: The Man, The Soldier, The Legend
“When I think of this land, this is what I see in my mind's eye. Early morning, Sept. 17, 1862, Antietam battlefield. Major Rufus Dawes, 6th Wisconsin Infantry, reporting: ‘At the front edge of the corn-field was a low Virginia rail fence. Before the corn were open fields, beyond which was a strip of woods surrounding a little church, the Dunker church. As we appeared at the edge of the corn, a long line of men in butternut and gray rose up from the ground. Simultaneously, the hostile battle lines opened a tremendous fire upon each other. Men, I cannot say fell; they were knocked out of the ranks by dozens. But we jumped over the fence, and pushed on, loading, firing, and shouting as we advanced. There was, on the part of the men, great hysterical excitement, eagerness to go forward, and a reckless disregard of life, of every thing but victory.’" — Stephen W. Sears, author of Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam
"Not only is this the single most intrusive, and thus important, in-holding at Antietam, but statistically speaking, there were more casualties on this piece of land than there were in the famous Bloody Cornfield. I cannot think of a more critical piece of land at Antietam necessary to tell the story of the battle than this tract." — Dr. Tom Clemens, Editor, Ezra Carman's Maryland Campaign of September 1862
"The bloodiest ground of the bloodiest day in American history." — Dennis E. Frye, author of September Suspense, Antietam Revealed, and co-founder of Save Historic Antietam Foundation.
In the entire history of the battlefield preservation movement, I don’t recall that there has ever been such unanimous, enthusiastic and unqualified support for saving any one 44-acre piece of battlefield land among the “high priests,” that is, the leading historians, of our business. Ever!
My friend, there are still a few key parts of the Antietam battlefield yet to be saved… but none are more important than this one. Even if you and I can never save another square inch at Antietam after this 44-acre epicenter, I will be content.
What a legacy to leave for all future generations who will visit this supremely significant battlefield. As you well know, the Battle of Antietam not only altered the course of the War, it turned the tide of American history. It marked the end of George McClellan’s Civil War military career, while at the same time ending the Confederacy’s hope for foreign political recognition. It gave Lincoln the victory he needed to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which changed the character of the War. It can be called – without exaggeration – one of the most important, significant and pivotal battles in the history of the world.
And today, you and I have it within our reach to save the most important, significant and pivotal unprotected land at that battlefield.
My friend, I know everyone’s financial circumstances are different. But given the urgency and supreme importance of this most hallowed land, I pray that you will make every possible effort to stand with me today, and make your most generous gift to help the Civil War Trust raise the final $115,000 needed to save and restore this land forever.
With the $460,000 in leadership gifts and commitments I expect to have raised by our June 30 deadline, it is essentially the same as having a government matching grant – every $1 you give today is multiplied by a factor of five!
Over the past fifteen years, I have written many letters to friends like you asking for your help, commitment and generosity to save hallowed ground.
I know you have already done so much for the cause of Civil War battlefield preservation. You have already been so generous, and you have saved so much hallowed ground for future generations. I am so proud to be engaged in this noble work with you, and of all we achieved together, for the good of our nation. I can only hope that you, too, are gratified to be a member of the Civil War Trust, because this organization would be nothing… could do nothing… without you.
Today, I ask you plainly, if it is within your power to do so, please help me and the Civil War Trust save these crucial 44 acres of priceless hallowed ground at the Epicenter of Antietam.
Please return your generous gift today, and join in this historic, unprecedented and absolutely necessary effort to save this key part of the Antietam battlefield. I look forward to hearing back from you as soon as possible. Thank you.
With gratitude, appreciation and awe,
P.S. As always, there is a tremendous amount of additional information about this historic effort on our website at www.civilwar.org/antietam15. Fantastic maps, recent and historic photos of the land we are saving, plus much more! I encourage you to visit and see all we have to offer, then make your donation either on-line or by mailing back your gift. Many thanks.
P.P.S. One more reminder – did I mention that we must close on the property in less than 90 days?! A week ago I celebrated my 69th birthday; I could not ask for a better present than to see this land preserved in the next 90 days! Please send your gift to make this preservation dream a reality today. Thank you again!