Urgent: Help Save the North Woods at Antietam

A Message from Jim Lighthizer, Civil War Trust President

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Dear Friend,

Jim LIghthizer It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, we have to move fast… and now I need your urgent help. Let me explain...

Just a few weeks ago, we received word that a small but crucial “gateway” parcel of privately owned battlefield land was about to go to auction at the Antietam Battlefield.

For years, this tract (which was part of the famed North Woods) has been one of the highest preservation priorities for the park, but until now there was never a chance to save it.

There is a house and some outbuildings on the 1.2-acre piece of land at the intersection of the Dunker Church Road and the Sharpsburg Pike (which is actually inside the boundary of the battlefield park), but in this case the size of the property pales in significance to its importance:

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First, as Antietam is arguably one of the most important battlefields in the world – let alone the United States – I believe we should seize any chance we get to save any significant hallowed ground there immediately.

Second, this land is absolutely historically significant to the battle, as part of three different Union corps moved across this land to attack Confederates, and it is situated near the important landmark of Nicodemus Heights.

Third, when a property like this goes up for auction, many things can happen, and almost all of them are bad. The new owner could tear down the current house and build a bigger one; they could turn it into a day-care center or other commercial venture.

That’s why if we did not jump on this when we did, this parcel at Antietam would have been auctioned off to the highest bidder, and it might be another generation or more before there was another chance to save it, if ever.

But when we found out this parcel was just days away from going to auction, well . . . I admit to you that I went out on a limb, and now I’m counting on you to tell me I made the right decision.

This all came up very suddenly, but we here at the Trust, acting as your representatives in saving America’s hallowed ground, sprang into action.

We consulted with historians to ensure that the parcel was truly significant to the battle: It is.

Target Property Cold Harbor 2013
The parcel of land, shown is yellow, is , within the boundary of the Antietam National Battlefield in the North Woods.

Situated directly on the southwestern edge of the North Woods and across from the Confederate artillery position on Nicodemus Heights, elements of three Union corps in the action that day – the 1st, 2nd, and 12th – all marched through or took position on this tract as the action swirled around this area for four hours on the morning of September 17, 1862.

Two different 1st Corps brigades, including the famed Iron Brigade, advanced and retreated on this land. A large and inexperienced Pennsylvania 12th Corps unit took position here to stem the Confederate tide, and men of Sedgwick’s division of the 2nd Corps took position here after they met with disaster in the West Woods.

We worked with our friends at the great local preservation group, the Save Historic Antietam Foundation (SHAF), to secure their financial commitment to the transaction to help out: They are in, with a wonderful commitment of $50,000.

My staff and I made a presentation via conference call to the Board of Trustees of the Civil War Trust, to secure approval to bid up to $300,000 total at the auction to try to win the property, even though this amount was not in the current budget. Seeing how important this land is, they approved, as long as I would make a special appeal to raise the money we needed from our members.

In fact, one trustee (who wishes to remain anonymous) was so energized by all of the success you have helped the Trust achieve at Antietam this year, personally gave a significant gift to help make this effort a success (more on that in a moment).

So, on the authority given to me as president of the Civil War Trust by the Board of Trustees, we went to the auction, and started bidding. At one o’clock on a sunny Saturday afternoon, the auctioneer climbed up on the front porch and started the bidding at $150,000. (Remember, with SHAF’s $50,000 and the $250,000 authorized by the Trust Board, $300,000 was our limit.)

Auction Day
The property on auction day.

Very quickly, it became apparent that we were in competition with one other very serious buyer. The bids increased by $10,000 increments . . . soon we passed $200,000 . . . then $250,000 . . . $270,000.

When the other person bid $290,000, we knew we only had one last shot. We bid $300,000 . . . nervous with anticipation, we waited for the other bidder to bid one more time, and snatch the property away from us.

But nothing happened! As fate would have it, the other bidder had reached his top price as well, was not willing to go above $300,000, and dropped out of the bidding! It was just a stroke of amazing luck that we got to bid $300,000 first.

And so just like that, we won the auction, and the several dozen people who were there at the auction broke out into cheers and clapping to hear that the property was going to be saved by the Civil War Trust!

So on this one small tract, we have real history, we had a real threat, and now we face a real challenge to raise the money to pay for it, without having to cancel or put off any other important transactions we already had “in the pipeline” for this year.

Because this land is within the boundary of the Antietam National Battlefield, it is not eligible for any federal matching funds. But as I said, our friends at the Save Historic Antietam Foundation are putting $50,000 into this transaction – and when a local group steps up like this, you know it is an important piece of hallowed ground!

That gets our $300,000 price down to $250,000, but as I also mentioned, a wonderfully generous member of our Board of Trustees has made a significant gift to help save land at Antietam, reducing our need by an additional $55,000!

This gets our final “need” down to $195,000, and while I know that is still a big number, I am confident that you and your fellow members will rally around this chance to save this crucial part of the Antietam battlefield.

Please find the triangular-shaped property on the battle map, and imagine if we had been outbid on that property.

Please, if you can, help me save this North Woods Tract at Antietam.

If you are able to help, I will know that we can save this land, replenish our reserves and move forward with the other important transactions currently in process for the rest of 2015. Whatever you can send to help now – we must go to closing on the property on November 3 – I thank you on behalf of the future generations of Americans who will get to enjoy this preserved land, thanks to you.

Today, you and I are presented with a tremendous opportunity by an ever-kind Providence (as Stonewall Jackson might say), and I hope you will help me take advantage of it.

In return for any gift of $30 or more, it will be my honor to send you our 2016 Civil War Trust calendar. This is a member favorite every year, because unlike store-bought calendars, we feature the talents of your fellow Civil War Trust members, the winners of our annual photo contest. And as hard as it is to believe, the photos just keep getting more and more stunning and breathtaking every year.

You will want this calendar hanging on your refrigerator or in your office, especially when you look at it every day and remember that you have helped saved a key piece of the Antietam battlefield, as well as hallowed ground all across America!

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Beyond this modest symbol of my gratitude, all I can offer you is the assurance that future generations – even if they never know your name –will thank you in their heart of hearts for caring enough to save this land, just as you and I express gratitude to those who saved the hallowed ground we cherish today.

I can offer you the certainty that you – by stepping up to save our country’s history and heritage when so many others turn away – are helping to complete the Antietam Battlefield.

And I can offer you the promise that by preserving the hallowed ground where American soldiers fought and died, you are keeping alive those ideals – honor, duty, courage, valor – which have made this the greatest nation on earth.

As we need to go to closing on this property by November 3, please let me hear back from you as soon as possible, and thank you again.

Most sincerely yours,

Jim Lighthizer

Again, I apologize for the urgency of this note to you today, but it cannot be helped, and I trust you understand that I see it as my duty to alert you when these opportunities arise. I had to prevent this land at Antietam from being auctioned off. Now, I hope you will validate my move to save this land! Please . . . return your most generous gift today, and thank you!

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