Help Save Slaughter Pen Farm and Ball's Bluff

A Message from Jim Lighthizer, Civil War Trust President

Dear Fellow Preservationist,

Jim LIghthizerThere’s no use denying it: I am very, very concerned about one of the most crucial pieces of hallowed ground the Civil War Trust has ever preserved: The Slaughter Pen Farm at Fredericksburg.

As you will recall, this June 2006 transaction was, at $12 million, the largest private battlefield purchase in America’s history, and remains the biggest transaction the Trust has ever attempted. But with the backing of our 53,000+ members, we accepted the risk, and secured these 208 acres of supremely hallowed ground.

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In seven years we have already paid off 60% of this ground which is as pristine today as it was on the day of the battle more than 150 years ago when the soldiers experienced it.

During that time, taking advantage of the current low interest rates, we have also refinanced our loan, saving us many thousands of dollars and allowing us to make payments based on a 20-year repayment schedule.

However, as you can see, we still have several million dollars to pay back before the land can be considered truly “saved forever,” and that is what concerns me today.

Each year, about this time, I send a message like this to you and your fellow members of the Civil War Trust, and so far, every year we have raised enough to make our annual payment to the bank.

But I must be completely candid with you… with each passing year, fewer and fewer members are donating to this still-important campaign.

I understand that “paying down debt” is not terribly exciting, but over the last two years, we have raised just barely enough to make our payment, and that makes me very uneasy for this year. Remember, this land is not completely “saved” until every penny is paid back.

Slaughter Pen Farm

At a time when many people are still cutting back both on personal spending and charitable giving…

… and when we have so many absolutely crucial battlefield preservation projects “in play” at places like Gettysburg, Cold Harbor and a major upcoming effort at Chickamauga…

… well, it’s my job as the Trust’s CEO to be anxious that we might not raise enough this year to make our required payment AND save the must-have land that is coming onto the market.

Thousands of visitors have walked in the footsteps of heroes on this amazing field, following the Trust-created interpretive trail. The land, which was completely off-limits to the general public for decades, is now telling the full story of the Battle of Fredericksburg in ways that have never been told before.

Plus, our free Fredericksburg “Battle App™,” which allows anyone with an iPhone or Android smartphone to download the app, and tour the battlefield from anywhere in the world, has been downloaded thousands of times. (Go to to learn more about our full line of FREE Battle App™ guides.)

Previously, I have always had confidence that we, as an organization, could handle the current Slaughter Pen Farm annual loan payment without jeopardizing other projects.

Today, however, well… I have already told you how deeply worried I am.

We absolutely cannot EVER default on our loan and not make a payment. I won’t let that happen.

But if I don’t raise enough each year with this debt-reduction campaign, I will have to “rob Peter to pay Paul,” that is, allow another preservation priority to slip away and use the funds to honor our contractual obligation to the bank.

We all know how much the economy is still working to get back on its feet. I still hear from members who want to support our mission but, due to job losses or other difficulties, they just can't contribute or give at the level they used to.

And right now, looking forward, the Board of Trustees and I have to make some very difficult decisions about just how much we can tackle in the rest of 2013. But there is one crucial expense that I cannot cut or put off, and that is the Trust’s annual payment to the bank for the Slaughter Pen Farm.

So please, although I know you have already done so much to help save this land, will you help once again with your gift to make sure we can cover the $200,000 I need to raise so that we can cover the loan payment we owe for 2013? Thank you!

As an example of the type of crucial opportunity we have at hand right now, and that I believe we must save, is a $10-to-$1 match for 3 acres that will essentially complete the Ball’s Bluff battlefield in Virginia.

As you look at our battle map, I hope that one thing catches your eye:

Ball’s Bluff is almost a completely preserved Civil War battlefield.

Today, you and I have the chance to preserve forever the last few acres where the first shots of the battle were fired, along with a wartime house that was there at the time of the battle, and declare Ball’s Bluff fully preserved!

The rout of Union forces at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff (October 21, 1861) had political ramifications that would change the nature of the rest of the war.

Based on misunderstood orders, Brig. Gen. Charles Stone sent a small scouting party across the Potomac River in the vicinity of Leesburg, Virginia. In the darkness, the inexperienced head of the party mistook a tree line for a line of tents, and returned to Stone with a report of an unguarded Confederate camp.

Stone decided to take advantage of this opportunity with a nighttime raid and sent about 300 men under Colonel Charles Devens back across the river. When, in the early hours of the 21st, Devens discovered that the line of trees was not, in fact, a campsite, he decided to stay and wait for reinforcements. He hoped to reach Leesburg.

As dawn broke on the 21st, Mississippians under Colonel Nathan “Shanks” Evans encountered Devens’ advanced units and a sharp skirmish began on the land we are saving.

Additional Union support or a timely retreat across the river could have ended the battle at this point. However, there were only three small boats available and attempts to use them to shuttle reinforcements resulted in a terrible bottleneck. Stone sent Col. Edward Baker, a U.S. Senator and personal friend of Abraham Lincoln, to take command of the field.

Whatever resistance the Federals could have offered crumbled when Col. Baker fell with a mortal wound. A complete rout ensued and Evans’ triumphant troops drove the Yankees over the steep bluff and into the Potomac River, firing into the backs of those who attempted to swim for safety. Rather than risk escape, many Union soldiers chose to surrender. By the end of the day, the Union had suffered nearly 1,000 casualties, the Confederates fewer than 200.

This Union defeat at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff had severe political ramifications in Washington. Congress was shocked by the death of Baker, the only U.S. Senator ever killed in battle. They established the Congressional Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, which would lead Union leaders to second-guess their decisions for the rest of the war.

Jackson House

Specifically on the historic home and acreage we are saving, James Morgan, author of A Little Short of Boats, says:

“At the time of the battle of Ball’s Bluff, the home was owned by Mrs. Margaret Jackson, a widow with seven children ranging in ages from about 6 to 25.

“The house was the most prominent landmark noted by the troops who made up the reconnaissance patrol… Col. Charles Devens deployed the men of his raiding party in the tree line that borders the Jackson yard facing west and southwest. The house was more or less in the middle of this first Federal line. Eventually, those troops entered and occupied it, probably using the second story as an observation post.

“One Union soldier wrote of hearing the screams of the women and children in the basement during the fighting which took place in and around the house. A Mississippian later wrote of seeing Union troops run out of the house. At some point, the federal mountain howitzers back near the bluff fired several rounds at the Confederates around it until ordered to cease fire by Lt. Col. Isaac Wistar of the 1st California because he knew there were women and children inside.”

And you and I have the chance to save all this history, and complete the Ball’s Bluff battlefield, with a $10-to-$1 match. These three acres, with the historic home, cost fully $500,000, but through a combination of federal, state and local matching grant applications, we only need to raise the final $50,000 to save this hallowed ground forever!

There might be a few “buffer” or viewshed acres that would be “nice to have” at some point in the future at Ball’s Bluff. But with so many other endangered battlefield priorities on the horizon, I can pretty much guarantee that – once we get these three acres – you will NEVER get another letter from me asking you to help save land at Ball’s Bluff! We can check that one off the list as a major success story.

So today, I ask you please to be as generous as you can and once again help the Civil War Trust meet its annual loan obligation for the Slaughter Pen Farm, as well as help me complete the preservation of one of the most important battlefields of the early years of the Civil War. I have no substitute for your generosity. You have my deepest thanks for all you are doing to save our nation’s history.

Most sincerely yours,

Jim Lighthizer

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