Save 179 Acres at Chancellorsville and The Wilderness Battlefields
A Message from Jim Lighthizer, CWPT President
“Jackson sat on his horse, watch in hand.
As he looked right and left at his line, everyone around Jackson looked at him.
The general glanced down again at the watch. It was 5:15.
“Are you ready, General Rodes?” he asked. “Yes, sir,” came an emphatic answer.
Jackson replied simply and quietly: “You can go forward, then.”
— James I. Robertson, Jr., from "Stonewall Jackson: The Man, The Soldier, The Legend.”
I write to you today with extraordinarily important battlefield preservation news, even though I fully realize that – in this still-lethargic economy – it presents a significant challenge to all of us who care about saving our country’s history.
I have so much to tell you. Let me explain . . .
First, CWPT has just received a signed contract from a landowner who is willing to sell us the most crucial unprotected part of the Chancellorsville battlefield.
In fact, historian Robert K. Krick has called this 80-acre tract “the #2 most important piece of unprotected battlefield land in the nation.”
But even beyond that, our good friends at the Central Virginia Battlefield Trust have asked us to help them secure a crucial 94-acre parcel at The Wilderness Battlefield, one that will act as a bulwark against further development, especially if Walmart is ultimately successful in building their supercenter (that fight ain’t over yet – more on that in a moment).
I realize that you probably think I have been darn-near relentless in writing to you this year about opportunities to save hallowed ground.
And I understand that in this still-tight economy, many people are stretched to the limit, and must be careful in the amount of charitable contributions they can make.
All I can say in my defense is that CWPT has never had a better opportunity to save supremely significant battlefield land in Virginia, as the clock now winds down to less than 90 days before the $5.2 million state matching fund expires.
And to the extent that you can budget your giving for the rest of this year, I hope you will agree that CWPT is making great strides in achieving the mission you want to accomplish: saving America’s most important and threatened hallowed ground, by greatly multiplying your generosity with outside matching fund sources.
Over the past nine years, I have written many letters to many friends like you asking for your help, commitment and generosity to save hallowed ground.
But as I sit down to write to you today, I have rarely felt a greater sense of the awesome responsibility that I must fulfill to you, to the Civil War Preservation Trust and, in truth, to our entire nation.
This is because I must tell you about one of the most important pieces of battlefield land that the Civil War Preservation Trust has ever attempted to save: The 80-acre “Jackson’s Flank Attack” tract at the Chancellorsville Battlefield in Virginia.
With the historic battlefield preservation effort that I am announcing today, I humbly submit to you that:
– By saving the most historically significant unprotected hallowed ground at one of America’s most important Civil War battlefields, Chancellorsville . . .
– By quickly taking advantage of the last chance to utilize more than half a million dollars from the Commonwealth of Virginia to preserve that storied place . . .
– And by accepting the challenge of raising the money needed now, in one of the worst economies you and I have ever lived through, you and I can save an irreplaceable piece of our nation’s heroic past that, if we do not act, could become just another blot of ugly suburban sprawl.
At 80 acres, located at the critical heart of the maelstrom of significant fighting during Stonewall Jackson’s flank attack, this is truly the most significant part of the Chancellorsville battlefield that remains to be saved.
The purchase price: $1.525 million.
That is not a typo, my friend. The purchase price for the 80-acre farm is $1.525 million. That is a huge amount of money, especially in this economy, but the great news is that CWPT already has about 66 percent of that money lined up through various commitments, meaning that every $1 you give to help will be multiplied by nearly $3 from those sources!
But before I say another word, let me be absolutely clear with you on the significant details of this transaction, because you need to know what this unprecedented challenge truly means for all of us.
To give you a quick thumbnail sketch, the basic financial elements of this transaction are:
– $ 1,525,000 Purchase price
– $ 508,333 State matching grant from Virginia (expires Dec. 31, 2009!)
– $ 500,000 Federal matching grant
– $ 516,667 Amount CWPT needs to raise
That’s a lot of money for hard-pressed CWPT members to come up with, I know.
But in the interest of full transparency, let me tell you our plan for getting those funds and saving this priceless ground before the end of the year.
We have made good headway this year in reaching out to new foundations who might be interested in supporting our mission.
Within a few days of your receipt of this letter, we will be making a proposal to a large private foundation – whose name I cannot yet divulge – for a special grant that would fund the entire remaining $517,000 that we need to raise! (You can’t hit a home run if you don’t swing for the fences, right?)
However . . . there are several factors working against us. First, of course, this particular private foundation has never given CWPT a grant before. Second, the economy – while not in a free fall as it was this time last year – is still not what it was several years ago.
Best case: CWPT could literally get a check for the full $517,000 before the end of the year. Worse case: we could end up with nothing. Most likely case: we get a grant for something less than the full $517,000.
With that said, I believe the prudent thing to do is to proceed as if the foundation grant will bring in 50 percent of what we need ($258,500), and that we will still have to raise the other half of the match before the end of the year.
If we are fortunate enough to receive a grant for all of the amount we need, rest assured, your donation will definitely be used to help with the other Virginia battlefields we are racing to save, to make sure we fully draw down this “use-it-or-lose-it” state matching money . . .
. . . crucial, must-have land at Malvern Hill, Glendale and Appomattox Station. (These are all very recently-solidified transactions where, in some cases, we just finalized contracts with landowners after more than a year of negotiations!)
But this land at Chancellorsville is arguably one of the most historically significant pieces of hallowed ground CWPT has ever saved, and we have just got to get it! Just like our purchase of the Slaughter Pen Farm at Fredericksburg three years ago, this is what we are in business to do! This is why we exist!
I know you know the history . . . I’m sure you can picture thousands of Confederates surging across this land, in frenzied pursuit of the surprised Union Eleventh Corps . . . the Federals quickly trying to form what would later be known as the “Buschbeck Line,” directly on the eastern edge of this property, in a brave attempt to hold back the Confederate tide . . .
. . . Shelby Foote described one-armed General O.O. Howard at the Wilderness Church “clamping a stand of abandoned colors under the stump of his amputated arm,” while holding the reins of his horse with his other hand, tears in his eyes, as he tried to get his men to stand and form . . .
. . . Stonewall Jackson himself passed along the road adjacent to this property, stopping to pray over mortally wounded men, pressing forward where, a mile east and a few hours later, he himself would be mortally wounded.
But please don’t take my word on how important this part of the Chancellorsville battlefield is. Here is what historian Robert K. Krick has to say:
When “Stonewall” Jackson turned to a subordinate at about 5:15 on the afternoon of May 2, 1863, just west of Chancellorsville, and said “You can go forward, then,” he unleashed a mighty surprise attack. Jackson’s overwhelming assault shattered the Federal Eleventh Corps and led to what aptly has been called “Lee’s Greatest Victory.”
Nearly 30,000 Confederates erupted out of the thickets behind their surprised foe and “swept like an avalanche” over the enemy, screaming the Rebel Yell. “They fled before us equal to sheep,” one attacker recalled. In his official report, a colonel from Massachusetts drolly described his fleeing friends as being “under the influence of an aversion for Stonewall Jackson.” A demoralized Federal said of the Southern battle cry that afternoon that the rebels “all . . . roar like beasts.”
The preservation coup by the CWPT in acquiring some 80 acres in the midst of the Flank Attack deserves universal applause as a spectacular success. The Wagner tract, just east of Wilderness Church, includes nearly 2,000 feet of frontage on the north shoulder of the historic Orange Plank Road. Extinguishing the potential for dense commercial use along that long stretch seems to me to constitute the most dazzling jewel in the CWPT’s long and impressive history of preserving hallowed ground.
Let those words sink in for a moment . . . the most dazzling jewel in the CWPT’s long and impressive history of preserving hallowed ground.
That sounds to me like the historian who likely knows this ground best is telling us that its preservation might just be the most important work we have done to date!
This is our chance to do something that we can be proud tell our grandchildren about . . . something that will live on forever.
And not only can we save 80 irreplaceable acres at Chancellorsville, but we can also help save another 94 acres just three miles west, at The Wilderness Battlefield!
As you know, The Wilderness has been at the center of our attention for more than a year, as we have led a coalition of groups attempting to work with the Orange County supervisors and Walmart to convince them to move their proposed “supercenter” a few miles away from the battlefield.
Last month, however, the Board of Supervisors voted to allow Walmart to have the special permit needed to build their huge new development on that site, literally across the road from the entrance to the Wilderness national park.
Some people thought, “Well, that’s it. Walmart wins.” Hold on: not so fast.
Working behind the scenes, CWPT has been helping both the National Trust for Historic Preservation and some local landowners, and they have now come forward with a lawsuit against Orange County. (CWPT does not own land close enough for us to have “standing” in the lawsuit, so we are providing other crucial support.)
This lawsuit seeks to address the alleged very serious breaches in process that went on during the course of our year-long debate with Walmart and will force Walmart to delay breaking ground.
In the meantime, our friends at the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust have gotten a contract on a crucial 94-acre parcel less than a half-mile away from where Walmart wants to build.
If the battlefield preservation community prevails in its lawsuit and Walmart is forced to relocate its store a few miles away and the CVBT is successful in acquiring this land, then everyone wins.
But if we lose this fight and Walmart (and the wave of development that will come with it) gets to build its “supercenter,” then this important acreage – as you can see from your map – will literally become a crucial earthwork fortification against further rampant development of The Wilderness Battlefield.
CWPT’s cost: Just $95,000 out of a total $950,000 transaction – and I am asking a major CWPT benefactor to put up fully half of that amount ($47,500), which would mean our final number left to raise would be $47,500. That’s a $20-to-$1 multiplier of your donation dollar!
This transaction also uses up additional Virginia matching funds that expire at the end of this year, as well as a $450,000 federal grant and CVBT is raising all of the rest!
I know I need to wrap up this very detailed, complex letter. Thank you for reading this far.
To summarize, to make sure we have enough funds before the end of the year to close on the “Jackson’s Flank Attack” 80 acres at Chancellorsville, and to help our friends at the CVBT save 94 acres at The Wilderness, I need to raise $306,000 ($258,500 for Chancellorsville, plus $47,500 for The Wilderness).
I know that is a big number, and that we are all stretched. But if we are successful, I am certain we can save these absolutely crucial 174 acres, valued at $2,475,000 – that would work out to a total $8-to-$1 match of your generosity.
Plus, if we are successful in receiving that full foundation grant (I will be sure to let you know what happens), any additional funds raised can go to one of the other Virginia mega-projects we are racing to close on before December 31.
I believe battlefield visitors 200 years from now will validate our decision. And I also believe this:
Future generations will forgive us
if we try to save this hallowed ground, but fail;
they will never forgive us – nor should they – if we fail to try.
For your gift of $100 or more, I will do something that CWPT has done with great success at several other battlefields around the nation, such as The Slaughter Pen Farm at Fredericksburg, the First Day at Chancellorsville, Harpers Ferry, Parker’s Crossroads and more:
For your donation of just $100 or more today, I will include your name
on a permanent display that will stand on this hallowed ground.
You read that right; this offer is not just for those “heavy hitters” among us; everyone who gives $100 or more to this appeal will have his or her name included on this commemorative display!
CWPT is going to recognize – at Chancellorsville, on this ground – the thousands of CWPT members who will now make this historic victory possible!
Those who are motivated to give a higher donation will have their name listed in a progressively larger size; we’ve done that before, and I think it’s a fair thing to do. I hope you agree.
I can’t name a building after you like colleges, hospitals and museums do, but I can give you a little piece of on-site Civil War immortality, and identify for future generations those 21st century heroes like you who came together with CWPT to save the land where 19th century heroes hallowed the ground forever.
I realize this letter probably seems interminable to you, but I did not want you to have a single question about any detail of this extraordinarily challenging effort.
Now, I place the future of these two hallowed battlefields in your hands. Look at the map that I have sent. See that I have put $1,000 of my own money into this fight already. Tell me that you would like to have your name included on the battlefield display signs . . .
. . . but even more than all of this, decide today what you want your battlefield preservation legacy to be.
I hope that you just chose to join in CWPT’s historic, unprecedented and absolutely necessary effort to save these key parts of the Chancellorsville and Wilderness battlefields. Please let me hear back from you today. 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/chancellorsville09. Fantastic maps, recent and historic photos of the land we are saving, plus a great new video of historian Bob Krick describing the historic significance of this hallowed ground. 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. 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. Today, I ask you plainly and sincerely, if it is within your power to do so, to please help CWPT save these crucial acres of priceless hallowed ground at Chancellorsville and The Wilderness.
You may not know this, but in 2008 (a pretty good year for the economy, until last September), CWPT saved 1,055 acres. So far this year – in the worst economy that many of us can remember – we have already saved more than 1,300 acres, and could save another 450 quality acres in the next 90 days, including these parts of Chancellorsville and The Wilderness!
If you are associated with another non-profit organization anywhere in America that will realize a 65% increase in the success rate of their core mission in these past 12 tumultuous months, please let me know about them, because I want to send that group a check!
Of course, all of the credit for this remarkable success story goes to you and your fellow members. Without your generosity, CWPT could not take advantage of these tremendous federal and state matching grants, money that makes our work possible.
Let me say it again: I understand that each person is doing what they can financially. I just pray that you will be able to help once again today, so we can continue this unprecedented run of success.
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 are proud to be a member of CWPT. Thank you and God bless you.