Save 25 Acres at Fredericksburg

A Message from Jim Lighthizer, Civil War Trust President

Dear Friend and Fellow Member,

I have to tell you: I’m both very excited and very concerned.

I am excited because over the next 90 days, you and I have the opportunity to add to our previous success at the Fredericksburg battlefield, by saving an enormously significant and highly threatened 25-acre portion of that battlefield.

Jim LIghthizer

And before I say anything else, let me just tell you that I can multiply every $1.00 you invest in this effort and turn it into $24.09!

At the same time, I am concerned because we have a large bank payment also due in April on the nearby 208-acre Slaughter Pen Farm property which the Civil War Trust purchased in 2006, arguably the most historically significant hallowed ground the Civil War Trust has ever bought . . .

. . . and we absolutely must make that payment.

I’ll give away the end of the story by saying that I hope and pray you will be able to help me tackle both of these challenges today, for the sake of the Fredericksburg battlefield.

First, though, let me start by telling you about the new opportunity to save 25 crucial acres at Fredericksburg, the first land we have had the chance to save there in nearly 8 years!

I usually ask you to look at the official Civil War Trust troop movement battle map, but today, before you do that, I must tell you about the development plan for a 98-townhouse subdivision that has been slated for this property if we cannot save it.

The large areas of green space and open farmland — the preserved hallowed ground that has been saved there by the National Park Service, the Civil War Trust and the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust — are alreading being surrounded by twisting vine-like shoots and stems of the suburban streets of modern subdivisions, squeezing in upon the Fredericksburg battlefield from all sides . . .

. . . the landscape is turning from green to grey as more and more open land is developed and paved over.

The development plan for the townhouse subdivision, which will be built on core battlefield land if we don’t save it, is within a few hundred feet of where Confederate artillerist John Pelham made his gallant stand. Answer me this: Is this any way to honor a Civil War battlefield?

Is this any way to memorialize the soldiers who fought and died there, the site of General George Gordon Meade’s breakthrough of General Stonewall Jackson’s lines, a key moment that almost turned the tide of the battle and American history?

Of course, I already know your answer.But doesn’t it seem incredible that even in 2016, you and I still have to fight these battles to save our history and heritage?

I mentioned to you before that I was very excited about this effort. Here’s why:

Even though the value of this land is (gulp!) $2,590,000, I can tell you that as of today, I am confident we have 95.9 percent of that amount already lined up and ready to go.

Through a combination of a landowner donation, anticipated federal and state grants, and a major gift from a husband-and-wife couple (two of the Civil War Trust’s longest-serving and most generous supporters), that means we have $2,482,500 covered! That leaves us with $107,500 to raise before we absolutely have to close on the property by April 15.

Now, you can look at your battle map. Note the areas in yellow at the southern end of the battlefield that you will be saving. See how General Meade’s left-most brigade of Pennsylvanians swept over this ground, slamming into the Confederates posted there, driving them back in vicious fighting.

The 25 acres to save at the Fredericksburg are in yellow.

 For a brief moment, the Battle of Fredericksburg hung in the balance on this sector of the field; if Meade’s veterans had been reinforced after they pierced the Southern line, this battle could have turned into a major Union victory.

But those boys in blue, fighting for their lives, looked back over their shoulders and saw nothing but open ground, while thousands of their comrades stood unmoving, in reserve not a half-mile away.

Instead, the Confederates were the ones who reinforced their shattered lines, Virginians, Georgians and North Carolinians slamming into the Union attackers and driving them away, sealing the outcome of the battle.

In his official report, Colonel Robert Anderson of the 9th Pennsylvania Reserves (which advanced directly across the land we are saving) could not contain his anger, writing, “I cannot close without expressing the conviction that had we been promptly supported, that portion of the field gained by the valor of our troops could and would have been held against any force the enemy would have been able to throw against us.”

The fighting here was savage, and casualties were heavy on both sides. Further, historian Frank O’Reilly has told me General Stonewall Jackson, after the fighting was over, conducted “a personal reconnaissance with Captain James Power Smith in preparation for a twilight counterattack. On his reconnaissance he ventured close enough to the Federal skirmish line to draw fire. Since he was thinking about a mammoth assault that ranged from north of Deep Run to south of Benchmark [Road], there’s a chance he ventured across this area, if not this parcel.”

And today, with all of the matching funds in place, I can take every $1.00 you commit to saving this exceptional, irreplaceable hallowed ground and turn it into $24.09! Could there be a better way of starting the New Year?

I do have to temper my excitement with my concern over the other large property shown on your map: the 208-acre Slaughter Pen Farm.

Slaughter Pen Farm
The 208-acre Slaughter Pen Farm property is shown in blue.

At $12 million this was the most ambitious nonprofit battlefield acquisition effort in American history, and remains to this day one of the most historically significant pieces of property the members of the Civil War Trust have ever rallied to save.

Can’t you just picture Robert E. Lee, scanning the carnage and chaos of this part of the battlefield through his field glasses, being profoundly moved by the thousands of dead and wounded soldiers of both sides falling on these fields, their lifeblood pouring out into that ground, and whispering his now-famous “war is so terrible” phrase?

Over the years, many people have come to view the Battle of Fredericksburg as nothing more than the senseless slaughter of waves of Union troops as they attempted to dislodge the Confederates from behind their impregnable stone wall at the Sunken Road. These days, it seems Fredericksburg is all-too-often reduced by many to just an “easy” Confederate victory.

But history is rarely so neat. Recent scholarship has shifted greater attention to the important southern section of the battlefield, where the true outcome of this battle hung in the balance.

But as I’ve said many times before, don’t just take my word on how significant this hallowed ground is.

As historian and author Frank O’Reilly movingly says:

The Slaughter Pen is the very heart and soul of the Fredericksburg Battlefield. Without it, nothing makes sense. This is the point where the battle was won and lost on December 13, 1862. After Burnside’s bloody failure here, there was nothing the Union Army could do to win the Battle of Fredericksburg – or the Confederates to lose it. Correspondingly, this is where preservation ultimately will win or lose the struggle for Fredericksburg’s history.

Standing on this unblemished historic land – christened in the blood of brave men, North and South – one touches the past, and understands the sacrifices of those men on the most decisive point of the Fredericksburg Battlefield. They fought for this land, and paid for it with their lives. We need to fight for this land, too – for the past, for them, lest we forget.

After we make our next scheduled payment to the bank of $300,000, we will have raised fully $8.1 million of the $12 million we paid to acquire the property, leaving us with a mortgage of just 36 percent of the cost . . .

. . . putting us even closer to the day when we can declare this monumentally important hallowed ground saved forever!

I told you our payment to the bank is $300,000. That’s a big number, but there is some good news here, too. The same anonymous major donors who are helping us to save the new 25 acres of land are also committing an additional gift to help cover about 12 percent of the debt payment . . .

. . . plus, thanks to generous members like you who donated a tremendous amount via our website before the end of 2015, my calculations show that we can safely tap into a significant portion of those unrestricted funds to help. What does all this mean? It means that if we raise the final $189,000, we will make our annual payment on time, and not be in default on our loan.

So today, will you help me raise the $296,500 total we need in the next 90 days? ($189,000 to cover our loan payment on the Slaughter Pen Farm, $107,500 to save the key 25–acre tract of Meade’s Breakthrough.)

Without your generosity, I cannot save the new “Meade’s Breakthrough” tract. Without your help, I cannot cover the annual loan payment we must make to the bank for the Slaughter Pen Farm, without jeopardizing other possible acquisitions later this year. And without your support, I cannot even think about trying to save even more hallowed ground.

Thank you for all you have done, and all that you continue to do for this noble cause.

Your friend,

Jim Lighthizer

P.S. Don’t forget to visit the main page about this effort at Fredericksburg for even more information, photos, and maps. My friend, if you can help with this first major campaign of 2016, we will be one step closer to “completing” the preservation of the key part of the Fredericksburg battlefield. What a great way to honor those heroes, both North and South, who sanctified this land.

And speaking of heroes, YOU are the real hero of this story, for all that you are doing to save our country’s vitally important history. You are the indispensable person in this fight. And you are the one who deserves all the credit. And for that, I salute you and I thank you.

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