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Civil War Trust

New Preservation Opportunity at Perryville

A Message from Jim Lighthizer, Civil War Trust President

** Read the November 2011 Perryville Update Here » **

Dear Fellow Preservationist,

Jim LIghthizer

I don't mind telling you...this may be the most meaningful letter I have ever written to you as president of this organization.

Recently, in Gettysburg, Chairman of the Board Henry Simpson was joined by Pulitzer Prize-willing historian James M. McPherson and our newest trustee, country music star Trace Adkins, to announce the most audacious goal in the history of the battlefield preservation movement in America:

The Civil War Trust is launching an ambitious nationwide campaign to save 20,000 acres of hallowed ground in just the next five years.

This effort is called "Campaign 150: Our Time, Our Legacy," because you and I both know that we will never -- in our lifetimes -- have a better opportunity to save hallowed ground than we will during the Sesquicentennial commemoration of the Civil War now underway.

The total financial goal of the campaign is $40 million, of which $35 million will be raised to match millions more to save those 20,000 acres, and $5 million which will be raised to drive our all-important education and technology programs, ensuring that our preservation work endures for future generations.

Because you have been so wonderfully supportive of our shared mission, I wanted to let you know personally: 1) why the Board of Trustees has decided to launch this campaign   now, 2) tell you about the great progress we have already made, and 3) tell you about  the remarkable preservation opportunity we now have at a major Western Theatre battlefield.

First, some quick history to set the stage for you.

For the initial thirteen years or so of the modern battlefield preservation movement, our predecessor groups were able to save, on average, about 650 acres of land per year.  A very good start.

In 1999, those groups merged to form our current Civil War Trust.  In our first eleven years, thanks to your generosity, we drove that average number of acres saved up to about 2,200 acres per year.  We can all be proud of that record!

However, please remember that our nation is still in danger of losing about an acre of battlefield land every hour, about 10,000 acres of hallowed ground every year!

To my mind, that is and always has been utterly unacceptable.

The remaining "inventory" of battlefield land -- which is shrinking at an ever-accelerating rate -- will either be saved forever or lost for good, I estimate,  in the next ten years, and in many cases, the next five years!

If our generation -- yours and mine -- does not save this sacred, beautiful, significant ground now, in the time we have left to us, it will all be gone by the time you and I leave this earth.

That is why the primary goal of this major campaign is to save 4,000 acres per year, 20,000 additional acres through the end of 2015, the year the Sesquicentennial ends, doubling our pace of preservation!

Audacious?  You bet...but do we really have a choice?

Given the state of the economy over the past several years, some might think that launching a $40 million campaign right now might be taking on too much.  You might ask, "Why now, Jim?"

Well, my thinking is that the Sesquicentennial commemoration of the Civil War offers us the most unique and exciting opportunity you and I will ever have to save hallowed ground.

In our lifetimes, there will never be a better period of heightened interest in this subject; real estate prices will likely never be lower; the leadership of the Trust (your board members and professional staff) has never been stronger; our national membership base is loyal and generous; and our previous eleven years of hard work have positioned us as the leading and most successful heritage land preservation organization in America.

In short, you and I  have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring together all of these advantages, and leave for future generations the most significant legacy coming out of the Sesquicentennial:

During the next few years, there will be numerous conferences, re-enactments, speeches and symposia.  But long after these events are forgotten, one thing will remain: The battlefield land saved forever by you and the Civil War Trust. 

I can anticipate your first question: "Jim, $40 million is a lot of money.  How in the world does the Trust plan to raise that much?"

First, let me tell you that the extraordinarily dedicated and generous members of the Civil War Trust Board to Trustees have stepped forward to lead the way with nearly $8 million in gifts and commitments, meaning that we are already 20 percent of the way to our total goal!

And for the remaining years of the campaign, I know that our comprehensive plan of identifying and combining private gifts with public matching funds will lead us to achieve previously unimaginable success.

I just looked at report that outlined 38 different battlefield preservation transactions, in various stages of completion, that we are working on at this very moment, and there are dozens more "in the pipeline."

But the one I want to tell you about today is one of the most special, because it helps accomplish another major goal of this campaign: "Completing" the most important Civil War battlefields in America.

The one thing I think about every day is how quickly we are running out of time to save what hallowed ground remains, and how it is my duty to ensure that we get the biggest bang possible out of your valuable contribution dollar.

Thanks again to you, at scores of Civil War battlefields all across America, you and I are in real striking distance of saving enough of the key unprotected land that we will soon be able to declare those places saved!

Essentially, we will be able to "check those off the list," and declare victory!

Perryville

In this case, one of those battlefields is Perryville, in Kentucky.   Abraham Lincoln is reputed to have said that he'd like to have God on his side, but that he HAD to have Kentucky, and that to lose Kentucky was to possibly lose the "whole thing."

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Today, you and I have the chance to save 141 absolutely crucial acres that go a long way toward completing this tremendously significant battlefield.  (And here's an "insider's" tip: don't be surprised to hear soon about additional preservation opportunities at this site, adding even more to the "critical mass" of saved land here.  Due to on-going negotiations, that's all I can say for now.)

I imagine by now you have already glanced at the official map I have sent to you, showing you this very large addition to the Perryville battlefield.

This ground saw horrific fighting during the afternoon of October 8, 1862, with hundreds of casualties occurring on this land.  This property surrounds on three sides the historic Bottom House, and contains the site of Henry Bottom's Barn which burned during the battle, killing many wounded men who had crawled in there for shelter.

Confederate General Patrick Cleburne led his brigade over this ground, and another Confederate wrote, describing the chaos of war:

"The battle... was a perfect storm, the sound of musketry never ceasing and the roar of cannon rolling without a break.  And the yelling was continuous along the line of our army.  We passed through camps and over the dead and dying.  Loose horses were running in all directions and wounded men were crying for help."

By the end of the day, both sides would suffer a total of approximately 7,400 casualties, and local experts on the battle estimate that about 500 of those occurred in just a few afternoon hours of fighting on the 141 acres we are working to save.

Today, if I can raise $181,250, we can save this critically important land valued at $725,000 -- that's a $4-to-$1 match of your donation dollar.

Utilizing a matching grant from the federal Civil War Battlefield Preservation Program and a very generous campaign lead gift from one of our trustees, I can turn every $1 you give for this effort into $4.00!

As I mentioned, we are working on literally scores of projects just like this, trying to squeeze every penny of land-purchasing power out of your donations.

Today, I humbly ask for your help in two very important ways.

First, even though we have a good plan, access to the best Civil War historians and scholars and, in my opinion, unmatched technical and professional expertise on our side, I know I don't have all the answers.

Please, would you email us and give me any suggestions you may have on how we can make "Campaign 150: Our Time, Our Legacy" a complete success?  Perhaps you know someone who is interested in saving battlefields, who could add real value to our cause, but is not yet a Trust member -- get me their contact information and I will follow up.

Perhaps you have a cost-effective idea that will generate tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars every year -- obviously, I want to hear about it.  In short, please give me the benefit of your thinking, and let me thank you in advance.  (I am sorry that I won't be able to personally acknowledge your comment, but I assure you that it will be reviewed and carefully considered.)

Next, to help us add these crucial and necessary 141 acres toward our campaign goal of 4,000 acres this year, I ask you to help me raise the $181,250 we need as soon as possible to take advantage of the $4-to-$1 match, and save this blood-soaked ground at Perryville.

Can I "pull back the curtain" and let you in on a little piece of intelligence on why I am concerned about raising this amount?  In more than 11 years of fighting to save hallowed ground, we almost never raise as much in contributions for Western Theatre battlefields as we do for Eastern Theatre sites.

It's a shame, because you and I both know how important a place like Perryville is to telling the full story of the Civil War, but it is the truth.   It would be just as much of a crime to see this hallowed ground desecrated by houses or other development in coming years, as it would be to lose 141 acres at Gettysburg, Antietam or Chancellorsville, don't you think?

Was the blood spilled by soldiers on Western Theatre battlefields any less worthy or patriotic than that of soldiers east of the Blue Ridge?  Of course not.

That's why today, I hope you will be able to help me make this appeal -- to save 141 acres at Perryville -- the most successful Western Theatre project we have ever attempted.

To thank you for stepping up to this challenge with any level of financial support of $25 or more, I would like to send you our new "30,000 Acres Saved" t-shirt so that you can publicly show your support for our shared cause.   I hope that you will accept this reminder of our shared commitment, wear it proudly and help spread the word!

Thank you for the gift of your valuable time in staying with me this far, and I hope you will take just a few more steps with me...a few steps across the rolling hills and now-quiet fields -- the 20,000 acres of hallowed ground -- that you and I will save together in "Campaign 150."

Shall we begin?

Yours, for as long as you'll have me,

Jim Lighthizer

P.S.  When you consider that the Civil War Trust has already saved a little more than 30,000 acres of hallowed ground, the successful completion of "Campaign 150: Our Time, Our Legacy" will mean that, by the end of the Sesquicentennial, we will have saved 50,000 acres total, or nearly 2/3 of all battlefield land that has been saved in Civil War parks by the federal government!

This truly is "our time" to secure "our legacy."  On behalf of the Board of Trustees, the staff and, if I may humbly evoke their sacred memory, the 621,000 American soldiers who gave their lives in the Civil War, I thank you for your help.

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