Save 121 Vital Acres at Perryville
A Message from Jim Lighthizer, Civil War Trust President
As one very tumultuous year winds down and another gets underway, I have been pacing the floor of my office here in Washington, D.C., wrestling with the best way to try to tell you something of both great concern and tremendous importance.
So tonight, instead of me just writing a letter to you, may I have a conversation with you? My preference would be to call you and every other member to discuss this personally, but calling 55,000 members is a little impractical.
Instead, may I write out exactly what I would say to you if you were on the phone, or even better, here in my office, sitting across the desk from me? And will you indulge me to also drive your side of the conversation, “suggesting” what I think you might say to me?
Sure, Jim. What is this about?
Well, it’s about our newest effort to save another 121 vital acres at one of the Civil War’s most important battlefields – Perryville!
Sounds good. What’s the problem?
My chief concern is that I have probably “gone to the well” too many times with you already, that – especially in this economy – I am really pressing my luck and “wearing out my welcome” with you… pick your cliché.
And for the sake of battlefield preservation in the future, I don’t want to do that! But at the same time, so much critical Civil War hallowed ground is nearly within our reach (with hundreds of thousands of grant dollars that need to be matched) that I believe I’ve got to at least bring these opportunities to your attention, and then let you decide what to do.
Fair enough… although, yes, I have been getting a lot of mail from you recently…
I know you have, and not just from the Trust. I get it, too. It’s just that all of us here are working very hard to make sure we maximize every possible dollar in battlefield matching funds from federal and state sources before they go away.
I truly don’t mean to inundate you, but I want you to have the most complete and up-to-date information on the many exciting projects we’re pursuing.
Well, no promises, but go ahead and tell me about this effort at Perryville.
You already know this is certainly one of the most important battles of the Civil War, and one that would make most buffs’ “Top 25 List” of most important conflicts of the war.
In fact, in 1993, Congress named Perryville as one of the Top 11 most endangered sites in the entire country (out of 384 battlefields!), one “with critical need for action,” and one of only 45 “Class A” battles that were noted to have “a decisive influence on a campaign and a direct impact on the course of the war.”
Perryville is one of the key events of the war in the Western Theatre, and when the Confederates under General Braxton Bragg withdrew after the bloody fight on October 8, 1862, Abraham Lincoln surely breathed a sigh of relief. What was it Lincoln said? Something like, “I’d like to have God on our side, but I must have Kentucky.”
Yes, I’m familiar with all of this. What part of the battlefield are we trying to save?
Well, if you will look at our Perryville battle map (and I hope you still enjoy these maps as much as I do), you’ll see the 121 acres printed there in yellow, covering several different tracts, in the south-western section of the battlefield.
What happened there?
Fighting on this hallowed ground reached a crescendo late in the day, October 8, 1862. As Union defenders fought for every inch of ground, Confederates relentlessly attacked up the hill toward the key Dixville Crossroads.
Soldiers who were there recalled the fighting here as ferocious as any combat on the entire Perryville battlefield, and for some, it was the bloodiest fighting of the entire war. Confederate generals including Patrick Cleburne advanced over this key ground and were driven back. Told by Confederate Major General William Hardee to “go where the fire is hottest,” Brigadier General St. John Lidell moved out with his brigade of Arkansans, recalling, “I looked around for the hottest place. It seemed to be everywhere.”
On this ground, later called the “Slaughter Pen,” as a full moon rose over a darkening battlefield, the 22nd Indiana Infantry suffered a 65.3 percent casualty rate, the highest of any regiment at Perryville. On this land, the Union commanders were able to cobble together a key defensive line that deterred any additional fighting, securing the victory. This is, without a doubt, some of the most important, blood-soaked hallowed ground at Perryville, and until now, we have never had the opportunity to protected it.
Okay, so it is rich with real history. What is the condition of the land today?
Fortunately, this hallowed ground is virtually unchanged from its 1862 appearance. Perryville is one of the best-preserved battlefields in America, and much of this land has been held in the same family since the war.
Plus, when you add it to the adjoining 141-acre tract we raised money for in 2011, we would be well on the way to completing the preservation of the Perryville battlefield! There are still a few acres that I consider “must have,” but once we get these tracts – even if we were never able to get another acre here – you and I could be proud of the legacy we have created at Perryville.
Once we save it, we will be transferring it to the existing state battlefield park there, ensuring its preservation forever.
Okay, I like the idea of “completing” the major battlefields of the Civil War – that is quite a legacy. Now we get down to the bottom line: How much is it going to cost us?
I hope you are sitting down (of course you are, you’re in the chair across the desk from me, remember?)
The purchase price is: $513,800. Not the most expensive land we’ve ever purchased, but still a lot of money.
Wow. Really? Well, I assume (as usual) we’ve got some matching fund sources lined up that would multiply the value of anything I could send, right?
Absolutely. If we can raise 50% of that amount, or $256,900, we can get another $256,900 from the federal Civil War Battlefield Preservation Program.
So let’s see… this means that every $1 I give for this effort will be matched. My gift is DOUBLED, correct?
Yes, that’s correct, and it could be even better than that.
That’s still a big number, especially in this economy? I see why you are concerned.
Exactly… how many times can I come, hat in hand, to our fellow generous Trust members… people who have already given so much to help save over 2,000 acres last year at places like Gaines’ Mill, Gettysburg, Resaca, Manassas and so many more?
So what is your plan?
Well, I’ll be the first to admit it is a long shot, but sometimes that is what you have to do. A big part of my job as president of the Civil War Trust – especially during a capital campaign – is to cultivate those potential large donors out there who care enough about our mission to make a very large gift (and that’s the key – Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Oprah have tons of money, yes, but they don’t care about battlefield preservation).
I have been talking to a few of these good people over the course of the past year, setting the table with them about all of these projects, our capital campaign, and matching funds, and as I sit here today, I believe I have a better than 50-50 likelihood of getting a major gift toward this effort of $100,000.
Wow, Jim, if you could pull that off, it would really help. We’d need to raise the final $156,900 to seal the deal and save the land. I assume that’s where the rest of the Civil War Trust membership and I would fit into this picture.
That’s absolutely right. If you could help kick off the year with a gift that would help take down that $156,900 – with all of the other matching funds in place – it would be like multiplying every $1 you send into $3.28!
$3.28-to-$1… I like that, especially in this economy.
No question… any time we have a chance to get a $3.28-to-$1 match to save hallowed ground – especially crucial ground like Perryville – I believe we have to go for it. I hope you agree.
I am optimistic that we can make this happen, and I like to focus on the amazing work we have accomplished together. This Satellite Map of Perryville is what I believe to be one of the more impressive maps we’ve ever produced.
Tell me what I am looking at.
This map shows you the unprecedented progress we have made over the years in saving the Perryville battlefield. We are within striking distance of preserving nearly the entire battlefield where, less than 20 years ago, Perryville was rated by Congress as being one of the most endangered sites in the entire nation! This is a tremendous accomplishment.
This map perfectly shows what I mean when I say we always work toward saving the “critical mass” of a battlefield, so that visitors 200 years from now can go there and really understand what happened.
Well, when I look at this map, it shows far better than any others how you and I are creating a premier Civil War battlefield destination, saving threatened land before it is lost to development, and leaving a priceless gift to future generations.
That’s pretty impressive… and very fulfilling. Is there anything else I should know?
Only that when you divide the $156,900 I still need to raise from members like you by 121 acres, it works out to you being able to save an acre of hallowed ground at Perryville for just $1,296.
$1,296 per acre? That’s not everyone can afford to “buy” an acre or two, but even $50 or $100 from every member at this critical moment would put us over the top. If the economy hasn’t slammed you too badly, I’d ask you to consider making as generous a tax-deductible gift as you can. It would really help.
Well, Jim, I think I’ve got all the information I need.
That’s all I could ever ask. Thank you so much for your generosity, and for your dedication to such an important cause. I wish you and yours a prosperous 2012 and I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Yours, 'til the battle is won,