Save 10 Acres at Manassas
A Message from Jim Lighthizer, Civil War Trust President
“I suppose you appreciate the condition of the affairs here, Sir?”
said Union General Phillip Kearny to his fellow General, John Gibbon.
“It’s another Bull Run, Sir; it’s another Bull Run!”
Dear Trusted Friend,
Whether you call it Second Bull Run or Second Manassas, you and I have an urgent opportunity today to take advantage of a $10-to-$1 match to save two key, central parcels at the very heart of the Second Manassas battlefield.
Just 148 years ago this month, the fighting was so bloody on this ground that some men believed they were in the “vortex of hell.”
It was one of the biggest battles of the war to date, and scores of letters and diaries attest to the severity of the fighting, like this one from a soldier in the 15th Alabama: “What a slaughter! What a slaughter of men that was.”
Another Confederate, surveying the aftermath of this battle saw, “Yankees in front of the RR [railroad embankment] were lying in heaps, some with their brains oozing out; some with the face shot off; others with their bowels protruding; others with shattered limbs.”
Another counted “at least 100 dead men” in view, including “six within twenty feet of my campfire.”
A little over 10 years ago, just about a half-mile away, CWPT preserved 136 acres of this battlefield with the help of some local folks who cared so much about preserving it that they put their homes up as collateral for a loan.
Today, you and I have a chance to help our friends at the Manassas National Battlefield, by purchasing 10 acres of core battlefield land that is actually inside the boundaries of the park!
I hope you will agree that, due to its national importance, especially with the Sesquicentennial commemoration of the War beginning next year, if any battlefield land anywhere is worth preserving, Manassas has to be near the top of the list.
So when the opportunity arose to save ten acres of unprotected land at the center of this battlefield, much of it just yards from the famed “unfinished railroad,” we decided that – even though it presents a real hardship financially – we had to try to save it.
(As always, you can see the land for yourself; please note the two properties indicated in yellow on the official CWPT battle map.)
First, let me tell you about this land. There is a nine-acre parcel on the historic Groveton-Sudley Road, and a second one-acre tract on the Manassas-Sudley Road, just to the east. At less than a mile from the landmark of Matthews Hill, Union troops marched past and over this smaller property during the first battle of Manassas, and they certainly maneuvered over it during the second battle as well.
But the larger 9-acre property was at the center of the fighting all during the multi-day Second Battle of Bull Run, as spirited attacks, stubborn retreats and grim counterattacks see-sawed across this hallowed ground.
Both of these key properties are called “in-holdings,” that is, privately owned tracts of land within the boundary of a National Park.
Each of these places is absolutely core battlefield land that the Park Service was never able to acquire before.
You may recall that earlier this year, we faced a similar situation, working with the Park Service to purchase an in-holding at Gettysburg, within sight of Little Round Top.
As far as historic preservation goes, the threat is this: As privately-owned land, owners of in-holdings are perfectly within their legal rights to do whatever they wish with their property.
They could pass it on to heirs, or sell to someone who could come in, tear down the non-historic house that sits on each property, and build a huge, new modern and totally inappropriate “McMansion.” They could also add outbuildings, garages or anything else local zoning would permit.
So in-holdings are often the top priorities for National Parks to try to acquire, to ensure the integrity of the rest of the park is protected. Buying in-holdings, whenever possible, protects the investment of the rest of the National Park.
Unfortunately, the Manassas Battlefield does not currently have any funds to buy the properties.
And at a total purchase price of $570,000 for these ten acres (this is so expensive because there is an existing non-historic house on each property), there is no other way this land would be preserved unless you and I step in to save it.
Ordinarily, I would say that – even as important as these acres are – $570,000 is simply too much money, especially when the economy is still so unstable.
But there are a couple of rays of hope…
First, we are able to secure $105,000 in Commonwealth of Virginia grant money for this effort. That knocks the price down to a still-significant $465,000.
Second, the Civil War Round Table of Eastern Pennsylvania recently received a bequest from one of their members, Mr. Karl M. Lehr. Mr. Lehr was a huge Civil War enthusiast (as most of us are), and as part of his legacy, the round table has voted to make a significant gift of $22,000 to CWPT to help preserve this land at Manassas.
Over the last few years, the Civil War Preservation Trust has been fortunate to receive several bequests from members who – even if they did not have the wherewithal to make a mega-gift during their lifetimes – secured their legacy as a premier battlefield preservationist by leaving gifts in their will.
These two matching grant sources are wonderful, but we still need $443,000, and especially in this economy, when many people just can’t give as much as they would like, that’s still a lot of money.
But rather than walk away from this crucial effort, we have been working closely with our friends at the Manassas National Park and we may – MAY – have a solution.
As these 10 acres are contained within the boundaries of the Park, we cannot apply for any federal matching funds to this transaction that we would normally tap.
However, with the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War nearly upon us, officials at Manassas will be working to secure some funding from Congress that would allow them, in 2011 or maybe 2012, to purchase these 10 acres directly from the Civil War Preservation Trust that is, you and me.
I’ll be the first to admit to you that I am taking a substantial leap of faith.
This is a risky business decision with current government budget pressures, but to save this crucial hallowed ground, that’s a risk I’ll take.
Dipping into our already-depleted reserves, CWPT is going ahead and paying the additional $443,000 amount needed to save these properties now, believing that the Park will be able to come up with somewhere between $375,000 and $400,000 to help.
If we assume that the Park will eventually commit, say, $386,000, that leaves us just $57,000 to raise right now to have enough to save these crucial acres.
That means that every $1 you donate today is essentially (eventually) turned into $10!
We will certainly have faith that the Park can get as much as possible from Congress, perhaps all the way up to the full amount we are paying for this hallowed land.
But we all know that federal matching funds are getting harder and harder to come by, so I think it’s best to be conservative in our expectations – we may even get nothing! However, I have to believe that Congress will realize that the 150th anniversary of the most important event in America’s history is THE time to commit serious additional resources to saving the remaining threatened battlefield land…
… especially at a place as important as Manassas, in Northern Virginia where development, home construction and road building have paused only slightly, and will take off again at the first sign that the economy has stabilized.
Bottom line: The time to strike is now. We’ve got to raise $57,000 immediately to match the other sources and pay for the properties today, holding the 10 acres in trust with the expectation that we can sell them to the Park in 2011 or 2012.
It is not often – if ever – that we who care about saving America’s Civil War battlefields get the opportunity to save something so important.
So please, if you possibly can, will you help me raise the last needed $57,000 so that I can save these crucial ten acres at Manassas, with your own generous urgent contribution today?
To thank you for your support, if you can send a gift of $57 or more, it will be my honor to send you a delightful book as a small token of my appreciation.
This 128-page, richly illustrated full-color book entitled Civil War Weapons and Equipment is a handy general reference for everything that touched a soldier’s life, from his uniform, to his weapons, to the tents he slept in and the flags he marched under.
It will make a great addition to your Civil War library, and you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you helped save 10 key acres of the Manassas battlefield to get it!
I want you to be a part of this historic effort, with a gift of any amount. You are the reason why CWPT has been able to save over 29,000 acres, my friend; I appreciate everything you have done for our nation’s battlefields.
Please join me in taking advantage of this terrific $10-to-$1 match, and help save a critical ten acres of the most important Civil War ground at any battlefield anywhere.
Please let me hear back from you as soon as possible, and please accept my deepest thanks for your generosity.
Awaiting your reply,
P.S. As one Union survivor said of the land just across the road from the tract we are saving, “The slope was swept by a hurricane of death, and each minute seemed twenty hours long.” Until I hear back from you, each minute will seem like 20 hours to me, too.