Save 503 Acres at Four Major Battlefields

A Message from Jim Lighthizer, Civil War Trust President

Dear Trusted Friend,

Jim LIghthizer If you could buy a brand new $40,000 car for just $2,546, would you do it?

If you could buy a $1,000,000 home for just $63,654, would you consider doing that?

Well today, you and I have the chance to save over $2.1 million worth of Western Theater Civil War hallowed ground – 503 acres at four major battlefields – for just $135,500, a $15.71-to-$1 match of your donation dollar!

The tracts vary in size, but they are all huge in significance: At Rocky Face Ridge in Georgia, we have a chance to save 301 acres at this critical 1864 Atlanta Campaign site, which is still covered in original earthworks. . .

. . . another 127 acres at Shiloh, saving land at the critical opening phase of the battle, ground which has always been at the top of the “wish list” for Shiloh National Military Park . . .

. . . a small but central tract at Stones River, Tennessee, one of the bloodiest battles of the entire war, East or West. . . that the National Park there has practically begged us to step in and purchase . . .

. . . and two essential tracts at Bentonville, North Carolina, totaling 75 acres, adding to the amazing legacy that you and your fellow Civil War Trust members have created at that battlefield by saving 1,770 acres to date.

At each of these battlefields, by taking advantage of this incredible $15.71-to-$1 matching opportunity, you will be extinguishing the very real threat of commercial or residential development on this hallowed ground.

As you are absorbing the news of potentially saving key land at four Western Theater battlefields, at a $15.71-to-$1 multiplication of any support you might send, please let me tell you – confidentially – my biggest concern:

Too often, even stalwart members of the Civil War Trust turn down my requests for help when the land to be saved is in the Western Theater!

I know for many folks, the big battles of the Eastern Theater of the Civil War hold the largest attraction; we all love to study Gettysburg, Antietam, Bull Run, Jackson’s Valley Campaign, the Overland Campaign, etc., etc.

But we are not the “Eastern Civil War Trust,” and I have a duty and an obligation to work to preserve those crucial Western Theater battlefields where the sacrifices were just as great, the heroes were just as worthy, the fighting was just as hard, and the casualties were just as high, or even higher!

You may not know this about me, but one of my first jobs as a young man many years ago was selling typewriters for IBM. If you’ve ever done a stint in a sales job, you know that you often have to overcome a potential customer’s objections to make the sale. So, today, please let me proactively try to overcome any objection you might have to helping save these crucial pieces of Western Theater hallowed ground.

If you were to say to me, “Jim, I think I might want to wait to make a gift until the Civil War Trust saves some land at one of my favorite battlefields.”

Well, while I can tell you that we hope to put together some amazing transactions for the rest of 2016, I cannot tell you for sure what they will be just yet, because I don’t know! I can say that this is one of the best chances we will have this year to receive up to nearly $2,000,000, assembled from local and state government grants, the National Park Service, private foundations, and long-time preservation partners like the Georgia Battlefields Association.

If you were to tell me, “Jim, I’m sorry, but I’m one of those people who is just more ‘into’ the Eastern Theater battles,” I would tell you that several years ago, I probably would have said the same thing!

But as with anything else in life, the more I learned about those fights, the more I studied them, and – of course – the more I walked that ground, the more I came to see that places like Shiloh, Stones River, Rocky Face Ridge and Bentonville (not to mention Vicksburg, Franklin, Chickamauga, Chattanooga and scores of others) are just as hallowed as the places in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Clearly, both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis viewed victory in “the west” as absolutely vital to their respective war efforts. Who are we to argue with them?

The Battle of Shiloh, the struggle for middle Tennessee, and Johnston’s last-ditch stand in North Carolina are all critical chapters in the Civil War story, right?

And of course, the soldiers who fought and died on these Western battlefields deserve to have their sacrifices honored and remembered just as much as their Eastern brethren, don’t you think?

And finally, I would simply ask you to take a look at all of the other organizations you are involved with, and objectively evaluate all of the positive aspects of saving these 503 historic acres:

1. The value of your gift is increased 1,571 percent! A $50 gift saves $785.50 worth of hallowed ground. . . a $100 gift turns into $1,571, a $250 gift saves $3,928 worth of land, and so on! This is your “investment” in America’s history, and I challenge you to find a higher rate of return anywhere!

2. You are saving four key chapters of the story of the Civil War, and of our nation.

3. You are saving something that will last forever. Once the Trust purchases the properties with your generosity and protects them with easements, we will either sell the land to a national park (Stones River and Shiloh), transfer it to a state park (Bentonville) or transfer it to a local county park (Rocky Face Ridge).

4. By saving these parcels of land now, we are preventing future inappropriate development, protecting the integrity of each of these four battlefields.

I don’t know what else I could say to convince you to join in this crucial effort, other than to speak a little bit about the history of each battle:

Shiloh Map
Battle of Shiloh, Tennessee, with target property in yellow.

Shiloh, Tennessee, is one of the most important battles of the entire Civil War, fought on April 6-7, 1862, and the land we are saving today was the scene of the opening fighting early in the morning of the first day, as Confederates overran the camps of the unsuspecting Union soldiers.

Lt. Dixon's Gold Coin
Lt. Dixon's gold coin, on display with the Hunley, at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center. (Buddy Secor)

Believe it or not, this land also has a connection to the famous Confederate submarine CSS H.L. Hunley. Among the several thousand Confederate soldiers who fought their way north in successive charges across this particular tract early Sunday morning, April 6th, was George E. Dixon, a sergeant in the 21st Alabama Infantry. By chance, Sergeant Dixon was struck in the leg during the attack and was saved only by the 1860 $20 gold piece he carried in his pocket.

A family legend held that Dixon’s sweetheart, Queenie Bennett, had given him the gold piece as a good-luck charm, and because it saved his life at Shiloh, he later had the damaged bent coin inscribed: “Shiloh April 6, 1862 My Life Preserver G.E.D.” The cherished gold coin was found nearly a century and a half later with Dixon’s body inside the recovered submarine, which sank mysteriously off Charleston Harbor after her successful torpedo run against the USS Housatonic in February 1864. Dixon, by then a lieutenant, was in command of the submarine, and forensic examination of his remains confirmed a healed injury to his hip bone—matching the legend of Dixon’s lucky charm Shiloh gold piece.

Shiloh was the bloodiest battle in all of American history up to that point, and as you can see on our battle map, we now have a chance to save a large, key 127-acre part of the southern end of the battlefield, and push one more step toward completing this battlefield.

Stones River Map
Map of Stones River, Tennessee, with target property shown in yellow.

Let’s fast forward to the carnival of death experienced on the last day of 1862 and the first two days of 1863, at the Battle of Stones River outside of Murfreesboro, Tennessee where soldiers fought with such ferocity that they produced a higher percentage of casualties than at any other major Civil War battle.

This time, it was Braxton Bragg against William Rosecrans, and there were 23,500 men who fell during three days of bloody fighting. The section of the battlefield we are saving – while small – is absolutely essential for us to preserve, to ensure that someone does not swoop in, buy it and put up a new larger home right in the middle of the battlefield.

Rocky Face Ridge
Battle map of Rocky Face Ridge, Georgia, with target property shown in yellow.

The third tract, at Rocky Face Ridge, Georgia, is one of the most important pieces of land we have ever saved in that state, and is one of those priceless few places in America where TWO Civil War battles were fought on the same ground.

In February 1864, this ground was the scene of the first battle of Dalton, and then again in May of that year, the deeply dug-in Confederates managed to hold off repeated assaults by part of an entire Union corps. Today a continuous entrenchment more than 2,000 feet in length, as well as a pristine artillery emplacement, remain on the northern end of the property.

Unfortunately, most of the 1864 Atlanta Campaign is gone, destroyed and developed, paved over long before the modern battlefield preservation movement emerged. Today, you and I have a chance to save a rare and – for that part of the world – enormous 301-acre parcel of hallowed ground there, with pristine earthworks as shown on our battle map. If we don’t save this ground, I have no doubt it will be developed and destroyed forever, too.

Bentonville Map
Map of Bentonville, North Carolina, with target property shown in yellow.

Finally, I ask you to look at our battle map of the Bentonville Battlefield, in North Carolina, where we have the chance to save another 75 acres at this 1865 fight. I like to think of Bentonville as one enormous jigsaw puzzle where, year after year, we are able to add a few new “pieces,” and we get ever closer to completing this enormous three-day battlefield. This is real history, and it is so important for us to save it now, while we can, and while we have matching funds on the table.

Yes, I think it is pretty obvious that I hope you will want to join me in saving these four Western Theater tracts.

Besides your gift to help save this hallowed ground today, I hope you will do another very big favor for me — one that costs you nothing, other than the time it takes for you to sign your name.

Last year, legendary historian, author, U.S. Marine and World War II hero, and Civil War Trust board member Ed Bearss, was nominated in a special bill introduced by Virginia Representative Gerry Connolly (and supported by more than 110 co-sponsors) to receive the Congressional Gold Medal, one of America’s highest civilian honors.

Perhaps you remember Ed’s commentary in the Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary . . . perhaps you have been privileged to be with him on one of the hundreds of battlefield tours he gives every year . . . or to have read one of his many books or articles.

Ed is not only a genuine American hero (wounded in the Pacific during World War II, he “learned firsthand the significance of terrain to telling the story of a battlefield”), he is also the most important person in the history of the battlefield preservation movement. He advises us regularly on the tracts of land that we still have to save.

His legendary energy (even at 93 years of age) and encyclopedic knowledge of the War have played a major role in identifying and securing nearly every one of the 43,000+ acres of hallowed ground that you and I have saved over the years.

Unfortunately, last year, Congress did not pass the bill that would have authorized this award for Ed, so we must try again. Today, in honor of all that Ed has done to help save our nation’s history, I ask you please to sign your name as a “Citizen Co-Sponsor” on the copy of Congressman Connolly’s proposed legislation authorizing the Congressional Gold Medal, H.R. 2059 in support for Ed’s well-deserved Gold Medal, this year – before it is too late! Thank you.

I hope I have convinced you how important it is to send your generous gift to help save these important acres at Shiloh, Stones River, Rocky Face Ridge and Bentonville. Look at it this way: Would you rather pay $2,129,000 or $135,500 to save 503 acres hallowed battlefield land? Pay $4,166 per acre, or $15.71 per acre? I rest my case!

Thank you so much for taking these two crucial actions today, and for your continued generosity and dedication. I am confident the rest of 2016 is going to be a banner year for Civil War battlefield preservation, as long as I have you by my side. Thank you again.

With sword held high, ‘til the battle is won,

Jim Lighthizer

P.S. To put your $15.71-to-$1 donation to work immediately, I urge you to donate directly and securely on our website today.

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