Urgent: Save Crucial Stones River Land from Auction

A Message from Jim Lighthizer, Civil War Trust President

** Update: Funding is complete, thanks to all of our supporters.**

Dear Friend,

Jim LIghthizer

It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I have to move fast… and now I need your urgent help.  Let me explain…

Just days ago, we received word from officials at the Stones River National Battlefield in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, that a small but crucial “gateway” parcel of privately owned battlefield land was about to go to auction.

For years, this tract has been one of the highest preservation priorities for the park, but until now there was never a chance to save it.

Learn More Stones River

There is a house on the 1/8th-acre piece of land (which is actually inside the boundary of the battlefield park), but in this case the size of the property pales in significance to its importance:

First, as so much of the Stones River battlefield was swallowed up by development many years ago, I believe we should seize any chance we get to save any significant hallowed ground there immediately.

Second, this land is absolutely historically significant to the battle, which ranks as one of the most important struggles of the entire American Civil War. Over three days of fighting, more than 23,500 men fell as casualties, making it the 7th bloodiest battle of the War, ranking between Shiloh and Antietam.

Third, when a property like this goes up for auction, many things can happen, and almost all of them are bad. The new owner could tear down the current house and build a bigger one; they could  apply for a rezoning, turning it into a commercial property such as a gas station or burger joint.

That’s why if I did not jump on this when I did, this land would have been auctioned off to the highest bidder, and it might be another generation or more before there was another chance to save it, if ever.

Stones River
This is the tract at Stones River that we are working to save. You can clearly see the "AUCTION" sign, which required us to move quickly. Your gift will help reclaim this hallowed ground today! (NPS)

But when we found out this parcel was just days away from going to auction, well… I admit to you that I went out on a limb, and now I’m counting on you to tell me I made the right decision. You see, to prevent the property from going to auction, the Trust had to agree to buy it outright for $52,000 (for the land and the old, non-historic house).

Unfortunately, this all came up so suddenly (it is an estate liquidation), this expenditure was not in the budget.

So, on the authority given to me as president of the Civil War Trust, by the Board of Trustees, I had to dip into our very limited reserve fund for the $52,000, so that we can be sure to close the property by mid-March and prevent it from going to auction.

It’s going to be tight, and I am working very hard to make sure that by committing $52,000 to this emergency effort I am not endangering any of the other important battlefield transactions we are currently working on.

I am truly sorry to write to you in such haste, and I wish I could have given you more notice, but these are the circumstances, and now I need you to tell me if you think I did the right thing.

Before you reply, let me remind you – briefly – about the significance of this land:

Keith Rocco
"Stone's Retreat" painting by Keith Rocco. (Courtesy Keith Rocco)

The Battle of Stones River, fought from December 31, 1862 through January 2, 1863, is without a doubt one of the most important battles of the Civil War.  I think you and I can agree on that.

The bloody Union victory here set the stage for campaigns into the heart of the Confederacy, while providing a much-needed northern morale boost.

The fighting along the Nashville Pike (where this land is located) on December 31, 1862, halted the Confederate offensive against the vital Federal line of supply and retreat,  and shifted the tide of battle in the Union’s favor. 

Before dawn on December 31, 1862, Brig. Gen. Horatio Van Cleve’s brigades formed up here before moving north to cross the river. As morning turned to noon, men from Col. Charles Harker’s and Col. James Fyffe’s brigades rushed through this area as they raced to stem the Confederate tide surging towards the pike. 

The Union Pioneer Brigade also occupied this ground during the early afternoon before moving south only about 400 yards to engage Brig. Gen. Matthew Ector’s Texans. 

The Seventh Indiana Artillery moved into position behind the Pioneers adding their muscle to dozens of other cannons positioned along the Nashville Pike that beat back the determined Confederate onslaught.

So on this one small tract, we have real history, a real threat, and a real opportunity to save hallowed ground at Stones River...

… where we have not had a chance to save any battlefield land since 1997, two years before I even became president of the Trust!

Seventeen years is a long time to wait, so we are long overdue, in my opinion, for saving crucial hallowed ground at the 7th bloodiest battle of the Civil War.

But for right now, well, I guess I’m asking you to validate my urgent decision to draw down $52,000 to save this land by making your own emergency gift to the Civil War Trust to help replenish our reserve fund.

And because I know I am catching you by surprise with all of this (just as we were surprised to hear about the looming auction threat), I am only going to ask you to do one thing: 

Please, if you can, send just $52 to help me save this small tract at Stones River.

If you and 999 of your fellow Trust members will give just $52, I will know that we can save this land, replenish our reserves and move forward with the other important transactions currently in process.  

If you are inclined and able to send more than $52, then I thank you. If you want to be part of this historic preservation effort, but can only donate $26 (1/2 of $52) right now, then you have my deepest thanks, as well.

Quite frankly, I have not had much hope that we would ever have the chance to save land at Stones River.

Learn More Stones River

But we are, today, presented with just such a chance by an ever-kind Providence (as Stonewall Jackson might say), and I hope you will help me take advantage of it.

Beyond my gratitude, I can offer you is the assurance that future generations – even if they never know your name – they will thank you in their heart of hearts for caring enough to save this land, just as you and I hail those who saved the hallowed ground we cherish today.

I can offer you the certainty that you – by stepping up to save our country’s history and heritage when so many others turn away – are leaving this world a better place. 

And I can offer you the promise that by preserving the hallowed ground where American soldiers fought and died, you are keeping alive those ideals – honor, duty, courage, valor – which have made this the greatest nation on earth.

Please let me hear back from you as soon as possible, and thank you again.

Most sincerely yours,

Jim Lighthizer

P.S.  Again, I apologize for the urgency of this note to you today, but it cannot be helped, and I trust you understand that I see it as my duty to alert you when these opportunities arise. I had to move “with alacrity” (to use a Civil War phrase) to prevent this land at Stones River from being auctioned off to the highest bidder. Now, I hope you will validate my move to save land at this battlefield where we have not been able to save so much as a single blade of grass in the past 17 years! Please return your most generous gift today, and accept my thanks for doing this for the sake of those 23,500 casualties at Stones River.  

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