We Still Need Your Help to Preserve Battlefield Land at Third Winchester

A Message From Jim Lighthizer, President of CWPT

Dear Friend,

Jim LIghthizerI have put off writing this letter to you as long as possible, but now, I just can’t wait another day.

Unfortunately, I must let you know that – for the first time in a long time – we have not raised our full portion of the match for a crucial battlefield land acquisition project.

At the very end of 2008, I wrote to you about the historic acquisition of 209 acres that the Civil War Preservation Trust is helping to save at the Third Winchester battlefield in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

I mentioned how I met with representatives from the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation (SVBF), the Commonwealth of Virginia, Frederick County and dozens of concerned citizens to jointly announce the largest battlefield preservation effort in the Shenandoah Valley in many years:

Saving 209 acres of the heart of the Third Battle of Winchester!

This project, spearheaded by the SVBF, will add significantly to the acreage CWPT has already saved there, creating a nearly pristine 575-acre battlefield park, and commemorating the enormous battle that took place there 145 years ago this month, between Union General Phil Sheridan and Confederate General Jubal Early.

If you recall, the total cost to acquire this hallowed ground was $3.35 million, but with a wide array of federal, state, local and private matching sources, CWPT was asked to come up with just $380,000 of that cost.

This means that every $1.00 donated by CWPT members would be multiplied into $8.82!

Before I say anything else, let me just note that I am well aware that the economy over the past year has been more wrenching than anything most of us have ever experienced.

I know some folks have lost jobs, suffered pay cuts and had their retirement accounts and investments literally pummeled.

That is why I am thankful, beyond measure, for the more than 3,200 CWPT members who stepped forward and made a gift to help raise the funds to save this hallowed ground at Third Winchester.

These 3,200 hardy souls contributed a total of $223,000! That is a tremendous amount, especially given that CWPT members have also donated this year to save hallowed ground at Parker’s Crossroads (4.5 acres) and Davis Bridge in Tennessee (643 acres); Raymond (66 acres) and Tupelo (12 acres) in Mississippi; Port Republic (178 acres), Trevilian Station (253 acres) and Sailor’s Creek (35 acres) in Virginia; and Natural Bridge in Florida (55 acres).

These closed and completed projects add up to nearly 1,300 acres saved – again, in one of the worst environments for charitable giving in several generations! And we still have several additional closings on the horizon. No matter how you slice it, in the worst of times, thanks to you, CWPT has had a remarkable run of success in 2009.

But as families are doing all across the nation, I am sitting down and looking at the reality of the situation: CWPT’s commitment to this absolutely crucial Third Winchester project was $380,000, and we have only raised $223,000, leaving us with $157,000 to come up with from somewhere else.

Trust me, I have already cut our already-lean expenses to the bone. When the economic crisis began building last year, the Board of Trustees, staff and I all spent countless hours poring over our budget and revenue reports, throwing everything overboard that wasn’t absolutely essential.

Still, by deferring some projects and expenses, I believe I can come up with half – or about $78,500 – of what we still owe for Third Winchester, by taking it from our emergency reserves.

As much as I hate to, however, I feel it is my duty to ask you to help me – if you possibly can – close the other half of that gap, and help me raise the other $78,500, so that we do not imperil other CWPT projects about to go to closing.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. In previous years, there have been times, on occasion, where our fundraising goals have fallen a little short. Plus, every year we save small tracts of hallowed ground that we never mention in a fundraising letter. But we always had a small emergency reserve to make up the difference, a reserve helped by major gifts in the five-to-six figure range.

Well, I don’t think it is any secret that those donors have been hit hard by the downturn as well. Everyone is feeling the pain, and until the economy picks up again, every supporter – at every level – is going to be a little wary about how much they give away . . . it’s only human nature!

I can’t tell you how many times we have heard recently, “I still absolutely support CWPT, but I just can’t give what I gave last year. When the economy comes back, so will I.”

That is absolutely an inspiring sentiment, and I am so gratified that so many thousands of people are still making battlefield preservation one of their top charitable priorities. CWPT would be dead in the water otherwise.

But the fact remains that our revenue remains as tight as a drum head, and I just don’t have that much of a reserve to fall back on. I am like Stonewall Jackson in the railroad cut at Second Manassas – my reserve forces are already committed, my ammunition is gone, and pretty soon, we’re gonna have to start throwing rocks!

I apologize if this is too much “behind the scenes” information for you; I just wanted you to have a full idea of what I am facing here, and to understand all of the reasons why I am asking, a second time, for your help at Third Winchester.

As you can see from the map I’ve sent to you once again, this really is about to become a crown jewel of a Civil War battlefield park, commemorating one of the most important battles of 1864.

Third Winchester (also known as Opequon) was the opening salvo in Union General Phil Sheridan’s devastating Shenandoah Valley Campaign. More than 54,000 Americans fought in this major battle, and approximately 9,000 would fall as casualties. Following this fight, Sheridan decimated the Valley’s agricultural bounty in weeks of burning and destruction.

But on September 19, the fighting at this portion of the battlefield was fierce, close and devastating. One soldier remembered the area as “that basin of hell.”

— Forty percent of the men in the Union 19th Corps – and every one of its regimental commanders – were either killed or wounded in this fight.

— Two future presidents – Rutherford B. Hayes and William McKinley – fought on this ground.

— And because of the size of this battle, its intensity, and the far-reaching ramifications of the outcome, many historians consider the Third Battle of Winchester to be the most important conflict ever fought in the Shenandoah Valley.

For many years, developers circled this land like sharks, hoping to snatch it away and blanket it with housing subdivisions. But with the downturn in the housing market, the owners decided it was time to preserve it. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to save a major part of a significant battlefield, and at a fair price.

Remember, it could not have happened without the cooperation of many partners . . . $1 million has been granted already by the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation . . .

. . . we are using our expertise to secure a federal Civil War Battlefield Preservation Program grant for approximately $1.2 million, and Frederick County – where the battlefield is located – sees this is a good idea that will bring in much-needed history-focused tourism dollars, and has committed over $100,000 . . .

. . . and the good folks at the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation have already put in $50,000 from their “Carrington Williams Preservation Fund” (and long-time CWPT members will recall that Carrington was CWPT’s first Chairman – and a personal friend), and are raising all the rest.

CWPT is the last piece of this puzzle, and that’s why I need your help today.

I know that you have supported our battlefield preservation mission in many different ways, and I thank you for your past generosity.

It would be a tremendous boost if you were able to make a special gift today to help put us over the top with our Third Winchester goal.

Perhaps now that (one hopes!) the worst of the economic downturn may be over, you will feel that you are in a better position to make a tax-deductible gift for this project than you were last December or January.

If so, then I encourage you, as one of CWPT’s most generous and committed supporters, to consider making – to the best of your ability – an important gift to help me reach that goal of $78,500 so we can put this Third Winchester project to rest and move on to the other significant challenges on our horizon.

Just think, if we can definitively add Third Winchester’s 209 additional acres, you and I will have saved 1,500 acres of hallowed ground in less than a year, with more to come! If that is not a testament to the generosity of our members, to the effectiveness of our organization, and to the great things we can accomplish when we work together, then I don’t know what is!

So please, let me hear from you as soon as possible. I look forward to being able to report to you very soon that we hit our $380,000 goal, and that we are on track for the rest of the year.

Your gift of any size – $500, $250, $100, $50 or even $25 – will only further cement your standing as a champion of battlefield preservation. Remember, every acre we save together is preserved for all time – that is quite a legacy, if you ask me.

You can donate either by writing and mailing a check, or you can get more information on our website at www.civilwar.org/thirdwinchester2009, and make your donation securely on-line. It makes no difference to me which path you choose. I am grateful for any help you can send.

I only hope that you will be able to help CWPT close the books on this vitally important effort as soon as possible.

I thank you for every dollar you have committed in the cause of saving hallowed ground. You are a true hero, in my book.

Most sincerely yours,

Jim Lighthizer

P.S. I’ve said it before, but I think it bears repeating: The Civil War Preservation Trust does not have a big endowment fund to fall back on. We finance every purchase of hallowed ground by multiplying your private donations with other sources, with very little margin for error. That’s just the nature of our business. But YOU are the key element – we can’t save a single blade of grass without your help!

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