Save Slaughter Pen Farm and Grant's Headquarters at the Wilderness

A Message from Jim Lighthizer, Civil War Trust President

This letter is from 2011 and fundraising is closed. For current opportunities, please visit Save a Battlefield »

“It is well that war is so terrible, or we would grow too fond of it.”
— Robert E. Lee, surveying the carnage of the battlefield at the
Slaughter Pen Farm at Fredericksburg, December, 1862

“More desperate fighting has not been witnessed on this continent
than that of the 5th and 6th of May.”
Ulysses S. Grant, writing of the fighting during the
Battle of the Wilderness, May, 1864


Dear Friend and Fellow Member,

Jim LIghthizerFive years ago this month, I sat down to write the most important letter that I have ever written in my years as president of this organization.

That’s because five years ago, I announced the most ambitious nonprofit battlefield acquisition effort in American history:

The Civil War Trust’s purchase of the 208-acre Slaughter Pen Farm at Fredericksburg.

As I write to you today, I am filled once again with the awesome responsibility that I must fulfill to you, to the Civil War Trust and, in truth, to our entire nation.
After we make our next scheduled payment to the bank, we will have paid off fully $7 million of the $12 million we owed for the property, meaning we have retired nearly 60 percent of the mortgage…

… putting us even closer to the day when we can declare this monumentally important hallowed ground saved forever!
Our next required payment under the terms of our agreement would normally be $200,000, but we recently received a tremendous gift of $50,000 from our partners at the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust!  (This amazing local preservation group has now fulfilled fully 90% of their $1 million pledge toward this project.  I thank and salute these stalwarts.)

This means we still need to raise $150,000 to cover our payment, and as we move into the commemoration of the Sesquicentennial, I would be honored if you would consider a special gift to help meet this payment. 
At the same time, this month, we go to closing on another one of the most important parcels of hallowed ground you and I have ever saved, the 49-acre Saunder’s Field tract at the Wilderness Battlefield.

The good news there is that – thanks to a miraculous outpouring of generosity from members like you late last year – we were able to raise the ENTIRE $1.1 million purchase price so that we could save this land without incurring any additional loans!

Finally, we have a new opportunity to add to our success at the Wilderness, by saving a small but enormously significant part of that battlefield, a 1.4-acre tract that the latest research indicates was the site of General U.S. Grant’s headquarters during the battle.

Let me start by telling you about this new opportunity:

As you can see on your official map, this small parcel is completely surrounded by preserved land owned by the National Park Service, and by our great friends at the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust. 

Like so many of our recent projects, this parcel contains a modern, non-historic house which we must purchase to save the entire property. 

Historians believe that it was on this ground where one of the most memorable moments of the entire Civil War took place. 

On the second day of the battle, May 6th, as the Confederates attacked the Union right and threatened to roll up their lines, well… historian Gordon Rhea writes it better than I ever could.  (This is from his landmark study The Battle of The Wilderness: May 5-6 1864):

“At the height of the excitement, an officer rushed to Grant and urgently volunteered advice. ‘General Grant, this is a crisis that cannot be looked upon too seriously,’ he warned.  ‘I know Lee’s method’s well by past experience; he will throw his own army between us and the Rapidan, and cut us off completely from our communications.’  Grant stood, pulled the cigar out of his mouth, and spoke his mind.  ‘Oh, I am heartily tired of hearing about what Lee is going to do,’ he roared back with unaccustomed heat at the startled officer. ‘Some of you seem to think he is suddenly going to turn a double somersault, and land in our rear and on both of our flanks at the same time.  Go back to your command, and try to think about what we are going to do ourselves, instead of what Lee is going to do.’”

The purchase price for this 1.4 acres is $205,500, but we have put together a terrific matching grant opportunity.

We have applied for two grants from the Commonwealth of Virginia totaling $173,400 – or fully 84% of the total amount needed!  That means, if we can raise the final $32,100 to secure these state matching funds, we can save this crucial piece of our nation’s history.

As you can clearly see, every $1 you give for this effort today is turned into $6.40!
But even more important than that, we will be one step closer to “completing” the preservation of the Wilderness battlefield, which to me means saving the remaining significant land that can still be saved, to tell the fullest possible story of this battle.  Certainly, this is a very significant spot to save if we want future generations to know the full story of the Battle of the Wilderness, and with a goal of $32,100, it is within our reach.  

What a great way to honor those heroes, both North and South, who sanctified this land.

And speaking of heroes, as I told a group of about 400 of your fellow members who attended our Annual Conference in Chantilly, Virginia, last month, YOU are a real hero, in my eyes, for all that you are doing to save our country’s vitally important history.

Together, you and I have saved literally tens of thousands of acres of crucial, vital Civil War battlefield land at dozens of historic places, each of tremendous significance… places like Champion Hill, Brandy Station, Fort Donelson, Glendale, Chancellorsville, Bentonville, Petersburg, Harpers Ferry, Franklin and scores more.

Every one of those blood-soaked acres – which were, in many cases, wrestled out of the clutches of rapacious developers who were about to pave over our heroic past – has been worth our highest and best efforts to save them.

But the Slaughter Pen Farm at Fredericksburg is arguably the most historically significant hallowed ground the Civil War Trust has ever saved!

I’m sure you can picture Robert E. Lee, scanning the smoking carnage and writhing, shrieking chaos of the battlefield through his field glasses, being profoundly moved by the thousands of dead and wounded men and boys of both sides falling on the fields south of Fredericksburg, their lifeblood pouring out into that ground, and whispering his now-famous “war is so terrible” phrase? 

Over the years, however, many people have come to view the Battle of Fredericksburg as nothing more than the senseless slaughter of waves of Union troops as they attempted to dislodge the Confederates from behind their impregnable stone wall at the Sunken Road.  These days, it seems Fredericksburg is all-too-often reduced by many to just an “easy” Confederate victory.

But you know that history is rarely so neat.  Recent scholarship has shifted greater attention to the important southern section of the battlefield, where the true outcome of this battle hung in the balance. 
During unbelievably fierce and bloody fighting, five Congressional Medals of Honor were awarded for valorous actions on this ground.  Five thousand casualties were suffered – by both Billy Yanks and Johnny Rebs – on this ground… nearly 30 percent of all of the casualties inflicted during the entire battle. 

But as I’ve said many times before, don’t just take my word on how significant this hallowed ground is.
Frank O’Reilly, historian and author of the authoritative book  The Fredericksburg Campaign: Winter War on the Rappahannock movingly says:

“The Slaughter Pen is the very heart and soul of the Fredericksburg Battlefield.  Without it, nothing makes sense.  This is the point where the battle was won and lost on December 13, 1862.  After Burnside’s bloody failure here, there was nothing the Union Army could do to win the Battle of Fredericksburg – or the Confederates to lose it.  Correspondingly, this is where preservation ultimately will win or lose the struggle for Fredericksburg’s history.

“Standing on this unblemished historic land – christened in the blood of brave men, North and South – one touches the past, and understands the sacrifices of those men on the most decisive point of the Fredericksburg Battlefield.  They fought for this land, and paid for it with their lives.  We need to fight for this land, too – for the past, for them, lest we forget.”

It is my fervent hope that, at some point during the course of the Sesquicentennial, the Fredericksburg-Spotsylvania National Military Park will receive funds that would allow them to purchase this historic land from us, expand their Congressionally authorized boundaries, and make this land part of the national park. 

But until that happens, it falls to us to continue to pay down the mortgage, interpret this land for visitors (which we have done both with walking trails and our new “Battle App,” a mobile tour that can be downloaded onto an iPhone) and hold it in trust for the benefit of the American people. 

My friend, if we are fortunate, while we are on this earth, you and I will have the chance to do something so momentous that it will add great meaning to our entire lives.

By saving America’s remaining hallowed ground in the short time we have left, this is our chance to do something that we can be proud tell our grandchildren about…something that will live on forever. 

So today, will you help me raise $182,100, so that we can cover our loan payment on the Slaughter Pen Farm, PLUS save the key 1.4–acre tract of Grant’s headquarters at the Wilderness? 

When you think about it, this is a pretty easy way to be a hero to future generations.   But I have to say that the success of this effort – and everything we are trying to accomplish together – depends completely upon you and your fellow Civil War Trust members.

Without your generosity, I cannot save the 1.4-acre “Grant’s HQ” tract.  Without your help, I cannot cover the annual loan payment we must make to the bank for the Slaughter Pen Farm.  And without your support, I cannot even think about trying to save even more hallowed ground.

You are the hero of this story.  You are the indispensable person in this fight.  And you are one who deserves all the credit.

Thank you for all you have done, and all that you continue to do for this noble cause.

Very sincerely yours,

Jim Lighthizer

P.S.  I fully believe battlefield visitors 200 years from now will validate our decision to save this land.  And I also believe this:  Future generations will forgive us if we try to save this hallowed ground, but fail; they will never forgive us – nor should they – if we fail to try.  I hope to hear from you soon.  

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