History Under Siege - 2009 Most Endangered Battlefields
The Battle of the Wilderness
The Battle of the Wilderness was the first action in Union Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s monumentally bloody Overland Campaign. On May 5, 1864, elements of Grant’s army attacked parts of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s troops on the Orange Turnpike and on the Plank Road. In the thick growth of the Wilderness, fighting was confusing, difficult and deadly.
At dawn the next day Grant launched a savage attack on the Plank Road and drove the Confederates back until Southern reinforcements stemmed the tide. Other Union attacks were repulsed with devastating loss to both sides. The result of the battle was inconclusive but the large human toll was not in doubt: more than 25,000 combined casualties, including 13 general officers killed, wounded or captured.
After several major victories in recent years, preservationists in Orange County, Va., are facing an uphill battle to stop Walmart from building a supercenter less than a quarter mile from the Wilderness National Battlefield, but within the historic boundaries of that battlefield. If built, the store would be the fifth Walmart within a 20-mile radius and would increase pressure for additional development in the battlefield gateway area.
A coalition of local, regional, state and national preservation groups working to protect the battlefield has offered to fund a comprehensive planning study of how best to balance preservation priorities and local economic development goals. Some proponents of the plan argue that the area has already been compromised by limited development at the intersection of Routes 3 and 20. However, the 138,000-square-foot store would dwarf the minimal amount of development currently existing at the site.
CWSAC has classified the Wilderness as a Priority I, Class A battlefield — its highest designation.