The Wilderness Endangered
Most Endangered Battlefields 2010
Wilderness, VA - May 5-7, 1864
UNION LT. GEN. Ulysses S. Grant’s bloody Overland Campaign began in a tangled mass of second-growth trees and scrub west of Fredericksburg, Va., known as the Wilderness. When portions of Grant’s army attacked elements of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s army on May 5, 1864, it was the first time the two legendary commanders met in battle.
At dawn the following day Grant launched a brutal assault on the Plank Road and drove the Confederates back until reinforcements arrived, narrowly preventing the collapse of the Confederate right flank. Other Union attacks were repulsed with devastating loss to both sides. In the dense, smoke-filled Wilderness, fighting was fierce, confusing, and deadly. Gunpowder ignited fires that swept through the forest, burning wounded men alive. The human toll of the battle was staggering – more than 25,000 combined casualties – but evenbloodier battles were still to come.
In August 2009, the Orange County Board of Supervisors approved a massive commercial center featuring a Walmart and four other retailers at the gateway to the battlefield. In response, Friends of Wilderness Battlefield, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and local residents filed a lawsuit against the county, drawing attention to endemic flaws in its approval process. The Civil War Preservation Trust, together with the National Parks Conservation Association, has filed an amicus curiae brief in support of the litigation.
Although outside the authorized National Park boundary, the site is historically sensitive and development in the area must be treated with consideration. While limited development already exists near the intersection, the scale of Walmart’s plan – more than four times larger than the combined development currently in the vicinity – will forever change the gateway to the battlefield. Worse, it would act like a magnet, attracting still more sprawl.
The preservation community has maintained that it is not opposed to development within the county, and has attempted to work proactively with developers and local officials to encourage long-term planning and consideration for historic resources – a position endorsed by more than 250 historians and state officials. CWSAC has classified The Wilderness as a Priority I, Class A battlefield – its highest designation.