Tag Archives: Civil War Preservation Trust

Tidings of comfort and joy

This ought to bring some holiday cheer to anybody who cares about battlefield preservation.  The Civil War Trust has an opportunity to acquire one of the most historic parcels of ground in the country at Brandy Station.  I second Eric’s call to action: This is the time for all of us history aficionados to help make this happen.

If you’re like me and aren’t in a financial position to write a big fat check with lots of zeroes in it, here’s a simple way to pitch in.  Lots of our friends and co-workers are scrambling around to find last-minute Christmas presents for us.  What if we e-mailed these folks and asked them to take the money they’d normally spend on a gift for us and send the same amount to the Civil War Trust instead?  Every little bit helps.

Alternatively, if you need to find a Christmas present for the history buff in your life, consider making a donation to the CWT in their name.  They’ll appreciate that more than a sweater or fruitcake, and it’ll last longer.

Cavalry Charge near Brandy Station, by Edwin Forbes. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division (reproduction no. LC-DIG-ppmsca-22378)

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Two Wilderness updates

…are available over at Civil War News.  First, the Civil War Preservation Trust is raising money to buy a critical piece of the battlefield.  The deal requires the use of private funds, and everything has to be in place by the end of this month.  Head over to the CWPT’s website and contribute whatever you can.

Second is an article on the ongoing effort to prevent Wal-Mart from erecting a superstore at the battlefield’s entrance.  The judge has quashed a motion by the preservationists, but they’re soldiering on nevertheless.  I wish them the best of luck.

By the way, CWPT also has a video up in which James McPherson explains why this field is so significant.  If you know anybody who might be interested in supporting this latest preservation effort and you’re trying to find a way to convey the need for it, you might forward them a link to McPherson’s talk.

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Even protected battlefields can be threatened

If you take a look at the Civil War Preservation Trust’s 2010 list of most endangered battlefields, you’ll notice that some of the sites included are national parks or have some similar type of protective designation. 

On the face of it, this might seem a little odd.  You’d assume that once a site becomes a national park, it’s safe and sound.  Nobody is going to build a row of condos on federally protected land, and no short-sighted local zoning board can approve a retail development within a park’s boundaries.  The truth of the matter, though, is that while designation as a park protects land within a site’s boundaries, threats from outside those boundaries can be considerable.

Anyone who doubts the impact of development outside of a site’s boundaries should visit Guilford Courthouse National Military Park in Greensboro, NC.  This is one of my favorite places, and one of the most important pieces of ground in America, where a British attempt to destroy Nathanael Greene’s army in March 1781 proved so costly that it led to the march to Virginia that ended at Yorktown.  It’s a beautiful park, and the NPS has done wonders in interpreting it.  I consider it a must-see for anyone interested in the Revolution.

It is sadly, however, crowded by construction.  Getting a perspective on the field as it appeared during the battle is extremely difficult, and the park will unfortunately never be able to interpret those parts of the field that lie outside the central core, since they’ve been churned up and built over.  GCNMP is a stellar example of what the NPS can do, but it’s also an example of the limitations that urban growth can place on a site.

Development proponents, of course, might call preservationists unreasonable and ask why we can’t be satisfied with what we’re allotted, why we’re always demanding more, more, more.  I’d be sorely tempted to ask them the same thing.  Preservationists need to remember that every time we draw a line in the sand, someone will be waiting to cross it and force us to draw another.  And another, and another.  We should be at least as persistent as they are.

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Spend those heritage dollars wisely

Not long ago, the Civil War museum where I used to work sent one of their battle flags to a conservation lab.  The red fabric in the canton was frayed and had needed attention for some time, but the museum had to secure the funds first.  A lot of history museums have backlogs of artifacts in need of more than in-house treatment, which they send out in dribs and drabs as donations, grants, and appropriations trickle in.  The conservation and repair of one artifact can run well into the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars.  Multiply that by thousands of artifacts, and you understand why financial assistance is important. 

That flag is one of those artifacts that always left an impact on visitors.  It belonged to a Confederate cavalry unit from Tennessee—and one of the members of that unit may have been the person who left his blood on it.  The stains are still quite visible.  

I thought about that bloodstained flag when I read this post over at Civil War Memory.  A local SCV group has secured private land and raised nearly $100,000 for a brand-new statue of Gen. Joe Johnston at Bentonville. 

Readers of CWM may recall that the controversial statue of Jefferson Davis and Jim Limber, which the SCV commissioned and then had to trot around in search of someone willing to accept it, had the same price tag.  Remember, these aren’t historic works of art that have come onto the market and need a home, but entirely new sculptures produced for specific purposes.  

Personally, I’m not at all uneasy about monuments to Confederates.  I can understand why public displays of this sort bother some people, but the sight of a Confederate flag doesn’t make me any more uneasy than the national flag of Argentina.  In fact, when I hear discussions about removing or relocating old Confederate monuments, I lose both interest and patience pretty quickly.  

Monuments that are ninety or a hundred years old have historic value in and of themselves.  They’re artifacts in their own right that have become a characteristic aspect of certain American landscapes, and they’re evidence of who we were and what we used to believe about ourselves.  One shouldn’t go around trying to blot out every piece of culture simply because it’s distasteful.  Furthermore, in some cases Civil War veterans themselves placed these monuments, so they provide information about how participants in the war interpreted their own experiences.  Occasionally, they tell us where units were positioned during engagements, or at least where its members thought they were positioned. 

This statue of Joe Johnston in Dalton, GA is an artifact in its own right. The UDC erected it in 1912 at a cost of $6,000. Image from Wikimedia Commons, info from roadsidegeorgia.com.

 Here, though, we’re not talking about statues that have been around for decades and have accrued some intrinsic historical or cultural worth.  We’re talking about brand-new sculptures which cost a great deal of money, and that money has come from the efforts of heritage groups.  

I’m extremely grateful that there are dedicated, generous people out there who are willing to support history with their money and to spend their time persuading other people to do so.  I wish, however, that more of this money could be used to meet existing needs, rather than to create new monuments.  Honoring brave men is a fine thing to do, but commemorative sculpture doesn’t play the prominent role in public memory and civic education that it once did.  What matters now is that we have the raw material of history at hand, and we’re losing it.  The sort of money spent on these statues could go a long way toward helping us preserve it. 

If the SCV is looking for ways to perpetuate the legacy of Confederate soldiers, there is no shortage of opportunities.  The CWPT is trying to raise $150,000 for the site of a remarkable Confederate breakthrough at Franklin, in the face of overwhelming fire and despite devastating losses.  That spot of ground is a far more eloquent testimony to the bravery and prowess of the Confederate soldier than any plaque on a monument could provide. 

The same organization is also trying to raise $75,000 for part of the field at Gettysburg associated with Longstreet’s assault of July 2.  The cost of one of those statues would have secured ground over which southern troops marched during what Longstreet called the “best three hours of fighting” he had ever seen, with funds left over for even more.   

Finally, there’s a need for $12,000,000 for a critical portion of the Fredericksburg battlefield, site of one of Lee’s most decisive victories.  These are just a few handy examples; there are plenty of other endangered sites, along with historic Confederate monuments on battlefields and in graveyards that need the sort of serious maintenance that this sort of money could provide.  

A hundred thousand dollars would renovate a museum gallery.  It would cover the salary of a full-time historic site interpreter for three or four years.  (There is currently no interpretation at Brandywine, due to a loss of state funds.)  It would send a cabinet full of deteriorating uniforms, weapons, flags, portraits, or documents to the conservator.  

Of course, the SCV and other heritage groups do, in fact, support such efforts with their money and time.  I’m sincerely thankful for that.  But I also think that in a tight economy, with governments and institutions slashing budgets for historical causes left and right, it’s important for those who care about history to be especially prudent with their resources. 

That applies not just to Confederate heritage groups, but to those who want to preserve the legacies of Union soldiers, Revolutionary soldiers, abolitionists, Native Americans, or any historic group or individual.  Is the best way to honor their memory a work of art, or ensuring that what’s left of their world is still around for your children and grandchildren to learn from and appreciate? 

One more thing about that flag I mentioned at the beginning of this little tirade.  It used to hang in a display case near the uniform of a young Confederate soldier from Virginia, who died in battle at age eighteen.  The uniform isn’t on exhibit anymore.  It’s in fragile condition, but it might go back on display after some treatment.  Just as soon as there’s enough money to do it.

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Wal-Mart Threatens Wilderness Battlefield

What’s the only thing worse than a new chain store in a rural area?  A new chain store in a rural area that’s also the site of a significant battlefield.  Wal-Mart has the Wilderness in their sights.  John Maass has some of the details.  Luckily, the Civil War Preservation Trust is gearing up for the fight.  Visit their website and find out how you can help.

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