Tag Archives: Wilderness Battlefield

Wal-Mart is doing the right thing

Wal-Mart has decided to back off from its plan to build a new superstore near the Wilderness battlefield.  Not only that, but the company is going to reimburse Orange County for the legal costs incurred in going to court over their decision to approve the project.  Hats off to the preservationists who kept this cause going in the face of discouraging obstacles, and to Wal-Mart for doing the right thing.

Speaking of battlefield preservation, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board met today, but without a decision on the proposed Gettysburg casino.  The folks from No Casino Gettysburg were there anyway, in order to stay on top of things.  They have their own blog, which I didn’t know about until today; I recommend you make it one of your regular online stops so you can keep up with what’s going on with this threat to America’s most famous battlefield.  I’ve added it to my blogroll here. 

Drop a line to the PGCB and let them know you stand with those who don’t think Gettysburg is an appropriate place for a casino.  Hopefully when the time comes for them to make the call, we can celebrate another victory to go alongside today’s.

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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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Dueling Wilderness letters

While visiting a link for another news story I ran across a pair of letters to the editor of Fredericksburg’s paper regarding the continuing Wilderness Walmart debate.

About a week ago came this missive from a Wal-Mart supporter: “I’d like the outsiders and so-called preservationists with money who are controlling what goes on with the Walmart-Wilderness situation [Right, sister—historic preservation groups have Fredericksburg firmly in their iron grip] to stop trying to push their weight around.”

Walmart—champion of the little guy and bastion of local interests.

She also complained that congested traffic makes it hard for her to get out and shop, as if a new superstore isn’t going to add to that problem rather than alleviate it.

So this week somebody called her out.  “Ms. Gatto writes about ‘outsiders.’  Walmart is made up of outsiders. Rob Walton, Walmart chairman, was born in Oklahoma and lives in Arkansas. CEO Eduardo Castro-Wright was born and raised in Ecuador. They are the ones doing the pushing. We are just pushing back.” 

Madam, you’ve just been served.

One other thing about that first letter that irritated me was this inane statement: “If you really want to get technical, Lake of the Woods and the strip malls are all built near battlefield ground, and people don’t seem to mind.” 

This argument (if you want to dignify it by calling it an argument) pops up with distressing frequency in anti-preservation rhetoric.  Some developer comes along and builds near historic ground, despite protests from preservationists.  Then later developers and their short-sighted supporters use the blight that’s already there as an excuse to build more, more, more.  It’s like telling somebody that they might as well take up smoking because they’ve already got respiratory problems.

If the writer is so concerned about outsiders meddling in community affairs, then she needs to take a look at the research that’s been conducted into the impact of chain stores on local businesses and payrolls.  Then she can ask herself if she’s really on the right side of this one.


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The economic cost of non-preservation

In the ongoing controversy over the proposed Wal-Mart at the Wilderness battleground, as in so many similar disputes, it’s easy to get the impression that people who oppose development are standing in the way of the community’s economic well-being.  Historic preservation, we’re told, comes at the expense of jobs and tax revenue.  The implication is that historians hundreds of miles away have no business telling a community that they can’t enjoy these economic benefits.

It’s a compelling argument.  I’m from a small town myself, and I have a strong localist orientation.  My general opinion is that any group of outside interests which attempts to dictate against a community’s best interests should take a long walk off a short pier into shark-infested waters.

Furthermore, I don’t doubt that many opponents of preservation in these situations really are concerned about the community’s economic welfare.  I can’t think of any sane person who would promote bulldozing some historic ground for no other reason than to destroy it.  Of course, the motives of outside corporate and real estate interests who stand to profit personally are another matter.  I’m referring here to people in the community who, naturally enough, want low prices for goods and a bigger tax base to provide revenue for the government services they and their families need.

I also realize that people who live near historic ground didn’t ask to be put in the position of stewardship over it.  A Civil War blogger once said something along the lines of, “It’s not their fault there was a battle in their backyard.”  (It’s worth pointing out, though, that as taxpayers we all have a legitimate economic stake in historic sites maintained by the federal government, besides the equally legitimate cultural stake we all share.)

But these argument from local economic health make a pretty big assumption, which is that the development projects in question would actually economically benefit the communities involved.  And when it comes to the Wilderness Wal-Mart, I’m not at all sure that’s the case. 

Quite the opposite, in fact.  Check out this story about Wal-Mart’s long-term economic impact on local communities, which recently appeared on MSN.  It cites study after study, and what it boils down to is this: Wal-Mart provides a short-term shot in the arm, but in the long run the local economy actually suffers. 

When Wal-Mart moves in, other local retailers have to cut costs or close entirely.  Therefore you can’t simply look at the number of jobs that will be available at the new Wal-Mart and add those to the number of jobs your community already has.  You have to subtract the number of jobs lost to the new chain store in reckoning that store’s overall economic impact. 

And, of course, the “new jobs” will be Wal-Mart’s notoriously low-paying, low-benefit ones, so you may very well end up trading a given number of decent local jobs for less desirable chain-store jobs.

Furthermore, before reckoning the value of the added tax base a new development project will bring to the community, you have to subtract whatever tax breaks the local leaders have promised the project.  How long will it take for the “new” tax revenue to make up this difference before you start seeing an actual gain?

If the Wilderness Wal-Mart will have the same impact as the stores in the similar case studies cited in the news story, then the people who are really promoting the community’s best economic interest are the same ones who support the battlefield’s protection. 

Local politicians who sacrifice long-term economic health and priceless historic ground for a year or two of small, short-term growth are putting themselves in Esau’s position—selling their birthright for one lousy bowl of soup.  What are the local citizens who lose their jobs and businesses, and the Americans who lose part of their common past, supposed to do when that bowl is empty?

(Wartime photo shows part of the Wilderness battlefield, from The Photographic History of the Civil War in Ten Volumes via Wikimedia Commons)

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Scoping out the Wilderness Wal-Mart location

If you’ve been wondering exactly where the contested Wilderness Wal-Mart location sits in relation to the battlefield, maybe Wikimapia can help.  This satellite view shows the general area of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania battlefields.  The spot Wal-Mart wants is on the upper left corner of the big rectangle in the center that’s marked “Chancellorsville/Wilderness Battlefield Park.”

As you can see from this closer view, the contested area is just a short distance away from Ellwood (Gouverner K. Warren’s headquarters during the Battle of the Wilderness) and the Lacy cemetery (famous as the spot where Stonewall’s amputated arm was buried after his wounding at the Battle Chancellorsville).

I was just looking over all the developments marked in the surrounding area, and holy cow—that’s one suffocated battlefield.  I’d like somebody to explain to me how all that happened to one of the most critically important pieces of ground in American history.

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Blogging the Wilderness Wal-Mart

I was looking at a comment to my last post and noticed that WordPress had automatically generated a link to an interesting site.  It’s a blog devoted to the Wilderness Wal-Mart controversy, with handy links and information on what’s at stake.  Check it out.

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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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