Northern Virginia is a much more crowded place than it was during the Civil War. But Civil War historians, preservationists, and buffs, as well as National Park Service officials, are still flummoxed by Wal-Mart's wish to place a super center next to one of the most poignant battlefields of the Civil War.
"I am very disappointed they didn't consider other sites and didn't listen to the feedback they got that this site is too close to the Wilderness battlefield," Russ Smith, superintendent of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, told the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star.
Wal-Mart's plan is to develop a 53-to-55-acre tract of land just north of the Wilderness Corner intersection. Part of the proposed development would hold a super center covering nearly 140,000 square feet, with enough room left over for additional retail outlets. While that land is not part of the national battlefield, it is, historically, part of the Wilderness Battlefield.
According to the Park Service, the Battle of the Wilderness was fought on May 5-6, 1864, with troops under both Union General Ulysses S. Grant and Confederate General Robert E. Lee engaged. "It was the beginning of the Overland Campaign, the bloodiest campaign in American history and the turning point in the war in the Eastern Theatre," notes the agency.
Last summer a coalition of groups -- the Civil War Preservation Trust, Friends of the Fredericksburg Area Battlefields, Friends of Wilderness Battlefield, the National Parks Conservation Association, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Piedmont Environmental Council -- wrote Wal-Mart president and CEO, H. Lee Scott, Jr., asking that his corporation look elsewhere for its project.
The Wilderness Battlefield was determined to be one of the most historically significant battlegrounds in the nation by a blue ribbon panel created by Congress in 1990. In an exhaustive 1993 report, the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission (CWSAC) identified Wilderness as a Priority I, Class A site, its highest designation. The commission identified the 55-acre parcel as part of the Wilderness Battlefield.
Today more than 2,773 acres of the Wilderness Battlefield are preserved as part of Fredericksburg and
Spotsylvania National Military Park. This Super Wal-Mart would be built within one-quarter mile of
the National Park and would pave the way for desecration of the Wilderness with unnecessary
commercial growth. Such a large-scale development is inappropriate next to a National Park.
At the Civil War Preservation Trust, policy director Jim Campi told the Free Lance-Star that the location of the proposed development is "extremely inappropriate for any kind of big-box commercial, especially a Wal-Mart.
"We're not telling Wal-Mart 'No way.' We're just telling them, 'Not here,'" he said.