What Interest Is a Civil War Battlefield in Virginia to Vermont?

Some Vermonters fear a Wal-Mart development in Virginia would tarnish this monument to the Vermont 1st Brigade that fought on the Wilderness Battlefield during the Civil War. NPS photo.

Nearly 150 years after the battle was waged, the state of Vermont is being asked to return to Virginia -- figuratively, at least -- to assist in the fight over the pending loss of hallowed ground to a Wal-Mart Super Center.

Already the battle has been joined by filmmaker Ken Burns, whose 12-part documentary on the national parks is due out this fall, and noted author David McCullough.

At issue is a parcel of land near Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park. Wal-Mart wants 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.

Now, the parcel does not actually lie within the military park. But it does include landscape that was a backdrop to the Wilderness Battlefield of the Civil War. And that's where the state of Vermont enters the picture.

It turns out, according to a story in the Burlington (Vermont) Free-Press, that Wal-Mart's development "threatens the area near a monument that honors the 1st Vermont Brigade, which held the ground there for the Union Army in 1864."

The fact that the monument is a few miles from the land Wal-Mart is eying doesn't dampen the concern of some Vermonters. Howard Coffin, a Vermont historian, told the newspaper that the proposed development "will tarnish the experience for visitors and generate traffic that will erode the shallow pits where Vermont's casualties were temporarily buried after battle. Those pits still sit alongside the road, he said."

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.

So far Wal-Mart isn't budging. And now Vermont officials are thinking of lending what aid they can muster.

According to the Burlington newspaper, "Vince Illuzzi, R-Essex/Orleans, Senate Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs Committee chairman, said he'd like to pass a resolution asking the county board in Virginia to recognize the importance of the area to Vermonters and to do what they can to protect it, but he's likely not to specifically mention Wal-Mart."

Officials in Virginia's Orange County are expected to pass final judgment on Wal-Mart's proposal in April.

Comments

We live in a couminity a little North of this area on 600 acres that has destroyed almost all of the northern encampments in Falmouth, VA. We feal that the engagement was the beginning of the Overland War Campaign, the bloodiest campaign in American history and the turning point in the war in the Eastern Theatre. The North's participation in re-uniting our country needs to be recognized as National Park experience of our American History.

Spotsyvania County would like to build lots of new homes in new developments in back of Wall-Mart. In this troubled time, the county is supporting the new tax money that would be received and newly created jobs in their area. There is no new real push for the county to look for a new place to improve their tax base.

April is the last chance to have a good visual experience for visitors of the battleand allow a historical monument to the Vermont 1st Brigade that fought on the Wilderness Battlefield during the Civil War, that were temporarily buried there after the battle. Those pits still sit alongside the road. The new administrations astronomical bailout's fund might be a good place to look for help.

Just to clarify the other anonymous post, this development is in Orange County, not Spotsylvania as is referenced in the letter.

A) Wal-Mart blows.

B) Why anyone would want more development in this day and age, economy in the crapper, is beyond me. There is simply no impetus to make this type of investment. People poo-poo those who stand in the way of development, but look where all that development led us: a nation on the brink of ruin caused by too much development which has crashed housing markets, etc., etc.

Here in my part of the world, they clear-cut old farmland to put up a plaza that now sits half-empty and will likely be emptier by the end of the year. Great planning.

I was recently in that part of Virginia, and there are plenty of Wal-Marts in the area, doubtful more than a 40-minute drive in either direction. Another is not needed.

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My travels through the National Park System: americaincontext.com

As a Vermonter, who's ancestors engaged in the Battle of the Wilderness, some who survived, some died, and of others which died months later in Cambridge VT, from lingering saber wounds, am willing to personally explain to those who are in authority in Orange County and in charge of this descision as to what exactly "Hallowed Ground" means. I am also sure and resolved, that there are others whom are of a similar circumstance as I that will join me there. My family has travelled this route before, we shall do this again, we need to "respect those who here gave their lives that this nation might live". Not shop at Wal Mart.

I find myself wondering what the response would be if Trader Joe's wanted to build in the same location. In these troubled economic times Wal-Mart is continuing with expansion (they also provide jobs and pay taxes). I worked at Wal-Mart during my college years and they were a good employer. Yes they employ many retirees on a part time basis to avoid paying for benefits but not nearly as many as the federal government (seasonal employees). Thus far I have not seen Wal-Mart ask the Fed for a bailout.

I think it would be pretty difficult to find a parcel of land in Virginia that was not significant during the Civil War. I have to question the motives of at least some of the people fighting this fight, is this about historical significance...or is it about Wal-Mart.

It's not about WalMart. It's about preserving what little history this country actually has...we're a very young country, compared to others around the world. If we pave over every significant piece of our history, we will lose the perspective needed to ensure that it doesn't happen again. The Wilderness is not the only battlefield or even the only historically significant piece of ground that is threatened by unneeded expansion. Vicksburg is threatened, too, as are innumerable other pieces of OUR country's history. If we don't try to save it now, it'll be too late and it'll be gone forever. Check out the National Trust for Historic Preservations website: www.preservationnation.org. It's amazing what we're collectively willing to give up for just another place to get the same crap products from over seas.