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.