The latest skirmish over the fate of land viewed as hallowed ground dating to the Civil War comes next week in Virginia, where a public hearing is scheduled to debate a proposal by Wal-Mart to build a Supercenter on a portion of the Wilderness Battlefield.
Wal-Mart's plan is to develop a 53-to-55-acre tract of land just north of the Wilderness Corner intersection in Orange, Virginia. Part of the proposed development would hold a store covering nearly 140,000 square feet, with enough room left over for additional retail outlets. While that land is not part of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, it is, historically, part of the Wilderness Battlefield.
Next week officials from Orange County, Virginia, will hold a public hearing on the proposed developed. According to the project's opponents, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine and House Speaker Bill Howell recently wrote the Orange County Board of Supervisors to urge them to find a location for Wal-mart that doesn’t infringe on the Wilderness Battlefield. That request was echoed a few days later by U.S. Senator Jim Webb of Virginia.
According to the National 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 then-CEO, H. Lee Scott, Jr., asking that his corporation look elsewhere for its project. They said that building a Wal-mart, plus an additional three “baby box” stores, at the proposed site would have a dramatic impact on the battlefield and national park, and would open up the region for even more incompatible development, adding that the developments would completely undermine the visitor experience at the battlefield for generations to come.
In advance of next week's meeting, the Civil War Preservation Trust is asking that those who oppose the project write a letter to Wal-Mart CEO Michael Duke, asking that he respect the Wilderness Battlefield and find an alternate location in Orange County for their Supercenter. To speed things along, you can use this Internet site to compose and send your letter.
If you live near Fredericksburg, Virginia, Wal-Mart's opponents ask that you consider attending the public hearing. It is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. next Monday, July 27, at Orange County High School, 201 Selma Road, Orange, Virginia.
If you have any questions, you can contact the Civil War Preservation Trust at 202-367-1861 ext. 220.