Reading about the Civil War is one thing, walking across the battlefields is something entirely different. As you follow the rise and fall of the landscape, see the forests, the cannons, the earthworks, it's not hard to imagine the terrible fighting that took place nearly 150 years ago.
To watch the development that's rising around Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park in Virginia, development that is swallowing some of these landscapes, is almost like watching history being erased.
At The Wilderness Battlefield, one of four battlefields within the park, the fighting that erupted in early May 1864 was intense and difficult due to the rolling landscape and thick forest.
The fighting was close and yet at times waged blindly, according to reports made by those involved.
As for the Wilderness, it was uneven, with woods, thickets, and ravines right and left. Tangled thickets of pine, scrub-oak, and cedar prevented our seeing the enemy, and prevented any one in command of a large force from determining accurately the position of the troops he was ordering to and fro. The appalling rattle of the musketry, the yells of the enemy, and the cheers of our own men were constantly in our ears. At times, our lines while firing could not see the array of the enemy, not fifty yards distant. After the battle was fairly begun, both sides were protected by log or earth breastworks. -- Alexander S. Webb, Brevet Major-General, U.S.A.
While much of the battlefield has been preserved within the national military park, much acreage that witnessed fighting remains unprotected and threatened to be lost to development.
At the Civil War Preservation Trust, officials have just launched a million-dollar campaign to save 49 acres surrounded by the park from possibly being developed. The landscape at stake, Saunders Field, was pivotal in the The Wilderness Battle, according to trust officials.
"It’s so tied into the story of 'the Wilderness,' some of the fiercest fighting that occurred in the wooded areas," Jim Campi, the trust's policy and communications director said the other day of the acreage. "The woods caught on fire, soldiers had to be drug out to prevent from being burned. There was a Medal of Honor given in that area to an officer who grabbed a fellow officer who had been wounded and saved him from the flames, otherwise he would have been burned to death.”
The owner of the 49 acres has agreed to sell the land to the trust for just more than $1 million, but with a year-end deadline. That deadline can be extended for three more months, but at a cost of $12,000 per month.
The Wilderness Battlefield was listed by the trust earlier this year as one of its "most endangered battlefields" due to pressing development. Among the projects that could chew away at lands that were involved in that battle is one proposed by Wal-Mart.
If the trust is able to purchase the property -- you can donate at this site -- it eventually hopes to turn the land over to the National Park Service.
“Ultimately we do want to see the park take over the property," Mr. Campi said. "We may hold onto it long enough to do some restoration work, add some interpretative trails and signage. But the goal would be to turn it back to the park hopefully before the end of the (Civil War) sesquicentennial celebration.
“Right now we’re just very focused on raising the million, which we hope to do before the end of this year," said Mr. Campi.
While the campaign so far has raised about $200,000, that's a far cry from the $1,085,000 the trust needs to close the deal this year.