Another vital piece of the Wilderness Battlefield -- the site of the daytime field headquarters of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant -- has been preserved near Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park thanks to the efforts of the Civil War Trust.
The Trust last week announced that it had reached its fund-raising goal to acquire the 1.4-acre tract, which is surrounded by the military park. Private donations to the Trust, the nation’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting Civil War battlefields, were augmented by matching funds from the Commonwealth of Virginia, notably a $108,000 Transportation Enhancement Grant.
Efforts to preserve the property on Route 20 in Orange County were first announced in June 2011. Although small, the property’s historic pedigree as the location of Gen. Grant’s daytime headquarters during the battle made it a must have for preservationists, a release from the Trust said. Strong partnerships in the state and region helped smooth the transaction. The Trust formally concluded fundraising for the site in October.
“I am honored to declare that this piece of American history has been saved forever,” said Trust president James Lighthizer last week. “Today’s victory would not have been possible without the support and persistence of our supporters at the national, state and local levels. By working together, we are able to ensure that the places where history unfolded are protected for future generations to visit and explore.”
Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean T. Connaughton told those at a ceremony marking the successful campaign that the addition to the preserved area of the battlefield was a solid investment for the Commonwealth. “The more of this historic battlefield is protected, the more there is for visitors to see and explore. This effort reinforces and potentially expands the economic benefits of heritage tourism," he said.
Russ Smith, superintendent of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park that includes portions of the Wilderness Battlefield, offered his perspective on the significance of Gen. Grant’s Headquarters site.
“While Union army operations were spread across much of the Wilderness Gateway area along the boundary between Orange and Spotsylvania counties, this particular site was where overall Northern commander Ulysses Grant and his immediate subordinate George Meade spent their daylight hours during the battle,” Superintendent Smith said. “Imagining the decisions they made on this piece of ground and the lives that were affected by those choices is humbling indeed.”
Many historians consider the Battle of the Wilderness, fought May 5–7, 1864, to be “the beginning of the end” of the Civil War. The engagement was the first time that legendary military leaders Gen. Grant and Confederate commander Robert E. Lee met in combat, as well as the opening salvo of the bloody Overland Campaign, which brought the Union armies to the outskirts of Richmond. Fierce fighting in the fields and woods of the Wilderness caused nearly 30,000 casualties.
The newly preserved site joins other protected portions of the battlefield owned and maintained by several partner groups. Ellwood is operated by Friends of Wilderness Battlefield, which has raised an impressive $665,000 to date for the structure’s restoration, rehabilitation and interpretation.
In addition to the 2,774 acres of the Wilderness Battlefield inside Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust owns several parcels in the vicinity of the intersection of Routes 3 and 20 — notably the site of Grant’s evening campsite and tent cluster, as well as the original location of Wilderness Crossing, the historic junction of the Orange Turnpike and Orange Plank Road. In 2010, the Civil War Trust completed a $1 million private fundraising campaign to purchase 49 acres inside the national Park boundary at Saunder’s Field.
The Civil War Trust is the largest nonprofit battlefield preservation organization in the United States. Its goal is to preserve our nation’s endangered Civil War sites and to promote appreciation of these hallowed grounds through education and heritage tourism. To date, the Trust has preserved more than 30,000 acres of battlefield land in 20 states, including 209 acres at the Wilderness. Please visit the Trust’s website at www.civilwar.org, the home of the Civil War sesquicentennial.