It’s difficult to imagine a more appropriate place than Richmond, Virginia for the Civil War Trust to celebrate its 25th anniversary and the preservation of more than 32,000 acres of historic battlefields.
The four day Annual Conference was held June 6th to 10th, 2012 in the Richmond Omni Hotel where cobblestone-paved East Cary Street dips down Shockoe Slip into one of the city’s earliest neighborhoods. Nearly 500 registered attendees were on hand to see diverse exhibits, hear an ongoing series of lectures, take a long list of in-depth, informative tours led by noted authorities, and honor the recipients of the Trust’s Preservation Awards.
The meeting occurred during a weeks-long series of special events commemorating the Seven Days Battles that beat back the Union’s first attempt to capture Richmond. The program of events continue through mid-July. This weekend there are two days of innovative living history at Gaines’ Mill Battlefield (150 years ago on June 27th). This is where Lee won his first victory after taking command with the largest Confederate charge of the war.
Taking Aim to Save More of Gaines' Mill
The Trust’s important work includes an unprecedented effort to add 285 acres to the mere 67 acres preserved by the Park Service at Gaines’ Mill (in yellow on this map). The organization is getting close to raising the $3.2 million needed by September 4th, a major reason why members were afforded stirring history hikes on the land.
There were other opportunities to immerse in Richmond’s “second-to-none” collection of Civil War sites.
One dinner occurred at Richmond National Battlefield Park’s American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar, only dedicated as the park’s main visitor center in August 2011. The stunning new visitor center, a structure seen in many Civil War-era photos, sits on the banks of the whitewater-streaked James River and was the South’s biggest iron refinery.
A Luncheon About Leverage for Preservation
Trust president James Lighthizer welcomed attendees at the opening luncheon on Thursday, June 7th. Lighthizer’s eloquent and humorous way of offering credit to preservationists entertained the audience as he turned to the first of the Trust’s two awards ceremonies.
Lighthizer singled out the Old Dominion as “the national leader in historic battlefield preservation. The vision displayed by the Commonwealth of Virginia ... is truly remarkable,” Lighthizer said.
The organization’s Sesquicentennial Legacy Award went to Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton for a really interesting project—the Trust’s new Battlefield Apps for iPhone and Droid. The user’s GPS location appears on a battlefield map and there’s all kinds of multimedia content, including video of experts describing the action on the field.
The App effort was funded by the Transportation Enhancement program under Secretary Sean Connaughton.
Connaughton mused about the politics of preservation and efforts to encourage developers to embrace protection of historic property by simply having the audaciousness to ask, “You really don’t need that property, do you?” Of course, the property in question is extremely valuable, but “there’s a process of gentle persuasion. They need the zoning, and we need the battlefield.”
Connaughton said, “This award has my name on it but it should have all of your names on it and the names of the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia.” Lighthizer is himself a former secretary of transportation, for Maryland, and is credited with saving more than “4,500 acres of Civil War battlefield land in Maryland and is the national model for use of Transportation Enhancement funds for battlefield preservation.”
Another Sesquicentennial Legacy Award went to Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Doug Domenech for the Commonwealth's participation with the Trust in battlefield preservation projects through the Virginia Civil War Sites Preservation Fund, administered through the Department of Historic Resources—and the only state-level endowment of its kind in the country.
Honors for Superintendent of Fredricksburg and Spotsylvania NMP
The group’s National Park Service Preservationist of the Year Award was bestowed on Russ Smith, superintendent of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, who “stood side-by-side” with the Trust deterring a recent Walmart development. “That’s difficult to do as a government employee,” said Jim Lighthizer, “but every good superintendent gets in trouble with the locals once in a while.”
Smith was honored for exceptional commitment to balancing conservation goals and community needs in protecting key sites on the Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg and the Wilderness battlefields.
The Trust Preservationist Teacher of the Year Award recognized 32-year veteran educator Mr. James Percoco of West Springfield High School, Springfield, Va. for integrating technology into his Applied History classes in innovative ways.
A best-kept-secret Civil War blockbuster attraction, the Pamplin Historical Park and National Museum of the Civil War Soldier in Petersburg, Va., was honored as the top site on the Civil War Discovery Trail, a network of more than 600 historic sites in 32 states. Lighthizer said the park, “has real history, a real battlefield, real structures, with real technology. You can go back time and time again.”
At one point, Dr. Mike Stevens, the president of the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust, presented Lighthizer with a check representing the final amount in the organization’s $1 million pledge toward the permanent preservation of the 208-acre Slaughter Pen Farm, first announced in 2006—and the most expensive private battlefield preservation project in American history.
2012 Preservation Awards
The meeting ended with Lighthizer lauding recipients of the 2012 Preservation Awards on Saturday June 10th.
“Those we honor this evening represent the epitome of the historic preservation movement,” said Lighthizer. “Their efforts stretch across decades, demonstrating how consistent work can culminate in monumental achievements that will be felt for generations.”
The Trust’s roots reach through organizations that merged over 25 years to become “the first national group with a holistic approach to battlefield preservation, to go beyond waging one fight at a time,” says Jim Drey, the Trust’s information technology manager.
Lighthizer traced that modern movement back to summer 1987 when historians met after a shopping mall destroyed the northern Virginia Chantilly Battlefield. They formed the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites (APCWS) — a direct ancestor of the current Civil War Trust. Lighthizer premiered a short video of the organization’s greatest achievements.
Three men instrumental in the birth of the modern battlefield preservation movement received the Edwin C. Bearss Lifetime Achievement Award for exceptional merit in and commitment to battlefield preservation.
Edward Wenzel, one of the original advocates for the Chantilly Battlefield, helped create the first national uproar over a battlefield’s destruction and creation of the first national battlefield preservation group.
Clark B. “Bud” Hall, also an early crusader for preservation at Chantilly, founded the Brandy Station Foundation, which defeated development schemes proposed for the battlefield (the largest cavalry battle fought in North America).
Tersh Boasberg, a leading land use and preservation attorney, "provided the legal acumen that enabled some of the earliest battlefield preservation victories," said the Trust. "His belief in making a formal inquiry into the status of preservation at all battlefields was a contributing factor in the establishment of the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission."
Mark Perreault of Norfolk, Va., was given the Carrington Williams Battlefield Preservationist of the Year Award. As co-founder of Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park he was instrumental in the recent designation of the 396th unit of the National Park System.
One of two Brian C. Pohanka Preservation Organization of the Year Awards was presented to Richmond’s Museum of the Confederacy, founded in 1896, with the world’s most comprehensive collection of artifacts and documents related to the Confederate States of America. Last spring, the museum opened a state-of-the-art facility in Appomattox, Va. to display more of its huge collection.
Taking Networking to New Heights
With so many partners, the Trust has a growing string of preservation successes in the effort to secure the 384 “principal battlefields” deemed worthy of preservation. The group’s strategies include conservation easements and a variety of outright purchase options to secure “preservation in perpetuity,” using donated funds and matching grants from many sources.
A major source of that funding is the Trust’s passionate members, 55,000 strong. Member contributions are credited across a wide range of dimensions that encourage people of varying means to step up to the plate. Members called “Color Bearers” come in different donation amount categories. An “Honor Guard” of contributors have taken the step of making a planned gift or bequest. “The Steadfast” include categories based on the number of individual donations.
One member at the luncheon explained his dual “Color Bearer” and “Steadfast” status to me with the quip, “Whenever they ask, I give,” he said with a smile.
Want to be impressed? Look at the list of the “Top 300” where contributions range from $25,000 to $2 million and up.
It’s members as committed as these that the Trust engages at annual meetings, where hikes explore land waiting to be saved (as 2,000 acres were in 2011).
Multifaceted Trust programs range from preservation to interpretation. You won’t find better, more explanatory battlefield maps than those available for free download on the Trust’s website. The magazine Hallowed Ground is an excellent quarterly publication. Maybe best of all, their new battlefield apps are a must-have item if you’re toting an iPhone or Droid.
They even operate an online Civil War Bookstore.
Speaking of books (not to mention apps), battlefield experiences have spawned countless titles. There are books by those who fought on the fields. But there are also inspiring books by those who walk the battlefields we’ve saved and listen to the echoes of history that still haunt them.
That is the “supremely important” experience of “hallowed ground” that the Trust, and the National Park Service, intend to preserve for our future generations.