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CWPT Names 25 Most Endangered & At Risk Battlefields

Deborah Fitts

(April 2007) WASHINGTON, D.C. - The country's most threatened Civil War battlefields got an airing March 13 when the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT) released its annual "endangered battlefields" listing at a National Press Club press conference.

Cedar Creek, Harpers Ferry, Petersburg and other famous and not-so-famous battlefields came in for attention for various threats, ranging from rampant development and mining to the adverse impact from a new power line on towers nearly 15 stories high.

"History Under Siege: A Guide to America's Most Endangered Civil War Battlefields" identifies this year's 10 most threatened sites and another 15 "at risk" ones around the country.

"The Civil War was the most tragic conflict in American history," said CWPT President James Lighthizer. "For four long years, North and South clashed in hundreds of battles and skirmishes that sounded the death knell of slavery. Nearly 20 percent of America's Civil War battlefields have already been destroyed - denied forever to future generations."

Joining Lighthizer at the press conference were former Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson, whose ancestor served with the 1st Alabama at Spring Hill, Tenn., and former New York congressman Bob Mrazek, a Civil war novelist. Wilson is the central character of the best-selling book Charlie Wilson's War, soon to be a movie starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts. Both former lawmakers expressed support for federal funding to preserve battlefields. CWPT helped to protect 1,300 acres of battlefield land in 2006. Since its inception two decades ago the organization has preserved 23,500 acres at 90 sites in 18 states.

The most-threatened sites are:

  • Cedar Creek, Va. - "The threat to Cedar Creek is as dire and immediate as any faced at a Civil War battlefield," according to CWPT. A mining company is seeking to rezone 639 acres from agricultural use to "extractive manufacturing." The land, adjacent to Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park, is at least 60 percent core battlefield.

    Here on Oct. 19, 1864, Confederate Gen. Jubal Early surprised and routed forces under Union Gen. Phil Sheridan. Sheridan, after a 15-mile gallop to the scene from Winchester, rallied his men and delivered a crushing counter-attack that ended forever Confederate control in the Shenandoah Valley.

  • Fort Morgan, Ala. - "Today the once formidable Fort Morgan has fallen into significant disrepair," states the CWPT report. Last year the Alabama Historical Commission, which owns the site, hatched a plan to increase the inadequate staff and begin repairs to storm damage. But significant state funding will be required.

    From Aug. 5 to 23, 1864, Union Adm. David Farragut bombarded Fort Morgan, eventually forcing its surrender. It was the last Confederate bastion to fall on Mobile Bay.

  • Gettysburg, Pa. - CWPT noted that while a plan to build a gambling casino near the battlefield has failed, "development pressures on the Gettysburg battlefield continue unabated." Plans for thousands of new homes could increase the population of Adams County by 30 percent.

    The war's largest battle, July 1-3, 1863, Gettysburg proved a "high tide" for the Confederacy, and a compelling mecca for visitors starting within days of the battle. Today nearly 2 million people annually visit the battlefield.

  • Harpers Ferry, W.Va. - Last August, without notifying authorities at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park or receiving federal permits, developers dug two 1,900-foot-long trenches through park land in order to bring water and sewerage to proposed developments. So far no charges have been brought by the U.S. Justice or Interior departments.

    On Sept. 12-15, 1862, Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson orchestrated a siege that led to one of the largest mass surrenders of U.S. troops in history.

  • Iuka, Miss. - The intersection of U.S. Route 72 and state Route 25, located in the core battlefield of Iuka, is "a hotbed for development in the region," according to the Trust. A motel stands in the heart of the battlefield where Lt. Cyrus Sears' 11th Ohio Battery fired its guns. Fortunately, the Iuka battlefield Commission has saved 57 acres in recent years, and is looking for more opportunities.

    Confederates under Sterling Price occupied Iuka in September 1862, prompting the attention of Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. Grant attacked late in the afternoon of Sept. 19, sparking a bitter three-hour battle in which the Southerners drove back the Federal column a third of a mile before darkness ended the fighting. Grant brought up reinforcements, and Price withdrew to the south the following day.

  • Marietta, Ga. - Major sections of trenches and fortifications throughout Cobb County are unprotected. The Trust report says that the growth of suburban Atlanta "has all but destroyed the possibility for preservation opportunities in the eastern half of the county, and time is running out" for earthworks in the western part. While preservationists have saved some earthworks near Dallas Highway and Brushy Mountain, others remain at risk, and some have even been bulldozed "to avoid complications that could scare away developers."

    From June 4 to July 8, 1864, Confederate forces occupied a long line of entrenchments from Lost Mountain to Brushy Mountain near Marietta. Federal forces probed the line constantly, and finally Confederate commander Joseph E. Johnston withdrew eastward to the Kennesaw Mountain Line.

  • New Orleans, La. - Eighteen months after the assault from Hurricane Katrina, the future of Civil War forts that once defended New Orleans remains uncertain. Fort Jackson sat submerged in 6 feet of water for six weeks, undermining its structural integrity. Fort Pike also suffered major damage, sustaining gaping cracks in its outer walls and losing relics that washed up as far as 40 miles away. Both forts are eligible for federal funding, but "it is unclear whether all necessary work can be completed before the damage is irreparable."

    From April 16-28, 1862, the Union navy launched an attack to take New Orleans. Forts protecting the port held off Adm. David Farragut for a week, but the city finally fell on April 28.

  • Northern Piedmont (Mid-Atlantic) - Energy companies are seeking to built a 500-kilowatt power line through portions of Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia, impacting as many as seven Civil War battlefields. The proposed towers would stand up to 15 stories high. The companies are seeking eminent domain authority.

    This was one of the most heavily contested areas of the Civil War, and includes the battlefields of Aldie, Middleburg and Upperville in June 1863 and Manassas Gap the following month. "From epic charges across the open fields of Gettysburg to close combat fighting in Thoroughfare Gap, the Northern Piedmont is home to some of the most iconic battlefields of the entire war."

  • Petersburg, Va. - Last year's findings of the federal Base Realignment and Closure commission call for a major increase in the size of Fort Lee, an army installation adjacent to the Petersburg battlefield. The on-base population is expected to increase by 119 percent by 2009 and $1 billion will be spent on new construction, which is expected to complicate preservation efforts at Petersburg and in Dinwiddie County.

    From June 1864 to April 1865, the 18 major battles of the Petersburg Campaign raged over 23,000 acres. Vastly outnumbered, Confederates under Robert E. Lee began evacuating to the west. The city fell April 3, and Lee surrendered six days later at Appomattox Court House.

  • Spring Hill, Tenn. - Expansion of the Nashville and Franklin suburbs "is eating away at large portions of the Spring Hill battlefield. This January work began on a massive, 62-acre commercial development where the lines of Gen. Patrick Cleburne stood on the afternoon of Nov. 29, 1864. CWPT and Maury County preserved 110 acres of the battlefield in the mid-1990s.

    On Nov. 29 Union forces turned back several piecemeal Confederate attacks as Southern Gen. John Bell Hood attempted to prevent an isolated Union column from retreating north to Franklin. At dark the Southerners gained a strategic advantage, but orders from Hood to attack never reached his subordinates. The Confederates bivouacked for the night, leaving open the road north to Franklin.

At Risk Sites

CWPT's "at risk" sites include Athens, Mo., where a state battlefield could soon have a smelly new neighbor, the Athens Hog Factory; Brandy Station, Va., where Culpeper County's population is soaring and development is encroaching on the battlefield;

And, Defenses of Washington, where many of the 68 forts built to protect the capital are falling into disrepair "or have been lost entirely": and Falling Waters, Md. and W.Va., where residential development is encroaching on both sides of the Potomac River where Confederates crossed back into the South following Gettysburg.

Also at risk are Fort Monroe, Va. , where the army base is slated for closure and preservationists are determined to save it from commercial development; Glendale, Va., where three large developments have been built within the last two years and four more are pending, one within musket range of preserved land;

And, Honey Springs, Okla., where area residents recently petitioned to have the private road through the battlefield opened to public traffic, making visitation by tourists more difficult; and Hunterstown, Pa., known as Gettysburg's "North Cavalry Field," and "extremely vulnerable to development."

Also at risk: Kennesaw Mountain, Ga., where roads through the national park have become major commuter thoroughfares for Atlanta; Little Blue River, Mo., where residential and commercial development are encroaching on central portions of the battlefield and a four-lane divided highway is proposed "through crucial combat area";

And, Lovejoy's Station, Ga., where, although Henry County purchased 204 acres at this key battle of the Atlanta Campaign, the area is highly vulnerable to development; and Manassas, Va. , where traffic "nightmares" along U.S. 29 through the park make it "nearly impossible to visit during rush hour." Many fear an impending push to widen the road to four lanes through the heart of the battlefield.

Finally, also cited at risk are Mansfield, La, where a lignite mining operation continues to threaten the battlefield, where only 177 of the 6,000 acres are protected; Newtonia, Mo., where legislation was introduced in Congress in January for the long-term protection of this battlefield by including it in the Wilson's Creek unit of the National Park Service; and the Wilderness, Va., where large areas of the battlefield along Route 20 remain "extremely vulnerable" to development.

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