Battle Sites Face Many Threats
According To Annual CWPT Report
By Kathryn Jorgensen
(April 2009 Civil War News)
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Sites threatened by mining, erosion, commercial and residential development and road widening lead the Civil War Preservation Trust’s 2009 edition of “History Under Siege,” the annual report on the most endangered Civil War battlefields.
In addition to the country’s 10 “most endangered” battlefields, another 15 are cited as “at risk.” They face threats from the usual development, as well as airport expansion, wind energy development, artificial wetland, railroad switching yard and a race track.
The report was released at a March 18 Washington press conference at which actor and history student Richard Dreyfuss and Dr. Libby O’Connell, chief historian at History, formerly The History Channel, spoke.
Dreyfuss and Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT) president James Lighthizer and others then laid a wreath at Washington’s African American Civil War Memorial.
The report will be mailed to Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT) members in April. It includes the history of each site and its ranking in terms of historical significance and state of preservation. The report, along with pictures, videos, maps and other material, is at www.civilwar.org/historyundersiege.
The battlefield preservation story is far from being all bad news. CWPT has protected more than 25,000 acres of battlefield land in 19 states during its two decades. As the “History Under Siege” report notes, there were success stories in the last year, at Morris Island, Charleston (S.C.), Natural Bridge (Fla.) and Perryville and Richmond (Ky.), among others.
10 Most Endangered
The most endangered sites, in alphabetical order, are:
Cedar Creek, Virginia: site of an Oct. 19, 184, Union victory that ended Confederate offensives in the Shenandoah Valley, now faced with expansion of a limestone mining operation already visible from the battlefield.
Cedar Creek is also one of 15 battlefields in four states that are threatened by a proposed network of high-voltage electric transmission lines.
Fort Gaines, Alabama: The Dauphin island fort guarded Mobile Bay, but fell to the U.S. naval fleet after a three-day attack Aug. 5-8, 1864. The fort now is under assault from the Gulf of Mexico.
Four hundred feet of battlefield at Fort Gaines Historic Site have been lost, at the rate of 10 feet of land a year, due to erosion that also threatens the island’s freshwater lake. If unchecked, the island could be split and the fort stranded. Congress has been asked to support study of an engineered beach to stabilize the shoreline.
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: Many significant sites of the July 1-3, 1863, battle are outside National Park service boundaries and vulnerable to residential or commercial development.
A Comfort Suites hotel is being built adjacent to Evergreen Cemetery. Preservationists are concerned that development will follow the route to the new visitor center. An “astronomical” price is being asked for the bankrupt Gettysburg Country Club site on Route 30.
Monocacy, Maryland: The July 9, 1864, battlefield where Gen. Lew Wallace’s troops delayed Lt. Gen. Jubal Early’s march on Washington by a crucial day, faces the threat of a waste-to-energy incinerator on the opposite bank on the Monocacy River.
Despite county officials saying they favored other available sites for the facility and its 350-foot smokestack, CWPT says “in February 2009, it became apparent that all other sites under consideration had been abandoned.”
New Market Heights, Virginia: Three thousand U.S. Colored Troops attacked the New Market Heights position on Sept. 29, 1864, part of the defenses north of the James River. Medals of honor were awarded to 16 of the soldiers.
Despite the site’s historic significance, no preservation organization has protected any of the battlefield. Henrico County owns some core battle land and one roadside marker notes the battle. Housing development has destroyed some of the battlefield and more development threatens.
Port Gibson, Mississippi: Union forces under Gen. U.S. Grant forced back Confederates at Port Gibson on May 1, 1863, giving them the beachhead that led to the capture of Vicksburg.
The quaint town was spared by U.S. troops and now faces threats from a Mississippi Department of Transportation plan to widen U.S. Highway 61 that goes through town. Local officials want a bypass that would avoid the battlefield and historic neighborhoods.
Sabine Pass, Texas: Jeff Davis Guards gunners with just six cannon at Fort Griffin forced the Union flotilla of gunboats and transports to retire from the Sabine pass narrows on Sept. 8, 1863.
Hurricanes Rita in 2005 and Ike in 2008 caused heavy damage to Sabine Pass Battleground State Historic Site, closing it for years. A bond issue will support interpretation and facilities and a friends group was recently formed.
South Mountain, Maryland: Almost 5,000 soldiers on both sides died at the South Mountain passes of Crampton’s Gap, Fox’s Gap and Turner’s Gap on Sept. 14, 1862, two days before Antietam.
South Mountain is one of the sites that would be affected by planned electric transmission corridors. Dominion Power recently purchased a 135-acre site near Fox’s Tavern in Middletown, Md., as part of a plan to build a $55 million natural gas compression station.
Spring Hill, Tennessee: On Nov. 29, 1864, Confederate forces attacked the Federal supply line at Spring Hill, but failed to block its retreat to Franklin where six Confederate generals died in battle the next day and U.S. troops continued on to Nashville.
In addition to development pressure in the area, General Motors, which has a plant in Spring Hill, seeks to sell 500 acres around Rippavilla Plantation. GM wants the buyer to donate 100 acres near the plantation to its nonprofit foundation and will donate $1 million over 10 years for the site. The remaining 400 acres is subject to high-density development.
Wilderness, Virginia: The May 5-7, 1864, Battle of the Wilderness was the first action in Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s bloody Overland Campaign. There were more than 25,000 casualties in the inconclusive battle.
A coalition of preservation groups is trying to stop Walmart from building a supercenter, its fifth store within a 20-mile radius, less than a quarter-mile from the Wilderness National Battlefield and within battlefield boundaries. While the site is zoned commercial, current development is minimal compared to the proposed 138,000-square-foot store.
15 At Risk
Averasboro, N.C.: Twenty miles from Fayetteville and due to be affected by expansion of Fort Bragg and influx of 40,000 new civilian and military personnel.
Bayou Fourche, Ark.: Little Rock’s growth has obscured many battle sites and expansion of Little Rock National Airport threatens to consume additional battlefield land.
Camp Alleghany, W.Va.: Plans for a wind energy development one mile away, across the state border in Virginia, could have serious negative effects on this mountaintop battlefield and encampment site.
Defenses of Washington: Public education is needed about the 68 forts that defended Washington and integrating surviving forts into education and community programs.
Fort Monroe, Va.: A reuse plan for the fort after the Army leaves is being reviewed by the Department of Defense, but it does not specify which state or federal agency would oversee the site.
Hoke’s Run, W.Va.: The first battlefield in the Shenandoah is threatened by its proximity to Interstate 81 and commercial development.
Honey Springs, Okla.: Only about a third of the battlefield where Native American and African Americans fought is permanently protected.
Lone Jack, Mo.: This small battlefield southeast of Kansas City is quickly being hemmed in by development, including housing, a school and strip mall.
Lovejoy’s Station, Ga.: The Clayton County Water Authority is contemplating shifting several hundred acres northwest of preserved battlefield land from use as a wastewater spray field to an artificial wetland that would inundate campsites, entrenchments and site of the house where Sherman sent a dispatch proclaiming, “Atlanta is ours, and fairly won.”
Morrisvile, N.C.: Population in Morrisville, where the last assault by Sherman’s army in North Carolina took place in 1865, has tripled in the last eight years.
Picacho Pass, Ariz.: A six-mile-long, 913-acre railroad switching yard has been proposed for land just outside Picacho Pass State Park. Environmental impact studies are required.
Reed’s Bridge, Ark.: Several parcels are for sale in the core area of this battlefield northeast of Little Rock. The Jacksonville City Council declined to buy a half-acre of battlefield for $56,000.
Shepherdstown, W.Va.: County officials initially blocked a housing development on the most critical portion of the battlefield, but court decisions overturned that ruling. Congress is considering legislation to study making the site part of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park or Antietam National Battlefield.
Vicksburg, Miss.: A recent report found the national park underfunded, understaffed and lacking adequate archival conditions, especially for the USS Cairo.
Yadkin River Bridge, N.C.: Despite earlier stop-work orders for unauthorized construction, developers of an automobile race track anticipate work to begin in earnest this year. Duke Energy is considering new power plant nearby.