Washington, D.C -- A Maryland farm that was the site of the single bloodiest day in American history. A sleepy Kentucky town where cannonballs careened into homes. And a Virginia crossroads where 7,000 of General Ulysses S. Grant's Unions troops were mowed down in 30 minutes are some of the nation's most endangered battlefields.
At a news conference this week, the Civil War Preservation Trust unveiled its annual report on the status of the nation's historic battlegrounds. The report, entitled History Under Siege: A Guide to America's Most Endangered Civil War Battlefields, identifies the most threatened Civil War sites in the United States and what can be done to rescue them.
According to O. James Lighthizer, president of the Civil War Preservation Trust, the report outlines steps that can be taken to rescue threatened Civil War sites. "Nearly 20 percent of America's Civil War battlefields have already been destroyed-denied forever to future generations," Lighthizer said. "Once these irreplaceable treasures are gone, they're gone forever."
Trace Adkins - Descendant of a Confederate Soldier
Joining Lighthizer at the news conference announcing the report was country music star Trace Adkins, whose great-great- grandfather served in the 31st Louisiana Infantry before being wounded and taken prisoner at Vicksburg, Miss.
Adkins, an avid student of history said, "I've been a Civil War enthusiast all my life. When I visited the battlefield in Vicksburg and stood in a trench where my great-great-granddaddy stood, tears came to my eyes. As a father of five, I believe it is critical that I protect a legacy that belongs not just to my family but to our entire nation."
Adkins described the report as "a wake-up call for all Americans who may not realize that our battlefields-once soaked with the blood of patriots-are in jeopardy."
Also participating in the news conference was CWPT trustee Cricket Bauer Pohanka. An advocate for education initiatives, particularly the organization's annual institute for teachers, Pohanka is the wife of late Civil War historian Brian Pohanka, one of the founders of CWPT. According to Pohanka, "Preserved battlefields are not just beautiful landscapes, they are outdoor classrooms that teach us what it means to be an American."
Most Endangered Battlefields
Among the sites selected for the report are Antietam, Md. Fought on September 17, 1862, the Battle of Antietam ended Confederate General Robert E. Lee's first attempt to invade the North in a resounding fashion. Though the battle itself was tactically inconclusive in its outcome, the horrifying 12-hour casualty count of 23,000 shocked the nation.
Today, Antietam, which has served as a model of battlefield preservation, is threatened with a 120-foot-tall cellular tower that would be visible from all of the battlefield's most famous vantage points.
While General Lee was busy in Maryland, his comrades-in-arms in the Western Theater were involved in a similar invasion that culminated at Perryville, Ky. on Oct. 8, 1862. The Battle of Perryville was a Confederate tactical victory, although the heavy fighting and 7,500 casualties forced Bragg to retreat into Tennessee. During the battle, the Confederates held an early advantage, but the federal troops were able to push their attackers back into the town of Perryville itself.
Today, development proposals, including one seeking to make the last agriculturally zoned land within city limits open for highway commercial and high-density residential uses, target the northwestern portion of the battlefield.
The struggle for Cold Harbor, Va. was one of the most tragic battles of the Civil War, and foreshadowed the extensive use of trenches in World War I half a century later. Fought in the Richmond suburbs from May 31- June 12, 1864, the Battle of Cold Harbor saw a heavily entrenched Confederate force repulse repeated attacks from a Union army nearly twice its size.
Today, development pressure is so intense that only about 300 acres of what was once a 7,500-acre battlefield are currently preserved. A new county comprehensive plan recently doubled the housing density allowable in the area, increasing the challenge faced by preservationists.
History Under Siege: A Guide to America's Most Endangered Civil War Battlefields is composed of two parts. The first section presents the ten most endangered battlefields in the nation, providing a brief description of the history and preservation status of each site. The second section briefly describes the 15 additional "at risk" sites that round out the top 25 endangered Civil War battlefields in the United States.
The sites discussed in the report range from the famous to the nearly forgotten. All share a critical feature, however-at least part of each site is in danger of being lost forever. The battlefields were chosen based on geographic location, military significance, and the immediacy of current threats.
History Under Siege also includes:
Cedar Creek, Va., Oct. 19, 1864: The site of a Union victory that helped propel Abraham Lincoln to reelection in 1864 is today threatened by the expansion of both a limestone mining operation on core battlefield land and an interstate highway.
Hunterstown, Pa., July 2, 1863: This battle, often referred to as "North Cavalry Field," played a critical role in the largest battle ever fought in the Western Hemisphere: the three-day struggle in and around Gettysburg, Pa. Today, Hunterstown is experiencing rapid, unchecked growth of large housing developments set against rural backdrops.
Monocacy, Md., July 9, 1864: Known as the "battle that saved Washington," Monocacy is today threatened by a proposed waste-to-energy facility with a 150-foot-tall smokestack, which would be visible from much of the battlefield. Other threats include the widening of the interstate that bisects the battlefield and proposed 15-story electric transmission towers.
Natural Bridge, Fla., March 6, 1865: The location of the 1865 battle that kept the state capital of Tallahassee from being occupied by Union forces now faces development threats to unprotected battlefield land. Just seven acres of this Sunshine State battlefield are protected.
Prairie Grove, Ark., Dec. 7, 1862: Considered one of the best preserved Civil War battlefields in the state, Prairie Grove faces an uncertain future now that rapid population growth has reached this quiet corner of northwestern Arkansas. From 2000 to 2006 the region experienced 18 percent population growth and infrastructure near the battlefield needs to keep up.
Savannah, Ga., Dec. 10- 22, 1864: Faced with the specter of 60,000 Union soldiers on Sherman's March to the Sea, Confederate forces created an eight-mile line of earthworks to defend the city. Today, as new houses, commercial establishments and roads are built, the 1864 defenses, scattered throughout the suburbs of Savannah, are in danger of being lost.
Spring Hill, Tenn., Nov. 29, 1864: Spring Hill, site of a famous missed opportunity for Confederate forces that led to a disastrous defeat in nearby Franklin, is today threatened with some of the most rapid, unchecked development in the nation. CWPT has previously helped preserve 110 acres at the site.
25,000 Acres Saved in 20 Years
Although many battlefields are endangered, CWPT is making significant progress in the fight to preserve them. In 2007, the organization rescued more than 1,600 acres of hallowed ground at legendary battlefields such as Champion Hill, Miss.; Shiloh, Tenn.; and Petersburg, Va.
Since its creation two decades ago, CWPT has protected more than 25,000 acres at more than 90 sites in 18 states. CWPT first issued its annual report on endangered battlefields in February 2001.
With 65,000 members, CWPT is the largest nonprofit battlefield preservation organization in the United States. Its mission is to preserve our nation's endangered Civil War battlefields and to promote appreciation of these hallowed grounds.