It’s that time of year again. In three weeks students at my school will spend time outside the classroom setting engaged in a broad range of activities. Last year I helped lead a group of 40 students on a civil rights trip from Atlanta to Memphis. It was an incredibly rewarding experience for everyone involved.
This year I will lead my own group of 12 students on a Civil War battlefield tour that will explore the war in 1862 and 1863. We will visit the battlefields of Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Gettysburg as well as the town of Harpers Ferry. The time frame of the battles will give us the opportunity to explore a number of issues, including the relationship between the battlefield and home front and the gradual shift in Union policy toward emancipation. Continue reading “Following the 20th Massachusetts From Antietam to Gettysburg”
No surprise that The Free Lance-Star of Fredericksburg decided to comment on this past weeks decision in Orange County to allow Walmart to build just off of the Wilderness Battlefield. The editorial comes down hard on both the four Orange County supervisors who voted in favor of Walmart as well as Walmart’s business practices. The editor accuses the supervisors of engaging in “ornery provincialism against the forces of decent compromise” and characterizes Walmart as motivated by an “insatiable hunger for world retail conquest” as well as other corrupt business practices.
What I fail to see is how such an editorial is even possible given the reality of commercial development and urban sprawl that can be found all along Rt. 3, outside Fredericksburg. Does Fredericksburg really have much of a leg to stand on when it comes to developing historically significant ground? More importantly, what I would like to know is how many of those large outlets on Rt. 3 contain commercial chains whose business practices rival or even outpace those of Walmart’s. It seems to me that the values that led to the decision of the Orange County Board of Supervisors to grant Walmart its petition are the very same that can be found along Rt. 3 in Fredericksburg. In fact, one could easily argue that it is the people of Fredericksburg who paved the way for Walmart.
I think all of you are well aware that I greatly appreciate the time you take out of your day to comment on my posts. In many cases you spend a significant amount of time to insure that your comments are clear and to the point. By far my favorite comments are those that challenge me to rethink specific issues or to work harder to clarify my position. In response to yesterday’s post on the Wilderness and WalMart, however, I can’t tell whether my readers are having difficulty following my thinking on this issue over time or my commitment to battlefield preservation itself. I am getting the sense that it more of the latter.
It’s difficult to know what more I could say to satisfy some of you. If I woke up yesterday morning and had posted a simple condemnation of WalMart, like everyone else in the Civil War blogosphere, all would be fine, but because I fail to toe the party line there is a lingering doubt. Dimitri Rotov’s recent post also deviates from the standard line of thought, but I don’t doubt for a minute his commitment to preserving our Civil War battlefields.
Let me remind all of you of a few things that have apparently been so easily forgotten. From the beginning of the life of this blog I have maintained a strong commitment to the mission of the National Park Service. While others condemned Gettysburg Superintendent, John Latschar for every problem under the sun, I made it a point to remind my readers of his commitment to restoring some of the battlefield’s most important view sheds. In addition, I can’t think of anyone else in the blogosphere or elsewhere for that matter who has gone further in supporting the NPS’s commitment to properly interpreting Civil War battlefields. This past December I was asked by Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania Superintendent, John Hennessy, to deliver the keynote address for the 146th anniversary of the battle. In my talk I discussed the importance of these battlefields to our civic life as well as their importance as educational tools. Every year I bring students to one of Virginia’s battlefields. All of them walk away with a unique and invaluable perspective and a few of them are truly moved by what they experienced. Finally, I signed the CWPT’s petition that was sent to WalMart back in October. What more can I say about my position on battlefield preservation?
May I be so bold as to suggest that compared to many of you who are having difficulty with my position, I’ve done much more to insure the continued life of these important historic sites.
I can’t say that I am surprised by the decision to give Walmart permission to build a store just off of the Wilderness battlefield along Rt. 3 in Orange County. As I’ve said before, this is a preservation battle that was lost a long time ago. It was a decision to be made by the residents of Orange County and they made it. Nothing was rushed, all sides were heard, and it looks like the decision of the board of supervisors reflected the will of the people living in the community. Let’s hope that organizations such as the Civil War Preservation Trust have learned some valuable lessons and move on.
I’ve stated that the proposed construction of a new Wal-Mart on the Wilderness battlefield is a bad idea and, along with 252 other historians, signed the Civil War Preservation Trust’s letter addressed to the CEO of the company. But even with all of the attention generated in newspapers over the past few weeks it is only a matter of time before permits are handed out and the ground paved over. What I want to know is at what point should preservationists begin to work with Wal-Mart to propose ways to minimize the site’s impact on the surrounding battlefield. Are there ways to configure the entrance, the parking lots, as well as the building itself in a way that would preserve some of the viewsheds? While I admire the efforts of the CWPT to bring the issue of battlefield preservation to the attention of the general public, it seems to me that an opportunity would have been lost if company executives are not engaged at all. How about asking Wal-Mart to buy a parcel of land in the area and donate it to the CWPT in the name of battlefield preservation?
That’s just one idea. What other ideas are out there?