Of the many places where Maine soldiers and sailors fought 150 years ago, some sites no longer exist.
The 9th Maine Infantry “went in” with the 54th Massachusetts Infantry on the failed nighttime assault on Fort Wagner near Charleston in July 1863. By war’s end, the sea was already claiming Fort Wagner and the graves of the Union boys lost in that assault.
Fort Wagner has long since vanished.
So has the long slope up which the 6th Maine Infantry Regiment charged at Fredericksburg in early May 1863. I recently walked along the Sunken Road and gazed over the Stone Wall toward downtown Fredericksburg; 151 years ago, I would have seen almost a half mile expanse of fields spreading between the Stone Wall and “intown” Fredericksburg.
Today I can see across the narrow width of the National Park Service property to the nearest houses representing the city’s expansive growth since 1865.
And then there’s the Salem Church battlefield several miles to the west, out Route 3 toward Chancellorsville. The 5th Maine Infantry fought there in early May 1863.
Except for the original church and a few Union monuments, the battlefield lies submerged beneath the Fredericksburg sprawl that creeps ever westward toward Culpeper.
Thus Modern Americana has almost erased one Virginia battlefield where Maine boys fought and died. That same Americana, represented by the ceaseless development consuming open land around Southern population centers, threatens many other battlefields.
But we can help save Civil War battlefields, especially those where Maine boys proudly represented the Pine Tree State, by financially supporting the preservationist groups dedicated to buying threatened battlefield properties.
Many preservationist groups are battlefield-specific, such as Friends of Wilderness Battlefield (www.fowb.org) and Friends of Gettysburg (www.friendsofgettysburg.org). Such groups focus on adding land to and protecting the existing acreage at their chosen battlefields.
Such a group may also support local park activities; Friends of Wilderness Battlefield, for example, voluntarily staffs Ellwood, the plantation house that Gouverneur K. Warren claimed as his Fifth Corps’ headquarters during the opening volleys of the Battle of The Wilderness.
Other preservationist groups focus their efforts regionally. Among such groups,
• The Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation works diligently to preserve battlefields in the Shenandoah Valley. The SVBF is headquartered in downtown New Market, Va. about a mile from the New Market Battlefield State Park (a “must see” for Civil War buffs); the organization’s website is www.shenandoahatwar.org.
• Based in Fredericksburg, the Central Virginia Battlefield Trust (www.cvbt.org) has played a key role in preserving seriously endangered battlefields in central Virginia. The CVBT helped organize the “ground troops” who successfully opposed a proposal by Wal-Mart to construct a super store on critical Wilderness land a few years ago. The locally fought legal, political, and PR campaign led to Wal-Mart relocating its proposed store some miles west on Route 3 and permanently preserving the land on which the store was proposed to sit.
And then there is the Civil War Trust, the hard-working elephant in the preservationist kitchen. Let me issue this disclaimer: I am a CWT member.
At approximately 60,000 members, the CWT is the largest Civil War battlefield preservation organization in the United States. The CWT is not the umbrella organization nor the clearinghouse for all other such groups; instead the Trust works with such allies to acquire endangered battlefield properties.
The CWT has preserved more than 35,000 acres of critical battlefield land, and the effort continues; earlier this month the Trust announced its participation in a fund-raising campaign to buy enough land to almost double the size of the “saved” portion of Port Republic battlefield on Virginia.
For more information about the CWT, log onto civilwar.org.
So how have battlefield-preservation efforts affected sites where Maine boys fought 150 years ago?
• In 2006 the Civil War Trust spent $12 million to purchase the 208-acre Slaughter Pen Farm in Fredericksburg, Va. Accessible by well-marked trails, this tract abuts the Prospect Hill section of Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Battlefield Park …
… and the Slaughter Pen Farm saves in its entirety the route taken by the 6th Maine Infantry Regiment during its epic Dec. 13, 1862 charge at Fredericksburg. Trail-side information panels help visitors chart that charge.
• The Brandy Station Foundation (www.brandystationfoundation.com) has led efforts to preserve the core acreage at Brandy Station, Va., where Union and Confederate cavalrymen waged a wild battle in June 1863. Preservationists particularly wanted to buy Fleetwood Hill, site of J.E.B. Stuart’s headquarters. The 1st Maine Cavalry and other regiments rode back and forth across the hill in saber-clanging and pistol-shooting charges that only Hollywood could accurately portray.
In conjunction with other preservationist groups and with private and public funds, the Friends of Brandy Station recently acquired all of Fleetwood Hill — and the modern buildings atop it will be removed soon.
• The Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation has doggedly expanded the “saved” portion of the Battle of Third Winchester (Opequon Creek) in the lower Shenandoah Valley. Under the guidance of Nick Picerno, a noted historian specializing in the 1st/10th/29th Maine infantry regiments, the SVBF has removed the growth overrunning a key site where the 29th Maine fought during the battle.
I have mentioned only a few organizations dedicated to saving Civil War battlefields. Many other such groups exist; will you consider joining the campaign to save the places where Maine boys fought 150 years ago?
Brian Swartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.