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History preserved
For protecting America's hallowed ground, 2009 was a very good year

Date published: 1/10/2010

WHEN IT COMES to preserv- ing battlefield lands, any preservationist will tell you, there is no time like the present: That sacred earth could be gone tomorrow. Though the economy helped slow in 2009 the development that often competes for such open space, it also stunted land prices for the time being--making the acreage attractive to developers for purchase now and development later.

But preservation advocates also saw opportunity in the downturn. Virginia officials and the Civil War Preservation Trust blended wisdom and resourcefulness in setting aside 1,934 acres at 10 Virginia battlefields, including Chancellorsville, the Wilderness, and Brandy Station in the Fredericksburg area. The CWPT also won protection of another 843 acres in four other states.

In Virginia, the effort was spurred by a sterling example of bipartisanship involving Gov. Tim Kaine, House Speaker Bill Howell, R-Stafford, and Sen. Edd Houck, D-Spotsylvania, who persuaded the General Assembly to pony up $5.2 million. This is not necessarily an ask-and-receive allocation, given the power of development interests in Richmond.

Nor was this free money. The state funds needed to be matched 2-1 by individuals and groups such as CWPT and the Central Virginia Battlefield Trust, whose members are contributing generously to meet the funding challenge.

Another refreshing angle to the story is that while the Chancellorsville and Wilderness deals secured only 85 acres and 94 acres, respectively, they represent grounds that were pivotal during each battle.

The Wagner Tract at Chancellorsville, for example, was where the heaviest fighting occurred during Lt. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's noted flank attack, which sealed Gen. Robert E. Lee's greatest victory. Its preservation also helps prevent commercial building along that stretch of the State Route 3 corridor.

The Wilderness parcel is where Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and his Union Army turned to advance southward from the crossroads there. The acquisition also affects how neighboring property might or might not be developed.

For those who cherish the meaning of hallowed ground preserved, 2009 was indeed a very good year.