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PRESERVING THE LAND & THE STORIES
PRESERVING THE LAND, PRESERVING THE STORIES:

 The Civil War Preservation Trust bought Slaughter Pen Farm, named for the bloody fighting there during the Battle of Fredericksburg.
Rebecca Sell/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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Date published: 12/9/2012

WHAT IS IT about a Civil War battlefield that makes it so special? After all, the Civil War was fought 150 years ago--it's been over for years, it's history, and the ground is just sitting there, waiting to be put to use, waiting to be built upon, waiting to be profited from. Keep it as a battlefield and all you've done is create a lost profit opportunity, a lost tax base, an underutilized economic and social wasteland: What is it with those preservationists? What's their source of passion to save these fields?

Preservationists, such as the members of the Central Virginia Battlefield Trust, look at the overwhelming percentage of Americans who couldn't care less about battlefield preservation, and they, in turn, look at us across a great gulf of meaning and memory. The Civil War [is] arguably the defining event of our country. The great issues involved--freedom and liberty, rights and responsibilities--were ones about which Americans were willing to fight and to die, and issues whose resolution profoundly transformed and redefined the country. The emotions aroused by the war continue to shape attitudes and events even today.

Consider that 2 percent of the American population of 1860 was killed in the war; if the U.S. were to suffer the same proportion of deaths in a war fought now, the number of American war dead would well exceed 5 million.

And consider that our area is also among the fastest-growing regions in the state, and its battlefields--fields "watered with the blood of heroes"--are being destroyed at an ever-accelerating pace. Such a pace of development and destruction is agonizing, but has proved to be galvanizing. In 1996 eight of us local folks decided it was time to stand up to the destruction and to form a historic lands trust for Central Virginia: the non-profit CVBT. Its two missions are to purchase significant battlefields so as to save them forever, and to be advocates for battlefield preservation at local, state, and national levels.

BATTLEFIELD ACREAGE


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PRESERVING THE LAND & THE STORIES

Michael Stevens is a local dermatologist and president of the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust. This column is excerpted from a speech he gave about preservation.