MS. REBECCA SHEIR
This weekend marks a major milestone in our neck of the woods and in the country as a whole, the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Bull Run. The first major battle of the Civil War occurred at Manassas, Virginia, on July 21, 1861. After that, many a skirmish took place in our region and these days, many of these battle sites are being eyed for housing, shopping centers and other development.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
But a group of local conservationists is fighting to prevent that development from becoming reality. Courtney Collins visited one site in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, to learn more about this group's passion for what it calls, hallowed ground.
MR. LLOYD HARRISON
This is a tunnel into history.
MS. COURTNEY COLLINS
Walking toward the old Ger plank road, it's not hard to imagine that you've stepped back in time. It's made of dirt and rocks and a canopy of trees that protects it, shrouds the road in almost eerie quiet. This is the site of the Battle of the Wilderness, fought back in 1864. This bloody battle was the first of General Ulysses S. Grant's overland campaign against General Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.
Grant rides off of Grants Knoll, is heading east and probably was on this road that we're about to see.
Lloyd Harrison knows about a lot about the road and the 93-acre parcel of land it winds through. Known as the Wilderness Crossroads property, it was the backdrop for several days of brutal combat.
After three days of fighting, you read the accounts, the woods are on fire. It was a pretty gruesome scene.
Wilderness Crossroads in Spotsylvania County is the latest acquisition of the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust, CVBT, for short. When the CVBT learned part of this land might be developed commercially, members intervened.
MR. THOMAS VAN WINKLE
To have these grounds covered with houses or strip malls, this is an area of Virginia that is very special. It has all these things here and it needs to be protected. We don't need to have the same looking area all over the country of strip malls. This is history. This is something that we need to teach our children.
That's Thomas Van Winkle, another member of the CVBT. Housing developments and strip malls, of course, are a big part of the landscape in our region, but Van Winkle says he and other members would rather work with developers than fight them off.
They'll either grant us that property or sell us that property or build around that property or abandon it altogether.
Harrison says balance is important to the CVBT and you can't save every acre of every piece of land without disrupting healthy development.
You need to be able to accommodate the citizens, give them places to work, places to live. At the same time, you have to honor the history of the nation.
This year marks the CVBT's 15th anniversary and since its creation, it's saved more than 800 acres of battlefield land in central Virginia. Harrison says that land is impossible to overvalue.
These were some of the American ages most perilous hours. The nation could've perished, but it did not.
Funding these large-scale purchases takes a lot of work on behalf of a lot of organizations. The CVBT has more than 700 members who contribute to its effort and often get support from the national organization, the Civil War Trust. The group also applies for whatever grants it can find.
Often, the CVBT works with the National Park Service, sometimes buying up threatened ground and often transferring it to the Park Service once the purchase is final. Van Winkle says all this hard work is worth it because this land, which he calls hallowed ground is so rich with history, it seems to almost breathe on its own.
You can almost see the thousands of troops that are trying to go up this road trace. They're all fighting for what they believe in. They have all left their homes with families behind and you can feel it, you can see it and when you have a situation like this where it's as quiet as it is, you can imagine everything that happened here.
And while memorializing the land is important, Lloyd Harrison says honoring the legacy of the United States is the larger goal.
The experiment could've ended in the Civil War. The Republic could've died on these fields just as many thousands of men did. It's important to make sure that we understand why the war was fought and how it shaped the country.
The CVBT is a relatively new organization, but board members say they know the future leaders of their group are out there. Current leaders say they'll keep fighting to preserve history until the next generation of enthusiasts appears to take the reins. I'm Courtney Collins.
You can learn more about the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust and see pictures of that site it just acquired, The Wilderness Crossroads Property, on our website, metroconnection.org.
Transcripts of WAMU programs are available for personal use. Transcripts are provided "As Is" without warranties of any kind, either express or implied. WAMU does not warrant that the transcript is error-free. For all WAMU programs, the broadcast audio should be considered the authoritative version. Transcripts are owned by WAMU 88.5 FM American University Radio and are protected by laws in both the United States and international law. You may not sell or modify transcripts or reproduce, display, distribute, or otherwise use the transcript, in whole or in part, in any way for any public or commercial purpose without the express written permission of WAMU. All requests for uses beyond personal and noncommercial use should be referred to (202) 885-1200.