Victory at Wilderness

Civil War Preservation Trust Video: The Historical Importance of the Wilderness
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Preservation Article: Fighting Back, May/June 2010
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Wilderness Battlefield and Vicinity Map
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Wilderness Walmart Cartoons published by the Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star
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Protecting Wilderness Battlefield from Poorly-Planned and Unnecessary Commercial Development

In January 2011, facing a legal challenge, Walmart announced that it will no longer pursue a plan to build a superstore on a privately owned portion of the Wilderness Battlefield in Orange County, Virginia. The Civil War battle at Wilderness resulted in one of the most decisive moments of the War and is considered, in some ways, as significant as the battle of Gettysburg. NPCA worked with the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition to ensure protection of this significant battlefield site.
Read NPCA's statement >

Why is the Wilderness important?

© Keith Rocco

On May 5-7, 1864 129,000 men fought one of the bloodiest and horrific battles of the Civil War. Nearly 30,000 men were killed or injured . Gen. Ulysses S. Grant met Confederate General Robert E. Lee for the first time at the Wilderness Battlefield and his decisions were critically important in turning the tide in the Civil War. The overwhelming losses to both Union and Confederate Troops makes this battlefield a place of great significance to Americans.

Because of that, the battlefield became a National Park in 1933 and the National Park Service now owns and maintains part of the land significant to the battle. The Civil War Sites Advisory Commission has defined the broader area of land that makes up the Wilderness Battlefield and described in detail why it needs to be protected.

What was the threat?

In December 2008, Walmart and a commercial developer advanced their plan to open a store on privately owned land in Orange County, Virginia, just outside of the park's boundaries. An enormous development in this location would have made it nearly impossible for Americans to envision the site of this important turning point in American history, and would have cast a shadow on the graves of those who fought and died there. The National Park Service, NPCA, and many organizations and individuals believe that this development would have so severely harmed the national park that the development should not be built on the site.

Why was this allowed to happen?

It would have made sense for Orange County to exercise its authority to plan and protect this important site. Unfortunately, while the county adopted a strong Comprehensive Plan pointing out the need to identify, recognize, and protect its wealth of historic sites – especially Civil War Battlefields of which the Wilderness is the most important – the County never took the steps to zone the land appropriately.

When Walmart executives scouted locations for a new Super Center and associated big box stores, they did so in secret, without informing the public of their criteria. Walmart and its development staff and consultants never even asked the National Park Service whether intense development next to the national park was acceptable. The National Park Service, its conservation allies, and historic preservation groups were not made aware of this destructive proposal until fully developed plans were completed and the final approval process was underway. If Walmart was surprised by the strong and united opposition to this site, it is because the company never bothered to ask whether anyone would care about the destruction of an important historic site.

What did NPCA do?

NPCA joined with other organizations to form the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition. From the earliest opportunity, we participated in constructive attempts to make the case for the protection of this national park. In January 2009, the Coalition offered to work with Orange County and Walmart and adjacent landowners to come up with a long-term plan that would serve everyone’s interest – including the American people. We reached out to Walmart consistently, offering constructive alternative locations that would better serve Walmart's profit and development objectives. The most significant adjacent landowners enthusiastically agreed to participate. Walmart and its allies, including the local elected officials they had courted before announcing their plans, refused at first.

What happened before Walmart abandoned its plans?

Opponents of the Walmart plan filed a lawsuit to point out the flaws in the process that led to the potential destruction of this historically important site. There was no injunction in place to stop the process while the court considered whether any of the actions taken violated the law. NPCA was not a party to the lawsuit because we do not believe the judge would find that we have "standing" as a party under Virginia’s strict standing law in public interest cases – but we support and applaud the national and local organizations, and nearby individual landowners, who brought this public-interest lawsuit. Walmart received more than 27,000 messages from NPCA members urging them to work with us on a solution that does not desecrate this hallowed Civil War battlefield.

What can you do now?

It is not too late to speak up for other places that need your help. You can add your voice and help support NPCA and our work to protect America’s national parks and Civil War Battlefields.


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