Preservationists Lose Superstore Battle

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The old cliche, ‘money talks and more money talks louder’  seems applicable as the Orange County Board of Supervisors voted to permit the building of a megastore Wal Mart near the hallowed fields where the Battle of the Wilderness took approximately 29,000 lives during May of 1864. The Arkansas based store chain is one of the wealthiest in the country.

The promise of more jobs and greater income to the county swayed the supervisors, who predicted great things would come to Orange County, Virginia, even as some detractors promised the profits and money would be flowing to Bentonville, Arkansas, the home of Wal Mart.  Many felt that the traffic problems engendered by the mammoth store would not, unfortunately, be felt in Arkansas.

Supervisor R. Mark Johnson dutifully explained that the placement of the store was not the doing of the locals, indicating that it was a private agreement between a landowner and the corporation, and that the Board’s only role was in granting permission for a special use permit to allow the construction to proceed.

The Board seemed unimpressed   that there was little objection to having a Wal Mart in the area, but only its projected placement near the battlefield.  Those pleas fell on deaf ears.  The land has been zoned commercial since sometime in the 1970s. The sticking point was that the zoning placed a cap on individual buidings to be built of less  than half of the 130,000 square feet that the Arkansas firm plans for the area.

The Bentonville firm tossed a small bone to the opposition by agreeing to set aside one-third of its fifty-plus acre site as an easement for conservation purposes.  They also agreed to build the actual store nearly one-fourth mile off the road.

Background of First Battle of Wilderness

The Wilderness battle in May 5 and 6, 1864, marked the first time that Generals Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant had met in battle. Grant led 120,000 men from the Army of the Potomac across the rocky Rapidan River hoping to reach the open country side before  encountering Lee’s troops, which he knew could be easily outmanned.  It was a good plan since Lee counted only some 66,000 troops, but Lee wisely attacked Grant in the midst of the heavily forested area.   Had Grant studied his history, he would have realized that this was the same place where “Fighting Joe” Hooker had been defeated barely a year before.

Lee liked the choice of battlegrounds, it was always good to have the territory on your side, and with the heavy forests, bisected by streams and creeks and deep ravines,  it made fighting and even visibility difficult. With the upper hand his, Lee still saw some 7,500 of his troops killed, (including three generals,)  or wounded and missing.  Union losses were even worse, including the loss of two Union generals. It was here that General Longstreet was wounded, another ‘friendly fire’ accident.

The fighting men of both sides were enmeshed in brush and undergrowth, choked by smoke and fire, and at least 200 men would suffocate or butn to death during the night of May 7-8.  It was the arrival of General Longstreet’s troops that turned the tide, and both Grant and General Meade began to retreat.

By Christmas of 2010 when the superstore is anticipated to be completed,  the final resting place of many of the combatants from both sides may well be destroyed forever.

 

 

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Martha M. Boltz

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