Three Civil War sites in Virginia are among the 10 battlefields in the country most endangered by development, according to a list released yesterday by a nonprofit group fighting to preserve them.
The Civil War Preservation Group, based in the District, said tens of thousands of acres of Civil War battlefield land is lost to development each year.
The endangered sites in Virginia are Manassas, Chancellorsville and Petersburg.
“Saving the Civil War battlefields is important because it is part of our national heritage and the most defining time in American history,” said James Lighthizer, president of the preservation group.
The group released the list yesterday to coincide with the world premiere of the movie “Gods and Generals,” which chronicles crucial Civil War moments including the battles in Manassas and Chancellorsville and historic figures such as Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, Winfield S. Hancock and Joshua L. Chamberlain.
The movie, starring Robert Duvall and Stephen Lang, was shot in Virginia and includes cameo performances by several U.S. senators, including George Allen.
The Virginia Tourism Corporation and state lawmakers set up the Virginia Civil War Incentive Fund, which was used to attract the feature film. The movie generated more than $5 million in revenue for local businesses in the Shenandoah Valley, where some portions were filmed.
“Those who cannot understand or appreciate the awesome importance of sacred or hallowed places should not be allowed to forever destroy these treasures and to deprive them from those who do,” said the movie’s director, Ronald F. Maxwell.
According to the group, thousands of acres of Civil War battlefields have already been destroyed, and thousands more are threatened.
Mr. Lighthizer said a Civil War battlefield in Chantilly in Northern Virginia, where Stonewall Jackson fought in 1862 right after the Battle of Second Manassas, was one among several in the country that had been wiped out.
“It has been paved over by townhouses and cul de sacs,” he said.
The Civil War Preservation Trust, which releases a list of endangered sites every year, selected the battlefields for study based on geographic location, military significance and the immediacy of threats.
Manassas in Prince William County, 30 miles west of the District, was the site of two crucial battles in 1861 and 1862. Today, the site is bordered on three sides by urban sprawl and, according to the study, rush-hour traffic “cuts through its very heart.” A proposed bypass could further isolate the site, it says.
Chancellorsville in Spotsylvania County, the site of the spring 1863 battle, is in the midst of a dispute about a 790-acre farm that was the scene of the first day of fighting. Today, the farm is being considered as the site for nearly 2,000 houses and 1.2 million square feet of commercial space.
Large parts of the Petersburg battlefield are owned privately.
Other endangered sites on the list were Bentonville, N.C.; Champion Hill, Miss.; Glorieta Pass, N.M.; Mansfield, La.; Nashville, Tenn.; Richmond, Ky.; and Rocky Face Ridge, Ga.
The group has also listed 15 at-risk battlefields, including three in Virginia: Gaines’ Mill/Cold Harbor, Spotsylvania Court House and Stephenson’s Depot.
Mr. Lighthizer said Maryland, which has its own historic Civil War sites including Antietam had done a better job of preservation. Virginia, which has more such battlefields than any other state, had lagged until a few years ago when former Gov. James S. Gilmore III took the initiative to preserve them.
“Virginia is in the last several years becoming more aware of what is left of its battlefields. … The effort has been gradual but positive,” Mr. Lighthizer said.
In December, Gov. Mark R. Warner announced an event to raise funds to preserve the battlefields. “An Evening of Historic Proportions” will be held Feb. 18, and will include dinner at Tredegar Iron Works Gun Foundry for major donor sponsors, followed by the Richmond premiere of the movie.
Mr. Lighthizer said the government could turn the sites into “low-impact economic engines through tourism” instead of handing them over to developers.
“Gettysburg is one such example, where 6,000 acres have been preserved and a million-and-a-half people go there every year,” he said. “They learn about their heritage and leave large amounts of money.”