- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 14, 2004

REPUBLIC, Mo. - The August sun burned in the morning sky as Henry Martyn Cheavens, an infantryman with the Missouri State Guard, lay wounded on the battlefield, shrouded by clouds of gunpowder and bleeding heavily.

A canister ball fired by Federal forces had broken his right leg and nearly ripped apart the thigh muscles and nerves.

The roar of artillery shells could be heard miles away as Union and Confederate forces fought ferociously, muzzle to muzzle, for six hours, in the first large-scale battle west of the Mississippi River.

The Battle of Wilson’s Creek, on Aug. 10, 1861, marked the beginning of the Civil War in Missouri.

More than a century later, the landscape betrays nothing of the brutal struggle that left it awash in the blood of 535 men who perished and about 2,000 who were wounded, captured or declared missing.

Lush grass and wildflowers sway in the wind, canopied by thick stands of cedar and oak trees. Runners and bicyclists get their exercise on the two-lane blacktop road that winds through what is now designated Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield.

It is one of the jewels of the National Park Service.

But park Superintendent Ted Hillmer, fearing that restaurants, stores and rows of houses could soon mar the view, is leading the fight to protect the sacred ground from encroachment.

“I think it’s a crime that we don’t preserve these areas for the soldiers,” Mr. Hillmer said.

Concern for the battlefield in southwest Missouri is well-founded.

A developer wants to take 2,200 acres of pristine pastures on the western edge of Wilson’s Creek for 2,500 homes. The proposal prompted Republic School District to buy 148 acres along a road leading into the park for future school construction.

Mr. Hillmer also recently lost an effort to block a water tower that will be within sight of the ridge where 5,400 Union and 12,000 Confederate troops clashed.

“We have these resources that people read about and discuss in the classroom, and then they can come out and physically walk on the areas that they have read about,” Mr. Hillmer said. “To me, that puts you in better contact with history.”

Wilson’s Creek encompasses 1,750 acres, but only 75 percent of the actual combat areas is within its boundaries.

Missouri’s Rep. Roy Blunt and Sen. Jim Talent, both Republicans, have persuaded Congress and President Bush to authorize the acquisition of 615 acres. The six parcels would return the battlefield to its original acreage.

“This bill will add priceless new assets to Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield, preserve the battle site and allow future generations to experience the park just as Americans would have more than 140 years ago,” Mr. Blunt said.

The Civil War Preservation Trust deems the threat of urban sprawl so great that it placed Wilson’s Creek on the group’s list of top 10 endangered battlefields. The trust, a nonprofit organization with 63,000 members, has offered its muscle and resources to save Wilson’s Creek.

The group cites a 1993 congressional survey that declared 384 of the battles fought across the country “significant influences on the course of our nation’s history.” Fewer than 15 percent of those sites have been protected from developers and other commercial interests.

The trust and its backers have had some success in thwarting development. The trust won two victories at Chancellorsville, Va., the scene of one of the most high-profile preservation fights. The preservationists were able to stop a 2,000-house development planned for the battlefield. They also persuaded the regional transportation authority to reject a proposed bypass through the battlefield.

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