- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 21, 2009

Oscar winner Richard Dreyfuss visited the District on Wednesday to call attention to the most endangered Civil War battlefields.

The actor joined the Civil War Preservation Trust as the group released its annual report on 10 battlefields that it says are deteriorating because of neglect, land development and other threats.

At a news conference, Mr. Dreyfuss said his interest in preserving Civil War battlefields grew out of his love for history and the significance of the war.

“We are the consequences of that war and the more we know about our past, the better,” said Mr. Dreyfuss, who won an Academy Award for “The Goodbye Girl” and also portrayed Vice President Dick Cheney in Oliver Stone’s “W.”

The Washington-based preservation group issues the “History Under Siege” report annually. The sites on this year’s list include South Mountain and Monocacy in Maryland; Cedar Creek, New Market Heights and Wilderness in Virginia; and Gettysburg, Pa.

The Monocacy battlefield, along the Monocacy River in Western Maryland, is where Confederate Gen. Jubal A. Early and his troops were stopped from taking Fort Stevens in the District. According to the report, the site stands to lose open space and clean air because Frederick County officials may build an incinerator there with a 350-foot smokestack.

The Battle of the Wilderness opened the Union’s offensive against the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. After the fighting ended, more than 25,000 troops had been killed. Today, it may become the site of a Wal-Mart Supercenter, which opponents fear will bring an overwhelming amount of traffic and encourage other retailers to encroach on the area.

The sites were nominated by the members of the group, then selected for the list by board members.

James Lighthizer, president of the preservation trust, said other Civil War battlefields also face deterioration but didn’t make the list.

“They’re all threatened by destruction, and with destruction a portion of our national memory is destroyed and that’s a tragedy,” Mr. Lighthizer said.

The report also lists natural disasters as a danger.

In 2008, Hurricane Ike stopped efforts to reopen Sabine Pass, Texas - a site already recovering from a direct hit by Hurricane Rita in 2005. At the battlefield, Union troops prevented Confederates from establishing a trade route through Mexico. It’s now undergoing repairs and is expected to reopen this year.

Libby O’Connell, chief historian for the History Channel, presented the trust with a donation of $80,000. She said 30 acres of “hallowed ground” are lost every day.

“Once we lose these places, we can’t get them back,” Miss O’Connell said.

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