Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Three Civil War battlefields in Virginia and the Circle Forts in the District were identified yesterday as among the 10 most-endangered sites relating to the four-year war.

The most endangered battlefields in Virginia are the Wilderness, west of Fredericksburg; Glendale, southeast of Richmond; and sites in the Shenandoah Valley. The Circle Forts is a ring of 68 fortifications scattered throughout the District.

“Today, our Civil War battlefields are being destroyed at an alarming rate,” said O. James Lighthizer, president of the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT). “Hallowed ground, where more than 600,000 Americans gave their lives, is being paved over in favor of shopping malls, housing tracts and even gambling casinos.”

The annual listing of endangered battlefields by CWPT emphasizes efforts to protect and preserve the historic battlegrounds. Since CWPT was founded more than 10 years ago, the group has protected 22,300 acres at 95 sites in 19 states. That includes 1,726 acres last year.

The other battlefields that were identified by CWPT as most endangered include Gettysburg, Pa.; New Orleans Forts in Louisiana; Raymond in Mississippi; Fort Morgan in Alabama; Chattahoochee River Line in Georgia; and Glorieta Pass in New Mexico.

“These endangered battlefields are irreplaceable treasures and now, more than ever, we must work to preserve and protect these sites because once they’re gone, they’re gone forever,” Mr. Lighthizer said.

The Circle Forts were built to protect the Union capital from the threat of Confederate assault from 1861 to 1865. Today, only 22 remain marked, including Fort Stevens near Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Northwest. Over the years, the ring has been largely absorbed by growing neighborhoods in the area.

The Wilderness was the site of the first clash between Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in May 1864. The battle left more than 25,000 troops dead or wounded. Today, the site is in Orange County, Va., which is changing from a largely rural area to a suburban community, with new-home construction and an increasing population.

Glendale, also known as Frayser’s Farm, is the site of savage fighting that took place during the fifth day of the 1862 Seven Days campaign. Today, construction has begun on three housing projects in the area immediately surrounding the battlefield, with three more in the planning stages.

Shenandoah Valley was a vast battlefield where Confederate Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson won fame for a series of victories over three Union generals in the spring of 1862. Today, several battlefields in that area are threatened by the proposed widening of Interstate 81.

CWPT reports that Gettysburg, the site of the largest and most costly battle in the United States, is threatened by plans to build a 3,000-slots gambling casino about a mile from East Calvary Field. CWPT said the casino also would damage the area’s heritage-tourism businesses. A public opinion poll commissioned by CWPT found that most voters in Pennsylvania oppose the casino.

Virginia has more Civil War battlefields than any other state, with 123, according to the National Park Service. Maryland has seven.

“The battlefields are sacred,” said Ben Stein, an actor and commentator who is an active battlefield preservationist.

“The Civil War was our bloodiest conflict, but also the densest concentration of courage ever shown on this continent. America’s Civil War battlefields are where that courage is best memorialized,” he said. “Let’s keep them, and keep them glorious and beautiful. Keep them above commerce.”

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