By Zann Miner
(May 2009 Civil War News - Preservation Column)
Ever vigilant are the soldiers for preservation. Once more, the Friends of Wilderness Battlefield (FoWB) finds its battlefield named to the Civil War Preservation Trust’s list of “Most Endangered.” Again the nonprofit FoWB rises to the challenge of defending this hallowed ground, as it has done since 1995.
For the moment the issues of widening Route 20 (between the Wilderness Intersection and the Town of Orange) and of paving the historic battlefield graveyards are at rest, although we keep a watchful eye on the sleeping dog.
However, it seems there IS no rest. The Walmart Corporation is now lusting after a piece of ground that is designated in the Wilderness Battlefield “study” area. The commercial giant by right can build on the land situated in Orange County, privately owned and zoned commercial, but an application for a special permit is required to construct a building larger than 60,000 square feet.
Walmart proposes to build a store with 139,000 square feet, with accompanying asphalt parking area and space for several large outparcels. The land is located at the gateway to the battlefield, on a hillside above Wilderness Run and overlooking a large portion of the historic ground.
May 1864 saw this area a staging ground for the Battle of the Wilderness with field hospitals, supply facilities and troop placements, including the likely location of the first U.S Colored Troop regiments at duty on Virginia soil. The site may soon be obliterated with asphalt and shopping opportunities.
The Orange County Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing on the Walmart application. Several of the members have already stated their support for the application.
FoWB is not alone in this struggle. The Wilderness Coalition consisting of eight other like-minded organizations is actively seeking a compromise that includes the issues of prudent planning, economic development, environmental concerns and historic preservation.
To be very clear, neither FoWB nor the Wilderness Coalition is in any way attempting to prevent the Walmart Corporation from building a facility in Orange County. Our position is one of location. A win-win solution exists, assuring both increased revenue streams and protection of the battlefield.
There are at least a few other locations within the immediate area that are better suited for this type of massive commercial development without the threat to the battlefield. The coalition has proposed a Vision Planning process to the Orange County Board of Supervisors complete with the necessary funding. At this writing, it has not been accepted.
FoWB is proud of the fact that the Wilderness Battlefield is the largest tourist attraction in Orange County, providing a significant source of dollars to the Orange County coffers.
Our dedicated team of volunteers continues to work in concert with the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park (FRSP) to support its effort to preserve this critical piece of American history. To that end, all news is not negative for the Wilderness Battlefield or Friends of Wilderness Battlefield.
Amidst the modern uproar there is an oasis atop which sits Ellwood, the 220-year-old house designated Ellwood Hospital for the Confederate wounded following the May 1863 Battle of Chancellorsville, and used as Union headquarters from May 5-7, 1864.
The house and 180 acres belong to the National Park Service (NPS) but are managed by FoWB. Today the old plantation house is visited by those wishing to pay tribute to a fallen ancestor, study architecture and building methods, or touch a tangible piece of America’s past.
A heightened interest has swelled the number of volunteer interpreters (docents) allowing an increase in hours for the 2009 season. These trained volunteers greet visitors and tell Ellwood's story on weekends and holidays from May through October, as well as on Fridays and Mondays from mid-June until mid-August.
In addition, a team of skilled volunteers, known as the Ground Force, works weekly to maintain the grounds.
Since 2003, the Friends have been engaged in the Ellwood Restoration Project, the primary task of which has been to raise funds for the interior restoration of the 18th century manor house.
Proceeds from the annual dinner and auction and the enormous support of local and national citizen preservationists have resulted in the complete restoration of the second-floor stair hall and the entire first floor, to their 1864 appearance.
Blue Mountain Builders of Madison, Va., completed Phase II of the project in March. The “new” Ellwood is still old but intact. There are walls and ceilings, reconfigured closets, restored wood trim in warm paint colors, and a renewed breezeway and 1848 addition.
The recent success of FoWB’s fundraising enabled the FRSP to secure a matching grant of $240,000 for exhibits on the first floor, expected to be installed by May of 2010.
Previously FoWB funded and installed furnishings in the Parlor and the Entry Hall. The Parlor was the headquarters office of 5th Corps Gen. Gouverneur Warren and the Hall that of his adjutant. Each of these two rooms looks as though the named personages have just stepped out.
Yet there are still vestiges of the Lacy family home. As important as funds are to preservation, FoWB considers education and awareness equally as vital.
“Preserve it and they will come” is not necessarily an adequate philosophy, creating a mandate for proactive outreach. Always seeking new venues to enhance visibility, FoWB has implemented a variety of educational programs.
“I Love Fred-Spot” is a celebration of the anniversary of the Feb. 14, 1927, establishment of the FRSP. “Taming the Wilderness” gives a hands-on review of 18th-century building trades and domestic practices.
Other events designed to teach include the battle anniversary weekend, a Civil War Mother’s Day, candlelight tours and a Memorial Day commemoration honoring Confederate Gen. “Stonewall” Jackson, whose amputated arm is buried in the Ellwood family cemetery.
In 2008, the FoWB Membership Committee launched two descendants’ programs: the Wilderness Brigade and the Ellwood Legacy. The intention is to develop new resources and connect with the human side of this most precious asset and an epic event.
Anyone whose ancestor fought in the Battle of the Wilderness is eligible to join the Wilderness Brigade. We welcome those who are descended from residents, workers or visitors of Ellwood to become part of the Ellwood Legacy.
Friends of Wilderness Battlefield is a non-profit, all volunteer organization devoted to assisting the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park in efforts to preserve the Wilderness Battlefield in Orange and Spotsylvania Counties.
The Friends provide advocacy, educational programs and service projects for the battlefield. For details about FoWB and related programs, visit the Web site at www.fowb.org/
Zann Miner, the president of FoWB, lives on a historic farm in Culpeper County. She began her work with the FoWB in 2003 as a pro bono fund development specialist to the Ellwood Restoration Committee and was elected to the board of directors in 2004 and 2007. In addition to her consulting work for non-profits, she is a freelance writer and weekly columnist for the Culpeper Star-Exponent.