Preserving the Civil War's Real Estate
After years of fighting, preservationists are now coming to the table ready
to buy land.
By Gerry Regan
March 2, 2001
"Wanted: Developers, Dead or Alive, $20 a Head." This was the slogan
emblazoned across a T-shirt created for a re-enactors' march last October
that netted $50,000 for Civil War battlefield preservation. It's clear from
this modest bounty that preservationists realize their money is better saved
for buying endangered battlefield land, whose cost has skyrocketed during the
past two decades.
Their dollars, while not going as far as a few years ago, are passing to
landowners and, to a lesser degree, developers. This contrasts sharply with
the landscape less than a decade ago, when those pushing for saving Civil War
battlefields typically offered developers a diet of indigestion, bad
publicity, personal invective and lawsuits.
"Preserving Civil War Battle Fields" Preservationists and developers are
fighting over the best use of Civil War battlefields.
Part 1: Preserving the Civil War's Real Estate
Part 2: A Tennessee City Shuns "Battlefield" Designation
Part 3: Gas Taxes for Battlefield Acres?Lawyer and developer John T. "Til"
Hazel, based in Fairfax, Va., says he experienced that firsthand.
"(Battlefield preservationists) rule generally by emotion. They take the
position that anything is fair game," says Hazel, who, with partner Milt
Peterson, tried to develop 558 acres in Prince William County, Va., adjacent
to Manassas National Battlefield Park. Their bid came to an abrupt halt in
1988 when the federal government seized their land after a five-month-long
nationwide letter-writing and phone blitz to http://www.congress.org/
Congress, paying them $118 million.
"(Local activist Annie Snyder) drummed up some excuse, got all worked up, and
went out and said the site was being desecrated," says Hazel. Hazel says he
and Peterson only bought the land after the Senate Interior Committee ruled
"there was no historical value to the land" and declined to include it within
its approved expansion of the park boundary. He notes, "The taxpayers were
generous in paying for it and got very little benefit."
In the four years of the war, from 1861 to 1865, about 3 million
Northern and Southern soldiers battled at more than 10,000 places, ranging
from Pennsylvania to Florida, from Maryland to Colorado.
Jerry Russell, director of Little Rock, Ark.-based HeritagePAC, set up by
Russell to lobby for battlefield preservation, acknowledges: "The emotion
involved in being a Civil War buff is definitely there. If you don't know
anything about Civil War history, such land is a cow lot."
The price for Hazel's land — more than $200,000 per acre — proved a
watershed. Alarmed and sobered, preservationists realized that they couldn't
get Congress to bail them out again at those prices. They understood they
would need to become proactive in identifying battlefield acreage before
developers acquired them.
A small group of National Park Service staffers and other historians created
the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites, known as APCWS, in
1987 to fulfill that vision. In 1992, the Interior Department helped
established the Civil War Trust to administer proceeds from the sale of
commemorative coins Congress authorized to raise money for preservation. Both
organizations worked to create a national constituency for preservation to
supplement the efforts of the small, localized organizations that tried to
safeguard specific battlefields.
Related LinksThe Conservation Fund's Civil War Battlefield
Campaignhttp://www.civilwar.org The Civil War Preservation Trust
http://www.civilwar.org/preservationtechniques.htm TrustCivil War Preservation
http://www2.cr.nps.gov/abpp/cwsac/cws0-1.html Civil War Sites Advisory
<http://www.enhancements.org/whatiste.htm What Are Transportation
http://www.civilwarnews.com The Civil War NewsSome developers, in fact, have
come to find common ground with these organizations and have earned their
gratitude. Michael Armm, the managing director of Lee Sammis Associates'
Virginia office, for one, saw the firm's owner, Lee Sammis, vilified and
later extolled by preservationists who opposed Sammis' plan to develop 5,000
acres in Culpeper County, Va., holding the core of the Brandy Station
"Early on, we just had a bunch of people who just wanted to fight with us,"
says Armm. In those early days, says Armm, opponents ran artful, highly
professional full-page ads in local newspapers, headlined, "Brandy Station
Now Faces an Enemy Far Worse Than the Union Cavalry: A Developer from
From 1988 to 1995, the Costa Mesa, Calif.-based developer tried to develop &
#151; with the support of county officials — the tract, the site of the
largest cavalry battle during the Civil War. The firm was stymied by a
coalition of local landowners and Civil War devotees who challenged the
county's rezoning of Sammis' property. The ensuing battle cost Sammis
"several hundred thousand dollars in legal fees," Armm says.
"The first sort of breath of fresh air came with Association for the
Preservation of Civil War Sites," he says. APCWS in 1995 came to Sammis
looking for "willing sellers," shortly after the project's holding company,
unable to get tenants or financing, filed for Chapter 11 protection. For two
years, APCWS and Sammis negotiated the sale of his remaining 1,543 acres, and
further, Sammis became an advocate for the planned battlefield park with
skeptical county officials and helped APCWS get bond authority to help raise
the $6.4 million selling price of the land.
Next page: "One acre of Civil War battlefield land is lost to development
every 10 minutes."
Richmond, Va.-based developer Andy Shield finds that the goals of developers
and preservationists "are not contradictory." In December, he, a partner and
the Civil War Preservation Trust joined forces to purchase 463 acres in
Henrico County, Va., 12 miles from Richmond. The Trust, providing $859,000,
received 245 acres that he says "completes the preservation of the Malvern
Hill battlefield," while he intends to build 121 homes on the remaining 218
In the four years of the war, from 1861 to 1865, about 3 million Northern and
Southern soldiers battled at more than 10,000 places, ranging from
Pennsylvania to Florida, from Maryland to Colorado. The war led to as many as
600,000 deaths. Acknowledging the threat to these sites, Congress established
the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission in 1991 to assess their conditions
and identify means of preserving them.
The commission's report identified 384 of these battles as "principal," with
45 of them having a direct impact on the course of the war. More than 70 of
these battlefields are lost as intact historical landscapes — some
literally paved over, such as at Atlanta and Nashville, Tenn. Fewer than 57
of these 384 sites are protected from development, according to the report.
"One acre of Civil War battlefield land is lost to development every 10
minutes," says the Web site of The Civil War Preservation Trust, formed in
November 1999 by the merger of The Civil War Trust and APCWS. The Trust and
its predecessor organizations have, by the Trust's count, helped preserve
nearly 11,000 acres at 60 sites across 16 states, including 2,000 acres in
the past year.
A centerpiece of their efforts is getting the word out to local officials
that battlefields represent economic value to communities. "Tourism is
economic development, and it is low-impact economic development," Trust
President James Lighthizer points out. The Arlington, Va.-based Conservation
Fund's Civil War Battlefield Campaign, in its publication "Dollar$ and Sense
of Battlefield Preservation: The Economic Benefits of Protecting Civil War
Battlefields," notes how protected Civil War battlefields can function as
"basic industries," generating jobs and tax revenue for nearby communities.
Aiding preservationists has been the availability, through most of the '90s,
of funds from federal programs such as the commemorative-coin program; ISTEA
and its successor, TEA-21; and the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is
generated from a share of revenue from oil and gas leases on the Outer
Continental Shelf. That fund has earmarked $8 million to acquire land or
interests in battlefields. In fact, the Trust used $200,000 in TEA-21
funding, along with $300,000 from the Virginia Land Conservation Fund, to
subsidize its recent Malvern Hill purchase.
Even with the occasional victory, time is decidedly not on preservationists'
side, and perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in Tennessee, where a
Civil War Sites Advisory Committee report in 1993 listed 14 of the state's 38
battlefields as either totally or partially compromised.
But one Tennessee site, at Spring Hill, is nearly pristine. There, however,
in addition to high land prices, preservationists face another obstacle, one
quite extraordinary. The mayor and some others claims that a "battle" never
took place there.