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Robert Lee Hodge, 7/31/02
Spotsylvania Battlefield Education Association

Coalition To Save Chancellorsville Battlefield
Press Conference July 31, 2002
Old Salem Church

This is from Winston Churchill in 1929 on a visit to Spotsylvania County. 

"The stone wall and sunken road at Fredericksburg; the cemeteries of Union and Confederate soldiers; the trench lines trailing away through the deserted forest, revive the past with strange potency. 

Here, south of the Rappahannock, is another wide area of battlefields, on which, perhaps, more soldiers have perished in an equal space than anywhere, excepting round Ypres and Verdun.

Motor roads lace the towns together. Swift cars fly to and fro; here and there skyscrapers shoot upwards. The population of Virginia is undergoing a rapid increase. The old inhabitants are going to get rich; their lands are rising in value. Will it all be swamped by these new elements?"

In June 1991 I stood for the first time in the Confederate earthworks at the Wilderness battlefield. Instead of sensing what transpired there on May 5, 6, 1864 I was forced to hear circular saws and hammers putting up the latest series of pressboard and hot glue-gun homes. They were being constructed in the subdivision called "Lake Wilderness". The new homes were just 100 feet away from where earthworks from that battle had been erected; these mounds of earth had been dug by brave American soldiers. Many of these men died in puddles of their own blood. Some men burned to death when the surrounding forest caught on fire. Immediately I found another development at the end of the Hill-Ewell Drive. Standing before me was a behemoth brick wall with the words "Fawn Lake, an NTS Community" displayed prominently.

I was in shock and too numb initially to be sad or upset at what I believed was a great wrong being done. When I finally saw the Wilderness on that June day I joined the preservationist ranks.

I have watched the almost daily death of many of Spotsylvanias sites in the last decade since moving to Virginia. I believe the few developers that have created these aesthetically abissmal abominations we see here along Route 3, Route 17, and Route 1 have done more in the last 10 years to ruin Spotsylvanias historic landscape than anybody else in any other decade of our history -- Salem Church has felt their "creativity". And look around you, around the borders here. There are stores like the Wynn Dixie, or Wal-mart, closing-up all over this area. And why? Because there is a saturation in the market? You bet! Is the uneasiness of Wall Street going to effect these businesses? Yes! It already is. This area is simply overbuilt. We all are for growth, but what kind of growth is the issue. Build, yes! But in the areas that need to be rebuilt! Not fertile farms to the west! The philosophy of building new concrete jungles on sacred blood soaked farms, is an obscenity. This is an unfortunate reoccurring theme. And you cant save everything, nor would you want to.

A Union Sergeant in the 17th New York wrote in 1864:  "If those works could be preserved by law, for the benefit of our curious posterity, they would last for many generations. Each battle-field would thus have its own monument to celebrate the events that transpired there; each rifle-pit and battery speaking more to the heart of the spectator than would whole volumes of history."

Two weeks later that soldier would die in the Battle of Jonesboro the battle that decided the fate of Atlanta, and gave Lincoln hope for re-elected.

I made a connection with that soldier. What is amazing and refreshing, yet odd, to hear in his voice during those desperate moments in Americas annals is his desire to preserve the trenches of the battlefields while he was still fighting in them. He knew the importance of not only the events transpiring around him, but additionally that the physical remains of the engagements had validity and meaning as historic shrines. That the earthworks were relevant to the understanding of the conflict, not purely in a literal sense, but in a spiritual sense also, provides a wealth of knowledge for historians, preservationists, and all Americans to reflect upon and seize our modern sense of duty. . . protecting our physical history and using that resource to educate the youth, and adults as to who we are.

For the student of this subject academic or not, and more importantly the interested layman to be able to make a connection with this soldiers concerns for the preservation of the battlefields is a reinforcement to the spiritual virtue of defending our cultural roots. We owe that to him. For he, like hundreds of thousands of other men, who not only died, but suffered, to achieve victory in what they believed to be right and true to the Constitution is a plaudit to the human spirit, and the human soul.

He was speaking on something more profound than he realized. It almost seems as if through his concern for the battlefields that he could foretell their future.

The National Park Service owns less than 5% of our Civil War battlefields. Every ten minutes one acre of a Civil War battlefield is bulldozed for what some would call "progress, or development, or growth". In the next five to ten years most of these historic sites will vanish under cement . . . or they will be saved. If you are not shocked by those statistics then I am shocked at you.

I would be embarrassed to take a Civil War veteran to many of the parts of the battlefields in Spotsylvania County. How would he feel looking at these sites today? Shocked? Dismayed? Horrified? Those are the words I think of when I look at the ever-encroaching sprawl. Is this how government regards our history? I found an ally that has been dead 140 years.

I remember in the evening, growing up as a child in Ohio, when my mother would tuck me in under the covers and say our prayers. The she would treat me to the nightly quota of readings from The Golden Book of the Civil War. That is where I learned all the names that have become part of the American vernacular The Orange Turnpike, The Mule Shoe, The Stone Wall, and the Sunken Road. I dreamed about going to these places someday. The books had instilled a certain type of adoration for the troops and the battlefields. It was at the battlefields as a kid where I made the next logical connection. To get on the land where these massive historical events had occurred was a spiritual event.

Now Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg, The Wilderness, and Spotsylvania are under severe threat by these rascals. This development trend is exponential it continues and builds in speed as our population multiplies. We all understand the gravity of the situation dont we? That is why we are here today. A massive edge city like Tysons Corner that will be built on 800 acres -- 2,300 homes, 600,000 sq. ft. of office space, 2,000,000 sq ft of retail space generating 70,000 cars a day. Whether it was next to a battlefield or not I would run for my life. That is scary math. Going down this road out here . . . route 3 is a nightmare already. But the precedent that this development will set if goes through is worse than the development itself. Much of this county will be as ugly as Fairfax County within ten years.

Politically, preservation of historic lands is the truest of Bi-partisan issues a unique fusion of political dogma. To the political left one can address the conservation of green-space and promoting sound, smart, growth. Protecting this land is good for the eco-systems, trees, and habitat. To the political right one can address the validity of these places instilling patriotism and family values, promoting our military via its history, showing thousands of examples of the ultimate in civic sacrifice regardless of ideology giving ones life for their beliefs.

Economically preserving Spotsylvanias historic sites is smart business. The long-term positive revenue generated from heritage tourism is big money for Spotsylvania. For this county administration to continue to ignore, via its poor planning, its vast historic wealth is a crime. Spotsylvania is indeed a cash cow. For it holds something that cannot be replicated anywhere else its rich cultural past.

Another realization is that the Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors generally rule over these sites of national significance. Will they destroy them? The planning and zoning indicates in some areas they will. They are at Chancellorsville, the Wilderness, and Spotsylvania. The National Park Service is practically helpless as they witness the daily chipping away at Spotsylvanias vast historic battlefields, farms, forests, and rivers.

Virginians are in a war today. We have fought over land in the past, and in a non-violent way that is what we must do to save our physical history . . . if we value it.

Whether you are a southerner, or a northerner, Democrat, or Republican, Libertarian, or a Green; domestic or imported; black, white, yellow, red, or brown -- these places tell us more about who we are (good and bad, right and wrong) than any other single historical period in our brief existence. As an end result 4 million blacks were freed from bondage, and a stronger central government would afterwards play a larger role in our lives -- for better and worse. These two elements are key for arguing about the importance of preservation of these battlefields. It is our road map to tell us whom we are, where we are, where we have been, and most importantly where we may go.

The various levels of government have proven that this effort cannot be solely an administrative process, it has to be a local and national popular movement. It is a great test to try and save these lands and to see who we are as a society.

The 1st MAHA monument was dedicated on May 19, 1901 at Harris Farm. The veterans of the 1st MAHA invited C.B. Watson of Winston, N.C. to speak at the dedication. Watson was a veteran of the 45th N.C. and had opposed the 1st MAHA at Harris Farm. In his speech, Watson said:

"The story carved on this granite will live throughout all generations, perpetuating the heroic deeds of Massachusetts men who bled and died on this sanguinary field.
These good people of Spotsylvania County understand all these things. They will guard and protect this monument as their own. I look in their faces and feel and know this."

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead

Copyright 2002, Robert Lee Hodge

SBEA

PO Box 1964

Spotsylvania, VA  22553

(540) 582-7469

email: spotsylvaniabea@msn.com