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Spotsylvania Battlefield Education Association
Why Do We Need to Preserve Historic Sites?    
By Robert Lee Hodge

"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."

-- A Union soldier in 1864.

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 "McHomes". They were being constructed in the subdivision called "Lake Wilderness". The new homes were just 100 feet away from where mounds of earth dug by brave Americans laid. Immediately I found another development at the end of the Hill-Ewell Drive paralleling the southern battleline. 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. My mother had read to me as a child from the Golden Book of the Civil War about this battle. When I finally saw the place on that June day I joined the preservationist ranks.

I have watched the daily death of many Spotsylvania sites in the last decade since moving to Virginia. I believe certain developers have done more in the last 15 years to ruin Virginias historic landscape than in any other decade -- Chantilly and Salem Church are prime examples of such "creativity". 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 the population multiplies.

Politically, preservation of historic sites and 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, smart growth, the eco-systems, trees, and habitat. To the political right one can address the validity of these places instilling patriotism, promoting the military via its history, showing thousands of examples of the ultimate in civic sacrifice regardless of ideology giving ones life for his beliefs.

Economically preserving Spotsylvania's historic sites is just plain smart business. The long-term positive revenue generated from heritage tourism is big money for Spotsylvania. For the county to continue to ignore, via its poor planning and voting, its vast historic wealth is a crime.

Robert Lee Hodge
Photo by Julie L. Bell

We cannot save everything from our past obviously, however the National Park Service owns less than 5% of our Civil War battlefields.

Another realization is that the Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors generally rule over these sites of national significance. Will they destroy them? They are at Chancellorsville. 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, 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 who we are, where we are, where we have been, and most importantly where we may go.

If you are not part of the solution then you are part of the problem. This is serious business -- to protect Spotsylvanias vanishing battlefields. 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. Are we up to it? What will you do? What world will we leave for future generations?


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

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