January, 2011

I spent most of my youth playing baseball. There was baseball season, and then there was other stuff we did until it was baseball season again, like going to school. I played softball well into my forties.

Now that I’m about to turn 50, I am paying the price for that lifetime spent playing baseball. My right acromioclavicular joint (part of the shoulder structure) is filled with bone spurs and arthritis, and the bone spurs constantly irritate the surrounding tendons, which means that I have a perpetual case of very painful tendonitis that nothing helps. The only thing that will help is to remove the bone spurs that cause the irritation of the tendons. Considering that I’m right handed and was a pitcher for a part of my baseball career, this does not come as a huge surprise.

So, come Wednesday afternoon, I am having surgery to go in and clean all of that accumulated junk out of the joint. Assuming that there is no involvement of the rotator cuff–and the MRI does not show any–I should be out of the sling in about ten days and then onto about six weeks of rehab. My personal trainer has been working hard on strengthening my rotator cuff since this problem became acute in October, so hopefully, the physical therapy won’t be too bad as a result.

If the rotator cuff is involved–the orthopedist won’t know for sure until he gets in there on Wednesday–then it gets ugly. Really ugly. Then, I’m in a sling and sleeping in a recliner for six weeks with lots of thoroughly unpleasant physical therapy to survive.

So, my point is that having my right arm in a sling means that I won’t be around here much for the next two weeks for sure. Once I know how it went and am allowed to have some use of my right arm, I will update this. For now though, effective tomorrow afternoon, I fade to black for a little while. Wish me luck. In the meantime, I will miss my interactions here.

UPDATE: MONDAY, FEBRUARY 7: I’m now five days post-surgical. The good news is that there was no tear in the rotator cuff, and the surgeon only had to clean out the bone spurs and arthritis. That’s very good news indeed. The bad news is that I’ve still got a pretty fair amount of pain, although I’ve managed to avoid taking any more percocet since bedtime on Saturday night (I really don’t like how they make me feel at all). I put in half a day at the office Friday and about 3/4 of a day at the office today.

I’ve now been out of the sling for about two hours tonight. It aches, but it’s tolerable. I hope to be able to put in a full day of work tomorrow, and I’m going to try to be out of the sling for much of the day while there.

Thanks to everyone for all of the good wishes and good thoughts stated here. You have no idea how much it means to me.

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To give Wal-Mart a world of credit, it has done the right thing. Not only has it thrown in the towel and pulled the plug on the Wilderness superstore, it’s going to go ahead and purchase the land and then donate it in order to ensure that nobody else gets a chance to threaten it. I think Sam Walton would be proud.

From the CWT website:

January 26, 2011

For more information, contact:
Jim Campi, (202) 367-1861 x7205
Mary Koik, (202) 367-1861 x7231


Preservation community pleased with decision by retail giant to drop plans to build a supercenter within historic boundaries of Wilderness battlefield

(Orange, Va.) – In an unexpected development, Walmart announced this morning that it has abandoned plans to pursue a special use permit previously awarded to the retail giant for construction of a supercenter on the Wilderness Battlefield. The decision came as the trial in a legal challenge seeking to overturn the special use permit was scheduled to begin in Orange County circuit court.

“We are pleased with Walmart’s decision to abandon plans to build a supercenter on the Wilderness battlefield,” remarked James Lighthizer, president of the Civil War Trust. “We have long believed that Walmart would ultimately recognize that it is in the best interests of all concerned to move their intended store away from the battlefield. We applaud Walmart officials for putting the interests of historic preservation first. Sam Walton would be proud of this decision.”

The Civil War Trust is part of the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition, an alliance of local residents and national groups seeking to protect the Wilderness battlefield. Lighthizer noted that the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition has sought from the very beginning to work with county officials and Walmart to find an alternative location for the proposed superstore away from the battlefield.

“We stand ready to work with Walmart to put this controversy behind us and protect the battlefield from further encroachment,” Lighthizer stated. “We firmly believe that preservation and progress need not be mutually exclusive, and welcome Walmart as a thoughtful partner in efforts to protect the Wilderness Battlefield.”

In August 2009, the Orange County Board of Supervisors approved a controversial special use permit to allow construction of the Walmart Supercenter and associated commercial development on the Wilderness Battlefield. A wide range of prominent individuals and organizations publicly opposed the store’s location, including more than 250 American historians led by Pulitzer Prize-winners James McPherson and David McCullough. One month after the decision, a group of concerned citizens and the local Friends of Wilderness Battlefield filed a legal challenge to overturn the decision.

The Battle of the Wilderness, fought May 5–6, 1864, was one of the most significant engagements of the American Civil War. Of the 185,000 soldiers who entered combat amid the tangled mass of second-growth trees and scrub in Virginia’s Orange and Spotsylvania counties, some 30,000 became casualties. The Wilderness Battlefield Coalition, composed of Friends of Wilderness Battlefield, Piedmont Environmental Council, Preservation Virginia, National Trust for Historic Preservation, National Parks Conservation Association, and Civil War Trust, seeks to protect this irreplaceable local and national treasure.

The Civil War Trust is the largest nonprofit battlefield preservation organization in the United States. Its mission is to preserve our nation’s endangered Civil War battlefields and to promote appreciation of these hallowed grounds. To date, the Trust has preserved nearly 30,000 acres of battlefield land in 20 states. Learn more at

Wal-Mart will find another location a few miles further west on Route 3 that is not historic ground, and it will build there with the blessing of those of us who care about these things.

From today’s edition of the Orange News

“We are actively pursuing another site along Route 3,” said Bill Wertz, divisional director for Walmart.

The retail giant said it would still purchase the 51 acres intended for the Wilderness Walmart in hopes of conserving the land.

“This will ensure the property is not commercially developed,” said Wertz, adding the land will be placed in conservation for perpetuity.

Kudos to Wal-Mart for finding a way to turn an ugly situation into a win-win, and kudos to everyone whose hard work made this possible, and especially to the CWT, the Central Virginia Battlefields Foundation, and the other preservation organizations who led the fight.

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Tip of the hat to good friend J.D. Petruzzi for bringing this to my attention…

Dr. Thomas P. Lowry is a retired physician who has published several interesting books on some very obscure aspects of the Civil War, from the Victorian sexual habits of the era to some very good books on Union courts-martial during the Civil War. Lowry has received kudos for his work, and for good reason. It was all groundbreaking work.

However, EVERYTHING that he has done to date is now subject to question. His reputation is now trash. And rightfully so–he committed criminal acts in the course of promoting himself. And in doing so, he has harmed the reputations of all of us who take the telling of history seriously, and who take the responsibility that goes with it just as seriously.

The following press release was issued by the National Archives today regarding Lowry:

National Archives Discovers Date Change on Lincoln Record
Thomas Lowry Confesses to Altering Lincoln Pardon to April 14, 1865

Washington, DC…Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero announced today that Thomas Lowry, a long-time Lincoln researcher from Woodbridge, VA, confessed on January 12, 2011, to altering an Abraham Lincoln Presidential pardon that is part of the permanent records of the U.S. National Archives. The pardon was for Patrick Murphy, a Civil War soldier in the Union Army who was court-martialed for desertion.

Lowry admitted to changing the date of Murphy’s pardon, written in Lincoln’s hand, from April 14, 1864, to April 14, 1865, the day John Wilkes Booth assassinated Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC. Having changed the year from 1864 to 1865, Lowry was then able to claim that this pardon was of significant historical relevance because it could be considered one of, if not the final official act by President Lincoln before his assassination.

President Lincoln pardon for Patrick Murphy, a Civil War soldier in the Union Army who was court-martialed for desertion. Records of the Judge Advocate General (Army) National Archives. ARC Identifier: 1839980

Close up of altered date and Abraham Lincoln “A. Lincoln” signature from a President Lincoln pardon for Patrick Murphy, a Civil War soldier in the Union Army.

Close up of the altered date: Long-time Lincoln researcher Thomas Lowry admitted to changing the date of Murphy’s pardon, written in Lincoln’s hand, from April 14, 1864 to April 14, 1865. Records of the Judge Advocate General (Army) National Archives.

In 1998, Lowry was recognized in the national media for his “discovery” of the Murphy pardon, which was placed on exhibit in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom in the National Archives Building in Washington, DC. Lowry subsequently cited the altered record in his book, Don’t Shoot That Boy: Abraham Lincoln and Military Justice, published in 1999.

In making the announcement, the Archivist said, “I am very grateful to Archives staff member Trevor Plante and the Office of the Inspector General for their hard work in uncovering this criminal intention to rewrite history. The Inspector General’s Archival Recovery Team has proven once again its importance in contributing to our shared commitment to secure the nation’s historical record.”

National Archives archivist Trevor Plante reported to the National Archives Office of Inspector General that he believed the date on the Murphy pardon had been altered: the “5” looked like a darker shade of ink than the rest of the date and it appeared that there might have been another number under the “5”. Investigative Archivist Mitchell Yockelson of the Inspector General’s Archival Recovery Team (ART) confirmed Plante’s suspicions.

In an effort to determine who altered the Murphy pardon, the Office of the Inspector General contacted Lowry, a recognized Lincoln subject-matter expert, for assistance. Lowry initially responded, but when he learned the basis for the contact, communication to the Office of Inspector General ceased.

On January 12, 2011, Lowry ultimately agreed to be interviewed by the Office of the Inspector General’s special agent Greg Tremaglio. In the course of the interview, Lowry admitted to altering the Murphy pardon to reflect the date of Lincoln’s assassination in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2071. Against National Archives regulations, Lowry brought a fountain pen into a National Archives research room where, using fadeproof, pigment-based ink, he altered the date of the Murphy pardon in order to change its historical significance.

This matter was referred to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution; however the Department of Justice informed the National Archives that the statute of limitations had expired, and therefore Lowry could not be prosecuted. The National Archives, however, has permanently banned him from all of its facilities and research rooms.

Inspector General Paul Brachfeld expressed his tremendous appreciation for the work of Plante and the Inspector General’s Archival Recovery Team in resolving this matter. Brachfeld added that “the stated mission of ART is ‘archival recovery,’ and while the Murphy pardon was neither lost or stolen, in a very real way our work helped to ‘recover’ the true record of a significant period in our collective history.”

At a later date, National Archives conservators will examine the document to determine whether the original date of 1864 can be restored by removing the “5”.

# # #

For Press information, contact the National Archives Public Affairs staff at 202-357-5300.

Unfortunately, this act will not be prosecuted due to the statute of limitations having expired. However, that does not excuse Lowry’s actions, which now puts him in even a lower category of pond scum than plagiarists Stephen Ambrose, Joseph Ellis, and Doris Kearns Goodwin. His search for personal glory has harmed all of us.

Shame on you.

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The trial to determine whether Orange County, Virginia officials properly approved the zoning variance to allow for the construction of the Wilderness Wal-Mart begins tomorrow. From MSNBC:

Civil War site is now a battlefield for Wal-Mart
Opponents of planned Virginia store to meet retailer in court Tuesday

By Steve Szkotak

Associated Press

1:15 p.m., Sunday, January 23, 2011

RICHMOND (AP) — Nearly 150 years after Gen. Robert E. Lee and Gen. Ulysses S. Grant fought in Northern Virginia, a conflict over the battlefield is taking shape in a courtroom.

The dispute involves whether a Walmart should be built near the Civil War site, and the case pits preservationists and some residents of a rural Northern Virginia town against the world’s largest retailer and local officials who approved the Walmart Supercenter.

Both sides are scheduled to make arguments before a judge Tuesday.

The proposed Walmart is located near the site of the Battle of the Wilderness, which is viewed by historians as a critical turning point in the war. An estimated 185,000 Union and Confederate troops fought over three days in 1864, and 30,000 were killed, injured or went missing. The war ended 11 months later.

The 143,000-square-foot space planned by the Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc. would be outside the limits of the protected national park where the core battlefield is located. The company has stressed the store would be within an area already dotted with retail locations and in an area zoned for commercial use.

The Orange County Board of Supervisors in August 2009 approved the special-use permit Wal-Mart needed to build, but the National Trust for Historic Preservation and residents who live within three miles of the site challenged the board’s decision.

They argued, in part, that supervisors ignored or rejected the help of historians and other preservation experts when they approved the store’s construction in Locust Grove, about 1 mile from the national park entrance.

Hundreds of people, including Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James McPherson, filmmaker Ken Burns and actor Robert Duvall, have appealed to Wal-Mart to walk away and find another place to build in the county of less than 35,000 people.

Mr. McPherson is expected to testify that the store’s site and nearby acres were blood-soaked ground and a Union “nerve center” in the battle. Grant’s headquarters and his senior leaders were encamped near the site of the proposed store, and Union casualties were treated there or in an area destined to be the store’s parking lot, Mr. McPherson wrote in a summary of his testimony.

“Among other things, thousands of wounded and dying soldiers occupied the then open fields that included the Walmart site, which is where many of the Union Army hospital tents were located during the battle,” Mr. McPherson wrote.

An attorney representing Orange County argued the board and other officials acted properly and heard the opinions of hundreds of people before approving the store.

“There is no indication that any significant historical event occurred on this land,” Sharon E. Pandak wrote in an e-mail to the Associated Press. “No state or federal law precludes development of the site.”

Robert D. Rosenbaum, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said he plans to call descendants of Union and Confederate soldiers to testify. The dispute resonates beyond Virginia, where most of the Civil War was fought, he said.

“As we approach the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War, this case is a watershed that will demonstrate whether we as a society are really interested in protecting our national heritage,” he said.

In Orange County, many residents and community leaders have welcomed the store. It would create 300 jobs and tax revenue, and there would be a convenient big-box store in the county.

A spokesman for Wal-Mart said the retailer is hopeful the court proceedings will clear the way for construction.

“We believe the board made a careful and thoughtful decision that balances historic preservation concerns with the need for economic development,” spokesman Bill Wertz said.

We can only hope that the judge gets it right and that he reverses the decision of the Orange County Supervisors.

In the meantime, the rest of us have a vote, and I hope that you will all join me in exercising it–boycott Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, and anything remotely related to this Evil Empire. If enough of us boycott the company, perhaps it will finally pay attention to the wishes of the public.

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An update to my blogroll was LONG overdue. I don’t think I’ve done one in about a year, and it showed. I deleted a handful of dead ones, such as Touch the Elbow, which faded to black for the SECOND time, and added a bunch of new ones, such as Dave Powell’s excellent Chickamauga blog (which should have been added long ago).

If anyone knows of other blogs that should be listed, please let me know, and I will be happy to consider adding them.

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22 Jan 2011, by

Nook update

I took a suggestion from Steve Stanley and returned the black and white Nook and exchanged it for the color version. The color version scales the PDF’s much better, and it also has a larger storage capacity than the black and white version. With the 8GB micro-SD card plugged in, the device now has 16GB worth of storage capacity. The display is 7 inches, as opposed to the 6 inch display for the black & white unit. The color version is larger, and weighs a good bit more, but the color is vivid.

Downside: The black and white unit comes with free built-in 3G wireless as well as built-in WiFi. The Nook Color does not have the 3G wireless capacity, only the built-in WiFi, which means that it can’t be used in as many places.

I’m also having a real challenge finding a decent case for the thing. There aren’t many out there, and I don’t like most of them. A lot of the makers say they’re coming, but I need something in the interim. I really liked the M-Edge case that I had for the black and white version, but it’s not available for the color version yet. I guess I will just have to be patient and wait.

So far, I am pleased with the upgrade. I’m looking forward to messing with it further.

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I was shocked today to learn that this little old blog was named THE highest ranked Civil War blog on the Internet by Online, which is quite an unexpected honor. I had no clue, and frankly had no such expectation of such an honor, given that I took a long hiatus from blogging and have significantly cut back on my posting frequency from the first four years of the blog. I’m very flattered to be given such an honor, and am humbled by it.

Congratulations to everyone else who made the list, which also shows me that I have some serious adjustments to make to my blogroll this weekend. More on that later.

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Harold Jackson is the editorial page editor for The Philadelphia Inquirer, the paper that I grew up reading. He is an African-American, and here is his take on whether to celebrate or commemorate the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War:

Commemorate, don’t celebrate Civil War’s 150th

By Harold Jackson

Inquirer Opinion Columnist
A number of years ago while in Biloxi, Miss., on assignment for the Baltimore Sun to report on the Gulf Coast’s casino industry, I took advantage of some down time to visit Beauvoir, the final home of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy.

Only a handful of other visitors were there on that chilly, early fall day. They stared at me as much as they did the antique furniture and memorabilia in the antebellum house built in 1852. No doubt they were curious as to why a black man might be paying homage to Davis.

I wasn’t. I was there to see if there were any signs in Davis’ artifacts of his mentality in leading a rebellion to preserve an economic system based on the capture, sale, and further subjugation of fellow human beings who just happened to be of a different skin color.

I didn’t find any answers. But that day comes to mind now as I look at the ways the former Confederate states are observing this year’s sesquicentennial of the Civil War. Adding poignancy to the moment is the fact that they are making plans to commemorate the rebellion fought to perpetuate slavery even as the nation celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Martin Luther King’s Birthday federal holiday.

Special events are being held in at least 21 states, including Pennsylvania, to mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, which officially began when secessionists fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston, S.C., on April 12, 1861.

A week ago, cadets from the Citadel, South Carolina’s historic military college, fired cannons on Morris Island in Charleston Harbor to reenact the January 1861 shelling of a ship that had tried to reinforce U.S. troops at Fort Sumter. That’s another site I visited years ago, looking for answers in the ruins to explain the war that had begun there. I didn’t find any.

In my home state of Alabama, Civil War reenactors are planning to parade through Montgomery to the state Capitol on Feb. 19 to re-create the swearing-in of Davis. They will also raise a Confederate flag, but not on the main pole of the Capitol dome, which is only a stone’s throw from Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955.

The Confederate flag did fly on the dome’s pole for about 30 years until 1993, when black legislators won a lawsuit that ended the practice that had begun during the civil-rights era. “I’d love to see it up there, but that’s not going to happen,” said Thomas Strain Jr., a board member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Mississippi began its commemoration of the Civil War this month with a reading at Vicksburg National Military Park of that state’s Ordinance of Secession and a reenactment of rebels in 1861 firing from the bluffs of Vicksburg on a commercial steamboat that they believed was carrying U.S. troops.

In observing the war’s sesquicentennial, Virginia is taking pains to note that although Richmond succeeded Montgomery as the capital of the Confederacy, the state originally voted by a 2-1 ratio not to secede. Paul Levengood, president of the Virginia Historical Society, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that the moment of secession should be recognized, but not celebrated.

Commemorate, don’t celebrate. I like that perspective for how the former Confederate states should observe the war’s anniversary. I know, however, that there are people who will use this opportunity to again try to spin history to perpetuate the lie that the war wasn’t about slavery, that it was about states’ rights.

OK, but the right that the rebel states wanted so badly was to continue slavery.

It’s understandable that people want to justify their ancestors’ participation in a war. Even today, people are trying to rationalize their sons’ and daughters’ fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan when they’re not really sure they should be over there.

Some months ago, I was on an airplane leaving Killeen, Texas, home of Fort Hood, and heard two fellow passengers discussing the wars we are in. The women were very proud of their husband and son in the military. But the wife, almost in the same breath in which she declared they “are fighting for us,” admitted she didn’t know why our troops were still there.

The answer will be left to the writers of history. Let’s hope they do better than the numerous book writers who romanticized the Confederacy and made slavery seem like a benign institution in which the benevolence of good masters kept people who otherwise were incapable of fending for themselves from dying of starvation.

A recent article in the Anniston, Ala., Star noted that for decades after the Civil War, the United Daughters of the Confederacy had provided an approved list of textbooks for Alabama public schools. Students were taught that the Confederates had fought for a noble cause but lost. “The South lost the war, but they won the history,” Jacksonville State University professor Jennifer Gross told the Star, quoting a past teacher.

Through the end of this year, we will see various attempts to win the history, to obscure the truth that led to the Southern states’ secession, to ignore that the Civil War’s aftermath included a brutal backlash against black Americans for having been the catalyst for the South’s pain, to glorify soldiers who fought on the wrong side of glory.

Speaking of glory, one of my most prized possessions is something I bought during my Charleston visit, which included a guided tour of Fort Sumter – a copy of a Thomas Nast engraving for Harper’s Weekly depicting the 54th Massachusetts regiment’s ill-fated charge at Fort Wagner. Led by white officers, the 54th was an otherwise all-black unit.

In this sesquicentennial year of the Civil War, my thoughts will be on those who, like the men of the 54th, fought to preserve the Union and end slavery. And I’ll celebrate the soldiers in the civil-rights movement who followed them, including King, many of whom also gave their lives in the fight for freedom and equality.

In reading this, I can understand Mr. Jackson’s viewpoint. As an African-American, his focus on slavery as THE cause of the Civil War is completely understandable, and I completely agree with his statement that it is appropriate to commemorate but not to celebrate the Civil War. However, I have some different thoughts on this issue.

There is no question that slavery was probably the most important issue that triggered the Civil War, but it surely was not the only one. To say that the war was about slavery alone simply does not do it justice, nor does it reflect the feelings/sentiments of the many Southerners who fought not to perpetuate slavery but to defend their states and to pursue a vision of states rights that they shared. There certainly were plenty of Southerners who fought for the Confederacy who never owned slaves. To simply lump all Southerners into a single category of advocates for slavery is unfair and is likewise historically inaccurate.

I do agree that there was nothing to celebrate in our great national blood-letting. However, the sacrifices of both sides should be commemorated, and the moment of secession needs to be commemorated as the turning point in the development of this country. As a member of the Governor of Ohio’s Advisory Commission on the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War, I can attest to the fact that we have wrestled with this issue as recently as last week, when we had a spirited and lengthy discussion about what role the Confederate flag should play in events that have the imprimatur of the Commission. This is an issue that should intrigue anyone with even a passing interest in these events.

This op-ed column plainly shows that there are many ways in which we Americans remember the Civil War. I’m not saying that he’s wrong, as he’s entitled to his opinion. I will, however, say that I disagree with some of what he says. My disagreement, though, does not make his opinion any less valid than mine. Let us hope that as the Sesquicentennial unfolds, we can have civil discussions about what it means and commemorate the event that made this nation into the United States of America.

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This article from Newsweek is one of the best discussions of why we fight the good fight to preserve our Civil War battlefield heritage, as well as spelling out the reasons why we can never, ever let our guard down. The fight will go on…..

Battle Over the Battlefields
One hundred and fifty years after the start of the Civil War, we’re still fighting. This time it’s development vs. preservation—and development’s winning.

A casino could soon sit near the Gettysburg battlefield, the bloodiest encounter on American soil. A Walmart supercenter may shadow the Wilderness battlefield in Virginia where Gen. U. S. Grant kept his headquarters when he first fought Gen. Robert E. Lee. And Washington, D.C.’s suburban sprawl is slowly strangling the rural lands where the Civil War’s first crucial battles were fought. It’s an ironic situation: as battlefield sites across the country prepare for an expected onslaught of visitors connected to the Civil War’s 150th anniversary, many of them are shrinking away, acre by acre.

April 12 will mark the sesquicentennial of the start of the war, and governments and citizens across the country are gearing up to commemorate it. Visitation at Civil War–related national parks has already been on the rise, increasing 6.4 percent between 2008 and 2009 after mostly flat numbers in prior years. The National Park Service has reworked its approach to teaching the war’s history to make it more focused on causes and effects. In anticipation of the anniversary, PBS plans to re-air Ken Burns’s landmark documentary on the war, and The New York Times and The Washington Post have already launched special commemorative blogs and news coverage. All the while, however, development at sites around the country is destroying Civil War battlefields at a frantic rate—30 acres a day, according to the Civil War Trust (CWT), a leading heritage conservation group—fast enough to eat up what’s left of the Gettysburg battlefield park in just seven months. “[Battlefield visitors] don’t want to see the parking lot where their ancestors once fought that’s now a shopping center,” says Jim Campi, policy director of CWT. “They want to walk through the woods and see the cannon and the fence lines.”

This month, two high-profile conflicts over further development on the sites of major battles will come to a head. Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board officials are expected to decide whether to allow a casino several miles southwest of the Gettysburg battlefield.. The Mason-Dixon Resort and Casino has become a cause célèbre for Civil War buffs, who have held it up as the best example of crass commercialism making inroads into the “hallowed ground” where more than 51,000 soldiers died. And in Virginia, a judge will hear arguments in a suit that aims to prevent the planned Walmart that is—depending on whom you ask—either adjacent to or on the Wilderness battlefield. These two standoffs are part of a larger debate that raises many of the same questions as the mosque controversy in lower Manhattan: What constitutes hallowed ground, what can you build near or on it, and how soon is too soon?

“There has to be a reasonable balance,” says James McPherson, the foremost living Civil War historian and professor emeritus of history at Princeton. “If you preserved every square foot of battlefield in Virginia, there wouldn’t be much land left. There’s a tendency among preservationists to want to save everything, but realistically there have to be compromises.”

One place McPherson isn’t willing to compromise, however, is the Virginia Walmart, a 140,000-square-foot supercenter the company wants to build in Orange County on a parcel that’s been zoned for commercial use for 37 years. The bloody May 1864 encounter fought there was the beginning of the end for the Confederacy. In Grant’s first battle since becoming chief of the U.S. Army, he pounded Lee and began driving him south toward Richmond. Historians say his army’s “nerve center,” including his own headquarters, was located on and near the Walmart site, which is also across the street from the entrance to the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park.

In August 2009, the Orange County board of supervisors issued a special-use permit for Walmart to build its store, but with several conditions—including setting the building back from the road, traffic mitigation, and other safeguards to reduce the project’s impact on the park. That wasn’t enough for historians, who say shrubs may block the view from the highway, but won’t prevent a huge store from destroying the landscape. As a result, the pushback against Walmart’s plans has been especially fierce. The nonprofit preservation group Friends of Wilderness Battlefield has sued the board of supervisors, Walmart, the developer, and the property owner in an attempt to stop the store, and they’ve received help from McPherson, who appeared as an expert witness and National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis, among others. Plaintiffs say they don’t object to Walmart building in Orange County, but want it to move to a less historic spot.

The disagreement epitomizes disputes across the country: local officials, eager to spur economic growth, want to open lands for housing or commerce. In Orange County, for example, Walmart says it will create some 300 jobs, and says a survey it conducted in early 2009 found that 61 percent of residents backed its plan. But historians and preservationists fight back, saying development mars the historic value, cheapens the sacrifices made by thousands in the war, and impairs the ability of historians and visitors to understand the battles that took place. Preservationists also worry that development may actually cut into the economy: around many battlefield sites, tourism is a lucrative and sometimes dominant business—it accounted for $2.5 billion in spending in Civil War parks in 2008 alone, according to the National Parks Conservation Association—but they say modern intrusions could dilute that value and drive away tourists, resulting in a net contraction.

Conflicts like the one in Orange County are the fruits of seeds sown more than a century ago. In the years immediately following the war, most battlefields were maintained by veterans’ organizations such as the Grand Army of the Republic and the United Confederate Veterans, which played major roles in establishing parks like Gettysburg and the present-day Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park (the National Park Service didn’t exist until 1916, and only took Civil War sites over from the War Department in the 1930s). As the sites became national parks, however, the scale of preservation was still minimal—the idea that urbanization would ever touch such remote farmlands seemed so absurd that park boundaries often included only historic stretches of road and significant structures. Though not formally preserved, fields remained in the same condition they had been in when Confederate and Union troops met. Now, however, urban sprawl has overtaken many of these areas, and threatens others. Once-remote parts of Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, comprising most of the war’s eastern theater, are increasingly bedroom communities for Washington, D.C. “A lot of people have a misunderstanding that if it’s battlefield land, it’s within the boundaries of the park,” Smith laments. “We hold maybe one seventh of the battlefield. It would be totally unrealistic for us to hold all of it. We have to get the local community to understand that while we’re not going to preserve it, they do deserve to be treated with some sensitivity.”

The modern Civil War preservation movement dates back to the 1980s, when major D.C. area developer Til Hazel announced a plan to build a huge mall on part of the Manassas battlefield. The development was eventually blocked by an act of Congress that took over the land and provided Hazel compensation for it, later pegged by a court at $130 million. Since then, preservation groups have become more aggressive, led by the Civil War Trust, which has bought up 25,000 acres of land using private donations and matching grants. And there have been notable victories, especially the 2000 demolition of a much-reviled observation tower at Gettysburg, which had been erected in 1974 by a private developer on a patch of the battlefield not owned by the Park Service, over noisy objections. In another victory, CWT prevented the building of a racetrack at Brandy Station, Va., site of a major cavalry battle in 1863.

Economic strife has helped the cause, too. The housing developments that were a frequent threat to rural land have come to a halt since the collapse of the housing market—a reprieve, but by no means a guarantee, that new attempts won’t follow when the sector rebounds. Meanwhile, some landowners have turned to preservation as more lucrative than selling to developers. While there are still some 600 acres of land inside the Gettysburg park that aren’t preserved or protected, the park recently demolished two 20th-century houses acquired when the owners offered to sell them.

But in quite a few cases, it’s too late. Many of the battlefields in the western theater—including Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Georgia—are long gone. Others are hemmed in and reduced significantly; the Chantilly battlefield in northern Virginia “is a postage stamp now,” Campi says. And despite the stoppage of Hazel’s plan, the Manassas park is sliced by U.S. 29 (the Lee Highway, appropriately enough) and State Route 234.

Preservation has its skeptics, too. Proponents are often attacked as being antidevelopment, or simply of overreaching. The Gettysburg casino is, to detractors, the textbook case. Unlike the Wilderness Walmart, the proposed casino is actually five miles out of town, in neighboring Cumberland Township. If approved, the casino will include up to 500 slot machines—the smallest of three sizes allowed under state rules—and will be located at an existing resort, rather than in new, purpose-built structures. David LaTorre, a spokesman for the developer, points out that there are far more egregious infractions in the town itself. “People talk about how this is like building a McDonald’s next to Pickett’s Charge, but there is a McDonald’s there,” he says with only mild exaggeration.

The Civil War Trust remains staunchly opposed, and it’s got a host of celebrities on its side—including Ken Burns, author David McCullough, and actor Sam Waterston. The site is just too close to the battlefield, and the impact of development and traffic on the historical resources is too great, Campi says. The local community, too, is split into pro-casino and anti-casino sides—a small civil war, 150 years after the big one.

There are some interesting comments with the article on the Newsweek website.

The factual error regarding the number of casualties at the Battle of Gettysburg notwithstanding, this article makes the point that we can never rest, never stop being vigilant and diligent in protecting and preserving our heritage. I remain grateful to organizations like the Civil War Trust (which has a new name and a new logo as of last week), the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust, the Brandy Station Foundation, the Trevilian Station Battlefield Foundation, and other similar organizations that are out there doing great work every day to help preserve our heritage.

Please support their efforts with your time and your dollars. Do it for the generations that will follow.

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Today saw the occurrence of an event that I’ve been waiting for since 1974. Today, I signed the publishing contract for You Stink! Baseball’s Terrible Teams and Pathetic Players, which I’ve written with my friend Michael Aubrecht. I first came up with this idea as a thirteen year old in 1974, and I can’t really describe how excited I am to finally see that dream come to fruition.

The book will be published by The Kent State University Press, and will be out in time for the 2012 baseball season.

More as things move toward publication.

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