15 May 2009 by Published in: Battlefield preservation 4 comments

The following editorial appeared in this week’s edition of U.S. News and World Report:

Opinion: Wal-Mart’s Attack on Civil War Battlefield in Northern Virginia
By John Aloysius Farrell

US News & World Report (NAT)

The Wilderness battlefield cannot be moved.

It is a one-of-a-kind place, where tens of thousands of Union and Confederate boys died in the Civil War. You can’t just shift the signs down the road a mile and call another tract of ground the battlefield.

But a Wal-Mart shopping center? How special is that?

Assuming that what America needs is another Wal-Mart, how hard can it be for corporate planners to choose a location that isn’t within the boundaries of a national battle park?

These are the questions being asked by historians, legislators, and preservationists as Wal-Mart plans to build a 138,000-square-foot supercenter on the Wilderness battlefield in Northern Virginia. It would be the fifth Wal-Mart store within a 20-mile radius and a major new commercial threat to a necklace of Civil War fields—Wilderness, Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania—in the area that have already been ravaged by development.

In December, a group of 253 historians—including David McCullough, Ken Burns, James McPherson, and Edwin Bearss, the chief historian emeritus of the National Park Service—asked Wal-Mart to reconsider.

The Vermont Legislature (the state lost its heaviest casualties of the war at the Wilderness, repulsing a Confederate attack) adopted a joint resolution in February asking Wal-Mart to move its store.

U.S. Reps. Peter Welch, a Vermont Democrat, and Ted Poe, a Texas Republican, have led a contingent in Congress urging Wal-Mart CEO Michael Duke to think this through.

And the Civil War Preservation Trust put the Wilderness battlefield on its list of “most threatened” battlefields in March.

The land that Wal-Mart covets is commercially zoned, but the company needs a special use permit from the Orange County Board of Supervisors, and preservationists are hoping to block the development there. A coalition of local and national preservation groups have offered to pay for a comprehensive, long-range planning study to help local officials.

All they need is a little flexibility from Wal-Mart. How about it, Mr. Duke?

It’s great to see a credible national media source like U.S. News and World Report weigh in on the issue, and even better to see the editorial take the side of preservation. Hopefully, someone from Wal-Mart will read this article, and hopefully, it will have some impact.

Scridb filter


  1. David Rhoads
    Fri 22nd May 2009 at 3:45 pm

    Well, the open hearing on this issue before the Orange County Planning Commission was last night (May 21). It started at 7:00 p.m. and over 70 people signed up to make public comments to the Commission. I was #59 and I had my three minutes to speak at about 10:30. I stayed on afterward until 11:00, but then had to leave since I had to be up for work early today. When I left, there were still people waiting for their turns to speak.

    Of the people commenting, by my count there were about twice as many opponents to granting the special use permit to Wal-Mart as there were supporters. As a resident of the town of Orange, I made it a point to attend the meeting and voice my opposition to the special use permit, in part because there’s been a lot of talk recently about how “outsiders” have been driving the opposition against the wishes of the people who live in the county. Although there were indeed a number of people from nearby counties and from Richmond and D.C. and even Ohio in attendance last night, it was gratifying to see how many Orange County people showed up and spoke with conviction in favor of preserving this portion of the Wilderness battlefield while it’s still possible to do so.

    Wal-Mart was at the meeting in force, with a line-up of lawyers, architects and others taking up most of one of the front rows. One of the Wal-Mart people gave a pretty slick presentation at the beginning with lots of diagrams and best-case scenarios about traffic and jobs and taxes. His talk was full of cheerful corporate euphemisms–at one point he waxed eloquent about a planned “360-foot pedestrian promenade” that in reality will be nothing more than a sidewalk through the parking lot if the Wal-Mart goes through. (I guess that’s progress. None of the other 4 or 5 Wal-Marts that already exist in the area around here have sidewalks in the parking lots.) After he finished, it almost seemed as though Wal-Mart was here in a generous spirit of altruism to do everybody in the County a big favor.

    Fortunately, most of the people in attendance weren’t buying it. I’m modestly optimistic that the Planning Commission will consider the issue honestly and take into account all of the opinions that were voiced last night, both pro and con. It’s possible that the Commission may even recommend denying the special use permit, although I’m not holding my breath.

    Unfortunately, even if the Commission does recommend denying the permit, it’s the County Supervisors who will ultimately make the decision, and 3 of the 5 Supervisors have already made it clear that they’re in favor of the Wal-Mart no matter what the people of Orange County or anywhere else may want. A couple of them were at the hearing last night, in fact, hobnobbing with the Wal-Mart reps.

    So if you have a chance to visit the Wilderness in the next month or two, don’t pass it up. By this time next year, I’m afraid, the experience will have changed significantly and not for the better.

  2. G.E. Colpitts
    Tue 26th May 2009 at 5:23 pm

    Can you all vote the County Supervisor rascals out of office?

    G.E. Colpitts

  3. David Rhoads
    Thu 28th May 2009 at 9:23 pm

    We can try come November, but the Wal-mart permit will be a done deal by then.

  4. David Rhoads
    Fri 26th Jun 2009 at 10:03 am

    The Orange County Planning Commission voted 5-4 last night (June 25, 2009) to recommend approval of the Wal-Mart special use permit. As I noted previously, 3 of the 5 County Supervisors have already indicated that they will vote to approve the permit and now they have the additional political cover of the Planning Commission’s recommendation. I think there is no longer any chance that the Wal-Mart and all the related and subsequent development around the intersection of Routes 3 and 20 can be stopped.

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