24 January 2011 by Published in: Battlefield preservation 8 comments

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.

Scridb filter


  1. Mon 24th Jan 2011 at 11:51 am

    I have been fortunate to visit The Wilderness on two occasions. It is already overrun by highways and businesses, making it one of the more difficult battlefields to comprehend. They also make it dangerous to visit. I remember pulling over on a highway to get a view of “Grant’s headquarters.” There are numerous signs asking folks to stay off the trenches, which are still visible to an extent. Time and people wear these things down. Dropping a Wal-Mart less than a half mile away from the Federal trenches will not help the situation.

  2. Jan
    Tue 25th Jan 2011 at 12:22 am

    If enough of us boycott the company, perhaps it will finally pay attention to the wishes of the public.

    General, exactly what have you done to determine “the wishes of the public?” Did it ever occur to you that public opinion in Orange County is not in your corner? A poll found strong support for the Wal-mart store. We want the jobs, the tax revenue, and yes, the low prices.

    The land in question has been zoned commercial for almost four decades. Where were you when Sheetz, McDonalds, and other establishments came in, built stores, and started doing business there? Or are these entities not big and successful enough to draw your ire?

    I live a few miles from the site. I would very much like to see the store built. It would be the least you could do as a historian to acknowledge the true facts here: that far more locals agree with me than with you.

  3. Tue 25th Jan 2011 at 12:20 pm

    I suppose you’re entitled to your opinion, wrong and misguided as it might be.

    If you think that another crap store is more important than irreplaceable historical heritage, then you truly are wrong and misguided, and I feel nothing but sympathy for you for being so wrong and misguided.

    You are dismissed.

  4. David Rhoads
    Tue 25th Jan 2011 at 8:11 pm

    As a resident of the town of Orange in Orange County, Virginia, I take issue somewhat with Jan’s assessment of the state of local public opinion in regard to the Wilderness Wal-Mart.

    The poll Jan refers to was commissioned and paid for by Wal-Mart back before the special use permit was approved by the County Supervisors. Unsurprisingly, the poll results reportedly showed strong local support for the store. I say “reportedly” because I myself wasn’t polled, nor was anyone I know in Orange, and complete data from the poll, including the precise wording of the questions asked, has not to my knowledge ever been made public, so I’m somewhat skeptical about the accuracy of the poll’s conclusions. There is no doubt, however, that Wal-Mart does have its supporters here.

    On the other hand, I can testify to the fact that at the two public hearings before the County Planning Commission on the question of the special use permit–both of which I attended and at both of which I took the opportunity to voice my opposition to granting the permit–supporters of the Wal-Mart were outnumbered 2-to-1 by opponents of the permit among those present who made the effort to speak. Granted, not all the speakers opposed to the Wal-Mart were Orange County residents, but neither were all the speakers who spoke in favor of granting the permit.

    My impression currently, based on what I hear personally and read in the local paper, is that local opinion is relatively evenly split on the issue. Issues of battlefield preservation aside, the promises of tax revenue and jobs held up by the Wal-Mart supporters are offset for many of us by the strain the Wal-Mart will inevitably place on local infrastructure and the crippling effect it’s “low prices” will likely have on some of our few remaining local small businesses.

    Moreover, for those of us in the town of Orange, in Gordonsville, and indeed anywhere in the western end of the County, there are already four–yes, four!–Wal-Marts closer to us than the Wilderness Wal-Mart would be. And for those, like Jan, who live nearer the Wilderness site, there are already several exisiting Wal-Mart stores within a 10- to 15-mile radius. Building yet another Wal-Mart store in the area will not provide Orange residents with something they don’t already have.

    Finally, I’d like to put paid to the “where were the battlefield people when they built the McDonald’s and the Sheetz” comments. Local and national battlefield preservationists spoke out against both of those developments when they were proposed and built, but both developments were small enough that, unlike the Wal-Mart megastore, they did not require special use permits to proceed. As it happened, those voices in favor of preservation were loud enough that the McDonald’s changed its proposed design so as to mitigate some of the more egregious negative effects on the viewshed; Sheetz, however, did not and built the same sort of eyesore that they put up everywhere else they go.

  5. Tue 25th Jan 2011 at 9:09 pm


    Thank you for being the voice of reason. I suspect your position much more accurately reflects the true sentiment than that of the above shrew.

    Let’s hope the judge does the right thing.

  6. Tim Ferry
    Tue 25th Jan 2011 at 10:10 pm

    “We want the jobs, the tax revenue, and yes, the low prices.”

    If you like Walmart so much, then drive to Fredericksburg or Culpeper.
    If you want those type of jobs drive to Fredericksburg or Culpeper. There are better jobs or equivalent postions in the area of Fredericksburg or farther north.
    The use, abuse, noise and clutter on the roads caused by too many shipping trucks on them, will cause a reversal of what you think will be brought to the county because of “tax revenue”. Money will be put back into cleaning, upgrading and maintaining those roads.
    Low prices, well again drive to Culpeper or Fredericksburg, they are not far away if you choose to live in Orange County. One note, when you do drive to those places hit a Target in place of a Walmart!
    If the County thinks this Walmart will bring in revenue, I think they have drafted a poorly crafted type of dispensation plan that they are trying to hoodwink the local populace on.

  7. David Rhoads
    Wed 26th Jan 2011 at 11:43 am

    Well, according to today’s (Jan. 26, 2011) Orange County Review, Wal-Mart has backed out from the Wilderness site. Even better, the Wal-Mart spokesperson says Wal-Mart will still purchase the land in order to conserve it:

    “The county press release also suggests Walmart remains committed to locating in Orange County, but the county is anxious to have that assurance demonstrated substantially by Walmart meeting with the county in the coming months to move forward with an alternate site. Walmart has also pledged to reimburse the county for all administrative costs and attorney fees related to the case.

    “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.

    The move ended nearly four years of discussions, and nearly a year and a half of legal wrangling.

    If this is true, my hat is off to Wal-Mart for doing the right thing in this case.

    Full story is here: http://www2.orangenews.com/news/orange-news/2011/jan/26/walmart-backs-out-ar-800080/

  8. Wed 26th Jan 2011 at 12:55 pm

    Now, what’s that you were saying, Jan?

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