06 November 2005 by Published in: Battlefield preservation No comments yet

Those who know me know how important the cause of battlefield preservation is to me. Perhaps that’s part of the legacy that I inherited from Brian Pohanka and my friend Bud Hall, who were two of the three founders of the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites (“APCWS”). The APCWS was, of course, merged with a rival group, the Civil War Trust, forming the current organization, which is called the Civil War Preservation Trust (“CWPT”).

The folks at the CWPT are dedicated professionals who are determined to do the right thing and the best that they can do to preserve battlefield land. Of that, I have no doubt. I’ve worked with them on several occasions, and they honored me greatly on two different occasions by offering my books to donors as a premium. It certainly helped me with book sales, and I was flattered and honored to have been asked.

However, I do have some issues with CWPT.

First, not every dime that is donated to a specific cause ends up going to that specific cause. That strikes me as being somewhat misleading of the public, and it also means that funds being raised for specific causes end up going to other uses.

Second, the organization has professional staff who, quite understandably, expect to be paid for their time. That’s perfectly reasonable–I don’t work for free either, and I have bills to pay just as these folks do. In addition, the CWPT has to pay for expensive office space in Washington, D. C. In short, the organization has a lot of overhead, meaning that a significant portion of the moneys collected by the CWPT end up going to overhead and not to battlefield preservation.

At the same time, I find it quite telling that Brian Pohanka, who helped found the CWPT, left some very large and very generous gifts to other organizations. The following paragraph comes from an article by Deborah Fitts in the current issue of Civil War News pertaining to some of the bequests Brian made:

“In September a representative of Pohanka’s estate notified the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust (CVBT), Save Historic Antietam Foundation (SHAF) and Richmond Battlefield Association (RBA) that they would receive a total of more than $1 million. Pohanka, 50, died in June after a long struggle with cancer.”

Conspicuously absent from this list is the CWPT. I’m not sure whether Brian left nothing to them, or if it is a private gift, or just hasn’t been announced yet. If he left nothing to the CWPT, that’s a real slap in the face to an organization he helped to found. At the same time, when Brian died, his widow Cricket asked that, in lieu of flowers, etc., that folks make a donation to the CWPT.

What’s significant about CVBT, SHAF, and RBA is that they are entirely volunteer organizations with no paid professional staff, and very little in the way of overhead. Nearly every dollar that gets donated to them goes to the purchase of battlefield land. The CVBT, in particular, has done an absolutely magnificent job of buying and preserving land in the Fredericksburg area, where rapid development threatens a lot of really important Civil War sites. The CVBT purchased a significant portion of the first day’s battlefield at Chancellorsville and then donated it to the National Park Service, saving a critical piece of ground from development along Route 3.

I still believe in what the CWPT’s doing, and I still strongly support their efforts. However, I would really like to see some of my concerns addressed, and I would love to see a larger percentage of each dollar donated end up being used for the purchase of land and less toward overhead.

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