On November 2, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart had collided with history. One hundred and fifty four years after one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, Wal-Mart has provoked another battle to erupt near the site of the infamous Battle of the Wilderness in Orange County, Virginia. Back in the mid 1990s, Sprawl-Busters traveled to Fredericksburg, Virginia to help residents fight off a proposed Wal-Mart on the site of Ferry Farm, George Washington’s boyhood home. Preservationists won the battle for Ferry Farm, and Wal-Mart took flak from the national coverage of its attempt to build on the historic parcel. Augustine Washington moved his family to the Ferry Farm property in 1738, when his son, George, was six years old. George received his formal education during his years there, and forged friendships in the neighborhood that lasted the rest of his life. Fortunately, his boyhood home never became a Wal-Mart, but the giant retailer is back again in Virginia, upsetting people once more with its historically-insensitive land deal. The Battle of the Wilderness was fought in 1864. It is remembered as one of the most significant battles of the Civil War — the first clash between Generals Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant. Over a two day period, bloody fighting raged along the Orange Turnpike (now Route 20) and the Orange Plank Road. An estimated 160,000 troops fought at the Wilderness. The Confederate Army and the Union suffered heavy losses. Before the end of the confrontation, as many as 29,000 soldiers had been killed, wounded or captured. According to the Friends of the Wilderness, the battle was a tactical draw. But the Battle of the Wilderness marked the beginning of the end of the American Civil War. Today, with Wal-Mart amassing its public relations troops on Orange County, local residents will not accept a “tactical draw,” and have organized to push Wal-Mart out of The Wilderness. The Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT) has taken the lead in the pushback. “Do you believe a Wal-Mart Supercenter belongs within sight of both the Wilderness and Chancellorsville battlefields?” asks Jim Lighthizer, President of CWPT. “Do you want to see the historical significance of both of these irreplaceable battlefields marred forever by more pavement, more traffic and more development that a Wal-Mart Supercenter will bring in its wake? And do you want to see this land — within easy artillery range of Ulysses Grant’s headquarters during the battle of the Wilderness — turned into just another highway strip of big box stores, fast food joints and convenience stores?” The group charges that The Wilderness Battlefield is no place for a Wal-Mart Supercenter. “Wal-Mart is right now planning to build an enormous 141,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter,” Lighthizer writes, “near the intersection of Routes 3 and 20, literally across the road from the existing Wilderness Battlefield, and not far from where Stonewall Jackson launched his flank attack… building a Wal-Mart Supercenter on this site will lead to so much more traffic, sprawl and destructive development that you and I have no choice but to try to stop it.” The CWPT says its not just an anti-growth group. “Let me remind you that the Civil War Preservation Trust is NOT a knee-jerk, anti-development group; we do not assume that all developers are bad people, and we do not oppose responsible economic growth…We appreciate the need for good jobs, and support well-planned economic expansion, effective land-use policies and increasing opportunities for communities through heritage tourism. However, this ‘Wilderness Wal-Mart’ scheme is the wrong idea in the wrong place at the wrong time. And with your help today, CWPT can stay ‘in the field,’ leading the charge with other national preservation groups who join us in opposing this ‘Wilderness Wal-Mart.'” On March 24, 2009, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that Virginia Governor Tim Kaine announced a plan to protect more than 200 acres of the historic Civil War battlefields in Fredericksburg — but incredibly left out the Wal-Mart site. The Governor made the announcement surrounded by leaders from the Virginia legislature, and 100 preservationists. Kaine said that Virginia “is the place where this epic struggle to define what America was took place,” Kaine said, standing in front of the 205 acre Slaughter Pen Farm site. Historians estimate that 5,000 of the total 9,000 casualties suffered on the entire southern end of the battlefield occurred on the Slaughter Pen Farm. Governor Kaine said that $12 million had been raised from state and private sources to preserve the battlefield. “Battlefields are our path to telling the story of our nation,” the Governor said. But the Governor left out the chapter called the Wal-Mart-Wilderness Battle, which is a 21st Century Civil War story that also needs to be told. The Wilderness Battlefield Coalition has vowed to keep this story in the front pages of the national media.
By now, there is almost nowhere in America that needs another Wal-Mart, and Orange County, Virginia is no exception. There are already four Wal-Marts within 20-miles of The Wilderness. CWPT says Wal-Mart should pick sites that do not “harm hallowed ground where Americans laid down their lives.” The group notes that “despite the struggling economy, some developers and companies have deep enough pockets to keep chugging right along, and they always seem to cast their insidious glances at the scenic, historic land on or around America’s Civil War battlefields.” CWPT considers The Wilderness to be a “national shrine . . . a monument to American valor, determination and courage, and one of the places where the Civil War — and the nation — changed forever.” Not exactly where Wal-Mart needs to sell more cheap underwear and MP3 players. Today nearly 2,800 acres of the Wilderness Battlefield are preserved as part of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. “If Wal-Mart gets its way, however, their new Supercenter would be built within a scant one-quarter mile of the National Park,” Lighthizer warns, “and would pave the way for desecration of the Wilderness with uncontrolled growth.” A ‘Wilderness Wal-Mart,’ the CWPT says, would add thousands of extra cars through and around the national park — and lead to “an explosion of sprawl that could engulf the existing battlefield. This type of development will be a magnet for more big-box and ‘baby-box’ stores, fast food restaurants, strip malls . . . and before long, I’ll bet we will have to contend with demands to widen Route 3 which runs through the heart of the Chancellorsville battlefield . . . you and I have seen this type of thing happen time and time again.” A ‘Wilderness Wal-Mart’ would wreck the unique character of the existing battlefield park and countryside, and shatter the “reverent atmosphere” that surrounds one of America’s bloodiest battlefields. Readers are urged to email Governor Tim Kaine at: http://www.governor.virginia.gov/AboutTheGovernor/contactGovernor.cfm with the following message: “Dear Governor Kaine, I am opposed to the proposed Wal-Mart supercenter near the Wilderness Battlefield. You can’t buy civil war history on any Wal-Mart shelf — but once they take it from us — we can’t buy it back at any price. This hallowed battlefield is beyond real estate speculation. It is a priceless piece of land. The proposed store is within the historic limits of the battlefield. The Wal-Mart, which is two and a half times the size of a football field — not counting the enormous asphalt parking lot — will increase development pressures on the National Park. The Wal-Mart site is only one-quarter mile from the National Park. Such a large-scale development is incompatible next to a National Park. Orange County is already saturated with big box stores. There are 4 Wal-Marts within 20 miles of The Wilderness. All Americans are invested in the history contained within the fields of The Wilderness. This is more important to protect than another venue for Wal-Mart shoppers. Wal-Mart is the kind of highway-oriented strip development that will destroy the rural look and character of the region. This project is inharmonious with corridor preservation plans. It’s great that you have announced the preservation of Slaughter Pen Farm — but I was shocked that nothing is being done to protect the land surrounding the Wilderness Battlefield. You were right to say that these battlefields tell the story of our nation — but do not leave out the Wal-Mart chapter — and how this corporation tried to destroy the historic value of Ferry Farm, and now the Wilderness.”