Virginia Civil War Battlefield Faces Development Fight

Kim A. O'Connell
for National Geographic News
September 3, 2003

"You can build a McDonald's any day of the week. But there's only one Mount Vernon. There's only one Monticello. And there's only one Chancellorsville." So says Caroline Hayden, a longtime resident of Spotsylvania County, Virginia, the site of several significant Civil War battles, including the May 1863 battle of Chancellorsville.

Drawn to the area 40 years ago by its history and bucolic character, Hayden recalls riding her horse to pick up farm-fresh eggs. Today, she is more likely to be stuck in traffic, her periphery dominated by super-sized retail stores.

An activist with the Spotsylvania Preservation Foundation, Hayden is one of hundreds of foot soldiers who have joined forces to battle ongoing threats to the Chancellorsville battlefield—considered one of the most endangered Civil War sites by the Civil War Preservation Trust.

The activists are fighting to protect Civil War heritage and preserve rapidly disappearing open space. Often, battlefields offer a snapshot of what this country looked like before sprawl began its relentless march across the landscape.

More than a dozen preservation and citizens groups have mobilized under an umbrella organization known as the Coalition to Save Chancellorsville Battlefield. The coalition won a key battle to protect the site last March. But new development proposals threaten to bury this historic ground once and for all.

Victory and Defeat

Confederate General Robert E. Lee achieved his greatest battlefield victory—and suffered his greatest loss—at the battle of Chancellorsville 140 years ago this year. The loss came on the battle's second day, when Lee's most trusted general, Stonewall Jackson, was mortally wounded. (The decisive battle at Gettysburg, which turned the tide of war in favor of the Union, would follow just two months later.)

Today, the National Park Service protects a portion of the historic Chancellorsville battlefield as part of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. The acreage represents less than 10 percent of the nearly 22,000-acre (8,900-hectare) Chancellorsville battlefield, however, leaving the vast majority of the historic landscape open for development.

Nestled amid rural countryside and rolling hills, the battleground lies close to major thoroughfares and urban centers, making Chancellorsville both hallowed and highly coveted ground.

In March, the Spotsylvania County board denied a rezoning request that would have allowed a 2,000-unit housing development to be built on the Mullins Farm, a farm adjacent to the national park that includes land from the first day of the battle that is of historic importance.

Since last October, however, landowner John Mullins has also sought a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers to build a housing development on 273 acres (110 hectares) of his 790-acre (320-hectare) property. The development would require that the Corps issue a permit for six road crossings related to the development.

In May, the Corps ended consultations with preservationists and citizens' groups in an effort to "streamline" the process.

Continued on Next Page >>


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