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Home People & Lifestyle People of the West Civil War Preservation Trust Fights To Save Battlefields in the West

Spotlight on James Lighthizer

Civil War Preservation Trust Fights To Save Battlefields in the West

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James Lighthizer, president of the Civil War Preservation Trust, is keenly aware that the American Civil War battlefields in the West are in danger from development or deterioration, and that time is running out on the ability to fully preserve them.

Specifically he's talking about the Battle of Palmito Ranch in Texas, Picacho Pass in Arizona, two Confederate forts below New Orleans, the Glorieta Battlefield in New Mexico and the Battle of Westport in Missouri, to name a few.
 

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"Those weren't the big battles of the Civil War, but they were important," Lighthizer told OldWestNewWest.Com. "They don't get the attention of the Gettysburgs or the Shilohs of the war. Thank God for the folks on the local scene who are trying to do something."

With around 70,000 members, The Civil War Preservation Trust is America's largest non-profit organization devoted to the preservation of our nation's endangered Civil War battlefields. The trust is based in Washington, D.C.


Along with an active land acquisition program, the trust also promotes educational programs and heritage tourism initiatives to inform the public of the war's history and the fundamental conflicts that sparked it.

In the 2007 edition of "History Under Siege," the trust's annual report on the 10 most endangered Civil War battlefields, New Orleans made the list, mostly due to the lingering damage caused by Hurricane Katrina. The two Confederate forts just below the city-Jackson and St. Philip-suffered serious water damage.

The report also lists battlefields that are at risk. Six battlefields in the West made the 2007 "at risk" list. They are Athens, Missouri; Honey Springs, Oklahoma; Little Blue River, Missouri; Mansfield, Louisiana; Newtonia, Missouri, and Wilson's Creek, Missouri.

All six locations, according to the trust, are facing strong challenges of one kind or another to their preservation.

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"The Civil War sites out West are largely unknown, so with a few exceptions there's not a lot of preservation work that's been accomplished," Lighthizer said. "And the further you are from the [national] media the less interest you get [in preservation]."

The annual list of most endangered sites is more than a list of Civil War sites being threatened, he said. It also is a roadmap for saving the remaining links to a time that defined us as a nation.

"For example, we are doing work right now on the Battle of Glorieta Pass in New Mexico," he said. "We are trying to work with local groups."

The trust currently owns just over two acres of the battlefield, which was part of Confederate Gen. Henry Sibley's New Mexico Campaign, March 26-28, 1862. This decisive battle prevented further Confederate excursions into the Southwest.

Lighthizer, who turned 62 in February, 2008 has been president of the trust since 1999. Passionate about saving the nation's historic places, Lighthizer was involved in historical preservation even before he joined the organization.

A Marylander for most of his life (he was born in Ohio), as Anne Arundel County Executive from 1982-1990 Lighthizer established a county farmland protection program preserving over 2,500 acres. He also embarked on an aggressive waterfront park acquisition effort resulting in the purchase of over 900 acres and seven miles of waterfront in the county.

Later, as Maryland's secretary of transportation from 1991-1995 he created an unprecedented program that to date has saved more than 4,500 acres of Civil War battlefield land in Maryland. The program serves as a national model for the use of federal transportation funds for battlefield preservation.

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Under Lighthizer's leadership, the Civil War Preservation Trust reached a milestone in 2007: saving 25,000 acres of Civil War battlefield land.

How did Lighthizer feel about obtaining that goal?

"It means we have a lot more to do, that's what it means to me," he said. "There are literally hundreds of thousands acres that won't be preserved because we don't have the money to preserve them. When I became president we were doing a couple of million dollars a year for land acquisition and now doing north of 10 million dollars.

"It's very gratifying, but there's still a lot more to do and very little time to do it. We have taken the exercise of saving land to a beautiful unheard of level, but there is so much left to do, and we need to do more," he added.

What's interesting about the trust is that it gets almost no corporate funding of any kind.

"We get zero support from the corporate sector," he said. "I'm not sure why that is. Perhaps it's because the Civil War is not politically correct in a world where political correctness is very important. We receive some of our support from foundations, but the overwhelming amount, maybe 98 percent, comes from individuals."

The trust, he said, is basically an organization with unlimited demand and limited resources.

"We never keep much of a fund balance, because we think we should be out there buying land. We stay lean because we want to stay aggressive in the real estate market. We have the personnel in place to hopefully raise the revenue and increase the transactions."

At any given time the trust has 40 or 50 land deals in the works.

"Our plan is to build as much interest as possible for the need to preserve," he said. "We figure that for certain places, such as Virginia, we have maybe five years to save it."

Lighthizer said the American public probably would be surprised to know that all the battlefields of the Civil War aren't be fully protected by federal or state governments.

"Oh Heavens no, it's not even close," he said.

The trust notes that nearly 20 percent of America's Civil War battlefields have already been destroyed.

"Some people say that Gettysburg, for example, is protected, but it's only about half protected. Antietam and Shiloh are the best protected. Chancellorsville maybe 30 percent. With two exceptions that I can think of, most battlefields are not really protected. And I doubt if 15 percent of Mansfield, Louisiana is saved."

He also agreed that the public tends to be surprised at the idea that the Civil War reached into the West.

"That's right, but they shouldn't be," he said. "The Civil War sites out West are largely unknown, so there's much to be done."

With the sesquicentennial of the Civil War just around the corner, what's most important is to raise public awareness right now.

"That's number one," he said. "Then preserve, interpret and promote. These can be legitimate tourist attractions. People that are interested tend to spend a lot. The easiest answer is to promote tourism in conjunction with these sites. Get the public visiting these sites and learning more about them."

To learn more about the Civil War Preservation Trust, visit the Web site at
www.civilwar.org or call the organization at (202) 367-1861.

SIDEBAR

At-Risk Battlefields in the West

Athens, Missouri
August 5, 1861
This Missouri State Park is faced with the possibility of a very unpleasant new neighbor-the Athens Hog Factory. The battlefield, which played a pivotal role in keeping the "Show Me State" in the Union during the war, could see visitation fall sharply due to the smell.

Honey Springs, Oklahoma
July 17, 1863
Area residents recently petitioned to have the private road through this largest battlefield in Oklahoma opened to public traffic. Tourists participating in the driving tour would be forced to compete with speeding commuters, making visitation more difficult.

Little Blue River, Missouri
October 21, 1864
This battlefield near Independence was named one of the state's most endangered sites by the Missouri Alliance for Historic Preservation in 2005. Residential and commercial development are encroaching on central portions of the field. A four-lane divided highway is also proposed through crucial combat areas.

Mansfield, Louisiana
April 8, 1864
Mansfield has long been the center of an unusual preservation struggle, as an active grassroots network faces off against a lignite mining operation. Preservationists remain ever vigilant as extraction work continues. Only 177 of the more than 6,000 acres at this site are currently protected.

Newtonia, Missouri
September 30, 1862 & October 28, 1864
The long-term protection of this southwestern Missouri battlefield could be secured by its inclusion in the Wilson's Creek unit of the National Park Service. Legislation to bring it under federal jurisdiction was introduced by Congressman Roy Blunt in January 2007.

Wilson's Creek, Missouri
In 2005, CWPT and the Wilson's Creek National Battlefield Foundation were able to broker a "win-win" deal with a regional developer to save 142 acres inside the National Park boundary. CWPT and the Battlefield Foundation followed up on this success by saving an additional 70 acres at Wilson's Creek in September 2006.




 
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