Past is Prologue

Clint Schemmer writes about history, heritage preservation and the American Civil War.  On Facebook: Past is Prologue  On Twitter: @prologuepast  ContactEmail Clint or call 540/374-5424.

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More on the Middlebrook tract

MORE: Read more news from Fredericksburg

A few stray notes from this week’s press conference at the Wilderness in Orange County that didn’t make it Thursday’s print-edition article:
– Russ Smith, superintendent of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, noted that the property the Civil War Preservation Trust announced it intends to buy in the heart of the battlefield has long been identified as one of National Park Service’s top priorities for acquisition at the Wilderness.
Smith noted that he has often been asked about the Middlebrook tract at Saunders Field–and many other private parcels within the national park’s congressionally authorized boundary–why the park doesn’t just buy the particular property.
Well, first, there’s no big pot of money available to buy such land.
The second, more difficult answer goes way back, to the Depression era when the park was created. When Congress established the Fred-Spot park then, lawmakers and the National Park Service believed the Wilderness—like all the Fredericksburg-area major battlefields—would remain farmland in perpetuity.
So, with farm vistas provide most of the scenic, historic landscapes, the U.S. government needed only to acquire select trenches and earthworks and a relative few of the most historic sites. Which is exactly what it did at many battlefield sites across the country.
That may have worked for a decade or two.
But our region’s post-World War II population boom, eclipsing anything the park’s founders had imagined, exposed the flaw in that approach, Smith said. The Park Service, with help from the occasional senator or representative, had been playing catch-up ever since.
On Wednesday, Smith lauded the Civil War Preservation Trust for aiding the nation’s battlefield parks by purchasing high-priority parcels under threat of development.
“They are willing to undertake ambitious projects at significant cost,” Smith said of the nonprofit group. “This, coupled with their consistent advocacy on issues of preservation and interpretation, has proven them to be a friend indeed.”
Its campaign to acquire the Middlebrook campaign at the Wilderness is a perfect example, he said, of why Interior Secretary  Ken Salazar recognized CWPT last week as one of three recipients of his department’s 2010 Partners in Conservation Award–one of the nation’s highest honors for such work.
– Repeatedly, Smith and CWPT President Jim Lighthizer expressed gratitude to two local groups that preserve battlefield land hereabouts (including at the Wilderness Crossroads) and maintain and interpret visitors’ portal to the Wilderness–Ellwood Manor, Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren’s headquarters during the May 1864 battle.
The groups are the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust, a Fredericksburg-based outfit that has saved nearly 900 acres on four battlefields, and Friends of the Wilderness Battlefield, whose volunteers kept Ellwood open seven days a week all summer and are raising money to complete its restoration.
– Lighthizer warmly noted the presence of Orange County Board Chairman Lee Frame and Supervisor Zack Burkett in the audience. Later,Frame and Burkett each granted interviews to the TV news crews on hand, speaking positively of the trust’s effort to preserve the Middlebook property and of its historical significance.
Soon, I’ll finish combing through my notes to add a few more details of what was said and done during Wednesday’s event at Saunders Field.