May 5, 2009 marks the 145th anniversary of the Battle of the Wilderness, a 3 day battle that changed the course of the Civil War. Congressman Ted Poe proudly advocates for historic preservation of this land and decries the construction of a Wal-Mart supercenter proposed for the fringes of Virginias Wilderness Battlefield. If built, the megastore would stand less than a quarter mile from the edge of the national park commemorating the bloody struggle, and within the battlefields historic footprint. Poe, Welch and Duvall toured the battlefield yesterday and spoke at a news conference organized by the Civil War Preservation Trust and other groups dedicated to encouraging Wal-Mart to relocate its proposed store.

Robert Duvall, Academy Award-winning actor and descendent of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, led the charge. The history that occurred on this spot sets it apart from every other crossroads in America. The ground was hallowed by the bloodshed of our ancestors and we are duty-bound to respect their sacrifice by protecting this site from inappropriate intrusions and development, said Duvall.

Congressmen Poe teamed up with Representative Peter Welch of Vermont both of whom hail from states whose troops were particularly bloodied in the battle as well as Zann Miner, president of Friends of Wilderness Battlefield, a volunteer group that works with the Park Service to protect, pre-serve and interpret the battlefield. Although hailing from vastly different backgrounds, all four supporters of this charge agreed that the battlefields national historic significance necessitates its protection.

There were 160,000 troops, Union and Confederate, who fought in the Battle of the Wilderness, Poe said. This is the number of troops that we have in Afghanistan and Iraq combined on that one battlefield. All of the troops that engaged in that battle were Americans and we must not allow corporate gain to diminish their sacrifice.

The 1st Vermont Brigades brave stand at the Battle of the Wilderness exemplifies the spirit and sacrifice of Vermont troops in all conflicts our country has faced. This hallowed ground must be protected and preserved so that future generations of Vermonters can appreciate our states crucial role in saving the Union, Welch said.

I appreciate the historical comments my friend from Vermont has said regarding Union troops from his home state. The Battle of the Wilderness took place in May 1864. On the second day of the 3 day battle with a statement made by General Lee, Texans always move them, the Texas Brigade successfully forced back Grants Union troops. Texas troops sustained 60 percent casualties.

Alternate sites are being promoted by the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition, a collection of local, state and national conservation groups that seeks to promote the battlefield as both a historic site and as a potential economic engine for the region.

We are not calling for a halt to development in Orange County far from it, said Zann Miner, president of Friends of Wilderness Battlefield. Instead, we simply ask county officials and developers to weigh all options and their consequences before breaking ground. Miner reports that in order to reap the financial rewards that numerous studies have shown historic sites can bring through heritage tourism, nearby development must be well-thought-out and respectful, calling the Wal-Mart proposal neither.
In February, Representatives Poe and Welch sent a joint letter to Wal-Mart executives, urging them to reconsider their site choice. We hope they would be patriotic neighbors and locate their new store on one of the other two nearby locations, added Poe.
The application before county officials calls for a 52-acre retail complex near the intersection of Routes 3 and 20, less than a quarter mile from the edge of the Wilderness Battlefield unit of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. The project would contain several box stores, anchored by a 138,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter. Preservationists have asked the county to work with the Park Service, conservation groups and local landowners to develop a long-term vision for the area before approving this or any other single construction project.

Regarding the need for deliberate and cohesive action rather than piecemeal expansion, Duvall said, I urge Orange Countys decision makers to plan the development they allow at the edge of this national park carefully. The choices they make will be felt for generations to come, making this the time to be thoughtful and deliberate, not rash.

The Battle of the Wilderness, fought on May 56, 1864, was among the most significant engagements of the Civil War. It marked the first time that legendary generals Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant faced each other in battle and was the inaugural engagement of the long and bloody Overland Campaign, the beginning of the end for the beleaguered Confederacy. The area was densely wooded, making the fighting confused, especially as sparks from ammunition and ordinance caught the undergrowth on fire. When fighting ended, more than 29,000 Americans had been killed, wounded or captured.

This land, like other battlefields in our country, is consecrated with the blood of Americans. Many are still buried there and known only to God. We owe these Americans the right to keep this battlefield preserved for history and not to have a corporation, like Wal-Mart, lay asphalt over their graves. The land that is here will be here long after we and Wal-Mart are long gone. We have learned through a tour of the battlefield that many Texans and Vermonters fought against each other. But, today Vermont and Texas, Democrats and Republicans, the North and the South are united because every person who died in the Battle of the Wilderness was an American, said Poe.