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A new campaign for Slaughter Pen

June 3, 2006 2:19 am


Local preservationists have pledged $1 million toward the $12 million purchase price for the Pierson farm on Tidewater Trail, which was known as Slaughter Pen during the 1862 battle. 0603Slaughter2.jpg



The Central Virginia Battlefields Trust has made a major financial commitment in the effort to purchase a Spotsylvania County farm that played a key role in the Battle of Fredericksburg.

The local preservation group that has saved hundreds of acres of important Civil War land here over the past decade has pledged $1 million toward the $12 million purchase price, said Mike Stevens, CVBT president.

In March, the Washington-based Civil War Preservation Trust announced that it would launch a national fundraising campaign to purchase the 205-acre Pierson farm. The land, known during the war as Slaughter Pen, is on Tidewater Trail just east of Shannon Airport.

"I don't think there's ever been a bigger thing than this, though there have been many other things we've been involved with," Stevens said in a recent interview.

"This is going to get our focus and our attention. It's important to show local folks that we are serious and willing to stand up and commit."

Until now, the highest price CVBT has paid for any piece of property was about $450,000.

"This is more than 50 percent higher, but it's worth it," Stevens said.

Tricord Cos. signed a contract in February to purchase the tract, agreeing to sign it over to CWPT at cost. Closing is expected around mid-June.

Tricord, a local homebuilder that has been involved in the preservation of other battlefield land, found out in December that Slaughter Pen was for sale and contacted preservation groups.

"We've been working on this for years," Stevens said. "Once or twice, we were close to having something done," but the landowner, whose heir ultimately offered the property for sale after his death, wouldn't commit.

"We kept the pot boiling to keep preservationists' eyes on the property," Stevens said, and when it came on the market, CWPT, with its deeper pockets and national reach, was able to work with Tricord.

The CWPT has about 75,000 members nationwide; CVBT has about 800.

"We're finding an enormous amount of enthusiasm on the part of groups and individuals to participate on this and CVBT is the best example," said Jim Campi, spokesman for CWPT.

He said that the amount pledged by the local group is probably unprecedented for a group of its size.

Stevens said CVBT has pledged an initial payment of $100,000 by June 10, if it's needed. The group will give another $400,000 during the summer, and the balance afterward.

Both land trusts feature the property in their latest newsletters, are working on fundraising appeal letters, and taking prospective donors to the site.

Since its founding in 1996, the nonprofit CVBT has acquired 484 acres on all four of the Fredericksburg area's battlefields--Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House.

Campi said that is in addition to several other sources of financing.

CWPT will borrow much of the money to pay at closing and use donations and grants to pay off that debt.

Up to $2 million could be available from the federal Civil War Battlefield Preservation Program, he said, and Virginia lawmakers have pledged money for a Civil War Sites Preservation Fund, some of which could be used for this purchase.

In addition, CWPT could apply for funds available under the Virginia Land Conservation Fund.

The Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862, with its carnage at Marye's Heights, is etched in the nation's collective memory. But the rest of the story played out farther south on and around Slaughter Pen, where Confederate Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's 2nd Corps battled Union Gen. William Franklin's Left Grand Division.

Of the 9,000 men killed or wounded on the southern end of the Battle of Fredericksburg, some 5,000 met their fate on the farm. Five Union soldiers earned the Medal of Honor on its undulating corn-stubble fields, ditches and valleys, which alternately protected and exposed both sides during a day of fighting.

To reach RUSTY DENNEN:540/374-5431

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