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Battle lines firm up as Wal-Mart finalizes plans for store at Civil War's Wilderness battlefield site

 Battlefield artist Alfred R. Waud sketched Union troops carrying a wounded soldier on May 6, 1864, from the burning woods at The Wilderness, set ablaze by the intense fighting between Federal and Confederate forces.
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Date published: 12/2/2008


In a new online video, Gens. Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee appear together, able to finally agree on one thing: Wal-Mart's plan to build a Supercenter on a portion of the Wilderness battlefield is preposterous.

The re-enactors' point is also driven home in a mass mailer sent by another group last week to 16,000 Orange County households.

As the world's largest retailer prepares an application for a special-use permit for a store at the intersection of State Routes 3 and 20, battle lines are being drawn.

The video was produced by Wal-MartWatch.com, an anti-Wal-Mart Web site, based in Washington, D.C. It is linked to anti-sprawl activist Al Norman, whom Fortune Magazine once labeled "Wal-Mart's enemy No. 1."

The four-page, full-color Orange mailer was sent out by the Warrenton-based Piedmont Environmental Council, which opposes the plan as much for its potential traffic impact as its effect on the historic setting. The PEC says there's a more suitable site closer to Lake of the Woods and away from the battlefield.

"I think everybody is waiting to see when the application is filed. Until then, we're not sure what's going to be in it," said Jim Campi, spokesman for the D.C.-based Civil War Preservation Trust, which fired the first salvo in opposition when the project was announced in July. Campi said the national group does not oppose a Wal-Mart per se, just the proposed location.

This much is known: The Arkansas-based retailer wants to build a 145,000-square-foot store on 55 acres north of Routes 3 and 20. The developer is JDC Ventures of Vienna.

Wal-Mart maintains that, since the tract is zoned for commercial use, a store there would be appropriate. And it has said it would modify the building design, set it back on the property, and add historical markers explaining the significance of the tract.

"We looked at a long list of available sites and ultimately settled on this particular location, said Wal-Mart spokesman Keith Morris.

"For us, it came down to the fact that it's zoned for this use and has been for some time."

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The Battle of the Wilderness, one of the Civil War's largest and most important conflicts, was the first clash between Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.

The battle, on May 5-6, 1864, began Grant's grueling Overland Campaign, which drained both armies and eventually brought Union troops to the gates of Richmond.

More than 160,000 men fought along the Orange Turnpike (modern State Route 20) and the Orange Plank Road. Nearly 29,000 Americans were killed, wounded or captured in the fighting at The Wilderness.

Today, more than 2,773 acres of the battlefield are part of Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park. The proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter is outside the congressionally authorized boundary of the park, but within the historical battle area.