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Battlefields get some tender loving care

April 5, 2009 12:35 am


Donna Stanton (left) and Libby Kridler of Orange County pick up trash along State Route 20 at the Wilderness battlefield yesterday. lo0405wildernessscr3.jpg

Dale Brown bags trash at the Wilderness battlefield along State Route 20 in Orange. lo0405wilderness1.jpg

Park Day 2009 volunteer Gary Mauss cuts down small pine trees and brush yesterday so visitors to the Wilderness battlefield in Orange County can have a view similar to the one that Confederate soldiers had during the fighting in the spring of 1864.


By tomorrow, visitors to the Wilderness battlefield off State Route 20 should get a clearer view of what Confederate soldiers saw on May 5, 1864, as Union forces rushed them from a dip in the hillside.

Bob Johnson, one of four men sawing brush and hauling dead trees to clear the viewshed, said yesterday that their work will help bring alive the Civil War experience at the National Park Service's battlefield in Orange and Spotsylvania counties.

"The goal is to cut out all this underbrush so you can see what they saw," Johnson said, standing near trenches in west of the exhibit shelter on Route 20 in Orange. "They were shooting point blank at each other."

Johnson said tour guides often stop at these Confederate earthworks to show visitors the site of a skirmish between Union forces and Confederate Gen. Richard S. Ewell's men. He said the fight was so intense that the field caught fire and some soldiers burned to death.

The Battle of the Wilderness was the first clash between Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. The fighting took place May 5 and May 6, 1864.

But yesterday dead trees and brush obstructed the view, including the dip in the hillside that provided cover to Union forces.

Johnson was one of almost 50 people who gathered in the battlefield park as part of "Park Day," a nationwide cleanup and restoration event sponsored by the Civil War Preservation Trust and supported by local groups such as the Friends of the Wilderness Battlefield.

Locally, a similar event was held at the Brandy Station battlefield in Culpeper County.

In Orange, volunteers helped pick up trash and brush that lined the roads in and around the 2,700-acre park, the largest part of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.

One man came all the way from Inverness, Ill., to volunteer--something Craig Rains, a member of the Friends of Wilderness Battlefield, said is not uncommon.

He said a woman from California comes to the battlefield annually because her ancestors fought there.

"She'll talk about the battle and start crying," he said.

Last month, the Civil War Preservation Trust named Wilderness as one of the 10 most-endangered battlefields in the nation. The news conference brought big names, including Oscar-winning actor Richard Dreyfuss, to promote preserving historic sites from encroaching development.

Although some of the volunteers yesterday expressed concerns about Wal-Mart's proposal to build a 138,000-square-foot store within a quarter-mile of the battlefield, that project was not the focus of their work.

They came to help maintain the park, something that the Park Service struggles to do because of budget constraints.

Rains said a lot of the trash along the roadways--from beer bottles to fast-food bags--comes from vehicles driving to a convenience site off State Route 621 in Spotsylvania.

"People are bringing trash and they have it in the back of their pickups. It just flies around because they don't have it tied down, and they don't even realize it," he said.

Dan Telvock: 540/374-5438

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