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National Trust site inaugurates monumental effort to memorialize Civil War fallen for visitors to battlefields' nexus

 National Trust chief Stephanie Meeks, Oatlands director Andrea McGimsey, JTHG founder Cate Wyatt, Oatlands chairman Mike O'Connor and state Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton applaud first planting.
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Date published: 11/22/2012


The transportation secretary read Lincoln's proclamation imploring Americans to ask God to "commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation."

The Rev. Brown W. Morton III of Waterford, a retired University of Mary Washington professor, offered a blessing before the group dedicated the first tree, a 15-foot red October Glory maple, in a pasture near the Oatlands entrance. Col. Meg Roosma of the West Point Alumni Glee Club sang "Amazing Grace."

A brass disc, hung from the trunk, paired Tree A-0001 with an unknown soldier. (About half the war's dead are anonymous.)

By week's end, that tree will join other saplings in a copse showcasing the project's signature palette--redbuds, scarlet oaks, red maples and red cedars. Representing the valor of the fallen, the native trees will remind visitors they tread on hallowed ground.

Rhodeside & Harwell, a landscape architecture firm based in Alexandria, won a national competition to create the design. Organizers didn't want to erect another bronze or stone monument to the dead, but to create a living memorial that shares soldiers' individual stories with generations to come.

Donors can choose a particular soldier to honor, as the trees will be geo-tagged to enable smartphone users to learn about the life of each warrior, whether they were Union, Confederate or U.S. Colored Troops.

"These men were fathers, sons, husbands, brothers, sweethearts," said Cate Magennis Wyatt, the Journey's founder and president.

Board Chairman Michael J. O'Connor said Oatlands, one of two National Trust for Historic Preservation properties in the JTHG corridor, is proud to be the first spot to host the project to honor "the sacrifice of those who have gone before us."

The effort will improve air quality, create wildlife habitat, reduce mankind's carbon footprint, provide shade for visitors and enhance the farm's beauty, O'Connor said. Oatlands, sitting at the byway's geographical center, boasts magnificent specimen trees and the oldest greenhouse in the South.

"The return on investment is that these trees will be here for our children and our children's children," he said.

The project's pilot phase will extend six miles south to Gilbert's Corner at U.S. 15 and U.S. 50. It involves planting 3,312 trees and dedicating another 269.

The Journey, a nonprofit, four-state partnership recognized by Congress as a National Heritage Area, provides heritage tourism and educational programs and manages the byway. It includes nine presidential homes, 13 national parks and 30 Historic Main Street communities.

Clint Schemmer: 540/368-5029
Email: cschemmer@freelancestar.com

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